Ecuador, Northern Sierra

November 1 – 7, 2017

After six months of incredible experiences in Colombia, it was time for a heart wrenching goodbye and to move on to the next country.

We drove across the Rumichaca bridge from Ipiales, Colombia into Tulcan, Ecuador, our second country in South America but number 12 since we left in May 2015.

We only had a couple of weeks before flying home for the Holidays, in that short period of time we saw so much, it was a good introduction and we couldn’t wait to explore more.

Easy border crossing between Colombia and Ecuador. We got our passports stamped out of Colombia and turned in out Temporary Import Permit (TIP) then crossed the bridge into Ecuador where we got our passports stamped and our TIP for 90 days. Ecuador is one of the few countries that doesn’t require vehicle insurance.


Another traveler had told us to make a stop after the border to visit a cemetery, it was worth the small detour to see the spectacular topiary garden.

Tulcan Municipal Cemetery : Back in 1936, a gardener named Jose Franco began to meticulously sculpt the shrubbery around this municipal cemetery to create these visually stunning masterpieces, his five sons have kept the tradition going and the cemetery is now part of the country’s tourist attractions. The chalky soil is perfect for growing cypress trees. The garden includes over 100 bushes cut into shapes of angels, wildlife and ancient Incan symbols.

Being a week day, we were surprise to see so many people but we later found out that it was Dia de los Difuntos (day of the dead) a holiday, where families pay respect to their deceased relatives by visiting the cemetery and bringing flowers.
There is all kinds of tombs from the very extravagant to the more modest.
Joe wearing his Colombian hat, poncho and mochila in one of the many arches
The cemetery has become an attraction, you can also visit the small museum to learn about the history of the place.
After the cemetery visit it was time for our first lunch in Ecuador and of course taste the local cerveza!
We ordered the shrimp dish that comes with a small salad, rice and beans but something new was the popcorn that comes complimentary before the meal!


From Tulcan we drove to a very well known campground in the Orverlanding world, Finca Sommerwind Camping & Café, owned and operated by a German couple, Hans and Patricia. Located just before the town of Ibara in northern Ecuador on Lake Yahuarcocha about 120km south of the Colombian border. Beautiful setting with all the services for $12/night, the perfect place to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

It’s potluck night at Finca Sommerwind!
Joe grilled some ribs and let them slow cook in the dutch oven along with our host, Hans who grilled some chicken.
Everybody brought a dish, what a feast with a wonderful group of travelers!

It was nice to see our Canadian friends Mark & Christine whom we met in Panama and our German friends Micha & Xenia with their pup Anuka. Brits bikers Steve & Janette and new Swiss friends Cornelia & JF in their cool Land Cruise/Azalaï camper.

Ecuador’s markets are our favorite in Latin America for the selection and freshness of their produce. Ibara’s market was no exception.
Chancho Hornado: whole roasted pigs is found every where through out Ecuador
This cutie pie having fun in his homemade playpen behind his mother’s produce counter!
Chochos: a small legume has been eaten for 1,500 years in the Andean mountains of Ecuador. It’s a staple of their diet. It contains high levels of protein and low sugar, chocho is eaten as a whole bean in hot and cold dishes like soups, stews and even ceviche. The tostado (roasted) chocho quickly became our favorite snack.


Otavalo is a town in the Andean highlands at 8,345 feet above sea level (2,543 m), surrounded by volcanos and mostly known for it’s Indigenous craft Market in the central plaza de Ponchos, since we were going back to the US and Canada for the Holidays it was the perfect place to get a few Xmas gifts for the grandkids, nieces and nephews.

Volcano Imbabura rises 15,190 feet (4630 m) above the City.
Indigenous women wearing traditional clothing. Embroidered blouse (buche), their hair rapped in hand-woven bands and often with blankets folded and worn on their heads
The beaded necklaces are also part of their traditions

La Luna Mountain Lodge

After spending the morning at the market we headed for the mountains, not without getting lost and taking a two hour detour through small dirt roads!!! But we eventually made it to La Luna Mountain Lodge with beautiful scenery and fresh air! Located outside Otavalo on the road to the Mojanda Lakes and Fuya Fuya.

It gets pretty cold up in the mountains so it was nice to be able to sit by the fire place of the Lodge in the cozy restaurant.

We parked next to a nice german family in this cool rig!

Condor Park

We took this picture of the town of Otavalo and Lake San Pablo on our way to Parque del Condor located only 5km from town.
Gorgeous scenery on the way to the park.

Parque Condor is a sanctuary for birds of prey owned by a non profit Dutch Foundation, their main objectives are the rescue of the birds, environmental education and rural development.

The beauty of the surroundings and being able to get a close view of Andean condors, eagles, owls, falcons and hawks made it a nice experience. It’s important to time your visit with the Flight demonstrations.

It’s show time!
Look at these mountains behind us!
American bald eagle, it’s important to note that none of the birds were taking from their natural habitat.

Mojanda Lakes

Ecuador is known for its natural beauty and fascinating culture. Otavalo, with it’s indigenous market and the Mojanda Lakes, a series of three lakes located at high elevation only 12km from town, is a perfect example. There is a nice trail around one the lakes and you can also hike to the near by summit of Fuya Fuya for an even better view.

We did the walk around the lake on an absolutely perfect day with blue skies, puffy clouds and fresh temperature.

Hike around this beautiful crater lake surrounded by volcanos.
You never go hungry in Ecuador, there is always a food stand nearby!
Trail around the lake through yellow Paramo tall grass hiding beautiful purple flowers
Taking in the view and the gorgeous scenery
At 12,253 feet (3,735 m) above sea level, hiking becomes a bit more challenging for us.

Few Facts about Ecuador:

  • Population: 16.62 million (2017) World Bank
  • Area: 109,484 sq miles (283,561 km²)
  • Capital: Quito
  • Currency: US Dollar since 1999
  • Time spent:  2 weeks (Nov. 1-14, 2017) and 3 months (January 17-April 13, 2018)
  • Miles driven: 1,448
  • Diesel price per gallon: $1.03 (2017)

If you are a regular reader, you noticed that our blog posts are way behind. 

For more current updates you can follow us on Facebook at Joe and Josée’s Journey or on Instagram @ joeandjosee

Next: Ecuador, Part 2 The Amazon  … Stay tuned!


4 thoughts on “Ecuador, Northern Sierra

  1. So nice to read that after all those years you guys are still on the road, Joe and Josée. We met in Bolivia a year ago, and later I saw you again at the wrestling show in La Paz. From time to time I visit your blog page to read about your adventures. It makes me jealous in a good way! Wishing you all the best from sunny Amsterdam.

    1. Hi Nick, yes I remember you, you send us pictures of that crazy wrestling show with the cholitas 😂 After 5 years on the road we had to come back to our home base in Florida to quarantine like the rest of the world! We were almost done anyway but it definitely feels different! We hope to be able to make it to Europe eventually 😊 cheers j&j

  2. You all certainly had a wonderful intro to Ecuador. Reading and enjoying this post makes me want to go back, I see I missed a few places, especially the bird park. Keep the great post coming, enjoyed.

    1. Thanks for your comment Bernie!
      Ya the bird park was a nice surprise; plenty of time to work on the blog now with this crazy virus 🦠 But Florida is not a bad place to be in quarantine 🌴Stay safe and healthy.

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