Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fun Things To Do With Children In Ecuador

Our little boy loves to travel! My husband and I started taking him on road trips shortly after he was born, and he was on a plane by his 1st birthday. Although we’ve encountered few difficulties along the way, for the most part, traveling as a family has been easy and fun!

The key to our happy travels is that we plan for and go to destinations that meet everyone’s needs, and we do not adhere to the dogma that family vacation must consist of a trip to (overpriced) theme parks. We opt to travel to an idyllic beach location like Cabo San Lucas or Kauai rather than water parks, and to see the dinosaur bones, Egyptian temple and mummies in a cultural hub like NYC rather than stand all day in line to see the animated version at the Universal Studio.

Traveling not only provides the best opportunity to bond with him, but also it allows a constant teaching opportunity for our little boy. It enables him to see different cultures and people, and more importantly, to experience the world as it really is. It’s an opportunity for us as parents to show our son first-hand about the differences that exit in the world and to teach him not to fear differences, but to celebrate, expect and cherish them as something that adds color, depth and beauty to our lives.

In the past 5 years, we’ve turned every trip into an organic lesson in foreign language, history, and culture. Our boy had learned to read on a road trip when he was merely 2 years old, and traveling as a family, we have gained invaluable knowledge and understanding of the world and of ourselves that we couldn’t have otherwise.

And Ecuador provided everything we’d hoped for in a family trip, as it was without a doubt one of the most beautiful and culturally rich place we’ve been to.

There were so many fun activities for children and adults alike. Not only are there extensive leisure and recreational areas, but everywhere we went, we were surrounded by some of the most spectacular nature we’ve ever seen. It was like a little paradise for children.
YAKU (Interactive Water Museum) 
Small but fun museum dedicated to teaching children the importance of … well, you guessed it, water. There are interactive activities, like bubble making, drawing on quick drying walls, and outdoor sprinkler, where our little boy spent an hour. There’s also a nice outdoor seating area, and the panoramic view of Quito is off the hook!
El Ejido Parque
A lovely park in the heart of Quito, which turned out to be our little boy’s favorite place! It’s a popular recreational area that offers a game park, volleyball court, slides and plenty of fun play structure for children. It’s a nice place to relax, people watch and take in the local culture, as a lot of the families hang out there, especially on the weekends.

For children, it’s an ideal place as there’s not only several play structures, but you can also rent bicycles and paddle cars. There are plenty of food vendors, and an outdoor market selling various types of handicrafts from the Ecuadorian mountains.

la Parque Carolina
As with El Ejido Parque, la Parque Carolina is located in the midst of a lovely scenery. It has a nice size artificial lake, where you can rent a paddle boat, natural science museum, soccer fields, and of course, plenty of play structure for children. Nearby is the Quicentro Mall, where you can find a great variety of Ecuadorian and ethnic foods.
Vivarium (aka Reptile Museum, located on the west side on Ave. Amazonas of the Carolina Park)
A space dedicated to a variety of reptiles and amphibians including poisonous snakes, boa constrictors, iguanas, turtles, frogs and tortoises. Although it’s not very big, our boy really enjoyed seeing the creatures from the Amazon and learning how to differentiate poisonous snakes from the non-poisonous ones. The staff periodically gives demonstrations with one of the snakes, and upon request, you can have photos takes with them.

The Equator (Mital del Mundo)

Not only did it turn out to be a spectacular place ... literally in the middle of nowhere, but it also has a several great playgrounds nearby.
Museo del Banco Central (Banco Central Museum)
Museo del Banco Central is the pride and joy of Cuenca. It exhibits a wide range of colonial and religious artwork, a numismatic exhibit in the basement, and tells the history of the Indigenous people in Ecuador. The museum is situated on the actual archaeological site of an Inca palace, and it’s an important place to learn about the heritage and pre-Colombian history and lives of Eucadorians.

One of the most surprising … and fun part of the museum is that as part of the exhibits showcasing the Jivaro tribes who resided in the area, there's a display of shrunken human heads. It was a bit scary for our 5 year old, but I predict he will get a big kick out of it in few years.

However, what he liked best was the aviary, Pumapungo Bird Sanctuary, behind the museum (down the stairs into the garden), where you can see various exotic birds. Occasionally, you can also see llamas grazing the field.
Parque de la Madre
There are a lot of green spaces and parks in Cuenca, and what has impressed me was that the majority of them have a play structure for children. However, smack dab in the center of the city is Parque de la Madre (near the Old Town along Río Tomebamba), which appropriately enough is the mother of all parks.

First of all, the play structure here is all brand new, as it opened May of this year (2013). 

Also, I absolutely loved that everything was built out of wood, and it had so many great elements that can develop children's agility and motor skill as well as enable children to have fun.

Parque Paraiso
I was told that Parque Paraiso was a large park, but I didn’t realize how big it was until we got there. Aside from the impressive size of the green space, it is one of the prettiest parks in Cuenca. Although the play structures were basic, there were several fun activities for children as well as exercise equipment for adults.

La Fornace (Antonio Borrero & Mariscal Sucre near Hotel Santa Lucia, tel. 072847246)
I scream, you scream, we all scream for Ecuadorian ice cream! Need I say more?!? Finding an ice cream parlors in Cuenca is like locating a convenient store in NYC, they’re on every street corner, which gave us ample opportunity to try their delicious gelatos.

Casa de la Mujer
This market has over 100 stalls selling everything from traditional dress to school uniforms, shoes, bags, watches and souvenirs for tourist. One of the fun things we did was to give our little boy a bag of coins with which he could buy his own toys. He has learned not only to recognize different coins and how to count them, but also to speak and communicate in Spanish. Even now, his favorite Spanish phrase is, “cuánto cuesta?”

Centro Ecuestre Bellavista
Horseback riding in the midst of the Andes … what more can you ask for? 

Centro Ecuestre Bellavista is located 8 kilometers outside of Cuenca, and as the center has a wide range of horses, they will find a horse that suits your level of riding. However, the horses were too big for our 5 year old boy to ride by himself, and he was able to ride with our guide, Sebastian. I was given a slow horse who liked to cruise along, which suited me fine as it gave me a chance to enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience for the whole family. 

El Chorro de Giron
El Chorro de Giron is an idyllic waterfall located about an hour away from Cuenca, think Yosemite’s Bridalveil Fall. The thunderous sounds of waterfall was massive, and children will have a blast splashing through the water. It was an awesome experience for our little boy, and what made the whole experience even more special was to sit out on the veranda of the restaurant, soaking up the breathtaking scenery, and watching our little boy playing and petting the alpacas.
Laguna de Busa
The drive from Cuenca to Laguna de Busa is absolutely scenic, and the panoramic view of the lake is breathtaking! There are a few play structures around the lake, but what we liked best was just strolling around the lake taking in the beauty of it all.

It doesn’t take much for our little boy to have fun at the beach … any beach. Actually, it’s all good as long as he has some sand and water. So, it was a no brainer to take him to the coast of Ecuador, where there are miles and miles of white sand beaches.

Lined with idyllic fishing villages and beaches stretching all the way to Guayaquil, the coast of Ecuador varies enormously along its 1,400 mile length. Although some of the resort cities like Puerto López, Montañita, and Salinas can be packed with tourists in the summer (winter in the US), there are still plenty of places to relax and have fun.

I spy whales!
Salinas is a really nice little city right on the ocean. The beach is beautiful and has all kinds of water sports to keep the kids happy, and the sand is great for sandcastles and shell hunting. Also, Malecón offers a great selection of shops and restaurants.

We really enjoyed Parque de Simon Bolivar (Iguana Park).  The iguanas were so docile and slow that we were able to pet some of them.  The Malecón was also nice, as there are playgrounds set up along the way and places to stop for treats.


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