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Ecuador Vacation Travel Guide For First Timers

Wondering what to do in Ecuador South America? Are you a first-time visitor to Ecuador?

We spent 3 months travelling in Ecuador and have put together our Ecuador Vacation Travel Guide for first-timers and for those returning to Ecuador to spend more time.

Contents

Where is Ecuador

Map of Ecuador

Map of Ecuador
Location of the country of Ecuador in South America

On South America’s west coast is the country of Ecuador. A country that borders the Pacific Ocean, Colombia to the North and Peru to the east and south. A country that offers the visitor adventures to the Amazon Jungle, visits to the Andean Highlands and the Galapagos Islands. Ecuador is the 4th smallest country in South America and is famous for the Galapagos Islands.

Cotopaxi Volcano - Ecuador Vacation Travel Guide
Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi is an active volcano located in the Andes Mountains about 50 km south of Quito. On a clear day you should be able to see Cotopaxi from Quito.

Enjoy a day trip to Cotopaxi National Park in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. Take in the spectacular volcano views from the Limpiopungo lagoon, and then hike to the Jose Ribas shelter as you experience the high altitude environment. For more information and booking conditions click here

The Ecuador capital is Quito.  Other major cities are Guayaquil and Cuenca.

We spent 3 months travelling in Ecuador and have put together our Ecuador Vacation Travel Guide for first-timers and for those returning to Ecuador.

Frequently Asked Questions for Travelling to Ecuador

What is Ecuador famous for?

Ecuador is well known for the Galapagos Islands.

Read our article 5 Things to do in the Galapagos Islands

Is Ecuador safe? Check with Ecuador Travel Advisory before you book to understand what is happening in the country.

We felt safe travelling around Ecuador by bus but theft is rife, we were pickpocketed in Quito on public transport, had our passports and credit cards stolen at the Quito bus station on the way to Otavalo and our laptop was stolen in Canoa.

Our recommendation is to ensure that you have all your belongings securely fastened to your body and not left in backpacks or daypacks.  We believe that Ecuadoreans believe they have a right to take things.

The top well-known scam which happened to us was the theft of our passports and credit cards on the bus to Otavalo.  A local poses as a bus employee and shows you to your seat on board the bus. In our case, I was told that daypacks had to be placed underneath the seat which I did whilst Duncan was placing our bags underneath the bus in the luggage hold. By the time he came on board the ‘so-called bus employee’ had already stolen our passports and credit cards. We did not find out until we got to our hotel in Otavalo.

What is the Emergency Number in Ecuador?

911 is the number for police, fire and ambulance.

What other scams are there in Ecuador?

The bird poo scam is popular. Someone squirts catchup or sauce on you that looks like bird poo and points to it and tries to distract you whilst pickpocketing you or another takes your things.

There are touts that will try and sell you a luxury cruise to the Galapagos Islands. They will approach you on the street showing a luxury boat and asking you to prepay. The boat you end up getting is much smaller and there may be extra fees to pay for things that were not included in the initial conversation.

For more scams in Ecuador, this is a great article to read.

What is the voltage in Ecuador?

Standard voltage is 120 V.

Do I need a visa for Ecuador?

Most visitors to Ecuador can stay for 90 days without a visa.  Your passport must have at least 6 months validity on it and you should have an onward ticket.

You are supposed to carry your passport with you at all times in Ecuador but we recommend taking a copy of your passport instead and keep your passport in the hotel safe.

Do they speak English in Ecuador?

Most locals speak only Spanish.  When we had to report to the Police Station for the theft of our passports and credit cards we used Google Translate to assist with the report. We undertook a one-week Spanish course in Quito to assist us during our 3 months.

Ecuador Weather – When is the best time to visit Ecuador?

The dry season is between May to December and the wet season is between December through to April.

The 4 regions vary in temperatures and when is the best time to visit:

  • Andean Highlands – this region includes Quito and has spring-like temperatures all year round – during the day 15 – 20 deg C and in the mornings the temperature can drop to between 5 – 10 deg C.
  • Amazon – the Amazon region is hot and humid all year round. The wet months are April through to June and the dry season is between December and January.
  • Coastal region – the wet season you can experience afternoon showers that can be quite heavy and go into the evening (December – April). During the wet season we recommend using mosquito spray as dengue fever is an issue. During the dry season May to December you will need sunscreen when you go out.
  • The Galapagos Islands – the busy tourist season is from June to November during the cool and dry season.

Travel Insurance

We recommend taking out travel insurance as soon as you book your flights and pay deposits on any cruises, tours or hotels.

If you are located in Australia or New Zealand click here for the latest quotes.

If you are located in the rest of the world click here for the latest quotes.

Top Things to Do in Quito Ecuador

Here are our top places to visit in Ecuador starting with Quito the capital.

Learn Spanish in Quito

Ecuador, Quito, Spanish School
Entrance to the school with daily activity board

We chose Ecuador to undertake a course in Spanish through Simon Bolivar’s Spanish School based in Mariscal Foch in Quito. The School was rated #1 in Classes and Workshops in Quito by Trip Advisor. All the reviews were positive and encouraging.

As absolute beginners, we survived the first week and came out feeling confident that with continued practice we will be able to communicate sufficiently over the next 9 months in Ecuador and Mexico.

The school offers daily activities for the students.  Our Quito Night City Tour was a highlight and we thoroughly recommend it.

Check their website for the latest course prices and specials.

The School has been offering Spanish lessons since 1994.  Their mission is to promote the outstanding natural and cultural diversity of Ecuador to the International community through teaching Spanish.

 

Ecuador, Quito, Spanish School
Students Lounge Room

They have different programs available in Quito, Cuenca as well as an Amazon or Coastal Program.

Students can study specifics such as travelling, business, medicine, economics, politics and literature etc.

The School in Quito offered activities outside of the lessons such as cocktail making, dancing, cooking, history and culture lessons and cultural events.  During the week we enjoyed the Night City Tour.

Ecuador, as it turns out, is one of the cheapest places in South America to study Spanish.

Quito Free Walking Tour

Ecuador, Quito, Top 5 things to within and around Quito

We keep mentioning it every city we go to, but we love the Free Walking Tours. This one was no exception. Guided by Ovi out of the Community Hostel in the Old Town area of Quito we wandered through Quito for 3 hours.

Cost: It is a free walking tour but tips are very welcome.

Quito Free Walking Tour Route

We entered the Central Market and Ovi checked whether there were any vegetarians in our group, as there were two he avoided the meat and seafood sections. The entrance is through the food hall where you can enjoy a local breakfast of tortilla,eggs and coffee for USD1.80.  We headed upstairs to the Fruit and Vegetable section where he explained the various types of fruits and vegetables that Ecuador has and how to prepare and eat them.

You can smell the freshness and the sweetness of the fruits especially the strawberries. To the right of the Fruit and Vegetable section, there are the Fruit Juice Vendors. For as little as USD 1 you can have an amazing cocktail of local fruit juices.

Local Fruit and Vegetable Vendor at Quito Market
Local Fruit and Vegetable Vendor

The Central Market has various other sections such as meat, seafood, herbs, spices and flowers.  We learnt that Ecuador is the largest exporter of roses in the world.  In the market there was an abundance of flower vendors selling roses and other varieties of flowers, roses cost USD1 per bunch of 12 stems.

Monument of the Old Heroes of Quito in Plaza Independencia
Monument of the Old Heroes of Quito in Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia is the central square of the City. The Monument of the Old Heroes represents the Independence from the Spanish on August 10, 1809.

To the right (in the photo) you will see the Presidential Palace, to the left is the Cathedral of Quito. The Square represents the elements of Quito Society and the Square also houses the Archbishop’s Palace and the Municipal Palace.

The Guards at the Presidential Palace in Quito
The Guards at the Presidential Palace

Ovi, was able to get us into the entrance to the Presidential Palace to see the Guards and to view the Square from the Palace lower ground balcony.

On Tuesdays through to Sundays, you can visit the inside of the Presidential Palace between the hours of 9 am and 6.30 pm.  There is a small ticket booth at the side and you will need either a photocopy of your passport or the original to purchase tickets.  Inside you will see the Presidential portraits, dining rooms, meeting rooms and you are allowed to take photographs.

The President and his family do not live there, he believes the Palace is for the people, he resides in an apartment to the North of Quito and flys down in the helicopter when meetings are held.

Iglesia de San Francisco in Quito
Iglesia de San Francisco

Our next stop was the Iglesia de San Francisco located in Plaza de San Francisco. We were allowed to enter for free but unfortunately as Mass was just about to begin photographs were forbidden. Inside you can see the paintings and the sculptures of the famous Quito School of Art.  The most famous is the 18th-century sculpture of the Virgin of Quito.

Confiteria el Gato in Quito
Confiteria el Gato

Located in Rocafuerte is the sweet shop known as Confiteria el Gato where we stopped to learn about local sweets.  Ovi offered us samples of unusual sweets that contained cilantro and sweet potato.  Many of the sweets contained a high amount of sugar and chocolate, a must for those with a sweet tooth but not recommended for diabetics.

Ecuador, Quito Free Walking Tour
View of the Virgin of Quito from the Cafe San Ignacio

Entry is free to the Museo de la Ciuda, just off  Rocafuerte and Garcia Moreno, which originally was the old hospital of Quito.  If you walk through the gardens and head towards the Cafe San Ignacio it is here that you have this amazing photo opportunity of the Old Town looking up to the Virgin of Quito located on El Panecillo (Bread Loaf Hill). The Virgin of Quito sits at 3016 metres above sea level and is made of 7,000 pieces of aluminium which took two years to complete.

Ovi advised us against walking the steep stairs to the top as there are areas that are abandoned and hidden from view.  Thieves loiter around these areas.  A taxi to the top can cost between USD2-3. It is advisable to keep the taxi waiting for you and this can be negotiated for around USD8.  Entrance fee USD1.

Ecuador, Quito Free Walking Tour
La Ronda

La Ronda is known as the Bohemian area of the city.  This area with its quaint cobblestone streets covers a few blocks within the Old Town.  In the 1900s this area was well known for its bars, some subterranean, and was the main hangout for artists, poets, singers, painters etc.  Today is it a well-known area for its many restaurants, bars and shops.  The busiest nights are Friday and Saturday but if you plan to visit on Mondays most establishments do close except for The Happy Mondays Cafe.

Espejo Street in Quito
Espejo Street

We finished our tour in Espejo Street.  A street full of XIX-XX century buildings with restaurants and shops.

Days of Tour: Monday through to Saturday Commencing at 10.30 am rain or shine.

Journey to the Middle of the Earth

Quito Ecuador, Mitad del Mundo, “Center of the Earth”
The To Travel Too Team either side of the equator

26 km north of Quito you will find yourself in the middle of the Earth.  Mitad del Mundo (middle of the earth) is a major tourist attraction in Quito.

Originally it was believed that the equator passed through this site but today with the latest GPS technology the equator lies 240 metres north of this line. You can stand with one leg either side of the equator.  Besides the monument, you will find many restaurants and souvenir shops.

We travelled by local buses with a change of bus in each direction for approx USD2 return from the centre of Quito.

Entrance fee that includes the visit to the Museum (all three levels) USD8.00 per person

Join this 4-hour private tour from Quito to Mitad del Mundo and its surroundings to experiment the phenomena that only happens in the Equator Line. Book your private tour here

 

Centre of the Earth Quito Ecuador
Monument of Mitad del Mundo

The monument stands 30 metres tall and was constructed between 1979 and 1982. The globe on top weighs an incredible 5 tonnes  and it is 4.5 metres in diameter.   The white line dissects the East and West face.

The day that we visited the Centre of the Earth there were renovations undertaken inside the monument in the Museum on the 2nd floor but we still had to pay the full price for admission to the monument including the museum.  There is a great 360-degree view from the top of the monument accessed by a lift internally.

Centre of the Earth Quito Ecuador
360-degree view from the top

There are plenty of souvenir shops, restaurants and even a planetarium in the grounds.

Quito Hop On Hop Off Bus

A great way to travel around Quito is via the Hop On Hop Off Bus. The audio guide is available in English or Spanish.

Book your hop on hop off bus here

 

Quito Chocolate Lovers Tour

Who does not love Chocolate? Try beverages, salty courses, spices, flowers, alcoholic drinks and more delights mixed harmoniously with handmade chocolate on a 2.5 hour tour.

Book your tour here

 

Historic Quito and Craft Beer Tour

Visit the largest and best preserved Historic Center of South America, experience the traditional trades and understand the culture’s Quito. Then take an original Quito craft beer tour that celebrates the art of beer making.

Book your tour here

 

Quito Sightseeing Tour and Cable Car Ride

This full-day tour starts early in the morning. Starting with a pick-up from your hotel in Quito, enjoy the architecture, history and a great view of the city from the top of the cable car on a clear day.

Book your tour here

 

Where to Stay in Quito

For budget accommodation in Quito:

Discovery Quito located at Mariscal Foch E826 y Diego de Almago. Discovery is close to restaurants and bars and centrally located within easy reach of the Old Town by public transport.  It can be a little noisy at night.

Read the Tripadvisor Review for Discovery Quito 

 

Secret Garden at Antepara E4-60y Los Rios in Centro Historico offers a restaurant, bar and garden facilities for guest.

Read the Tripadvisor reviews for Secret Garden here.

For 3 star accommodation:

Boutique Hotel Antinea at Juan Rodriguez E8-20y La Mariscal is a French-style hotel with patios and free wifi.

Read the Tripadvisor Reviews on Boutique Hotel Antinea here.

5 Star Accommodation in Quito:

The Casa San Marcos Boutique Hotel in Junin E1-36y Montufar Centro Historico is located in a 17th-century building with an art gallery and restaurant.

Airbnb Quito

Airbnb Quito has a range of properties to suit all travellers and budgets.

 

Things to do in Ecuador – Outside Quito

Visit the Amazon

Quito Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
Not one selfie with the caiman was taken

On a recommendation from two female travellers in our accommodation, we decided we would visit the Amazon area of Ecuador. They had used a local travel agency to book the trip that was located a few blocks away.

Diana from Shine Galapagos was extremely helpful and recommended Guacamayo Ecolodge located in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.  Another good recommendation from the girls was to book the private bus to the town of Lago Agrio the stopping off point before you are collected by another bus and canoe for the rest of the journey. Diana was able to organise this for us as well, the bonus being that the bus departed a block away from her agency.

We stayed for 3 nights, enjoyed sunset boat rides on the lake, a night walk through the jungle, three-hour trek during the day in the jungle, a visit to a local indigenous community to watch bread being baked from the harvesting of the root vegetable to the table within 30 minutes and a visit to a local Sharman.

There was an Indigenious community fee per person of $6.

Tips not included.

Day One in the Amazon Jungle

The private bus left the Mariscal Foch area around 11 pm getting us into Lago Agrio the next morning around 7 am.  The drop off point is a small hotel where you can have breakfast whilst waiting for the next bus for the two-hour journey to El Puente the drop-off point for a 2-hour canoe ride to the Ecolodge.

The operation to get you to the lodge is smooth and efficient. The 2-hour canoe ride whets your appetite for what you will see over the next 3 days.

Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
Our first glimpse of a monkey

In the first hour we came across two different types of monkeys chattering and screeching whilst swinging from branch to branch, a boa constrictor just hanging sleepily on a branch we were travelling under, a sloth in his 20-hour sleep sojourn who was not going to be woken at any cost and many different types of birds. Our guide Nesir was very experienced and knowledgeable about jungle life, its inhabitants and its uniqueness.

 

Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
Guacamayo Lodge

Luckily we arrived just in time for lunch.  All meals are included whilst you are at the Lodge but wine and beer are extra.  The vegetarian options were very good. After checking in, we spent the afternoon relaxing and getting to know our surroundings before we headed off in the canoe for a swim in the lake at sunset.

 

Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
Sunset in the Jungle

Arriving at the lake we witnessed a stunning sunset, the huge red ball slowly descending on the horizon behind the jungle giving off its last rays for the day.  Some of our group enjoyed the refreshing swim in the lake.  Our boat then dropped us off at a riverbank for our one hour night walk through the Jungle.  Gumboots and plastic ponchos on and with the light of our torch app on our iPhone (not really strong enough for the darkness of the jungle) we headed into the unknown with Nesir leading the way.

It is dark, really dark and there were spooky shadows looming all around us.  We were in the middle of the wet season and the ground in places was slippery thick squelching mud or raging rivulets of rainwater running treacherously down paths.  Nesir paused and pointed to the bark of the tree in front of us, ‘scorpion’ he said.  All we could see was black bark, how on earth could he see it.  He produced a blue light and there right in front of us was the first live scorpion many of us had ever seen.

Loud noises erupted around us.  Apparently it was frogs not animals as we all thought, calling out to their mates.

Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
One huge black tarantula

 

We trudged through the darkness only to stop again where we had the pleasure of meeting our first very large black hairy tarantula on the ground in front of us.  We learnt they live for about 20 years.  20 years too long for most of our group who were not keen to be too close.  We have tarantulas in Australia, but these are giants compared to ours. Other spiders loomed on trees around us sharing the jungle with termites, red ants, crickets and something similar in shape to praying mantis but much larger.

The hour felt much longer in the darkness but soon enough we found ourselves back at the boat.  Our lodge was about 20 minutes away and on the return journey Nesir searched for caimans, birds, more snakes and anything else that was awake at this time of the night.

A well-deserved beer at the bar and then a hearty dinner followed by a good nights sleep.

Day Two in the Amazon Jungle:

Breakfast the next morning was at 8 am where we were briefed on our activities for the day. First off a 20-minute canoe ride through the lake to the Jungle for our 3-hour trek. Gumboots and ponchos were a must as we were still in the wet season and it had already started to rain. We arrived at our destination and headed up the steep muddy pathway already slipping and sliding, what we didn’t know was this was the easy bit. Nesir explained the flora of the jungle area and how certain plants can be used for your survival.  He stopped and pointed to a large tree growing along the path and jokingly called it the gin and tonic tree.  The bark of this tree is quinine bark one of the rainforests famous trees and used to treat malaria and of course, a small portion of quinine is the basis for tonic water used in gin and tonics.

 

Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
Our 3-hour jungle trek

The rain was now torrential, it was hard to take any photographs of what we were looking at.  We trudged through the mud, tripping over tree routes that had become hidden by the muddy ground until we reached a small overflowing creek.  To navigate our way across there was a small tree trunk that we had to balance on carefully – one foot at a time.

When we neared the end we were told to run through the mud bank, easier said than done.  The first of our group suddenly lost her gumboots as she sunk into the dark mud, it took three men to pull her out of the sinking unforgiving mud and she was told to run. Running with gumboots full of mud, the rest of looked on with fear.

We all took that first step, felt the mud and tried to run through it, not sure whether to laugh or cry but we eventually all made it and started our ascent up another slippery slope to the top of the hill.  Nesir is still pointing out flowers and trees and most of us at this stage had given up listening, all thinking of the lunch waiting for us back at the lodge.

As we descended we could see the lake in front of us through the pouring rain and our canoe waiting for us.  But wait! There was no engine.  All we could see were sets of oars on the hull.  Lunchtime looked a long way off. With the rain teeming down, we all set off rowing in different stroke times until the rhythm was established.  Some of us had never rowed before and probably won’t again after that adventure.  What took 20 minutes with an engine took 90 minutes rowing. Only the thought of lunch kept everyone rowing at a regular speed.

In the evening we headed off for another sunset on the lake, last night’s was certainly more spectacular. Tonight, though, we were looking for the elusive wild pink dolphin all hoping to get a glimpse of these spectacular mammals that ply the waters here in the Ecuadorian Jungle.  A boat speeds by and the driver points to a side estuary where he had seen the signs.  We headed off in the direction and soon we saw the ripples, it turns out to be a lone dolphin hunting for fish.  He did not surface but we could see where he was by the churning of the water.  We leave him to hunt his dinner and as one of the group needed a toilet stop we headed to the closest lodge.

Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
Not one selfie with the caiman was taken

Pulling into the pontoon two big eyes suddenly came out of the water followed by a swish of a long tail – a caiman, right there in front of us. He glided to within inches of the boat and we all moved back in fear. He eyed us hungrily and we eyed him back fearfully.  We all wanted an encounter with a caiman and we got one, not thinking it would be this close. Not many selfies were taken at this point, and luckily it was time to leave.

Day Three in the Amazon Jungle:

A beautiful morning as we headed down the river this time for one and a half hours to reach the indigenous village of the Siona community.

Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
Making bread from manioc

 

We were treated to a demonstration, cooking and tasting of bread made from the root vegetable manioc. It was quite a process from the cutting of the manioc root from the garden to the eventual eating of the hot bread, but it is a necessary one for the sustenance of the community and the young girls of the village.  Their expertise in this traditional form of bread making endows them with a happy married life, as their marriage depends on their capability in this field.  The bread was tasty especially when the local chilli paste was applied.  We all ate so much hot bread that we had not left room for our boxed lunch that was provided by the Lodge.

After lunch, we all had a go with a blowpipe to see if we could reach the set target.  It was harder than it looked, and only the seasoned professionals made the mark.

 

Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
Village Shaman explaining the properties of Ayahuasca

We were lucky today as we were told the Village Shaman was in residence and had time to explain to us his secrets and ancestral knowledge of shamanism.  We headed off through the fields until we reached his home.  Through a translator we learnt how his grandfather and father before him were the Shamans of the village and how he undertook his training to carry on the tradition.  He explained that he has a special potion that he gives to pregnant women 15 days before their due delivery date.  The effect of the potion allows the baby to be born very quickly and without any pain at all to the woman.  There is another potion available for women who do not want to conceive.  Here in the jungle there is a special tree where the bark is used by teenagers to drink which allows them to be still able to give birth in their 70s and 80s if so desire.

Read our article on Shamanism on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

We headed back to the lodge and rested and for those wishing to have one more swim in the lake at sunset another excursion was planned at 5.30.  Nesir was given some manioc to bring back with him and he prepared hot manioc chips for us all to try.  They were the best chips we have tasted for a long time.

Day Four in the Amazon Jungle

We departed our Lodge at 9.30 am for the 2-hour canoe ride back to El Puento.

Ecuador, Amazon Jungle,
One of the many species of birds in the jungle

We sighted another sloth just lazing about, many different types of monkeys in groups at different parts of the river and many birds and brilliant blue butterflies.  A short wait and we were taken to the airport 2 hours away for our private bus back to Quito. 6 hours later and we were out of the heat of the jungle and into the cool cold air of Quito.

To Travel Too Tip: Bring wet weather gear, although they provide gumboots and ponchos but if you have your own all the better. A strong torch is a must. Sunscreen and repellant.  Ziplock bags for your camera equipment and extra battery.  They do have a charging station for phones and computers.

Otavalo Market and its surrounds

Ecuador, Otavalo 2 hours from Quito
82 years young and still weaving

Otavalo holds one of the biggest artisan markets in South America in Plaza de Ponchos.  Saturday is the main trading day where the markets spill over into the neighbouring streets and alleyways. But there is more to Otavalo than its famous market.  We toured outside Otavalo with Runa Tupari tours visiting the famous La Cascades de Peguche, three artisan villages, Cotacachi and the lake of the guinea pigs in a 5-7 hour tour.  If you can we recommend you spend more than a day in Otavalo and enjoy another side of Ecuador.

Why you should stay longer in Otavalo?

Plaza de Ponchos in Otavalo daily markets are held
Plaza de Ponchos in Otavalo daily markets are held

 

Main square of Otavalo
Main square of Otavalo

We spent four nights in Otavalo staying at the Hostal El Geronio and enjoyed the sights of this Andean Market town. The Hostal was very comfortable and well located to see the sights.

Peguche Waterfall outside Otavalo
Peguche Waterfall

Las Cascadas de Peguche (Peguche Waterfalls) is only 3 km from Otavalo.

 

Ecuador, Otavalo.
The local musical group being filmed at the entrance to Peguche Waterfall

On arrival in the small town of Fakcha Llacta, we came across a film crew setting up to film a local indigenous women folk group.

The 2 km walk to the falls through the countryside full of Eucalyptus trees brought back memories of home, Australia.  The smell of the Eucalyptus is strong around us as we headed towards the falls.  On the hill, we could see the local Sharman’s shelter. He conducts the many ceremonies here at the Cascades for the locals who believe that the water cures rheumatism, cleanses the spirit and is the focal point for the equinox celebrations every year.

There are two viewing points, one on the bridge as you look upwards to the Cascades or you can trek up the hill to the left to a wooden viewing platform. We recommend if you have time to head up the hill towards the viewing program.

Ecuador, Otavalo.
Jose, the local artisan who makes a variety of musical instruments

Making our way from the Cascades to the outskirts of Peguche we met with Jose Luis Pichamba who makes and plays traditional Andean musical instruments.  In what seemed like only minutes he created a musical instrument from bamboo and was playing a tune for us.  Jose demonstrated his playing ability on instruments of all shapes and sizes and one that looked very familiar to our own Australian Didgeridoo.

Ecuador, Otavalo.
82 years young and still weaving

Heading down a dusty bumpy old track to Carabuela we visited Jose, an 82-year-old artisan weaver. He was small, wiry and extremely strong for an 82-year-old man.  We offered to help him out and take over the carding of the wool but we realised that we were no match for his strength and experience.  He chuckled at our attempts. Apparently they were the last in the village that works in this traditional way.  His daughter was now assisting him in the business. Our last RTW trip Duncan bought too many scarves from local weavers in South America and Turkey and vowed this trip no more scarves.  How can you walk out of a production such as this without at least one more scarf?

Ecuador, Otavalo.
Local artisans jewellery making

Next, we headed to the community of La Calera and the group of women who make jewellery out of the local seeds. Their work has become famous and now can be found in markets and stores in Paris. Profits from their jewellery assist in the funding of their local schools.  We love to see this return back to the local villagers and to assist Jane just had to buy a new bracelet.

 

Ecuador, Otavalo.
The town of Cotacachi

Lunchtime and we head to Cotacachi for a set menu at a local restaurant which was tasty and ample.  There was even a vegetarian option. We had some time to explore the town and to visit the leather market which the town is famous for.

 

Ecuador, Otavalo.
The Lake of the Guinea Pigs

Our last stop was to head towards Lake Cuicocha.  A spectacular caldera at the bottom of Cotacachi Volcano.  Lake Cuciocha means the Lake of the Guinea Pigs.  On the weekend you can experience a boat trip around the lake to see the many birds and underwater geysers that bubble up to the surface. There is a hiking trail around the top of the caldera but you must allow 4-5 hours. A word of warning if you are going to hike this trail do not do it on your own, there are thieves around.

If you only have time to take a day trip to Otavalo we can recommend this tour that collects you from your hotel takes you to the market and in the afternoon visit the crater lake of Cuicocha. Book here

Where To Stay in Otavalo

For mid-range accommodation in Otavalo:

Hostal El Geronio at Calle Ricaurte 101 y Morales Otavalo – offers free Wifi and breakfast in a rustic setting in the centre of Otavalo. We would definitely stay here on our return.

Read the Tripadvisor reviews here.

Visit Guayaquil and the Las Penas Neighbourhood

The “Las Penas” neighbourhood of Guayaquil in Ecuador looked a great place to visit according to things to do in Guayaquil.  It was rated #2 in Trip Advisor, in 2020 it is rated as #4 you can read the reviews here. Situated at the northern end of the Malecon in Guayaquil it was declared as a Cultural Heritage Site in 1982. Great photos can be found on the web, we couldn’t wait to explore.

So, Las Penas Guayaquil, where did we go wrong?

Our first attempt was on Sunday 10th May, 2015 which happened to be Mother’s Day. We had our walking shoes on, water bottles in hand, all ready to climb the 444 steps to the church and lighthouse and have lunch in one of the many restaurants that we had read about.

Las Penas in Guayaquil

We walked along the picturesque Malecon from the Hotel Continental (where we stay in Guayaquil) enjoying the water views and the local boats bobbing up and down on the river.

We reached the bottom of the steps, looked up and started to climb the 444 steps.  Not far into the climb, we wondered where on earth were the restaurants and the bars that were supposed to be open. We were expecting a buzz of people enjoying the colourful neighbourhood, sitting outside eating and drinking. We felt the scorching heat off the concrete pathway as we climbed, our water bottles were now empty. We huffed and puffed and reached the top and enjoyed the cool breeze from the top of the lighthouse. The view is worth the climb, but still, we wondered what was going on.

Las Penas Guayaquil

We commenced our descent and popped into one of the two bars that were open for a beer.  Looking out over the city we relaxed with our icy cold beer and enjoyed the view. Ecuador closes down on a Sunday, which is rare these days anywhere, giving families time to be one another.  That must be the explanation we said to ourselves as we headed back down to the only shop open which was the ice cream shop at the bottom of the hill.  Beer and ice cream for Mother’s Day lunch, a first for this combination.

IMG_2959

Second Attempt Six Weeks Later

6 weeks later we had to be back in Guayaquil, this time we planned to visit on a Wednesday for dinner.  Heading off on the same path at 4 pm in the afternoon, we arrived at Las Penas to find that everything was now closed except for one bar. Restaurants have “Clausurado” seals taped to the doors, it was like a ghost town, only people around are the inhabitants.  We ventured into the only place that was open for a beer and tried to find out what had happened.  The council had closed many of the businesses, not really sure whether it was for hygiene reasons or whether they were just doing due diligence because of the soon to be busy tourist period.

Las Penas Guayaquil

A few weeks later we found a report on the Ecuador Expat Facebook page that stated 13 businesses had been closed and they were hesitant to talk about it for fear of retaliation from the city.  Those who did talk said it had to do with the bars not meeting new regulations which require them to be at least 7 metres wide with at least 70 square meters of space.

To Travel Too Tip: if you want to head to Las Penas for a drink or a meal check the current situation before you go.  If it is the view you are after you should still definitely go.

Where To Stay in Guayaquil

We can recommend staying at the Hotel Continental located on Chile 512 y 10 Deagosto in Guayaquil.  The 4-star hotel is centrally located and offers a great buffet breakfast and free WiFi all in a modern setting. You can read the Tripadvisor reviews here.

More accommodation options in Guayaquil:

Airbnb Guayaquil

For the latest availability for Airbnb properties in Guayaquil check out our link below:

 

Things To Do in Guayaquil

Take a 3 hour City Tour that includes the Malecon, Las Penas and the neighbourhood of Puerto Santa Ana.

Book your tour here

 

Cuenca – The City of Churches

As part of our three months stay in Ecuador, Cuenca was on our must-see list to visit. We have travelled to quite a few UNESCO World Heritage Cities in the last few years and we were expecting great things, she didn’t disappoint us.

Cuenca and why you should visit:

A city located in the Southern Andes of Ecuador where the Historico Centro’s hub is Parque Calderon.  Where cobblestone streets and colonial architecture lead you down to Calle Largo and one of the winding rivers that hug the city and Historico Centro.

 

New Cathedral, Cuenca
New Cathedral, Cuenca

Visit the New Cathedral

The New Cathedral, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception stands majestic in Parque Calderon. The city boasts of 52 churches, one for each Sunday of the year. For as little as USD1 you can climb to the top for that 360-degree panoramic views of the city that you can get from nowhere else.

Visit The Flower Market

Flower Market Plaza de Flores Cuenca
Flower Market Plaza de Flores Cuenca

To the left of the Cathedral at Plaza de las Flores, you will find the daily flower market. The fragrant offerings tempt us but as travellers vases are not part of our luggage and we can only stop, look and enjoy the aromas.

 

Mercado Centrale
Mercado Centrale

Visit Mercado Centrale

A few blocks away is the Mercado Centrale. The market is a hive of activity not only with the freshest produce, meat and fish but with local food stalls offering juices and local Ecuadorian dishes.  Along the back wall there are leather stalls selling saddles and bridles alongside key and lock shops, shoes and clothing.

Back out into the side street, there are pet shops mixed with local bakeries where you can buy wholemeal rolls for as little as 12 cents.

Buy An Authentic Panama Hat

Panama Hat Maker
Panama Hat Maker

The Panama hat is originally from Ecuador not Panama as the name suggests.  One story suggests that the name was given to the hat when President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Panama Canal Construction Site in 1904.  He was given one of the hats as a gift during his visit.

Toquilla Palm
Toquilla Palm

The actual story is that the hats were produced along the Ecuadorian Coastal province of Manabi and were shipped to the Isthmus of Panama before being shipped to destinations around the world.  Workers on the Canal wore the hats made of straw as protection from the sun, the hat could also double as a bucket to hold water when it rained.

Machine used to shape to Panama hat to the required size
Machine used to shape to Panama hat to the required size

The hats are made from Toquilla Palm.  The town of Montecristi in Ecuador makes the finest hat. Their artisan weavers can take between one and six months to complete one of their hats.  UNESCO has now recognised  the craft of making a Panama hat as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.

We passed close by to Montecristi on our way to Guayaquil on the bus, in fact, what we should have done was spent a night in Montecristi and really get to know more about the history and to meet a few of the master weavers.  Here each hat is woven by one single artisan and can take months to complete.  The finest of the hats looks like silk and can cost upwards from $10,000.

Not only in beige and white these days but all colours under the sun
Not only in beige and white these days but all colours under the sun

Prior to arriving into Cuenca we had spoken to friends and researched what we could about Panama Hats.  On our bus tour of Cuenca, we visited the Homero Ortega workshop as part of the tour.  We spent 30 minutes viewing the production process they had on display in their museum and looking at hats to purchase.  They had a range of hats in all different colours but it was only when we asked did they have any Superfino that we understood the quality and the cost of these superior hats compared to the general quality on sale.

On our search for the best Panama hat we could afford we headed towards Museo Del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla.  The Museum is also the shop of Barrancos Panama Hats where the Paredes Roldan Family has been making hats for more than 60 years.

Address: Calle Larga 10-41 entre Padre Aguirre y General Torres, Cuenca.

Apart from the price we were keen to purchase a hat that could be folded into a box for travelling that would fit into our day pack or small trolley bag. The coarser weaved hat is not suitable for folding.  The staff were very helpful showing us the processes involved and discussing with us the quality of each hat we chose.  At this stage, we were still looking at hats from USD100 and upwards.

Our trail ends here, local artisans at work
Our trail ends here, local artisans at work

Heading out of the Museum we walked towards Tarqui Street, there had to be other Panama Hat shops in Cuenca.

Where we purchased our Panama Hat in Cuenca

At last, we came across Casa del Sombrero located at Tarqui 6-91.  It was encouraging to see some of the local country women having their hats personally made here, but will they have the quality hat that we were searching for in our price range?  In a cabinet, by the doorway, a Montecristi hat was on display.  We enquired as to whether they had more and both us of were led away up the back rickety stairs to a small room under the roof.

Here were our hats.  Good quality, Montecristi brand, with the style and colour we wanted and for the incredible price of USD50 per hat with a wooden box thrown in so that we could roll them for travelling plus a bonus rolling lesson.  If we forget how to roll there is a youtube video that we could watch.

Hats on our head we walked proudly out into the streets of Cuenca knowing that it was worth our research and that we did not rush into purchasing the first hat that we tried on.

Take A City Bus Tour (but remember to duck!)

City Bus Tour
City Bus Tour

There is a City Bus Tour that operates frequent schedules daily.  Two routes are on offer Cuenca Sur and Cuenca Norte. Both tours give you the opportunity to visit parts of the city that you may not venture to unless you have a car.  On the Cuenca Norte tour,  you can visit the Museo Sombrero Homera Ortega and even purchase yourself an authentic Panama Hat.  On the Cuenca Sur route, you travel to Turi high up on the mountain where you can taste a local brew and view the sights of the city from this level.

We stayed close to Centro in Hostel La Cigale and Restaurant in a double room with ensuite. The Restaurant was opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner and had a good vibe in the evening. Pop in for afternoon tea and enjoy their daily specials of cake and tea and coffee or at 5-8 pm their happy hour specials.  The menu is varied, fresh local produce and has vegetarian options.  It is a good sign when the restaurant fills up with locals at, 6 pm and it can be difficult to get a table.

 

Airbnb Cuenca

We would recommend staying in and around the Centro Historico of Cuenca. Check out the available Airbnb properties below:

 

Don’t rush Cuenca.  We ran out of time to visit the weekend market at Gualeco, the ceramic, goldsmith’s and silversmith’s at Chordeleg and the town of Sigsig famous for its straw hats and figures production.

Discover the villages and artisan crafts of rural Ecuador on this lively full-day tour from Cuenca. Browse the artisan-crafted guitars of San Bartolome, marvel at the elaborate ceramics and jewellery of Chordeleg, and visit a textile store in Gualaceo. Book here

Have you been to Cuenca?

Where To Eat in Cuenca

If you visit you must visit Le Petit Jardin for a gastronomic delight. Just outside Cuenca is a family-run restaurant which serves up local produce inspired dishes.  Le Petit Jardin was our favourite restaurant in Cuenca.

Galapagos Islands

Ecuador is famous for the Galapagos Islands archipelago 1000 km off the coast of Ecuador. The group consists of 18 main islands.

Travellers visit the Galapagos Islands for diving, snorkelling and to enjoy the fauna and flora. A visit to Cerro Mesa Reserve to enjoy the flora and fauna, visit the crater and see the local Galapagos tortoises in the wild.



You can read our full article on the Galapagos Islands here.

It is an expensive destination, as are most islands you travel too, but you can still visit and enjoy the destination with your budget.

There are two airports:

  • San Cristobal Island Airport
  • Seymour Island (Baltra)

There are fees to visit the Galapagos Islands:

The entry tax in 2020 is USD100 for adults and USD50 for children.

We stayed on two islands – San Cristobal and Santa Cruz and travelled by ferry between the two.  Other islands for land-based accommodation are Floreana and Isabela.

Our accommodation on the island of San Cristobal was at the Hostal Terito. A small family-run hotel that was comfortable and affordable. Hostal Terito was located within a few minutes walk to the city. The owner collected us from the airport. Breakfast was included and wifi.

On Santa Cruz island we stayed at Lava House. A small hotel centrally located with breakfast included, affordable and with free WiFi.

Tours Available Through Get Your Guide for Visiting The Galapagos Islands

There are many tour operators in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca that organise tours to the Galapagos Islands.

 

We use Get Your Guide for tours when we travel. They organise the following tours:

6 Days Tour – On this six-day program you can hike, snorkel, kayak, swim and experience an incredible diversity of wildlife. The highlights of this program include San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Española and a visit to an uninhabited island.

Book your tour here

 

4 Day Tour from San Cristobal – On this 4-day program you will experience the highlights of the Galapagos Islands. See the amazing range of wildlife that make these islands so special. This is an all-inclusive tour accompanied by an English and Spanish-speaking guide.

Book your tour here

 

4 Day Flash Galapagos Tour: Visit the legendary Galapagos Islands and view the many species of wildlife that flourish in this area. Free time is provided during your trip to explore Santa Cruz and its many activities.

Book your tour here

1 Day Tour – Explore the sights and wildlife in the Galapagos Islands on this full-day yacht tour from Santa Cruz. Visit Tortuga Bay Beach, La Lobería, Canal del Amor, and Playa de los Perros to see sea lions, marine iguanas, reef sharks, and other marine animals.

Book your tour here

 

 

Visit Canoa Ecuador on the Pacific Ocean Coast

Canoa on the Pacific Ocean
Canoa on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador

Canoa is the laid back coastal town with a surfers vibe on the Pacific Coast located 369 km from Quito.

A few years ago it was devasted by an earthquake.  We spent 6 weeks in Canoa and enjoyed the vibe and the many beach restaurants.

Where to stay in Canoa:

Hotel Canoa Beach on Calle Principal 600m from Centro. The hotel is located on the beach, has a pool, restaurant and offers free WiFi. Read Tripadvisor reviews here.

Two of our favourite places to eat in Canoa was the Surf Shack and the Hotel Bambu Restaurant both located on the Canoa Malecon.

Flights into Quito

Quito Airport is located 18 km east of Quito.

You can pre-book your Express transfer from the Airport here.

Guayaquil Airport is located 5 km from the city.

Flight Deals for Quito and Guayaquil

For the latest flight deals compare prices on Skyscanner here:

Travelling from the USA – click here

Travelling from the UK – click here

Travelling from Australia – click here

Travelling from the rest of the world – click here

Bus Travel Around Ecuador

You can check out the latest bus schedules and bus ticket prices here through Busbud.

Travel Insurance

We recommend taking out travel insurance as soon as you book and pay for flights and place deposits on tours etc.

Pinterest

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totraveltoo
totraveltoo

Thanks for stopping by and welcome to To Travel Too – Australia’s top Baby Boomer lifestyle and travel blog, with an international worldwide audience in mind, run by the married couple, freelance writers and full-time travellers Jane and Duncan Dempster-Smith. Come with us as we explore the world. Our two mantras that we live by are 'chase time not money' and 'age is no barrier when it comes to travel'.

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