Continuing our tour of South America for this week’s Travel Tuesday linkup – let’s go to Ecuador!
After we left Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (see Part 1 and Part 2), my travel buddy and I flew to Quito, Ecuador. We chose Ecuador primarily because it was a cheap plane ticket from Brazil, the currency was in U.S. dollars, and we knew it was big on eco-tourism. Beyond that I’m ashamed to say we really didn’t know a whole lot about the country itself.
The City of Quito is the highest capital city in the world and also one of the first designated World Heritage Sites. The historic center of Quito has one of the best preserved historic centers in the Americas. The equator is actually located about 16 miles north of the city center, but we were unfortunately unable to go check that out. We spent most of our time in Quito in the city center checking out the multitudes of monumental buildings. Upon arriving in the city we were instructed to read some of the travel warnings for tourists in the area by what I’m sure was a well-meaning compatriot; however, it really only served to scare us – especially coming off the heels of some less than savory run-ins in Rio. Apparently Ecuador as a whole has some difficulties with robberies, especially with taxi drivers. So we decided to stay within walking distance of our hotel just to be safe.
Luckily we picked up a very nice older gentleman on one of the squares who kindly took us around the historical center and explained the highlights of all the wonderful buildings and churches. He had lived in Colorado for some years so he spoke pretty good English. He asked for a rather generous “donation” at the end of his tour, but we figured all things considered that was fair enough. He did a great job and deterred any would be miscreants.
The buildings in Quito truly are spectacular. The size, details, and preservation of the many church buildings was beyond amazing. I’ve traveled to many places around the world and seen a lot of churches (I have a thing for any sort of religious building – church, temple, mosque, etc. etc. etc.), but these were some of the most unique I’ve ever explored. In truth I wish we’d had more time to spend in each one.
After Quito we took a very nerve-wracking bus ride along some incredibly winding roads to Tena, Ecuador. The scenery was breath-taking (and a great distraction from the driving)!
We booked a 3-day adventure tour with Amarongachi tours, which included 3 fully days of activities and two nights in a lodge in the middle of the jungle. It was far and away the highlight of our South American adventure.
From Tena we took a very long and very scary bus trip down to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The drive is along the edge of volcanoes, lasts somewhere between 6-10 hours (on a bus without bathrooms no less), and is probably not the smartest options for two foreign girls all by themselves. The bus driver was pretty nice and made sure we were near the front and looked after. It still made for a very long trip. The travel warnings we’d read indicated that we should not take a taxi in Guayaquil under any circumstances unless it was specifically hired by our lodging. Considering we arrived at the bus station somewhere around 2am, well….we were sort of at a loss as to what to do. After napping in the bus station for a while we grew desperate enough to ask a guard to hire a taxi for us. Luckily we went straight to our hostel and were able to get a nap and a shower. We hit the boardwalk in Guayaquil, but that was about all we had time for. It was a beautiful city and I’m sorry we didn’t get to see more. Maybe next time – it’s also the general starting point for the Galapagos tours, and I’m definitely going there some day (smile).
Travel Tips for Ecuador:
- Visa – None needed.
- Lodging – Choose a location near the areas you want to see. This cuts down on taxi adventures. Make sure you have your lodging arrange for your pickup and drop off to avoid any misunderstandings. Most of the eco-tours in the country include some form of lodging, so be sure to research this when booking companies.
- Language – Most people in Ecuador do speak Spanish as their primary language; however, we found quite a few that spoke English and were happy to practice both their English and our Spanish with us. We got by on rudimentary high school Spanish okay.
- Money – US dollar. Note that there are not a lot of ATMs or banks with normal operating hours in the historic districts. Be sure to carry small bills with you or get enough out all at one go.
- Street smarts – We didn’t run into any trouble walking around the cities or the countryside in Ecuador, but we did meet quite a few other travelers who did. Almost all of their stories involved taxi drivers. Be very wary of picking up random taxis – aim for the designated yellow cabs and try to use the ones arranged by your lodging whenever possible.
- Getting around – The roads in Ecuador are passable, but very curvy and very dangerous. We stuck to the bus option as it was most efficient, but be warned that they are not necessarily the most comfortable. You can rent cars or hire a driver to take you from place to place for reasonable prices, but be sure to book through a reputable company. Direct flights from Quito to Guayaquil are quite reasonable if you are looking to go from A to B.