Galapagos islands were out of our budget and we almost overlooked the rest of Ecuador because of that. We are overly grateful we didn’t! Ecuador has so much more to offer and although the currency is tied to US dollars, it CAN be done on a backpacker budget.
Nature is a huge part of the make up of Ecuador. Home to 82 Volcanoes, Ecuador is littered with hiking trails to panoramic views of the country’s rugged beauty. Indigenous families still live in huts at extreme altitudes farming in the rich volcanic soils at the beginning of the Andes mountain range. Many of the fruits grown here are endemic to the region and found nowhere else.
Galapagos is without a doubt Ecuador’s crown jewel but you cannot let that overshadow the rest of this beautiful and entertaining country. The equator line and a few parlour tricks bemuse the more gullible tourists and indigenous markets full of colourful handicrafts captivate others. The Amazon is right on the doorstep and adventure activities line the canyons. If you plan on travelling from Peru to Colombia or visa-versa then save some time for Ecuador, Galapagos or not you will love it.
Ipiales, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador – $8.90 USD total each
Crossing the Colombia/Ecuador border was once a very difficult task, not anymore. We took a 10 minute collectivo ride from Ipiales bus station to the border $1500 COP (0.50cents).
There are no exit fees out of Colombia, nor entrance fees into Ecuador. Once you receive your exit stamp you will need to cross the bridge on foot to the Ecuador immigration building for your entry stamp.
The whole immigration process does not take very long unless you are met with a line.
Take another collectivo from the border to the Tulcan bus terminal for $2.20 each. Here you can catch a bus direct to Quito for around $6.00 each and takes approx 5 hours. Bear in mind you will arrive at Carcelen (north) bus station. We arrived in the evening so we took a taxi for $10 to the centre of town.
Quito to Baños – $4 USD total each
Catch the C4 bus from the centre of town for .25cents to Quitumbe (south) bus station. This will take around 40 mins. Once you arrive at the bus station, buy your tickets at the Baños kiosk. These should cost you $4 USD. The direct bus will take approx 4 hours.
Baños to Cuenca – $10 USD total each
The bus to Cuenca includes one bus change.
From the Baños bus station (only terminal in town) buy a ticket to Riobamba, this bus leaves every hour from 8am – 6pm. It costs $2 USD and will take 1 hour 40 minutes.
Once you get off at Riobamba station, catch a bus directly to Cuenca. The ticket to Cuenca costs $8 USD each and takes 6 hours. The total journey from Baños to Cuenca takes around 8 hours.
Be prepared with lots of reading material and some snacks!
Cuenca, Ecuador to Mancora, Peru – $15 USD total each
It is safe to cross the border from Ecuador into Peru at night.
3 bus companies go by night into Peru, we shopped around then bought tickets with Super Semeria one day in advance. They seemed like the best company – toilet on board, semi cama seats and the air con wasn’t cracked up to -1000, they even passed out a small treat of Oreo’s and a juice on departure. Our ticket costs $15 USD each, the bus left at 10pm. around 2am you arrive at immigration. Surprisingly, it was super fast and very easy. The only form required is the entry form into Peru. Get your exit stamps, and then at the very next counter, get your entry stamp into Peru. The process took 10 minutes with no hassles.
Note there are no exit fees leaving Ecuador nor there are no Entry fees into Peru.
This has to be one of our favourite hostels in Central/South America.
Hump day hostel was only opened for a month before we got there, so everything is very clean and new (a change to what we normally stay in). The hostel has a really nice boutique feel to the interior. They offer both dorm beds and private rooms.
The private bedroom surpassed the standard of some hotels. The room was homely and quaint with large a cupboard to unpack into and extremely soft comfortable bedding. What we liked about the dorm beds is that each bed came with it’s own power socket, light and a pouch to hold your small belongings.
Breakfast is included, basic but delicious – 2 slices of bread, eggs and some chopped fruit. Coffee and tea is available for free all day. The staff are very friendly and all were helpful, any questions we had (I always have a few) were cheerfully answered. The tours available at the hostel are very good, so make sure you sign up with them.
We would recommend this place to our family and friends, so if you’re in Quito make sure you stay at Hump day hostel.
Great hostel, Baños – $9 for a dorm bed pp p/n
Great hostel was recommended to us during our stay at Hump day hostel. When we arrived we were welcomed with a free dinner of vegetable risotto! On Mondays through Wednesdays the hostel offers free dinner to those who like their facebook page and attend the online dinner event (note this must be done before 7pm to qualify for the free dinner). We loved this idea, it brings everyone together and creates a social happy atmosphere. On Saturdays they offer free cocktails! Why would you not stay at this awesome place.
A breakfast of oats with berry jam, fresh croissants, juice and coffee is included.
Located 5 minutes walk from the town (Baños is quite small and quite safe to walk around at night) Perhaps our favourite thing about Great Hostel is the large dorm beds’. We had a double bed each!
While it is a bit more expensive than other places in Baños, it has a good vibe and the gratis meals’ make it really quite cheap.
Great hostel really is great.
Mi Casa Hostel, Cuenca – $17 USD for a twin private shared bathroom p/n
We found this hostel on hostelworld, they had really good reviews and photos so we thought we would give it a go. Mi Casa hostel was lovely; it really felt like a home, which is always so nice. The private room was basic and the hostel has large outdoor and living room areas. The kitchen was really good but lacked utensils. 10 minutes walking distance from the city centre and safe to walk during the night. This hostel did not have breakfast included but it was a really relaxing place to stay.
- Caldo de patas – this is a popular/typical soup of Ecuador, soup of cow feet. Be careful you will need to go to a good restaurant that specialise in this because this dish can go wrong easily.
- Seco de Chivo – Goat cooked in jungle fruit served with rice and salad. You can also Seco de Pollo, which is my favourite.
- Ceviche de chocho – In Quito Ceviche is expensive as they are not close to the ocean. They replace the fish with the super food chochos, (luping bean). You can eat chochos also by themselves as a healthy snack from the supermarket for $1.
- Ornardo – is a crispy whole pig. You can buy a portion of pork, mashed potatoes and salad with avocado very cheap around Ecuador. We had it at Santa Clara market in Quito and it was very yummy.
- Granadilla – is a fruit that can be bought at the markets. It is the same family a passion fruit but white with yellow seeds. Very tasty!
- Bizcochos de Cayambe – Found lining the streets in the town of Cayambe (between Quito and Otavalo) A delicious flakey biscuit eaten with a cheese similar to mozzarella and some dulce de leche. The sweet and savoury flavour works amazingly.
- Helado de Paila – is a traditional ice cream. Before electricity, Ecuadorians would run up the mountains and collect ice from the glaciers to make ice cream. Nowadays, lucky for the glacier this process no longer happens. However they still make ice cream and it is delicious.
- Colado morada – A purple drink, made from black corn flour, purple fruits and herbal tea. This can be served hot or cold.
- Pilsener beer – after a long day of exciting activities the Pilsener beer is exactly the refreshing drink you’ll need.
We loved everything on this list!
- Quito – La Roja. Find a giant empanada down the cobbled touristy street.
- Quito – Santa Clara market. This is a great food market with regulated hygiene rules. It is safe for travellers to eat anything here. They offer delicious traditional Ecuadorian food and at very cheap prices. We recommend getting the Ornardo with a Colado Morado drink.
- Cuenca – Raymipampa restaurant. An award winning restaurant and popular amongst the gringos. They serve mouth watering Ecuadorian food, although more expensive than usual.
- Tutto Freddo – After dinner at Raymipampa, go next door and choose a delicious sweet treat – from cakes to ice cream, brownies to milkshakes, they have everyone’s favourite here.
Must see & do
There are lots of day trips from Quito. We did two, one to the Saturday Otavalo market and the other to Quilotoa crater lake. Both were organised through Ecuatraveling (The same people who own Hump Day Hostel). Both tours were very informative and our guide Omar, who was hilarious, took really good care of us.
- Otavalo market day tour – $50 USD each. A good way to see the largest indigenous market in South America. The tour is jammed packed with other activities, you will get to see the Equator line, have a small meal at a bizcochos restaurant, explore the Otavalo market and visit Cuicocha crater lake.
All in one amazing day!
Note – make sure you bring cash, as there are so many beautiful handicrafts to buy.
- Quilotoa lake day tour – $50 USD each. One of the most beautiful lagoons in South America with water that can change colour from light blues to greens, purple and even yellows! Before arriving to the lake you visit a local fruit and vegetable market in Pujili. Buy all kinds of fruit endemic to Ecuador and the guide will show you how to eat them. Next stop is the spectacular Crater Lake. Hike down to the bottom and if you are adventurous go for a swim. Mules at the bottom will take you back to the top. The 4000m altitude makes the exercise very tough. The last stop is to visit the house of an indigenous family living in the highlands. With no electricity and no Internet it is amazing to see how they live and survive off the land.
We thoroughly enjoyed both of these adventure days and were knackered after both of them. Ecuatraveling- Highly recommended
- Cotopaxi day tour – $55 USD each. We did not go on this tour. However this is very popular among tourists. Hike to the highest active volcano in the world.
- La Roja – A street located in the historic district, here you can find a lot of restaurants and souvenir shops. Lively on Friday and Saturday nights, with traditional dancing and bands in the street, which is really cool to see.
- Free walking tour – as you may know free walking tours are my favourite. Walk around the city and learn about the city’s heritage, buildings and monuments. Feast on the local knowledge you will pick up.
- Practise/learn Spanish at Yanapuma Spanish school. They have the best teachers and facilities and really care about the experience of your learning. We highly recommend signing up with this school if you desire to learn Spanish. They also have schools in Cuenca, Ecuador and Cusco, Peru – so you can practice along the way of your travels.
- Baños is known as the adventure capital. With so many different companies vying for your business the activities are very cheap. Rafting, canyoning, ziplining and puenting (similar to bungy). Make sure you choose a good company, we recommend Imagine Ecuador.
- ‘Tree house’ swing off the edge of the world. This is very popular as it is such a picturesque swing! Bus for 45 minutes up to the treehouse, this leaves from town every two hours and costs $1. It is a further $1 entry fee to the swings. Swing as much as you like.
- Hire bikes from the same company for $5 a day, they will show you the bike route to see a number of waterfalls on the way to Pailon del Diablo, waterfall. The entry fee is $1.50. Be warned: you could get really soaked. It is a beautiful 22km ride through a gorge, and mainly down hill. On your return we suggest taking the bike trucks back for $2. Save yourself from the long bike ride back up the hill to town.
- Visit the hot springs – a great way to finish a day full of hiking. The entry fee is $3.50 and you will also need to purchase a head cap. There are different temperature pools to soak in and relax those tired muscles.
- Try Melcocha – you can’t walk through Baños without noticing the men in doorways pulling down and lengthening a long piece of candy. They are making Melcocha, a sweet sugar cane candy. Once it is the right texture they will cut it in lengths, wrap it in plastic and sell them to those with a sweet tooth.
Banos is adventure!
We did not spend a lot of time here, as it was mainly a stop over to get to Peru. To our surprise it was a beautiful town, with many beautiful looking buildings and churches. Cuenca is a very photogenic place.
- Visit the award winning Ecuadorian restaurant, Raymipampa. Truly a delicious place to eat – check out the food section for more details.
Tips & Advice
- Currency is US dollars
- Do not drink the tap water; refill your water in hostels to save plastic.
- High season is during June to September; expect sunnier days in the highlands. Galapagos high season is January to May.
- Low season is December to May, it is a lot colder and rainy but prices are generally lower during this season.
- If you head out at La Roja in Quito, make sure you go out on a Friday or Saturday night so all the shops/restaurants are open
- When travelling to Baños note there are ATM’s there to get cash out
- Galapagos tip – DON’T organise/book your trip in advance, fly out to the islands and once you are there book tours and accommodation – it is MUCH cheaper.
- Don’t walk up the virgin monument in Quito, take the bus or a taxi as it is a dangerous part of town. People are known to get mugged on route to the monument.
- Pack a raincoat, while on treks/walks you never know when it will rain due to the unpredictable weather at altitude on the equator.
- When going to Otavalo market, there are so many beautiful crafts it will be hard not to buy everything. If you do spend all your money don’t worry there is a few ATM machines there to get some more out 😉
- When going to visit the indigenous people in the highlands bring some sweets or chocolates for the children instead of money. It is a treat just for them and something they will appreciate more than money.
Helpful words and phrases
The main language is Spanish in Ecuador
Please Por Favor
Thank you Gracias
You’re welcome De Nada/ Con Gusto
Pardon me Perdone
English? Habla Ingles?
* Updated to 2016 prices; please let us know if there has been any changes to prices or if you have any tips to add.