Empanadas. You know em, you love em. Even if you have never had an empanada before, I can confidently say that it is something you will like. How can I be so sure of myself, you may ask. Because an empanada, at its core, is a fried or baked pastry stuffed full of a variety of fillings including meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, and even sweets such as chocolate. And honestly, who doesn't like a warm, gooey, bread pocket spilling over with deliciously flavored filling?
Empanadas are a popular snack in regions around the world, including Latin and South America, South Asia, and Southern Europe. These delectable little treats have their origins in Spain, and due to their widespread popularity, the exact style and flavors have adapted to each region they have become known in.
While each corner of the globe has modified the empanada to become symbolic of its own culture, the basis of the snack remains the same- hot and delicious. They are often served with sprinkled cheese, a side of salsa, or drizzled with sauces. In most places where empanadas are found, they are sold as a quick and easy street food.
I have eaten many an empanada, in countries around the world, as well as made my own homemade version. The best part about these little treats is the infinite ways you can customize them to fit your taste preferences. Have a sweet tooth? Fill them with chocolate and sprinkle on some powdered sugar. Vegetarian? They are great filled with cooked peas and carrots. Love seafood? Fill those babies up with fish! Make them bigger for a meal or bite size for a party snack. Deep fry them to perfection or bake them for a healthier version. The options go on and on.
In my household, my Jamaican husband grew up on patties, which is a Caribbean take on empanadas. The brand that we buy are a little bigger and more robust than many empanadas, but the idea is the same. A nice flaky pocket filled with beef, cheese, or a vegetable curry mix. So good!
Here's an easy recipe for Cheesy Ground Beef Empanadas I found on the blog Great Grub Delicious Treats. This recipe uses pie crust for the outer layer, making it an easier and faster alternative to making your own dough.
Cheesy Ground Beef Empanadas
Prep Time- 20 mins
Cook Time- 30 mins
Total Time- 50 mins
Visiting the Equator is somewhat of a novel idea and a fun activity to do, but it especially makes sense to do so in Ecuador, which actually translates to equator.
Ecuador's capital city of Quito is one of the highest capital cities in the world, located at 9,350 feet above sea level, and is the closest capital city to the equator. Ecuador takes great pride in having such a strong claim to the equator and has gone to great lengths to ensure a satisfying experience when visiting this imaginary line.
The Mitad Del Mundo monument is a 100-foot tall building created in dedication to the location of the equator. Surrounding this monument is somewhat of a small village, filled with shops, food, and even a museum. All of this was built to celebrate Ecuador's proud relationship with the equator, but what's truly ironic is that this structure and small town were actually constructed about 800 feet off of the actual coordinates of the position of the equator. While the reasons for the slightly askew monument are a bit unclear, the immense pride of the Ecuadorian people and their love for the equator remains stronger than ever.
Visiting Mitad Del Mundo, or Middle of the World, whether it is the true equatorial location or not, is a cool experience. From balancing eggs on nail-heads to getting your passport stamped, browsing through the museum and learning about the history of Ecuador, and grabbing some delicious ice cream (remember it's hot at the equator), there is something for everyone! If standing in two different hemispheres at once really excites you, you do not want to miss this.
If you do want to visit the other equator, just walk a few blocks, roughly four minutes, down the road to Museo Intiñan. Unfortunately we were not able to enter as we arrived too late, but it look pretty fascinating from the outside.
I previously wrote about my visit to the Butterfly Garden in Mindo, but there is another beautiful garden worth visiting in this tiny tourist town. The Orchid Garden, or Jardín de Orquídeas, is a beautiful and tranquil garden located a few blocks away from downtown Mindo in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. Located on the grounds of the Cabanas Armonia hostel, this garden is a portal into another world, full of hundreds of colors and over 250 species of the most amazing orchids. Take a tour through this private collection of unique flora, experiencing this delicate ecosystem up close and personal.
The tour takes approximately 40 minutes, after which you can wander on your own, taking photos and viewing the elaborate planting and cultivating system that has been established. If you have the time, you can also request a bird tour, taking in even more of the natural color found throughout Ecuador.
Free to guests of the hostel, admission to the gardens is $3.00. Read more about the hostel, the gardens, and the available tours on the garden website, here.
In my last post I discussed the amazing hostel that is the Secret Garden Cotopaxi. I briefly mentioned that included with your stay is a free guided hike to some of the nearby waterfalls, but I wanted to share more about what that was like.
For me, it wasn't that great.
While this was a fantastic opportunity to explore the area and see some amazing scenery, I highly recommend allowing yourself to acclimate to the altitude before attempting any type of physical activity. I personally arrived in Quito the night before, slept for about six hours, and then headed straight to the mountains. I do not recommend doing this.
I somehow managed to make it through the hike, which was quite honestly not terribly difficult. I was just very sleep-deprived from traveling and not at all adjusted to the higher elevation.
If you enjoy hiking, waterfalls, and trudging through knee-deep water uphill in gigantic rubber boots, this is the activity for you. The hostel will provide you with the boots needed, and while they may be uncomfortable and awkward to walk in, I cannot stress enough how much I recommend that you wear these and not whatever pair of hiking shoes you brought with you. It. Is. Muddy. And wet and slippery and messy.
The part that I vividly remember the most is scaling a low all over the river, arms stretched out in front and behind me along a ledge, muddy and wet, when the girl behind me suddenly exclaims, "Oh my gosh your ring is GORGEOUS!" She was referring to my engagement ring, which at that exact moment was streaked with mud and I probably should not have been wearing. Forgetting the position I was in, I of course responded, "oh wow that is SO nice thank you SO much."
The entire hike was made worth it when we caught a brief glimpse of the volcano peak for which the park is named after. That sight with the sun shining after a quick rainstorm was the cherry on top. Of course, getting back to the hostel and enjoying a nice dip in the jacuzzi was an added bonus.
In case you missed it, I wrote an earlier post about horseback riding through the Andes mountains of Ecuador. What I didn't share with you was that, because of the three hour van ride from Quito, this was not exactly an easy day trip. This required some additional lodging and boy did we pick the right place.
The Secret Garden of Cotopaxi is a hostel located deep in the Ecuadorian countryside, roughly a three- hour bumpy van ride from Quito. You can arrange lodging and transportation from the sister hostel of the same name, located in Quito.
From here, we were able to book the horseback riding excursion that I detailed in an earlier blog post (you can find it here).
One of the biggest draws of staying at the Secret Garden, besides its utter adorableness, is its proximity and access to Cotopaxi National Park, and more specifically, Cotopaxi volcano. If you're lucky, during your stay you will be able to witness a sighting of the volcano- which is truly a gift as it provides a stunning landscape.
When selecting your lodging, you have the choice between several options, including small dorm-style housing, bird's nest cottages, or hobbit holes. I personally stayed in one of the hobbit holes, which was a very basic but very cozy room that featured a warm and comfy bed, some basic furniture, and a great view of the park.
Included in your stay at the Secret Garden is a free guided hike to some nearby waterfalls, which you can read about here. You will also be provided lunch on the day of your arrival and departure, as well as all other meals during your stay. You have access to unlimited water, coffee, and tea, as well as little snacks such as fruit or bread.
The hostel staff can help you book excursions with outside organizations, including the horseback riding tour through Cotopaxi National Park that I opted for. You can also choose from a variety of different hikes through the park or to the volcano. Read more about the available excursions here.
You'll definitely want to take advantage of the heated jacuzzi, where you can enjoy views of the park and a comfortable place to relax. If you're lucky, you may even spot a llama or two.
Check out the amazing video below to get an inside look at the BEAUTIFUL grounds and surrounding park at The Secret Garden in Cotopaxi.
The capital city of Quito is Ecuador's largest and most populous city, with almost 3.5 million people within the metro region. At 9,350 feet in elevation, it is the second-highest capital city in the world and the closest to the equator. In 2008, Quito was designated as the headquarters of the Union of the South American Nations. As one of the world's first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978, Quito has one of the best-preserved historic centers in the Americas.
While in Quito, I was on my own to explore the city. I knew I wanted to see the best the city had to offer, but because of its massive spread, it's not the type of place that's easily walkable. So, I decided to start in the heart of the city at the Basilica of the National Vow.
The Basilica is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas with a spire height of 377 feet. With the first stone laid on July 10, 1892, the basilica was constructed for almost the next 20 years. Pope John Paul II blessed the basilica on January 30, 1985 and inaugurated on July 12, 1988 but remains technically unfinished. According to local legend, the completion of the basilica would signal the ending of the world.
When visiting, you will want to make sure you have enough time to walk the grounds and explore the various nooks and crannies. While the basilica itself is gorgeous, you will not want to miss the experience of seeing the sprawling expanse of Quito from the top. You can take an elevator from one of the main towers to the top, then walk across a catwalk through the attic, before arriving on an outdoor walkway. While you're high up, there's more to go! Be sure to locate the iron staircase that takes you to the very top- it is from here that you will find yourself eye-level with the clock towers while gazing out upon unparalleled views of the city landscape and surrounding mountains.
Once your knees stop shaking from experiencing the shear height, you will want to take some time to appreciate the unparalleled views of the city. On your way back down, be sure to take a peek at the workers repairing and assembling the beautiful stained glass found throughout the basilica.
Horses? Check. Mountains? Check. Adrenaline-pumping blood in your veins as the wind whips across your face? Check!
Horseback riding through the foothills of the Andes Mountains in scenic Ecuadorian countryside is not only a descriptive mouthful, but a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, or Cotopaxi National Park, occupies over 82,000 acres in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador and sits roughly 30 miles south of the capital city of Quito. Gaining its name after the Cotopaxi volcano that sits within its borders, the park also features two other volcanoes. Cotopaxi volcano is the second highest summit in Ecuador at 19,347 feet and one of the most active volcanoes in the region. Cotopaxi can be seen from Quito on a clear day and is one of the most commonly depicted landmarks in Ecuadorian art and culture.
Now- back to the horses! If you have never been horseback riding before- this experience is for you. If you are a seasoned pro- this experience is for you! No matter what you experience or comfort level when it comes to horses is, this is guaranteed to become a memory you will never forget.
Upon arrival, you will likely have a bit of waiting to do as the guides saddle up your horses. During this time you can shop the small market for any urgent goodies- in my case, I ended up buying socks, a hat, and gloves, as it was quite frigid, and I knew it would only get colder as we sped along on our mighty beasts. Remember, the elevation is high and the air is thinner- it gets cold!
Once the horses are geared up and ready to go, things start to move pretty quickly. You will be paired with a horse and assisted in getting on and getting situated. And then you're off! This was such a fantastic way to see the park because you will cover substantially more ground than if you were to hike or bike. At the halfway point, we stopped for snacks and tea, and then mounted back up and headed back out.
We were lucky and got to see a small herd of wild horses on our return journey. Wild horses are found throughout the park and being able to watch them run through such untouched beauty was a truly majestic sight.
The small town of Mindo, Ecuador is nestled tightly in the Andes Mountains cloud forest, one of the richest bio-diverse ecoregions in the world. Mindo is a well-kept secret and has no shortage of fascinating attractions, but its reputation and popularity as an adventure destination is growing rapidly.
Just a block or two off the main square, you will find a tall building looming over the trees. Featuring on-site chocolate making, a delicious cafe, locally roasted coffee, and rooms with a view, El Quetzal is THE destination for chocolate lovers and adventure seekers the world over.
After you grab a bite to eat at one of the many delicious cafes in town, you can check into your room at the chocolate factory! Located up a few flights of stairs, we choose the room that features a balcony, swinging hammock, and amazing views of Mindo and the surrounding mountains.
Because we were guests in the lodge, we were permitted free entrance into one of their world-famous tours. You can follow along as a guide walks you step by step through the bean-to-bar chocolate-making process. Starting with the cacoa bean, you will learn about the ins and out of how modern-day artisans have turned this amazing bean into one of the most lusted after flavors across the world. You'll even get to sample a batch of fresh chocolate brownies and experience for yourself the rich flavors grown right in the Ecuadorian valley!
Breakfast the next day was the cherry on top! We woke up and were treated to special seating on the veranda, surrounded by beautiful foliage and the sounds of the town waking up. Choose from a selection of cooked-to-order meals and fresh coffee-there's really no better way to start your day!
Staying at El Quetzal was more than just finding a room on Airbnb- we got to experience part of the amazing chocolate-making culture of Mindo. The secluded atmosphere allowed us to observe Mindo life from above, taking it all in.
Need to Know:
- Chocolate tours are offered 7 days a week, from starting each hour on the hour from 10:00am-5:00pm
- Cost $10/person (*Free entry if you are staying in one of their Airbnb suites!)
- You can book a stay in the lodge here
new to airbnb? use my referral code here and get $55 off your first booking
Visiting the Mariposario de Mindo, or butterfly gardens, is a must-do activity during your time in Mindo, Ecuador.
Located on the grounds of Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo, a full-service hotel, the gardens offer a highly interactive and vibrant experience for visitors. Whether you're interested in learning more about the lifecycle of butterfly species native to the region, or you simply want to witness nature's beautiful kaleidoscope, a visit is well worth your time.
Be sure to check out the rest of the grounds, including the observation tower and hummingbird feeding platform. Take in great views of the surrounding cloud forest and enjoy up close and personal experiences with some of Ecuador's amazing flying species.
Need to know:
Hours: Monday- Sunday 9:00am-4:00pm
Address: Mindo Sector La Yaguira- 2km from town of Mindo
Best time to visit: 10:00am-12:00pm- the butterflies are most active during this time
Don't use insect repellant before entering
Check out their website for more information:
The small town of Mindo, Ecuador, is located where two of the most biologically diverse areas of the world, the Chocoan lowlands and Tropical Andes, converge together, creating an ecoregion like no other.
As the most popular tourist destination in Ecuador, with nearly 200,000 visitors a year, Mindo has quickly become known for its wide offerings of adventurous activities, including rafting, hiking, tubing, mountain biking, canyoning, zip-lining, and more. If high-speed adrenaline-rushing activities aren't really your style, Mindo also offers many opportunities for connecting with nature through bird-watching, butterfly and orchid gardens, and learning about the Andean chocolate-making process.
Roughly a two-hour bus ride from Quito, Mindo makes for the perfect day-trip or weekend getaway. Full of color, adventure, and raw natural beauty, you will love everything that this charming town has to offer.
Follow along as I share my favorite things to do in Mindo and how you can see a different side to the beautiful country of Ecuador!
I like hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, and offbeat destinations