Did you know that Ecuador alone is home to over 300 mammal species and 1600 bird species – more than Europe and North America combined?
The only thing I knew about Ecuador was Galapagos but as I set foot upon Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, located 3000m above sea level and surrounded by several climbable volcanos, I knew right away that Ecuador is the country made for me.
All the hiking, the wild animals of the Amazon and Galapagos, and the adventure I found myself into, this guide will explore them all.
Why go to Ecuador?
If you like nature and experiencing wildlife up close, there is no place like Galapagos and the Ecuadorian Amazon. If you like hiking, Quito, Cotopaxi, and Quilotoa are all great base to launch you off into the mountains. And if you like photogenic places, Cuenca and Banos offer you the best for that.
Have you ever browse through Instagram and found a photo of a person swinging on the tree house off the edge of the cliff overlooking a volcano? Do you want one of that photo yourself? Well, you are in luck, because those photos were all taken at Casa del Arbol in Banos, Ecuador! If this photo does not make you want to visit Ecuador, I don't know what is!
When to Go
The weather in Ecuador generally varies depending on the area. The higher the altitude, the colder and unpredictable it is. June to September is warmest and driest in the mountains, whereas May to November is quite cool in the south and the coast. Galapagos is good all year round wheres the Amazon will always be humid and warmer than other places.
I was there in October and the weather was perfectly fine with the relatively small amount of cloudy days in the mountains.
How to Get Here
The best way to get here is to fly into Quito if you are coming from abroad. I would recommend you browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight from where you live to Quito that best fit your itinerary. If you are already in Colombia, you can simply cross the border from the north with a shared taxi from Ipiales to Quito and traverse from north to south as suggested in the itinerary.
How To Get Around
Ecuador is a small country so traveling around it is not much of a headache. Although buses can be quite old, but with great roads, getting from one place to another is relatively easy and painless. When it comes to long distances, you have many buses to choose from from the bus terminals in Quito. Be sure to get to check your destination and get to the right terminal. There are 2 terminals, Terminal Quitumbe which serves the southern route and Terminal Carcelén that serves the northern route.
For traveling around in Quito, if you are located in the old town part, walking around is the easiest option. If you are a little further from the center, local bus systems like El Trole, Metrobus and Ecovia can get you to many places for as cheap as 0.25 USD.
For Galapagos, the only option is to fly from either Quito or Guayaquil (cheaper) with LATAM for US$351 round trip. Getting around the remote islands can only be done through private last-minute cruises that ranged from 600 USD for 3 days to 1100 USD for 6 days. You can do them independently but only to a populated area and the boat costed around 200 USD for round trip.
My recommendation is to go to the island and walk around the streets to find a last minute cruise that works for your schedule. This way, you get access to places you won't be able to if you do it independently and it costed the same. DO NOT book your cruise abroad as it could cost you 2000 USD more!
Quito - El Hostelito Hostel - 12USD/Night (The most comfortable bed of a hostel I have ever experienced. They have curtains, head lamp, and power outlets in the pod-style bed. Lovely staff and delicious breakfast. Highly recommended!)
Mindo - La Casa de Cecilia - 9USD/Night
Amazon (Cuyabeno) - Samona Lodge - 270USD for 4 Nights (Booked through CarpeDM Adventures)
Latacunga - Hostal Cafe Tiana - 10USD/Nights
Quilotoa Laguna - Hostal Chukirawa - 15USD/Nights
Banos - Kiwi Hostels - 11USD/Nights
Guayaquil - Dreamkapture Hostel - 9USD/Nights
Galapagos (Puerto Ayora) - El Descanso del Petrel - 17USD/Nights
Cuenca - Alternative Hostels - 9USD/Nights
Vilcabamba - Jardin Escondido - 13USD/Nights
Claro serves well for me as a sim card with the Internet that I can rely on and quite easily rechargeable via any shops that sported the Claro logo sign. The coverage was quite difficult to come by in places like Galapagos and Mindo that there were no other better options. For more information, read more here.
This place is cheaper than most countries but not dirt cheap. Expect to pay around 30 - 50 USD per day per person including accommodation and food.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Ecuador, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give WorldNomads.com a try.
One Month Itinerary
Quito (4 nights)
Quito is 3000m above sea level and the last thing you want to do is to go off and hike mountains around the city so first thing first, acclimatize. Walk around the old city, check out the Basílica del Voto Nacional and the square. The key to acclimatization is to let your body get used to the altitude slowly and what better way to do it than to walk around the city and explore the beautiful colonial part of Quito.
The next day, hop on the bus toward the north and go check out the Center of the World (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo). It is basically a tourist trap but it is pretty cool to be at the Center of the World! Well, almost at least because the real center of the world is located 240m away from the monument, where they thought the center of the world was in the 80s.
After 2 days of taking it slow, now it is time for you to climb a volcano. The Prichincha volcano trail is just a 5 minutes cable car ride away from the city and a 4 hours hike to the summit and 3 hours back.
First take a taxi to Quito Teleferico and get a cable car round trip ticket for 8 USD and start hiking from the station towards the summit. The trail is quite simple at first but the last hour was very steep and got a bit technical where you'd have to climb big rocks with hands and foot. The view from the 4700m high summit was quite a sight to behold though.
You might even see a few friendly eagles up there like I did.
Getting down is quite easy as the difficult part is gravel and you can run straight down pretty easily.
For more information about Quito: Top 7 Things to Do in Quito, Ecuador.
Mindo (2 nights)
Mindo is a peaceful small town in the mountains where you can hike to one of the many waterfalls in the forest and spot some rare species of birds that can't be seen any where.
You can also go tubing but to be honest, the thrill did not last as long as I hope. All in all, it is a good place to get away from the crowd and enjoy a relaxing day in the "cloud mountains".
Amazon - Cuyabeno (4 nights)
Now head back to Quito and get a tour to the Amazon. I decided to do the Amazon in Ecuador because it is relatively close to the city and it only took me 1 overnight bus to get to the heart of the jungle. I did a 4 days Amazon tour with CarpeDM for 270 USD including everything for that 4 days.
The tour took us through the jungle by foot both during the day and night to spot some wildlife (Anaconda etc.) and by boat to a lagoon where we could swim. You will also get to meet some indigenous people that were allowed to live off the land in the reserve. See their rituals and try out some of their delicacies.
The tour itself is really good and the guide was amazing but don't expect to spend 4 full days exploring the forest as you will actually do the exploring only for 2 days and a lot of sleeping in the hammock on your first and last day.
Cotopaxi (1 night in Latacunga)
After coming back from the Amazon to Quito, get on the bus south ward to Cotopaxi and ask the bus driver to drop you off at the entrance. Along the road, you will be approached by several pickup drivers who will be looking for others to share and get you up to the trail head and guide you to the camp for 25USD.
Do that, and you will arrive at the trail head in an hour. From there, the hike is 1 hour where you can get yourself warm and a hot cocoa for 2 USD.
Once you are down, ask the driver to drop you off the road again and you can get a bus from the road to continue to Latacunga and stay for a night there.
Quilotoa Laguna (1 night)
From Latacunga, get a bus to Quilotoa Laguna where you can go hike parts of the Quilotoa loop or just hang out at the laguna. Quilotoa is quite high up (almost 4000m) so take it slow as you hike.
Stay one night up there and take a bus or hitchhike (quite easy to do but you might have to pay a bit) down to the main road. Ask your driver to drop you off at the road where the Banos-bound bus goes through and get the bus to Banos.
Banos (2 nights)
You can see everything in a day by starting off early hiking up to Mirador Bellavista to get the view of the city from the top.
From there, you can walk to the main road and get a bus to La Casa del Arbol, where the "Swing at the Edge of the World" is. Be sure to check the schedule of the bus that goes through there and plan your time carefully. Otherwise, you will have to hitchhike like I did.
Spend an hour or two getting some nice shots of you and the swing and then take the afternoon bus down to the city.
Banos is one of the best place to do canopying (ziplining) where you will swing yourself across 2 mountains along rivers and waterfalls. I did it for 25 USD witht the Putzan Canopy.
After zip-lining, take a taxi to Mirador Ojos Del Volcan and watch the sunset behind Chimborazo volcano while swinging off another cliff overlooking Volcán Tungurahua. To be honest, this is a better place to get a nice swing shot than the famous La Casa del Arbol.
Guayaquil (1 night)
There is not much to see in Guayaquil but it is a good base to fly off to the Galapagos island as it is cheaper than from Quito.
Galapagos (10 nights)
You need at least a week to see Galapagos and a few days to find the right cruise. First day when you arrive in Puerto Aroya, go walk around the tourist street and shop for a last-minute cruise. There will be many options with different price range and routes so decide carefully.
What I found most reasonable is a 6 days cruise that goes to Puerto Villamil, around Isla Isabela, a stop at Isla Fernandina, visiting the black and red sand beaches along the way, cross the equator line and around Volcan Wolf, and last stop at North Seymour island before going back to Puerto Aroya, all for 1100 USD.
With this plan, I was able to see the remotest part of Galapagos where you can't do them independently, all in one go, and I got to do things like snorkeling with sea turtles, sharks and seals.
Tips: What I found quite consistent, after talking to so many agencies, is that they are unlikely to reduce the already discounted price but what you can do is ask them to throw in some free stuff like wet suits and goggles because you will have to rent them on the cruise if you don't have one and it may cost you 10 USD per day! So do ask them for free stuff!
For more info about traveling to the Galapagos: A Guide To Galapagos On A Budget.
Cuenca (2 nights)
Although it is relatively comfortable doing a cruise in Galapagos, you might feel like you want to relax afterward. Cuenca is the perfect place for that. Take it slow and walk around this wonderful city. The city has one of the most photogenic cathedral in Ecuador.
Walking around Cuenca reminded me of the time I was in Seville, Spain. This city is pretty, and possibly my favorite big city in South America!
Vilcabamba (2 nights)
Last but not least, we will go on our last hike here as we say goodbye to Ecuador and say hello to Peru as you can easily cross the border from here.
First order of business here is to go hike the Mandango trail where you will get to see and hike the Mandango Rock that is the landmark of Vilcabamba. The whole hike will take you around 3 - 4 hours as you walk in a circuit and you get to see the beautiful landscape around the area.
Once you get down, do treat yourself with a nice Falafel at the United Falafel Organization (UFO) restaurant near the church in the square.
From here, if you want to cross the border to Peru, you will have to start off early and get yourself to Loja and either get the afternoon direct bus to Piura, Peru.
If you were unlucky like me and found yourself in Loja and no bus leaving at 1PM like it used to, you can do it independently quite easily. First get a bus from Loja to Macara and take a taxi across the border. Once you have crossed the border, you can get some money exchanged at the small restaurant on your left and get a collectivo (shared taxi) to Sullana and ask the collectivo driver to drop you off at the bus station to Piura where you can get a night bus to Trujillo.
There are plenty of buses going from Loja to Macara and from Sullana to Piura so do not worry that you might be stuck somewhere in between. They will also be people looking to fill up the collectivo as fast as they can at the border so no need to worry about that too. All in all, the experience was easier than I thought and it was better than waiting a whole day for another bus!
And that is it for the Ecuador itinerary. What do you think about it? Do you have any suggestion? Do let me know if I miss anything in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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