Travel black book: Memories of wild Ecuador

Who: Gery Messer, 57, the Asia-Pacific managing director of telecommunications company CenturyLink. The Swiss citizen and Singapore permanent resident is married to Lynn Messer, a Singaporean.

Favourite destination: Ecuador

Why: Though it is one of the smallest countries in Latin America, Ecuador offers everything for everyone, from culture, history, nature and adventure to gastronomy, making it tough for any tourist to resist. It also boasts friendly locals who take pride in the great strides the country has achieved in the last decade.

Favourite cities

Ecuador's capital Quito was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city. At an altitude of 2,850m above sea level, it is the second-highest capital city in the world, behind La Paz in Bolivia.

Despite a series of earthquakes over the years, the city has the best-preserved, least-altered historic colonial centre in Latin America and has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1978.

Places of interest there include The Plaza and Monastery of San Francisco, the Plaza de la Independencia (also known as Plaza Grande), Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus) and the Museo de Arte Colonial (Museum of Colonial Art).

For its narrow streets, restored colonial architecture and lively plazas, Quito's old town is a marvel to wander around.

Cuenca, Ecuador's third-largest city, was also declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. The architecture is mostly from Spanish and French colonialists and there is an enormous variety of museums and art galleries. The city is an important craft centre for ceramics, metalwork and the internationally famous Panama hat.

Favourite hotel

Hotel Santa Lucia (Presidente Borrero 8-44 y Mariscal Sucre, Cuenca, is located in the heart of colonial Cuenca. Many places of interest, such as the Parque Calderon, Cuenca Cathedral and Museum of Modern Art, are within walking distance of this beautiful 19th-century boutique hotel.

Favourite restaurant

The trattoria in the central patio of the Santa Lucia hotel is cosy and charming. It serves excellent Ecuadorian and Italian cuisines.

Favourite tourist sites

The El Cajas National Park (, located about 30km outside of Cuenca, is an 11,331ha park with as many as 270 lakes and lagoons and 15 trails. It is a fabulous hiking place, a must for all who travel to Cuenca. Be prepared to spend 21/2 to three hours on even the least strenuous trail.

Another spectacular tourist attraction is the Devil's Nose train ride ( through breathtaking scenery of rocky ravines, raging rivers and dense forests in the Andes Mountains. The train is a colourful part of the landscape and considerable effort has been made to ensure this 100-year-old train runs smoothly and efficiently.

But the most exhilarating part of the journey is when the train zig-zags up and down a 45-degree cliff face called Devil's Nose. The elevation of the track drops 500m over the course of 12km by way of switchbacks at each junction to arrive at the station of Sibambe.

From here, you will have some time to wander around before it zig-zags back up Devil's Nose to return to Alausi.

Tickets should be bought in advance to avoid disappointment. Seats are assigned, but the right side of the train offers the best views.

No trip to Ecuador is complete without a visit to the Galapagos Islands. This archipelago is one of the most protected in the world and there is no better place to see nature in action.

Highlights include the giant tortoise, blue-footed boobies, waved albatross, land and marine iguanas, flightless cormorants and sea lions. To be able to see all the animals in the wild was quite amazing and it was one of our best memories of the trip.

Favourite souvenirs

Cuenca is the leading producer of the unmistakable Panama hat and Ecuador is where the best Panama hats are made. At Homero Ortega P. and Hijos (Avenida Gil Ramirez Davalos 3-86, Cuenca; hat shop, you will learn the history of these hats.

There is an interesting little museum showing how these hats are processed and a shop selling some of the finest examples in many styles and colours, ranging from US$30 (S$40) to US$1,000, depending on the quality.

Also, pay a visit to Eduardo Vega's Ceramic Gallery (Hermano Miguel 670, Cuenca; Vega is a famous ceramic artist who lives and works in Cuenca. His gallery has beautiful, handmade ceramic art pieces, which make for great souvenirs.

Favourite meal

Ecuadorian cuisine is diverse, but the highly raved meat there is guinea pig, locally called cuy. You should also eat the large variety of fresh fruit available and its soups are also worth a try.

We had ours with quinoa - a highly nutritious seed - which is found in almost every Ecuadorian meal.

Ideal length of stay

To get the best sense of the place without having to rush, you need at least five days in Ecuador.


This article was first published on May 24, 2015.
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