In our last few weeks in Ecuador, it seemed everyone was obsessed with telling us how much of their country we had missed. Geographically, Ecuador is split into three parts: the coast on the west, the jungle to the east and in the centre, the Andes – which form the spine of the country from north to south. Reluctant to make a long descent to either coast or jungle and then have to make a big climb up again to the cordillera, we stuck doggedly to the mountains.

The head shakes and sighs we encountered when people learned of our neglect of the coast and jungle led us to start asking questions about the route decisions we make. When travelling by bike, you are inevitably forced to choose your route through just one small section of a country, unless you have endless time to divert and wander. Every time you choose one path, another is closed to you (until next time at least) and there’s always a sense that you may have missed something. Had we made a mistake and chosen the wrong path through Ecuador?

After the umpteenth conversation about how silly we were to neglect Ecuador’s “best” sites, we reconciled that it wasn’t about a terrible choice we had made and what we were missing – it was more about learning to accept what we like doing. For the views, the climate, the people and the roads, staying up in the Andes holds the most appeal. This trip has turned us into montañeros - mountain people. Cycling through the mountains might be difficult, but to us it’s far preferable to the humidity of the enclosed jungle and its hungry bugs or the flatlands and scorching dry heat of the coast.

Decision making has become harder and harder as the realisation dawns on us how much South America has to offer. This is magnified by the fact that when travelling as a couple every choice is a compromise, a discussion, often over-analysed and always subject to the second-guessing of your partner. Everything is up for debate: which road to take, where to drink a coffee, what time to set the morning alarm, when to stop for lunch, where to stock up on supplies, whether to cook fried eggs or scrambled for breakfast on a rest day, and even which brand of toilet roll to buy. Thankfully the only thing we really bang heads over is how to eat our eggs.

When it came to deciding whether to cross the border from Ecuador to Peru via the coast or the mountains though, there was no deliberation from either of us: mountains all the way. So with everyone’s advice ringing in our ears, we ignored it and took to the hills south of Cuenca to cross into Peru.


Line of pigeons on a roof in Cuenca, Ecuador

The market pigeons stage a line up to bid us farewell from Cuenca.

Hills around Cuenca, Ecuador

The ride out of town spits us out into the countryside fairly swiftly and after nearly six weeks off the bikes, the legs start to feel the burn immediately.

Wild camping with the bikes near Cuenca in Ecaudor

First night’s accommodation turns out to be a cosy little spot nestled among some pine trees at over 3000m… 

Our tent in a wild camping spot near Cuenca, Ecaudor

…and as we remind ourselves how to put up the tent on a nice spongy bed of pine needles, the stove bubbles away with a quinoa/pasta feast. 

Mountains between Cuenca and Loja, Ecuador

Early next morning, the mountains reveal themselves in all their glory.

Wall mural of two elderly people outside Vilcabamba, Ecuador

It’s appropriate that we arrive in Vilcabamba – Ecuador’s village of eternal youth – on the day before my birthday. The poem reads “Lady take care of your husband, man take care of your woman, because when you are both elderly, the only sure thing you will have is each other”. 

Sarah in the tent at Rumi Wilco reserve, Vilcabamba, Ecuador

All smiles as I wake up another year older and think of the big climbs to come that day…

Sarah eating a bag of Sarita crisps outside a shop in Yangana, Ecuador

…even happier when I find a packet of crisps bearing my adopted Spanish name; what a treat – doesn’t take much to please this birthday girl.

Switchback climbs on the bike ride from Vilcabamba to Valladolid, Ecuador

Then after the crisp excitement, it’s back to business as usual the next day with a long but beautiful climb on the way to Valladolid. 

Sarah wearing a buff on her face on the way to Valladolid, Ecuador

We are warned of major roadworks ahead with accompanying mud and dust so the buff comes out for the chic cyclist/bandit look. 

Coconut sweets from bakery in Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Coconut treats from the bakery in Vilcabamba help keep the legs turning…

Construction workers in the road to Valladolid, Ecuador

…and ongoing construction provides a chance to stop for a breather and chat to the friendly gangs of engineers who line this part of the route. 

Danni's Discotek, Valladolid, Ecuador

In Valladolid on a Saturday night, on the weekend of my birthday, we are sorely tempted to stick around and see what goes down at Danni’s Discotek…

The bikes and all the camping kit laid out in the sacristy at Palanda, Ecuador

…instead we end the day further along the road at Palanda, camped out in the church sacristy while ladies busily prepare the next day’s flower arrangements around us.

Construction workers on the road outside Palanda, Ecuador

Onto dirt after Palanda, and though the road building continues we are lucky to get away with very little mud – cyclists passing through here shortly before us talked of pushing their way through ankle deep bogs. 

James cycling up a steep climb near Palanda, Ecuador

A nasty steep climb in the rising heat has us both seeing stars by the time we reach Progreso for lunch. 

Sarah cycling up a steep hill towards Zumba, Ecuador

There’s only more of the same after lunch; it feels like we are back in Central America and with sweat pouring off in all directions, we dig out the sun hats, slap on the factor 100 and grind into the pedals. This is by far the hottest weather we have experienced in Ecuador and it feels alien. Making it to Zumba feels like a real achievement.

Poster of Rafael Correa, Ecuador

Almost at the border so almost time to say goodbye to charismatic Presidente Correa… 

Poster of Asambleísta politicans, Ecuador

…not before admiring the name choices of his colleagues…Clever, now there’s one you can trust.

Convent entrance, Zumba, Ecaudor

Our last night in Ecuador mirrors our last night in Colombia – spent enjoying the hospitality of the local nuns; we camp in the cloisters of the convent at Zumba…

The central park in Zumba shrouded in mist, Ecuador

…and in the early morning mist, we leave the oddly placed mosquito sculpture behind us in the town square and set off for the border. 

Sarah cycling towards the border between Ecuador and Peru at La Balsa

This road through the mountains into Peru is a pretty quiet crossing and the dirt track leading to immigration at La Balsa hardly feels like we’re on the way to an international border. 

The Andes of Ecaudor near the border with Peru at La Balsa

Ecuador still has a few hills left for us to admire…

A dirt road in the Andes of Ecaudor near the border with Peru at Las Balsas

…and one brutal one left to climb…

The shield on the wall of the immigration office at La Balsa, Ecuador

…before we reach immigration. 

The immigration office at La Balsa, Ecuador

Turns out the immigration office is just as low key as the road leading to it. 

James' passport with visas in and out of Ecuador

We are stamped out of Ecuador with just a day to spare on our visas.

Map of Peru and cyclist's shadow, Ecuador

Now onwards into country number thirteen – I am off in search of an old childhood friend…

Pictures of Paddington Bear

…who supposedly came from “deepest darkest Peru”.



11 Responses to “Decisions, decisions: exiting Ecuador”

  1. Katy and Chris Says:

    Hi guys,
    We met you on the ferry from Baja to Mainland Mexico. We were traveling for surf for a year and had our truck and camper on the ferry. It’s great getting your blog posts and I’m so happy you are still on the road. Congrats to a full life and many adventures!
    Katy and Chris


  2. Jorge Iván Says:

    S&J, saludos y ánimos permanentes. Excelentes palabras en este post. Me gustó mucho la imagen con las papitas “sarita”, jajajajajaaaa… Buen pedal Big-Sur.


  3. Mum and Dad Says:

    Lovely blog again Sweeties! You are really having such a blast. Watch out for altitude sickness in those big mountains. Rough camping again too. Tent looking good and all going according to plan! I would just scramble the eggs and have them messy! Love you millions and miss you so much. Take care of one another.
    All our love. Ma and Pa.


  4. Sheila Says:

    Hope you had a most excellent birthday Sarah! Kai & I opt for higher and cooler too, screw the heat and bugs! Plus, everything place is beautiful if you live in the moment, eh?

    Love the photos and that wall mural about taking care of each other is awesome.

    Be Well!


    Sarah Reply:

    Thanks Sheila…yes the birthday was amazing…not every day you can say you celebrated a birthday in Ecuador! Thanks for your comment and hope you and Kai are enjoying the riding…happy travels! Sarah


  5. Jens Says:

    Hey Peluqona and James,
    happy belated birthday Sara. Always good to read your posts, reminding me to get back on my bike as well ;-) But it needs to wait a bit- I changed my return flight from Galapagos and now there is a problem which will hopefully disappear next week. Enjoy Peru and hasta la proxima


  6. anna Says:

    A new blog post from you guys is always a treat…

    You’re a few weeks ahead of me. I’m in Vilcabamba now. Maybe I’ll catch up. Would be nice to cycle a few days together.


  7. anna Says:

    BTW: Paddington Bear is an old friend of mine, too. My very first job (at age 10, long story) was dressing Paddington Bears and packing them into boxes.


  8. Arthur & Caro Says:

    Hola pelucones !
    Estoy seguro que tomaron el buen camino !
    Hemos seguido vuestro consejos para nuestro camino en ecuador y disfrutamos mucho del Cotopaxi, Quilotoa & Chimborazo.
    Unica error, tomamos el shortcut entre Shuyu y Simiatug (la via mas corta que nos pasa por pinllopacta) y No estaba una buena idea ! Pasamos 2 dias enseguida empujando en la montana ! No era una pista, solo un camino de montaña.
    Ya estamos en peru, por fin no cogimos la ruta para zumba por varias razones (aun que queriamos !). Hemos dejado la bici en trujillo y estamos viajando con los padres de caro. Back on the road al principio de julio, esperamos encontrarles en la cordillera blanca… BUEN CAMINO AMIGOS


  9. Lars Henning Says:

    Hola chicos! We just discovered your blog after reading your interview on El Pedalero. We share your attitude about sticking in the mountains. We are currently heading back up into the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico after riding along the coast for a while. We are still in the early stages of our trip, so it’s great to be able to read your stories as we ride south towards Argentina!

    Lars & Jenny


  10. israel Says:

    Hi guys,nice trip!! But let me tell u, it is not a mosquito in ecuador, it is a massive ant!!! We call it the “culona” or big ass ant, in Zumba they have it for meal, i dont like it, but it’s a strong and traditional dish….


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