2 weeks in Ecuador

When you hear the word ‘Ecuador’, what do you think of? Besides an (awesome) song from the end of the 90’s of course.

To be honest, I had … nothing in my mind. And that was kind of cool, it meant that it’s not very touristy. But in a few clicks, I discovered there’s a lot to see: volcanoes, jungle, colonial cities and of course… the Galapagos islands! Another couple of clicks later, and my return flight to Quito was booked!

Quito

I arrived in Quito from Brussels (via Amsterdam) with KLM end of May as the world was slowly recovering from the 4th (5th?) wave of COVID19. But with or without COVID19, Quito seems not to be an over-touristy city. 

What to do in Quito?

  • Take a taxi (10£ from the old town) to the TelefériQo cable car. Reach 3 945 m (12,943 ft) in 18 minutes (8.50$/adult). Admire the tentacular capital of Ecuador from the top with a coffee. Explore the paths – and go to the Rucu Pichincha volcano if you have time (5h return)!
  • Explore the old town
  • On your way, visit the beautiful Pre-Columbian Art Museum. One of the best scenography I’ve seen with exceptional art pieces. 
  • Walk up (or take a taxi if your heart can’t handle it) to Basílica del Voto Nacional

More on where to eat, drink and sleep & useful tips in Quito here.

2 days in Latacunga

What to do in Latacunga?

  • Cotopaxi: Cotopaxi is the second highest volcano in Ecuador (5 897 m). The excursion ($59 – non negotiable) from the Secret Garden Hostel in Quito includes a minivan ride in the páramo (wild horses, colourful flowers) until the car park at 4 600m, climbing a 37% slope to the refuge, an additional trek to 5 000m to see the glacier (non mandatory – you can drink a coca tea at the refuge while waiting for others), followed by a bike ride in the clouds to the Limpiopungo lagoon and finally… lunch!
  • Laguna Quilotoa is a 3-km crater lake formed by the collapse of a volcano about 800 years ago. You have two options: walk down to the laguna (round trip: one hour) or trek around the laguna (we did an 8-km return as we had little time, but you can do a complete tour).

It’s often part of an excursion that also takes you to an indigenous house and to the Toachi River Canyon.

More info and tips about Latacunga here. 

Baños

A 2-hour bus ride and I arrived in the Ecuadorian capital of outdoor activities. Baños is definitely warmer than Quito and Latacunga but be careful: it rains nearly everyday. Locals say that the weather is loco here!

What to do in Baños?

  • Walk up to the Mirador Bellavista to see the top of the Tungurahua volcano. Then up (quite steep) again to the Cafe del Cielo where you’ll have a magnificent view over the city (and you can ask them to call a taxi to go back down).
  • Bike tour of the Ruta de la Cascadas I did it with Geotours as a free tour where you only tip the guide at the end. This agency is super nice and flexible (I had to postpone the trip as it had rained too much). This 18-km tour with multiple stops to admire the waterfalls, and one from very close with the tarabita, is a must-do in Baños. The tour finishes at the Pailon del Diablo.
  • Thermal waters, massages and baños de cajon: of course baños means baths! There are several piscinas where you can enjoy the thermal waters of the city and massages (cheap and good!) are advertised everywhere. At my hostel – the Chimenea Spa (that I strongly recommend, I could see a waterfall when showering!) I also experimented a typical steam bath where you are trapped in a wooden box with your head sticking out and you only get out to pour some freezing water over your body and then go back in… Invigorating!

Puyo 

There are many excursions organised from Baños to Puyo but I really wanted to sleep (+enjoy the hot bath + eat delicious food) at the beautiful El Jardín Hotel & Restaurante so I stayed one night there. There are regular buses from Baños. The ride takes about one hour.

What to do in Puyo?

  • Bioparque Yana Cocha: a rescue centre with more than 50 species and 400 animals. When I visited it, I was completely alone! I even had to look for someone to be able to pay! (5$)
  • El Jardín Botánico Las Orquideas: an amazing piece of Amazonian forest ‘built’ by a passionate man, Omar. There are more than 350 different sorts of orchids, but also plenty of medicinal plants. The museum shows pictures of all the animals and insects that were progressively coming to live in the forest. Prize is 5$ (tour in English & Spanish) and 3$ for the taxi ride.
  • Paseo Turístico del Río Puyo: nice walk starting from behind the malecon or from the main road – but be careful, the bridge has collapsed (June 22) so you will need to walk back the same way you came.
  • Excursion to the rainforest, including canoeing, visit of a Quichua indigenous community and bathing in the Hola vida waterfall: better to do it from Baños. I did not manage to join a group in Puyo and prices to do the tour alone were outside of my budget.

Cuenca

A long 7-hour bus ride later, and I arrived… in Europe! Eeh sorry in Cuenca. A super nice UNESCO-ranked city where the panama hats actually come from!

What to do in Cuenca?

  • Explore the old colonial city centre and climb up to see the view from the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción.
  • Visit Las Cajas National Park. The city is very nice but I crave for hikes and outdoors when I travel. So my first stop in the city was at Apullacta Expeditions to book a tour (50$) to the very special national park close to the city. Many people compare it to Lord of the RIngs landscapes, I’m … just a fan.
  • Walk or jog along the Rio Tomebamba. My hotel had a very nice fan on the river by the way, I recommend it: Casa del Barranco.
  • Two museums I would have liked to visit but it did not work out: Museo Pumapungo & Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes.
  • Party! The city feels very European. When having a drink and a quesadilla at Wunderbar, two French people I experienced the baño de cajon with in Baños walked in! We spent the night together! We particularly enjoyed having drinks at Bumba fruits & Beer and dancing next door at Zoobriedad.

5 days in the Galapagos

Galapagos… yep definitely exploded the budget but YOLO! 

I flew with LATAM airlines from Guayaquil for 418€ (May 2022) booking about 2 months before. 

What to do in the Galapagos? (when you’re not a diver)

  • Turtle Bay: the only free activities of Santa Cruz island. It’s free but demanding: a 30-min walk to the Playa Tortuga – where I saw baby sharks and my first awesome marine iguanas, followed by another 10-15 min walk to Turtle Bay where I saw… nothing. It had rained recently and there was no way I could have seen any turtles.
  • Day trip to Isabela: all agencies propose the tour (about 110€) with a local nature guide which includes
    • Boat ride and walk in the Tintoretas: crazy volcanic formations, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos sea lions living their best life, frigate birds, sharks, marine iguanas, red crabsµ;
    • Swim in the Tintoretas to meet small sharks. 
    • The Galapagos Giant Tortoises Breeding Center.
  • A snorkeling trip to Isla Pinzon: if you don’t dive but you still enjoy a nice snorkeling excursion, you will find many advertised around different islands This tour (about 125€) was definitely one of the best moments of my life: colourful fish, big turtle, fun and playful sea lions.
  • Visit the very informative Darwin centre 
  • Boat trip to Bartolomé island. This tour is the most expensive day excursion (around 200€) but includes a walk to the iconic view of the Galapagos on the Playa Dorada and the Pinnacle Rock, and some more snorkeling with penguins, sharks and fun sea lions.

A lot more about my trip to the Galapagos here.

I flew to Guayaquil as my flight back home was leaving from there. Guayaquil does not have a good reputation so I chose a recommended hostel (Manso boutique hostel) right close to the Malecon 2000 (which is fenced off). I walked up to the Faro Las Peñas and had my last meal in the rich fancy area below, where I definitely felt safe.

Bye Ecuador, and see you soon again Galapagos!

All recommendations are mine, no ads. Prices from May/June 2022.

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