Visiting Santo Domingo de los Colorados in Ecuador

Although I would never intentionally seek out a taxi without a windshield, of course, I’m glad the only cab I could find to take me from Santo Domingo de los Colorados in Ecuador to a hummingbird preserve a few miles west didn’t have a windshield, nor windows either for that matter. My two-dented-doors vintage cab made Columbo’s battered old wreck look like a sleek new Jaguar.

As we drove up a narrow winding gravel road with multiple switchbacks all four cylinders were struggling to make the steep grade, I could see that not far ahead there was a leaky rusted metal aqueduct that resembled a football goal post arched over our path.

I knew we were about to get completely soaked in frigid snow melt off.  I could sense my driver was growing increasingly anxious. Would his fussy gringo passenger refuse to take the fast approaching cold water challenge?

He was instantly relieved when I laughed out loud as we were thoroughly drenched. I wasn’t just moist, I was chilled to the bone. I didn’t come to Ecuador for the comforts of home. I wanted adventure, and I found it by the gallon.

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When I arrived at my destination, Tinalandia, the owners were surprised. I was the only person ever to arrive without a reservation I was told or without the aid of a travel agent. I explained that I had read about their encampment back home in a newspaper, and was determined to reach their private reserve if I had to walk the entire distance. The whole 24-cabin lodge was completely empty so they were glad to accommodate.

Although I dined alone at the long wooden table that could seat twenty guests, the cook prepared beautiful dishes just for me: mostly freshly caught fish from the white-water river that bisects the large hilly property. Her two daughters served me side dishes, one standing to my left, the other to my right, holding large bowls filled with crisp green salads, exotic fruits and colorful vegetables that I had never seen before, let alone tasted. They stood by my side at attention like soldiers during my entire meal. I never enjoyed more personal service in my life.

The cook noticed I wasn’t eating too much after my second night. I told her, her cooking was perfect. I just missed my tortillas. I was sure they had never heard of tortillas way down in Ecuador. She said why didn’t you say so, I’ll make you a dozen tortillas right away. From then on she made me anything I wanted, my own personal chef.

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I don’t mean to imply that all Ecuadorians drive jalopies. The owner of Tinalandia drives a brand new Land Rover. Transportation in rural areas is far different from that in major cities such as Quito, or Guayaquil. Ecuador as an OPEC member is relatively prosperous, as well as politically stable, a safe gateway destination to South America.

The official currency of Ecuador is the U.S. dollar, so no need to exchange money. The cost of living is one of the lowest in South America, consequently, Ecuador offers the cheapest seaside real estate in the Americas. A modern beachfront condo with all the amenities North Americans expect will run you from under a hundred thousand dollars in the beautiful port city of Manta.

Ecuador may well be the birthplace of the hummingbird, since it has the most species of hummingbirds of any country in the hemisphere: hundreds of species of hummingbirds, including one that is the only bird on earth that has teeth; the largest hummingbird on the planet, so large that it will startle you when it buzzes around your head in curiosity; and even a species of hummingbird that makes its home in the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. A new species of Andean Hummer, the Blue Throated Star, comprised only five hundred individuals and was just discovered in 2018.

Natural beauty is the reason to visit the cloud forest, butterflies as big as dinner plates in dazzling hues rival the beauty of the bountiful hummingbirds, and hundreds of other avian species including toucans and parrots.

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Any time of day is a good time to explore the rainforest. Early mornings he insects and animals begin to warm up and reach maximum activity so you don’t need an alarm clock as thousands of birds chirp in unison and very vocal monkeys howl at daybreak to awaken all but the dead.

In the morning, flowers and verdant vegetation still have dew droplets on them that creatures large and small lap up. Two hundred species of bats nap under the folded foliage. Two species of sloths and half a dozen species of monkeys hang out overhead in the forest canopy. Several species of Anteater, twenty species of Armadillo, numerous species of neon colored frogs and salamanders live in the moist leafy ground cover.

A two, or three-hour walk in the morning, and a second similar excursion after lunch, or a swim in the Olympic-sized pool make a memorable day.

To visit Tinalandia, or Finlandia (meaning Land’s End), another similar nearby jungle lodge, land in the capital, Quito, take a local bus (packed with rural people with their live chickens and pigs) west to Santo Domingo de los Colorados, and a private if-challenged taxi ride, or really rough it and ride in the shared bed of a pick up truck for the final stretch. You’ll be sitting with a half a dozen sweaty laborers, and three or four barking dogs, but you’ll get plenty of sunshine, fresh air and unbelievable scenery.

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Santo Domingo de los Colorados is world famous as the home of the most colorful indigenous tribe in the Americas, the Colorados, which means the red ones, or dyed ones in Spanish, so named because the men dye their hair with a natural vegetable paste made from the native Latin American spice Achiote, also called Annatto.

Although it is the third largest city in Ecuador, you always have the feeling that you are in a village, rather than an urban area.

Your drive from Quito is almost entirely downhill to the humid tropical lowlands where you find Santo Domingo de los Colorados, within striking distance of the Pacific coast at Manta. But the final stretch of your travels takes you ascending once again to the fresh breezy cloud forest where you find Tinalandia.

Haev you been? Would you go?