You can literally get away with travelling with just a passport and some cash in most cases, however if you’re looking to get off the beaten path, you may want to be a little more prepared in your packing.
A few other essential items:
Bring 2 credit cards and 2 debit cards from different banks, keeping them in separate places. When your bank automatically freezes your account because of suspicious activity in Honduras, you’ll be glad you have another card and can pay the dive shop for your Open Water Course. This is also in case you are robbed – a sad reality of many backpacking adventures.
Have a photo of your passport and flight information saved in your phone and backed up on Google Photos or the iCloud. It is also helpful to have a printed copy so you aren’t held up at the Panama/Costa Rica border when your phone dies and you don’t have proof of onward travel in order to enter Costa Rica because you were relying on keeping all your flight information in your phone.
Local currency and a little bit of your own currency from home. Having a small amount of your own currency allows you to do a small exchange on that final day if you run out of money without paying the withdrawal fees on a bank withdrawal (the last thing you want to do is pay $5 in bank fees for a $5 final meal) but doesn’t require you to change money back and forth multiple times. There are a few (very few) places where travelling with US cash is helpful. If you are on the tourist trail, there should be plenty of currency exchange places happy to exchange your Canadian dollars for local currency in any amount.
Drivers license. I like to empty my wallet and only bring the essential cards. Your drivers license should be considered an essential card to bring with you. Keep this separate from your passport (with your back up debit and credit card) as a back up form of ID should your passport end up travelling without you.
Clean ziplock bags. You don’t know what you will need them for until you need them and are happy you brought them.
A pen. It seems so simple! This is probably the number one thing I forget every single trip and am left bothering my neighbour on the plane to borrow theirs to complete my customs forms.
Hand sanitizer, wipes, toilet paper. Not every country has a fully equipped bathroom like at home. You may find yourself squatting behind a Guatemalan bus station and grateful you brought your necessary items for this from home. Likewise, not every country sells the tampons you might be used to at home.
Extra pair of shoes. I have learned this
lesson too many times while travelling and have left behind many broken soles. Thankfully a kind woman at a yoga retreat gave me her shoes (how yoga of her!) so I no longer had to walk around with a rope tying my flip flop together after a 2 mile walk back to the retreat centre. True story.
Pills. pills. pills. I don’t recommend playing pharmacist when you travel, except when you have to. Due to some of the situations mentioned below, I literally travel with every single one of these pills, every single trip. I have only been hassled once for having them all in one massive pill bottle (Lithuania of all places) but if you have space, you should probably keep them in their labelled containers, especially any prescription medication.
Melatonin. To help with sleep and jet lag
An anti-histamine such as Benadryl. I didn’t know I had any food allergies and I didn’t know Benadryl isn’t an over the counter medication in every country until my throat was swelling up in Thailand and I wasn’t able to get Benadryl at any of the 3 pharmacies we tried. You also never know when you will wake up in a bush of poison ivy in the Amazon, 5 hours travel from the nearest pharmacy or doctor. True story.
Antibiotics. This one is dicey, not all physicians will give you a prescription of antibiotics just in case but when you get a case of Bali belly, you’ll be happy you have them. Make sure to understand proper dosing for the specific conditions or ailments before just randomly popping pills.
Probiotics. After not having a bowel
movement for over a week while sailing from Panama to Colombia, these are now essential. Because of the change in diet when travelling, you should just take these preventatively rather than waiting until you actually have an issue.
Pain killers (Naproxen, Acetaminophen, Advil, whatever you like) – whatever you use at home, bring it with you for headaches and minor ailments.
Pepto-Bismol Pills. Because the liquid would be messy to backpack around and when you’re lying on the floor of your AirBnB in Hollywood, the last thing you want to do is run out to the nearest CVS to buy some.
Gravol or another anti-nausea pill. I learned why the boat from La Ceiba to Roatan is nicknamed “the vomit comet” and wish I had taken the Gravol at least 30 minutes prior to departure (there is no point taking it after you start barfing as I did).
Anti diarrhea medicine. No explanation needed. We have all been there.
Cold & Flu medicine – day time and night time. Because when you are kayaking with seals in New Zealand, it confuses the other kayakers when you sound like a barking seal due to the bronchitis you are fighting.
Vitamins. Because there isn’t a lot of nutrition in beer and the other things we tend to consume on vacation.
If you are going to be travelling or backpacking around, it is important to keep things compact. I’ve seen people with oversize suitcases trying to navigate cobblestone pedestrian only s treets or water taxis while I walk by with ease with my organized pack. It is painful to watch, and with some simple packing tips, you can avoid being that person.
The key to packing is to ensure everything you bring will be used, and is an essential item. When you’re travelling around for a month or two on trains, planes and automobiles, you are going to regret bringing those 12 different travel books stuffed between your damp, oversize, cotton, Costco beach towel when you could have just uploaded them onto your ereader nestled in your dry, compact travel towel.
You can head out to Mountain Equipment Co-op and purchase the top of the line everything, but for the casual backpacker, Amazon is usually your best friend as it has great products (with reviews) for great prices.
Battery pack. Since our phones are now also our cameras, music players, note pads, etc. a dying battery can cause stress. This is the battery pack I use. It is a bit bulky and heavy compared to some others, however the amount of charges I get out of it makes it worth it.
2. A compact quick dry towel. This can be used for showering if you stay places that don’t provide towels (hostels, campgrounds, etc) but can also be used as a beach towel, yoga mat, pillow, etc. Do not bring your fluffy large cotton towel from home. It will not dry when you pack up and will end up smelling moldy in your first day or two of travel. My favourite ones are from Amazon or Lululemon.
3. Tide Sink Laundry Packets. The inevitable will happen and before you are ready to do a full load of laundry, you will run out of clean socks or underwear. Or perhaps you will fall off a horse into a mud puddle in Ecuador on your first few days of a 3 week trip and will want to quickly wash the clothes you were wearing. These don’t take up much space and have saved me many times.
4. Dr. Bronner’s 18 in 1 pure castille soap. This can replace the tide sink packets and several other things as it has 18 uses. I can’t imagine travelling without this as I use it for a body wash, laundry soap and dish soap (I haven’t discovered the other 15 uses yet but I imagine they’re just as great!)
5. Ereader. I prefer reading books over an ereader however I do not prefer carrying books around so this is a compromise I make. I opted for the Kobo brand of ereader as it syncs with my local library. It is slow, has very few bells and whistles, but it allows me to store hundreds of books for those long plane and bus rides between destinations.
6. Earbuds. Not just for listening to music, but also for killing time on the plane as some airlines no longer provide headphones for the entertainment.
7. Lifeproof phone case. Drop proof, water proof, Dawn proof. I tried taking it snorkelling once without great results (difficult to press button to take a photo when underwater) but I do feel safer about my phone getting tossed around in my bag when wrapped up in this case.
8. Travel Adapter. Not every country runs on the same voltage as we do and if you want to fry your brand new travel flat iron, you can try plugging it into a socket without an adapter, if the prongs seem to line up, but you’re better off using an adapter when you go somewhere outside of your home voltage.
I do get a super tiny (tiny) kickback from Amazon if you purchase these items through the links on this page but these are all products that I seriously recommend purchasing, and I have purchased myself through Amazon for my own travels.
Ecuador remains one of my favourite places I’ve visited and I am excited to share the reasons why with you! The country has everything one could want to visit, and other than the Galapagos, is quite budget friendly.
Trip Length: 22 days
Dec 24. 2016 – Jan. 15, 2017
Guayaquil – Montanita – Galapagos (on the Golondrina) – Quito – Amazon – Banos – Latacunga (Quilatoa) – Quito (Otavalo)
Go: If you love the outdoors, hiking, surfing, Spanish language, yoga near the beach, South American food and culture, vegetarian and vegan friendly food options, and if you carry a sense of adventure.
Don’t Go: If you want North American style comforts of home, prefer McDonalds over Empanadas made fresh on the street, if you would rather watch cable tv than share a drink with locals on the street, or if you’re afraid of altitude sickness or if your attachment to your phone and the fear of getting robbed outweighs your sense of curiosity and adventure.
YVR – GYE, UIO – YVR: $1192 CA (I booked fairly last minute over the holiday season – 3 weeks prior to my trip, by planning in advance you can cut this down by at least 30-50%)
Quito (UIO) return to Lago Agrio (LGQ) $57 US (at this price, why bother taking a bus?)
Guayaquil to Galapagos, Galapagos to Quito: 15,000 Aeroplan points plus taxes (check this article here on when it is worth using points)
7 night cruise through the Galapagos on the Golondrina $1687 US ($1600 for the cruise, $30 bank fees, $57 non issuance fee for not booking my flight with them) You do need to bring some additional money for snorkel gear, wetsuit rental, alcoholic beverages and tips for your guides.
2 night stay at Jamu Lodge, Cuyabeno $238.88 US (including activities, food, transportation, etc)
Accommodations, food, buses to destinations, and taxis were all very cheap. You can get a decent hostel bed in Quito for $10 US/night (even cheaper if crowds and cleanliness aren’t a concern)although my major score was a private room in Banos for $15 US/night. The north American in me cringed when I needed to take a taxi from the centre of Quito to the bus terminal as at home I would never take a taxi for 25 minutes but it turned out to be only a few dollars (I don’t remember the exact amount, sorry!) You’ll notice through this blog that I took taxis quite often. This is a pretty standard way of getting around cities in Ecuador and are significantly less than your standard Uber ride at home.
YVR – EWR
I started my trip with a stopover in New York City on Christmas Eve. I only had 7 hours at Newark airport which didn’t leave a lot of time, but it was my 3rd trip to New York in 2016 so I knew what I wanted to see. I jumped on the NJ Transit train from Newark station and was at Penn Station in Manhattan in no time (under an hour). I was able to visit the ridiculously crowded Rockefeller Center, Empire State Building, Central Park, Times Square, Christmas windows at
Macy’s, and spend some time in my favourite area, Bryant Park where all the little Christmas vendors were out while people ice skated around. Although I didn’t have a lot of time in each place, I had a chance to enjoy the Christmas lights and holiday spirit (crowds) before jumping back a flight to Ecuador.
One more short connection through Bogota and I landed in Guayaquil on Christmas Day. The Terminal Terrestre bus terminal was a short walk from Guayaquil airport (although I did have to ask for directions more than once) where I caught a direct bus (2.5 hours) to Montanita. The bus terminal is a 3 story chaotic place so it took me awhile before I found the ticket agent for a direct bus to Montanita which was conveniently located next to an empanada stand on the top floor.
I saw no reason to spend any time in Guayaquil. Large Latin American cities do not appeal to me in general as they tend to be crowded, noisy, and often have higher crime rates. Also, any time spent in Guayaquil would have been subtracted from my beach time in Montanita.
Montanita (4 nights)
I spent 4 amazing nights at Casa del Sol in Montanita. I can’t say enough about this place. I arrived on Christmas Day to an incredible dinner with the community hosted by Casa del Sol and spent the rest of my time jumping into the activities offered in this beach town including:
Surf lessons ($20/each) from a guy down the beach. The staff at Casa del Sol offered to help me find an English speaking instructor but I was able to practice my Spanish and learn to surf at the same time by hiring a local.
Yoga classes at Casa del Sol with the fantastic instructors in their beautiful yoga facility
Horseback riding to Cascadas de Dos Mangas – it was beautiful to trek up into the lush forest and go for a swim in one of the natural pools however I might recommend just hiking if like me, you aren’t confident on a horse. My apprehension was confirmed when my horse bent down to drink some water and stumbled a little under my weight, dropping me in the puddle
(without a helmet because… South America). There is probably a more organized way to do this hike or ride, but we had heard about this place from another person (there are no words to describe his physical interpretation of horse back riding as he thrust his hips around) and so jumped in a taxi and found someone renting horses in front of a little tourist shack who agreed to give us a guided tour.
Beach time. Montanita’s beach sprawls for miles and so it is pretty easy to find your own little space to relax. The sunsets are breath taking.
Checking out the iguanas hanging out in the sun near the bridge in town.
Eating – I was surprised by the number of vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants in town and ate some of the most incredible food on this trip in
Montanita. The granadilla fruit was a new taste for me and something I continued to enjoy my whole time in Ecuador. The harder shell on it made it great to throw in my bag for long bus trips and travelling around. The best gelato of my life (sorry Italy) was at the little restaurant across from Casa del Sol (I don’t remember the name, but you’ll find it) For Empanadas “the size of your head” as they were described to me, check out Tiburon.
Drinking – I didn’t take advantage of the nightlife in Montanita as much as I would have in my younger years but I did check out a couple of clubs and of course, cocktail alley. The nightlife in Montanita is what you would expect for a beach town and if you enjoy late nights of dancing, this is your spot.
Detour: If I had stayed longer I would have gone up to explore some of the quieter beach towns up the coast including Isla de la Plata (poor mans Galapagos)
Guayaquil (1 night) & Galapagos (7 nights) .
I left Montanita just after sunset to catch the final bus back to Guayaquil as I had an early flight to Baltra in the Galapagos the next morning. I stayed at the Holiday Inn near the airport to keep travel time at a minimum as the hotel was literally on the hotel grounds and I was able to walk over to board my flight the next morning. Because I booked separately from the others on the Golondrina cruise, I had some time to kill waiting around at the airport where food was minimal, internet was non existent, and one could only peruse the 2 airport shops for so long. I attempted to go for a walk to explore the area but the Baltra airport is literally the only thing in the middle of a desert. Bring a book.
Once everyone arrived, we boarded a bus down to where the Golondrina boat was loading. I opted for the “itinerary C” as it covered the islands I was most interested in visiting, and the dates suited my timeline. There are so many islands and options of cruises to visit, below is a brief description of the islands I went to which may help you decide which ones to visit. Each island was so distinctly different that even after 7 days of island hopping, I could have easily stayed longer!
Bachas Beach, Santa Cruz Island: Instant gratification. Right away we got to see seals, iguanas, and several species of birds. An amazing introduction to the Galapagos and the diversity of wildlife we would encounter over the next week.
Genovesa Island: El Barranco: This island was quite dry and we spent a significant amount of time looking at birds. The coolest part was probably catching a glimpse of an owl!
Darwin Bay: Back to the beach and more seals. The guide promised we would be sick of seeing seals by the end of our cruise but I can honestly say that did not happen. We walked around this bay and were able to see some bones of different creatures which was interesting, however I was more enthralled with the live animals we encountered.
It was a super early morning but we were rewarded with penguins at sunrise! We were able to jump in and snorkel with them which sounds cooler than it was, they really weren’t too interested in playing with us. But they were beautiful to photograph on land.Following a short hang out with penguins on the rocks we docked and then explored the island. The short hike up the wooden stairs provided one of the most picturesque views of the Galapagos, possibly my favourite view of the week.
Sullivan Bay (Santiago Island):
The lava fields were such a contrast from the the previous islands. We didn’t see much animal life other than some red crabs but the outlines of lava in the rocks were beautiful.
South Plazas Island:
So. Many. Sea. Lions. Including lots of nursing babies! The iguanas also put on a nice little show for us feeding off the trees and climbing on each other.
Santa Fe Island:
We snorkelled around a bit in the bay and had a chance to see some really cool iguanas. They seemed pretty chill and not too bothered by our presence.
Leon Dormido: When we boarded the Golondrina I had said I really wanted to see Hammerhead sharks. I was informed that these are rarely seen snorkelling and usually one needs to dive to see them. While snorkelling around kicker rock, we were treated to 3 hammer head sharks swimming below us!
Cerro Brujo, San Cristobal Island: After snorkelling with hammerhead sharks at Kicker Rock, we spent time relaxing on a beautiful beach alongside seal lions while watching turtles swim in the water. This was your typical white sand beach and possibly the most beautiful beach we stopped at.
Lobos Island: This was my favourite island. I couldn’t get enough of the baby sea lion pups – some so small they were only a few days old! We even got to see the placenta of a totally new born pup. In the water, older sea lions were playing around treating us to a show that would rival the captive sea lions at Sea World but so much cooler in a cruelty free, natural environment. The island also had iguanas sun bathing and blue footed boobies.
We stopped at a few different spots on Espanola Island. More sea lions, iguanas, different species of birds, but I promise it doesn’t get old. Snorkelling around with the sea lions (and sharks!) was pretty epic. The sea lions were quite playful in the water, particularly curious of the Go Pro cameras some people were using. We were having a great time until the guide whistled for us to get back in the boat – I guess he didn’t like the look of one particular Galapagos shark that was hanging out with us. At no point on this entire boat tour did I ever feel at risk – these guides know the animals so well and it is their job to keep tourists safe. I trusted our guides judgment when it was time to get out of the water despite feeling quite safe swimming beside the sea lions and sharks.
Cormorant Point, Floreana Island:
Another super early morning – most days we left the boat by 6 or 7 am with our first hike or snorkel happening before breakfast. The flamingos on this island were tough to see in the distance but fortunately some people had brought binoculars and were happy to share them.
Although other times on this trip I had been a bit cold snorkelling, this was the one time I regretted not bringing a wetsuit or renting one. The water was freezing! And to add to it, I was getting stung multiple times every minute by mini jelly fish.
Charles Darwin Station, Santa Cruz Island:
This was one of only two stops on a serviced island with other tourists, accommodations, restaurants, etc. We went to the Charles Darwin Station where we observed some massive, slow, tortoises and learned a bit about the conservation efforts. I very much recommend stopping by this place as I think it provides some essential context to exploring the Galapagos Islands. The air conditioning in the little museum area was a nice touch as well. We had some time to hang around the town where I grabbed a daiquiri (or two) and enjoyed the break from the boat.
Our final day was spent with an early morning stop on Seymour Island. Although bird watching isn’t really my thing (you can probably tell by the lack of mention of all the amazing species of birds throughout the islands) I was completely amazed by the Frigate bird. The males have a massive red chest (actually their throat pouch) which is inflated to attract females.
My time on the Golondrina boat can be summarized with a simple route of hike. snorkel. eat. repeat. which was absolutely perfect in every way! The guide had a saying that with a little optimism and enthusiasm things would always go well. This was certainly the case as we were treated to sightings of penguins, hammer head sharks, dolphins and a whale. The different species of birds, seals, and sharks were all pretty standard
and abundant but we were fortunate to have seen the others. You will learn a lot about the different species, evolution, and even a little about the people of Ecuador. All this education provided alongside some incredible activities in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
The accommodations on the Golondrina were basic and small – in fact, my roommate and I had to take turns in the room if we wanted to stand on the floor but they were clean and the crew were friendly and helpful. The food was basic and tasty (you better enjoy rice as they serve it at every single meal) but the best part of the boat was the many options for outdoor space. The front deck was quieter (except when we all rushed to the front to watch the dolphins playing in the bow) and the back was more of a gathering place while we cruised through the Galapagos. There was plenty of room for everyone and there was even a small covered outdoor space for when things got a bit too windy. I will never forget celebrating new years eve on the Golodrina where we were gathered on the deck watching a seal who had jumped in our panga (dinghy boat) being circled by a shark. The excitement mounted when he jumped in the water to eat a water snake but luckily made it back in the panga before he became dinner for the circling shark. We also used flashlights to see turtles and fish swimming below us.
Why did I choose the Golondrina? With so many boats to choose from, it can be a tough decision. Ultimately it came down to 3 things for me: dates, itinerary, and price. Because I planned my trip only a couple weeks before I left, prices had already dropped but some boats had sold out, limiting my options. There are several “last minute” Galapagos booking sites but I opted to book with the Golondrina staff directly.
After a week on the Golondrina, we arrived back at Baltra several hours before my departing flight back to Quito. A polite conversation with the check in agent got me on a flight leaving in the next half hour… for only $15 change fee. Same day change fees with airlines can vary in price from free to ridiculously expensive… it is always worth (politely) inquiring if you find yourself at an airport several hours before your flight time.
Quito (2 nights)
I caught the bus and then the crowded, slow, eco-via to get to the Community Hostel in Quito. I typically prefer to take public transit for budget and environmental reasons but this is one time I am going to say that taking a taxi or shuttle is probably worth the splurge, at least after the initial bus. The bus into Quito was long, but otherwise comfortable, but the crowded eco-via with a huge backpack in a city known for pick pocketing just wasn’t a good idea. It was hot, crowded, uncomfortable and slow. I finally arrived at my accommodation, happy to finally put down my bag after standing on the eco-via for far too long. The Community Hostel was everything one could want in a budget accommodation for solo travel. It was walking distance to the most amazing empanadas (they put sugar on everything in Ecuador, including their savoury empanadas) as well as offered many community events. I don’t often take advantage of these activities but the free walking tour was a suggested activity by several people and I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot of interesting facts and history about Ecuador from the walking tour and it gave me an idea of how to spend the rest of my day in Quito while orienting me to this large city.
Despite snorkelling with sharks, canoeing with crocodiles, and sleeping in an open tree house in the Amazon with anaconda snakes nearby; the scariest thing I did on this entire trip was climb the clock towers of the Basilica church. Worth it. Do it. But if you don’t like heights, don’t look down.
I took a taxi up to the Virgen de Quito after reading several warnings about not hiking up due to robberies of tourists. Quito is a beautiful city with amazing culture, food & people, but it is a large South American urban centre and care must be taken. Twice when I had taken my phone out to snap photos I had well meaning locals tell me to put my phone away or it would be stolen. I met individuals at the hostel who had been robbed and I carried a feeling that I might be leaving Quito without some of the valuables I had brought with me. Thankfully I managed to enjoy Quito without getting robbed, but it meant avoiding some of the things I might naturally enjoy, such as taking the stairs up the Virgen de Quito instead of a taxi.
A beer at the nearby brewery followed by a food tour hosted by my hostel wrapped up a pretty awesome day in Quito. The food tour was an excellent introduction to many of the Ecuadorian delicacies although I was a bit too timid to try some of the more adventurous options.
Note about food in Quito: I am not sure why I did it, I rarely eat poutine at home in Canada but I did try the poutine at Casa Quebecua in Quito. It was the worst! Stick to the empanadas and other local street eats and avoid this spot at all costs.
Jamu Lodge, Cuyabeno… the Amazon! (2 nights)
Following 2 nights in Quito, I headed back to the airport to catch my flight to Lago Agrio to spend a couple of days in the Amazon. I had arranged to share a cab to the airport with some others heading there from my hostel (a good compromise to avoid public transit but keep costs down) and set off on what would be a longer journey than I had anticipated. With all the excitement of booking the Galapagos, I hadn’t paid much attention to planning my visit to the Amazon. I knew I wanted to see pink dolphins and so booked myself 2 nights at Jamu Lodge as their website promised this opportunity. After a short flight of under an hour, there was a man waiting for me at the airport sent by Jamu Lodge. We drove for approximately two hours until we arrived at a river. I was fed a simple lunch while waiting for
the motorized canoe to take me to the lodge. 2 more hours down the river and I finally arrived! Jamu Lodge was a bit pricier than a backpacker budget, but considering all things were included, was a great value. I had the opportunity to see pink dolphins (which are actually more grey than pink), monkeys swinging in the trees, crocodiles in the water during a nighttime boat cruise, and unfortunately (fortunately?) missed the anaconda snake encounter some others at the lodge had. The lodge is well organized with plenty of activities and
great space (hammocks) for down time. Unfortunately I caught some stomach bug and spent the majority of the ride to the Siona Community of Puerto Bolivar barfing over the side of the boat. While we were at the yucca garden harvesting the yucca, I snuck off to barf in private and the next thing I knew, I woke up passed out in a bush of poison ivy. Because whatever flu had me barfing and passing out wasn’t enough, I was now covered in a poison ivy rash (tip: always travel with antihistamines. They aren’t over the counter in some countries and even if available over the counter in Ecuador, the nearest pharmacy was at least a 5 hour journey by boat, van and plane). This couldn’t stop me from enjoying the Amazon so I participated as best I could with the remainder of the scheduled activities. A highlight was watching a woman from the tribe prepare Casabe from yucca. She was so strong! Literally draining the fluid from the yucca into a powder to make a tortilla. Amazing! Following this experience, we met up with a local shaman – and no he did not heal me (I didn’t ask) but we had the opportunity to ask questions
and learn about the medicines and healing the shaman does within the community. I tucked into bed early due to the flu I was battling and although I’d like to say I fell asleep to the quiet sounds of the Amazon jungle around me, the lack of walls in the treehouse accommodation meant I was left trying to sleep with the monkeys from Montreal the floor below me and their animalistic love making, leaving the treehouse shaking. The following day I returned back to Quito on the reverse long journey I had just done two days prior. There are options to stay longer than 2 days but although there was a lot of travel to get to the amazon for only one full day and two nights, I felt this was enough opportunity to see and do everything I was interested in. If you have the time, I don’t think you’d regret an extra night or two here.
Banos (2 nights)
Upon returning to Quito from the Amazon, I headed to the bus terminal to Banos. Note: the bus to Banos leaves from Terrestre Quitumbe (the south terminal) – there are two terminals in Quito, and they are on opposite sides of the city. The 3.5 hour bus ride to Banos following the journey from the Amazon made for a long day of travel. I can’t say I totally hate these travel days as they give me a chance to relax and catch up on reading. When you know you’re going to be travelling for 8+ hours, grab a good book and some snacks (granadilla and plantain chips travel well) and sit back and enjoy the ride. I arrived in Banos after dark so didn’t want to mess around trying to find a place to stay on foot. I jumped in a cab and tried a couple of options I had written down ahead of time. The second one had availability and I scored a private room for $15/night. The taxi ride from the bus station to two hostels around town cost me $1.50. I spent 2 nights in Banos but it is one of those towns you could actually settle into and spend a lot more time in. Sometimes it is helpful to book accommodations in advance but I wasn’t actually sure I was going to Banos after being sick in the Amazon, so I kept things open. This typically goes well for me as I
do research a few options ahead of time to know what is within my budget, despite not actually booking things.
A few things I got up to in Banos and can recommend were:
Cascada de La Virgen – a waterfall in town. A nice little walk although nothing spectacular.
Casa Del Arbol – it was a bit confusing to figure out where the bus was and when to get to this super touristy, but breathtaking spot (literally breathtaking… that swing was absolutely terrifying!) I suggest asking at the visitor centre or your accommodations for the most up to date bus location/time to get here. Once on the bus, finding Casa Del Arbol was straight forward. There were actually several swings and look outs, a cute little treehouse, and a little cafe you can chill at before catching the bus (or hiking) back down.
Pailon del Diablo – I took a short bus ride to Rio Verde however if you feel inspired, this would be a great bike ride. It was a bit challenging to find the correct entrance to this breat
htaking spot, but the locals appeared to be used to wandering lost tourists and pointed me in the right direction without me having to ask. There are quite a few stairs but nothing too challenging. You will get wet from the spray of the waterfall and crawling through the narrow caves. This is all part of the fun.
Chocolate banana empanadas near the bus terminal. These alone are worth staying in Banos longer for!
Banos had it all. There was plenty to do (there are lots of adventure tourism options I did not embark on or list here, but you can’t miss the agencies advertising the options throughout town), cheap accommodations, beautiful scenery, great food and a general safe feeling walking around. I did walk around at night on my own and unlike Quito, I felt safe taking my phone out to snap a few photos.
Detour: I would actually recommend flying out of Guayaquil to allow you to visit Cuenca after Banos, visiting the next spots on my itinerary before Banos.
Latacunga (2 nights)
There is varying information about how to get to Latacunga from Banos and again, best to verify when you’re there. I opted for the bus to Quito/drop off on the highway/catch a taxi into Latacunga option. It was cheap and efficient. Latacunga isn’t much of a destination itself but had cheap accommodations, lots of places to eat, and was a good base to explore the Quilotoa Loop.
The following day I caught the bus to Quilotoa. This bus transfer made me a bit nervous as I had read the buses are infrequent. I am not going to list bus times as I don’t want to lead you astray but this site gave me the most accurate information.
I did confirm the return bus time with the driver when I arrived at Quilotoa but despite this I thankfully got out to the road early as I almost missed the last bus back! Part of the adventure is being prepared for missed buses so make sure you have some money for an alternate way back if you miss the bus. Don’t let this deter you from going to Quilotoa. It is definitely worth going for a day trip or if you can swing it, do the entire multi day hike. I only had the day so
I hiked down to the lake and back up. The views throughout the entire hike were spectacular. It is pretty much straight down and back but the entire time you are looking over the water filled volcanic crater, Laguna Quilotoa. I contemplated taking a kayak out on the lake as there are rentals at the bottom of the lake but the altitude sickness was kicking my ass. I hadn’t been prepared to be affected by altitude sickness so hadn’t brought any cocoa leaves, cocoa tea or cocoa candies. Altitude sickness is tough to describe but it almost like the space between drunk and hungover, when you wake up with a bit of a dizzy headache but still feel slightly silly and forgetful. I slept off my altitude sickness back in Latacunga and prepared to check out the Cotopaxi volcano the following day.
Detour: Spend a few days and hike the whole loop
Quito (1 night… that turned into 2)
I jumped on a Quito bound bus with the intention to get off at the entrance to the Cotopaxi volcano. My broken Spanish failed me when I thought I had shared my intention with the driver, and by the time I realized we had passed Cotopaxi, it was too late to stop. I asked the driver if it was too late and stopped at the nearest town, much further away from the Cotopaxi entrance. Before I could protest and let him know I was ok to skip Cotopaxi and stay on the bus until Quito, he had thrown my backpack on the side of the highway and quickly told me what I assume was directions on how to backtrack to Cotopaxi. I ended up hanging out on the side of the road for a little while, contemplating if I wanted to go back to Cotopaxi or continue on to Quito when I decided to jump on the next Quito bound bus.
Detour: It would have been nice to check out Cotopaxi. Figure out your directions and your Spanish ahead of time so you don’t miss this spot as I did.
I spent the rest of the day in Quito revisiting some of my favourite spots (no, I did not climb the clock tower steps to the Basilica again) and grabbing a few things to bring home including some dark chocolate, alpaca wool socks from the market, and Zumir Plug Tattoo cinnamon whiskey which is basically like Ecuador
ian Fireball. This cinnamon whiskey was responsible for a very messy night with friends when I got home… a story for another blog.
My flight home wasn’t until late at night leaving me one last day in Quito. I opted to head to Otavalo to check out the market and Peguche waterfall, a short taxi ride from town. The market was massive and went on for quite a few blocks, however mostly sold many of the same wares seen at the markets in Quito. If you make shopping your main reason to go to Otavalo, you might be disappointed if you’ve already seen the markets in Quito. The Peguche waterfall however, is an Indigenous ceremonial site and completely worth checking out!
I headed back to Quito to grab my bag and make my way to the airport. When I arrived, they announced that they had overbooked my flight and asked for volunteers to take a later flight. I queried about the compensation and to arrive home at YVR 45 minutes later, I would be provided a $500 United credit to use on future flights. For a frequent traveller like myself it was a no brainer. That flight voucher paid for 3 round trip tickets to California in 2017! Since the connections were different, I was actually leaving a few hours later on my new flight so was put up at the airport hotel until departure time. For more information what to do if you hear the announcement for people voluntarily opting to get bumped off a flight, click here.
General Ecuador Tips:
If you have more time than money, you may want to fly to the Galapagos early and stay on Santa Cruz to try and score a last minute deal on a cruise. Day trips to the islands are another option but I recommend doing an overnight cruise to maximize the time you spend exploring the islands over travel time.
Try to learn a little bit of Spanish before you go. Out of respect for the locals, you should at least try to converse with them in their language (even if it means getting thrown off a bus on the side of a highway because you weren’t able to clearly articulate your destination)
Keep an eye on your belongings or consider leaving them at home. I thankfully didn’t have any negative experiences, but I met several others who had been robbed. Thankfully, unlike other South American cities, violent crime is rather low in Ecuador and it is just petty theft you need to worry about.
If you are going on a Galapagos tour, check what items are not included that you may want to pack yourself. I brought my own snorkel, underwater camera, and booze on board to save myself a few dollars. Some of the early morning snorkel outings are quite chilly, you may want to bring your wetsuit or rent one. They also help protect against jellyfish stings.
Ecuador is one of the most amazing countries I have visited and I look forward to the opportunity to return in the near future. I can’t say enough about this place and hope this blog has given you a few ideas of how to spend your time there. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out on Instagram @wanderingsincedawn if you have any questions about something you have read here.
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