Currency: US Dollar (USD)
ATM withdrawals: Most charge $3-5, but Banco del Austro offers free withdrawals. Produbanco was free in certain locations.
Languages spoken: Spanish & Indigenous languages
Dominant Religion: Christianity
Visa Requirements: British Click Here Polish Click Here
Health & Vaccinations: Click Here
Ability to communicate in English: 3 – Very difficult
Long distance transportation type: Bus, Plane, Taxi
Electricity: 110V, 2 types of electrical sockets – type A and type B
Greeting: “Hola”, “Buenas”
Vegetarian options-availability: 2 – Difficult but possible
Supermarkets: TIA, AKI, Supermaxi & Megamaxi
Budget: £1,200 per person for 5 weeks
Legend: 1 – Good 2 – Difficult but possible 3 – Very difficult
We always use Skyscanner to book our flights, because their search engine is easy to navigate and offers the best deals.
It allows you to search multi-city tickets, or tickets to “anywhere” – where you can search from your ideal location to find the cheapest flights to anywhere in the world. One other feature we use is the monthly view flight option, which shows you the cheapest price per day throughout each month, so you can select the cheapest date if you’re flexible with your dates.
*If you book through our link above we may receive a small commission from Skyscanner. This will never affect your final price.
Time Visited: August 2022
Duration: 35 days
1. Otavalo – 2 nights
2. Quito – 6 nights
3. Cuyabeno – 4 nights
4. Mindo – 2 nights
5. Cotopaxi – 2 nights
6. Quilotoa Loop – 4 nights
7. Banos – 3 nights
8. Montañita – 4 nights
9. Puerto Lopez – 2 nights
10. Cuenca – 3 nights
Coming to Ecuador we realised we would be skipping the Galapagos Islands, as going there would consume too much of our budget, so we thought we would only spend three weeks on the mainland. How wrong we were! In the end we spent five weeks in the country and there was still so much more we could have explored.
After crossing the border from Colombia by bus, our first stop was a charming little town, Otavalo. Most people skip this town, others visit here as a day trip from Quito, but it deserves spending a few days here to soak up the culture, explore the nearby trekking options, and buy your jumper, in the largest indigenous market in South America.
Our next stop was Quito, the second highest capital city in the world, at 2,850m, and it’s located in the “middle of the world”. Here we needed time to adjust to the altitude, luckily this city had enough to offer to easily spend a few days here.
One of the biggest highlights of our time in Ecuador was visiting the Amazon rainforest, where we spent 4 nights surrounded by the beauty of nature, plus some snakes and spiders, which were not really appreciated that much. We’ve never been to a more remote place and that felt so special.
The next two weeks were filled with a lot of hiking, in Mindo, Cotopaxi National Park, Quilotoa Loop, and we even took a trip to the adventure capital of Ecuador, Baños. After all the altitude we were hoping to enjoy some beach time on the Pacific coast, unfortunately the weather had different plans. Although, it was not the right season for sunbathing and water sports, it was the perfect time for whale watching, and enjoying some blue-footed boobies on Isla de la Plata, for a small fraction of the price compared to the Galapagos Islands.
Our last stop was one of the most picturesque cities we had been to, Cuenca. Its architecture is so breathtaking, it’s no surprise the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A lot of people associate Ecuador with the Galapagos Islands, and as much as they must be incredible to visit, Ecuador deserves to be known for much more than these islands.
One of the most unique and breathtaking experiences of a lifetime is visiting the Amazon rainforest, although so inferior in size compared to other parts of the Amazon in countries such as Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, it is far superior when it comes to biodiversity. We loved learning about the animals and plants, yet we did not enjoy the fear of finding a tarantula waiting for us in bed. Occasionally we could hear high pitch screams coming from other rooms, we didn’t even have to ask what the reason was.
One of the top activities amongst backpackers is hiking, Ecuador offers an incredible experience, from the green surroundings, to the white snow capped peaks of the mountains and volcanoes. It offers trails for all levels of experience, from day hikes to multi-day treks, and more advanced technical climbing, whatever your preference and experience, you will find something for yourself.
Colonial architecture in the cities, flower covered balconies, and street lanterns make every walk the perfect photo opportunity. Bigger cities offer a variety of charming restaurants, museums, walking tours, and great night life.
As for transportation, there is a wide network of bus routes that connect you everywhere. Buying bus tickets is so easy, locals will point you in the right direction if you look lost. For those longer routes, there are night buses available and are fairly comfortable. We found the prices to be very reasonable. One thing to keep in mind when travelling by bus in Ecuador is that thieves are very sophisticated, and may pose as the bus driver to get you to move your luggage either on top or underneath the seat. Yes we are talking from experience.
In most places we felt extremely safe, even during the evening. Obviously you always need to be smart and aware of your surroundings when in South America, but going to a local restaurant was not an issue.
Travelling from Colombia to Ecuador we found accommodation to be more expensive, what also didn’t help was the use of the US Dollar. From $10 a night for two for a dorm bed in the capital, to a boutique hostel in the heart of Cuenca for $20 a night for two for a dorm bed, with the most comfortable bed and bedding we have found in a hostel. If you want a luxurious experience of waking up to the view of the Cotopaxi Volcano, you can get a “hobbit home” for $130 a night for two. This includes extra activities of hiking to waterfalls and to the peak of Pasochoa volcano, all of your meals, unlimited tea and coffee, and all you can eat banana bread and bananas. Once you have finished your banana, you can take the peel and feed the llamas.
Mosts of the hostels will include breakfast, and you can expect some scrambled eggs, a bowl of fruit, juice and coffee. Depending on your location, this may be basic or a more fancy variety, but will keep you going for a few hours.
Great thing about hostels in South America is the fact that a great number of them have shared kitchens, which makes preparing meals and cooking on a budget a lot easier, rather than constantly eating out.
Even though it’s backpacker friendly and offers a great variety of hostels, you can easily find more exclusive accommodation in boutique hotels, airbnb’s, and world famous hotels.
We will share our favourite accommodation for each destination in the individual posts for the places.
Our Top choices in Ecuador:
Quito – The Secret Garden
Cotopaxi – The Secret Garden Cotopaxi
Cuenca – Guillerminas Hostel Boutique
Banks and ATMs
The official currency in Ecuador is the US Dollar, with small change being given in Ecuadorian Centavo, you can either enter the country with the money already exchanged from your own country, or you can easily withdraw from the local ATMs, or use a currency exchange to convert popular currencies of Euro and British Pound.
ATMs are easily available throughout the country and card payments are widely accepted in restaurants and shops. Most ATMs charge a withdrawal fee of $3-5 per transaction, luckily we found bank Banco del Austro offered free withdrawals, Produbanco offered free withdrawals in some locations we tried.
If the ATM asks you to accept the conversion, always say NO, as you’ll get a better rate through your bank. Doing it this way saved us a lot of money.
Culture & Customs
Before the colonisation by the Spanish Empire in the 16th Century, and the expansion of the Inca Empire in the 15th Century, numerous civilisations existed throughout the country, which has created the large diversity that exists until this day. Ecuadorian culture is a mixture of indigenous practices, traditions, and European colonial influence.
Being caught amongst Spanish rule and then later Gran Colombia control, Ecuador eventually gained independence in 1822, but it didn’t guarantee the peace, with the country experiencing political instability, assassinations, and military interventions for decades afterwards.
When we were in the Amazon we visited the Seoqueya community and met the leader of the indigenous Siona tribe living there. It was an incredible experience listening to their native language, observing their traditional cooking techniques, helping with preparing the yuca bread, and simply witnessing their way of life. Indiginous people living in the Amazon have complete control over their land and tourism, and are happy to welcome tourists into their communities. That is the case for the easier to reach tribes, with others still untouched by modern civilisation.
One haunting fact we learnt was that a large tribe known as the Shuar, would often hunt the head of their enemies, and later cook them to shrink them and keep them as trophies.
While talking about indigenous communities, we can’t forget about Otavalo town, where indigenous influence is visible on every corner, with people wearing their colourful traditional clothing and hats. Otavalo is also home to the largest indigenous market in South America, where you can find the softest and warmest handmade jumpers, traditional hats in every colour, wooden carvings, bags, hammocks, jewellery, and leatherwork.
We were amazed by the beautiful architecture in both Quito and Cuenca, which is not surprising as they are both UNESCO World Heritage sites, with Quito Historic Centre being one of the first ever declared heritage sites by UNESCO. We loved spending our mornings just strolling around these beautiful cities and finding a perfect spot for a morning coffee.
We were impressed by the big cycling culture in Ecuador, with Quito closing their main road on Sundays to allow cyclists to enjoy a 30km route, car free. Other popular activities amongst Ecuadorians are soccer and dancing, which is not a surprise for a South American country.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? You probably never heard of Ecuadorian chocolate, but consider Belgian or Swiss as the best in the world. Well, we have a surprise for you! They wouldn’t be as good without the perfect Ecuadorian cocoa, which is the best quality in the world, thanks to the cocoa trees growing in the perfect conditions on the equator. The people are proud of their chocolate and you can find a number of chocolate museums, where you can learn about the growing and production processes. Spoiler alert: They will also allow you to try different types of chocolate for free.
Another shocking fact, the Panama hat is not actually from Panama, yes you guessed right, it is from Ecuador. A long tradition of the hat dates back to Cuenca, with its traditional construction techniques still used today. The Panama hat was popularised when Theodore Roosevelt was seen wearing one on the construction site of the Panama Canal. It soon became popular across the world, with Cuenca exporting large volumes around the world.
Food & Drink
The most iconic Ecuadorian dishes are Cuy asado (roasted guinea pig), Ceviche de camerón (raw shrimp cocktail), Trucha frite (Fried trout), and Pollo (Chicken), it’s everywhere and in every form. If you’re a meat eater you will love Ecuador, you can find meat options like Papi Pollo (chicken with fries and a side of veg) for as little as $1, or you can opt for the more adventurous dish of Cuy asado, but this is a costly dish. We were told by a local guide to avoid this meal in big cities like Quito, as it will be extremely overpriced, a better option would be trying it in a smaller town with an indigenous community presence.
As vegetarians we tried none of the above traditional dishes, but we did try some of the vegetarian street food options, like Empanadas de queso (cheese empanadas), Empanadas de verde (green plantain empanadas), and Bolon de verde (mashed green plantain fried ball stuffed with cheese). Some restaurants offer a vegetarian menu del dia option, which is a meal set for a low price of around $2. The one we tried consisted of a quinoa soup, salad, lentil vegetable stew, patacones, a drink, and a desert option. We found food not to be spicy, but some restaurants offered local Aji to add that extra bit of spice, but we also carried a bottle of hot sauce as a backup.
Ecuadorians have a sweet tooth, walking the streets of any city or town there will be many vendors selling a wide variety of desserts. Some we found rather controversial, like hot chocolate with cheese or ice cream with a topping of cheese, others were more “normal”, like Espumilla (sweet mousse) and Quimbolitos (pastry with raisins, cooked in a plantain leaf). For a healthier option you can visit a local market or street vendor, to buy an enormous range of exotic fruit. In Otavalo we managed to buy 2.5kg of fresh strawberries for just $1.
Aside from food, Ecuador offers unique drinks that some may find weird and others may fall in love with them. One of the highly debated drinks is Chicha, traditional in Ecuador, can be prepared with either yuca, corn or quinoa. Some variations of Chicha are known as the chew and spit, saliva fermented alcoholic drink. Pre-fermented versions are often consumed by children. Another drink that will set your throat on fire is Aguardiente, a fermented sugar cane juice, considered the national drink of Ecuador. Legends say that it may reach up to 80% of alcohol. The most pleasant alcoholic drink that we fell in love with was a home made ginger beer at El Quetzal de Mindo. Instead of being just sweet, it was both spicy and refreshing.
For a non-alcoholic option you will find many places that will offer freshly squeezed juices at a reasonable price or Canelazo, a spiced beverage made with a combination of cinnamon water and unrefined cane sugar (panela).
Our Top Activities
1. Whale watching and exploring Isla de la Plata
Time the season right and you can observe humpback whales teaching their young to jump and flip out of the water. This literally was a jaw dropping moment. If you love boobies, then Isla de la Plata is the perfect place for you, you will see hundreds of these blue-footed birds, walking, flying, and shitting in circles to mark their territory. Just keep your distance.
2. Sunset over Laguna Grande in the Amazon Rainforest
Imagine the most beautiful and colourful sunset you have ever seen, now you’re in this remote place on a small wooden boat, ready to jump into the lagoon for a sunset swim. Just try not to touch the bottom as it’s filled with anacondas and caimans. It sounded romantic, but when taking that into consideration it felt an adventurous thing to do.
3. Relaxing in the Hobbit Home overlooking the Cotopaxi volcano
The second largest volcano in Ecuador, you can enjoy this view whilst relaxing in your own private “Hobbit Home”. Views don’t get much better than this impressive volcano, and in your free time you can enjoy unlimited banana bread and feed banana skins to the llamas.
4. Trekking the Quilotoa Loop
The Quilotoa loop is one of those experiences about both the journey and the final destination. This 3 day, 2 night trek takes you through the valleys, hills, villages, and finally the Quilotoa lake inside a volcanic crater. For extra excitement you’ll need to jump over or under barbed wire fences to navigate past the scary looking cows along the way.
5. Zip-lining in Baños
You can’t visit the adventure capital of Ecuador without trying at least one adventure that this town has to offer. It’s not the biggest zip-line park, but is a really fun half day activity that will make your heart race, if you’re afraid of heights.
6. Enjoy a craft beer from Cuenca Beer Company overlooking the famous cathedral
After all these adventures in Ecuador, we enjoyed a nice pint of craft beer in the sun, overlooking the famous cathedral in Cuenca. The Cuenca Beer Company is situated in a charming square, with multiple restaurants, located on the balconies, decorated with lights and flowers. It is a charming and lively place, perfect for an afternoon beer. Whale watching and exploring Isla de la Plata
Initially our plan was to end our trip with the Galapagos Islands, but once we reached the mainland we realised how much there is to do within Ecuador. We decided to skip the Galapagos Islands and return in a few years, just for a few week holiday, and instead we focused on exploring the more cultural and adventurous aspects of the country. This resulted in us extending our stay from three weeks to five, and there was still so much we didn’t get to experience.
If all you know about Ecuador is the Galapagos Islands, make sure you do your research before booking your flights, because you will regret not exploring this wonderful country.
On our last day we were feeling emotional that our time in Ecuador was over and we had to leave.