Ecuador is a fantastic place to start your travels around South America. The natural landscape is magnificent and varied, you have access to the Galápagos Islands, and the Spanish accent is fairly easy to understand. Katherine and I travelled around Ecuador for three weeks in the summer months of 2017 on our first foray into Latino culture. Travelling South America is remarkably different to Southeast Asia. Although costs for food and accommodation are comparable, many other things are not.
We definitely could have fit more in to our time in Ecuador, but we wanted to take things a little slower. It took a little while to get used to things here, but being immersed in such rich cultures is super rewarding. This guide is by no means comprehensive, but it does give you an idea of what you can do with three weeks in Ecuador.
Currency: US Dollars.
Language: Spanish, some limited English in hostels and restaurants.
Internet: Pretty good on the whole.
Transport: Excellent in Quito. Taxis are generally safe and well marked out.
Safety: Some areas are more dangerous than others, Quito is generally okay. Guayaquil can be dangerous. Baños and Cuenca are totally fine.
Climate: Extremely varied. Quito averages at 20C, the Amazon is humid and hot, Baños and Cuenca range from 15-22C.
Ecuador’s Andean capital a pleasant city which sits at 2850m above sea level. The city is full of friendly people who are always willing to point you in the right direction if you’re a bit lost. The climate is good all year round with summer days reaching up to 24C and nights occasionally topping 15C.
As a general rule for South America, it is a good idea to learn some Spanish. Our Spanish is fairly limited, but it has been enough to order meals and catch public transport. However, if you do struggle with Spanish, pointing and miming will generally get you what you want. Quito is the place in Ecuador with the best understanding of English. This is in part due to the number of expats and travellers using the city as a transit point.
The main tourist area of the city, La Mariscal has grown out of the former colonial centre and offers a buzzing after-dark scene. Beware though, with ‘tourist area’ comes tourist prices, so if you want great restaurants and great prices, head to the Old Town.
Quito’s Old Town has beautiful architecture, great restaurants, and loads of great things to do. A walk down Venezuela Av will show you a host of interesting sights. The parallel street, Calle de Siete Cruces (Street of the seven crosses) is worth a wander to witness seven churches packed into one street. At night, the Virgin of Panecillo monument shines down upon the city and offers a brilliant viewpoint if you fancy a non-alcoholic, after-dark activity.
You could also visit La Ronda, a lively street loaded with bars, heladerias, cafes, and crafts stalls. The best nights for a stroll down this street are Friday and Saturday. If you love absorbing a mixture of latino songs emanating from inside bars then this is the treat for you.
La Plaza Grande – also on Venezuela – is a fantastic place to people-watch. We sat in the Cafeteria Fabiolita with lamb stew (seco de chivo) and passionfruit juice (jugo de maracuya) and watched the square buzz.
Itchimbia Park offers one of the best panoramas of the high-altitude city. On Sundays, the park is full of families flying kites, having picnics, and playing football. It’s definitely worth the visit.
El TeleferiQo provides another amazing viewpoint of the city and is a cheap option if you’re looking to fill a few hours around sunset.
We chose to stay at Hump Day Hostel on Venezuela in the heart of Quito’s Old Town. Hump Day Hostel is a fairly new venture and is situated in a prime spot for exploring the city. You can see the Virgin of Panecillo from the front door, and La Plaza Grande is just a 5-minute walk. The hostel offers tours, alongside Ecuatravelling, to Otavalo Market, the Quilotoa Loop, Cotopaxi Volcano, and Mindo Cloud Forest.
WHERE TO EAT
Cafeteria Fabiolita in Old Town is highly accredited and offers amazing fresh juices and a lamb stew that will leave you full all day.
Bohemia on La Ronda is run by a wonderful Quiteña woman and offers some of the best pizza we have had outside of Europe.
We’re always looking for ways to save money and one of the best ways is cooking for yourself. In the Old Town, there is a supermarket called Santa Maria which sells a pretty varied selection of stuff to make tasty dinners.
THE AMAZON – CUYABENO RESERVE
Our Amazon experience was completely unforgettable. The Ecuadorian Amazon is easily accessible, and its wildlife is diverse. Many hostels and hotels offer tours to one of the various lodges in the rainforest. We chose to stay at Nicky Lodge which was fabulous. Lago Agrio is the access point for the Cuyabeno Reserve in the Sucumbios province.
If you have enough time in Ecuador, we don’t think you can afford to miss out on this experience.
This quirky town is a little handful of joy. Surrounded by mountains, Baños is the adventure traveller’s paradise; cheap and reliable canyoning, rafting, bungee jumping, downhill cycling, and ziplining tours are offered on every street. If you’re on the hunt for the best adrenaline spikes, you can get your kicks in this town for sure.
You need only spend three days here on your way down to Cuenca or Perú. There is a buzzing nightlife at the weekends with Leprechaun offering a gringo-filled bonfire rave and Volcano finishing the night off.
If you’re after a safe, social hostel with tour options and friendly staff, head to Papachos. It’s recently under new ownership and the rep, Sebastian, is an absolute fountain of knowledge when it comes to Baños. If you say you heard about the place from us, he’ll sort you out (but we didn’t say that).
THINGS TO DO
Baños is famous for its options for adventure activities, but Instagrammers will recognise it for its iconic Casa Del Arból – the swing at the end of the earth. Catch the local bus, hop onto a Chiva, or share a $20 (round trip) taxi up the mountain to this famous spot. It’s a morning’s activity and you can be up and down in an hour.
Hire a bicycle for $7 and cycle downhill to the Pailón del Diablo – a monumental waterfall with super impressive strength. You’ll probably get soaked, and you definitely can’t swim in it, but it’s another cheap activity that’s worth the trip.
Take one of the canyoning or white-water rafting tours offered by the hundreds of providers in the town. The courses range from beginner to advanced and are great fun.
WHERE TO EAT
There are some really good restaurants scattered around town. Stray Dog is a micro-brewery which offers slightly over complicated, but tasty, food. Alto Caribe gets high ratings on TripAdvisor, and for good reason – it’s delicious! It’s billed as Caribbean cuisine which we didn’t quite understand, but the food is great anyway.
If you’re stuck for choice then Leprechaun pub (different to the Leprechaun bar) is a safe, tasty option. There aren’t too many cracking choices for vegetarians or vegans, but most restaurants we found had options for those avoiding animal products.
An old-world town with UNESCO World Heritage Status, Cuenca is a beautiful city with impressive colonial buildings and gringos galore. It’s the perfect transit point if you’re heading to Perú; it takes just 6 hours to get to Máncora.
We stayed at Go Hostel, which is brand new to the city. It’s in a brilliant location surrounded by good places to eat, and is walking distance from the main square. It has a cafe-style social area with a tasty menu, and a great playlist to relax to. Another option is Mi Casa Hostel, but if you’re arriving in Cuenca in the early hours, they won’t let you in until 7.30 – we found this to be a major downside.
We stayed in Cuenca just two days, so you can hardly call us experts, but we loved the vibe of the city. It was a great place to relax before the debauchery of Loki del Mar in Máncora.
What would you add to this itinerary? We’d love to know what you managed to fit into three weeks!