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Ecuador & Galapagos

Map

Introduction

Ecuador is a perfect tourist destination. It is a small country with many attractions. You can enjoy your holidays in Andes, jungle and seaside. It is good to visit Cuenca and Quito. They are very nice examples of colonial architecture in the cities. All these sites are relatively close to each other. You need only one day or night to travel from jungle to Andes or seaside. When you visit Ecuador don't forget about famous and wonderful Galapagos. Ecuador is perfect destination for people with limited time. It is enough to have 3-4 weeks holidays to see all sites I mentioned above.

Quito

Our plane landed at midnight in Quito. We had already booked accommodation (9USD) and pick-up (10 USD) service in Poland. Although we overpaid a few dollars it was easier and faster to get to the hotel at the night. Colonial House had perfect localisation. It took us about 10-15 minutes to get to the Old Town. In my opinion it is better localisation than Mariscal Sucre. The hostel was very nice, quiet and clean. A manager was very helpful. There were a lot of people from different countries. I highly recommend delicious breakfast. The manager of the hostel served fruit salad, fresh juice and eggs. It cost 3 USD but it was worth the price. There is also available kitchen for the guests. Some people prepared meals there on their own. There were two disadvantages. First it was the temperature in the evening. It was so cold in the room that we went to warm bed just after dark. There is no heating system in the hostel and as far as I know most of the hostels and hotels neither have the heating system in Quito. The second disadvantage was the water in the bathroom. It usually was lukewarm.
I think it is enough to spend 2-3 days in the capitol of Ecuador. We visited Mitad del Mundo (2 USD) and Inti Ňan (3 USD) at the beginning. It took about 1,5 hour to get there from the centre of Quito by buses. Mitad del Mundo is official museum of equator. There is a 30-meter-tall monument, and line marks the equator in the museum. It used to be believed that the line marked the equator but it is not true. GPS receivers showed that the zero of longitude is 100 meters from the line. The equator is situated in Inti Ňan. This is private equator museum. Many experiments and demonstrations are very interesting and funny. They show the differences at the equator and both hemispheres. I highly recommend Inti Ňan but it is good to see Mitad del Mundo to take some pictures.
Next day we wanted to hike to Rucu Pichincha (4784 m.). This is a volcano situated next to the capitol. It is very easy to get to the altitude of 4100m by teleferiqo (8,5 USD) – cable car. There are magnificent views from the cars. At the beginning hiking was very nice and not difficult. It started raining after one hour of hiking. The rain was so heavy that we had to stop our hiking and came back. The weather was very rainy in Quito too and we decided to leave the capitol. We bought a trip to jungle. It cost 240 USD for 5 days.
Last day we walked around the old city in Quito. We visited Santa Catalina convent. In the evening we took night bus to Lago Agrio. The bus was not very comfortable. It was not enough space for legs for tall people. Luckily I managed to sleep several hours.

Jungle

We reached Lago Agrio in very early morning. We had breakfast in the hotel and went to Cuyabeno river by bus. We travelled to lodge Samona by boat. The lodge was situated in the middle of the jungle. First I thought that there had not been no other tourist sites around. Later I found out that there were not only other lodges but Indian communities as well around. It was big obstacles to explore the jungle. Many people and motor boats made animals go away from the jungle around the lodge.
Samona lodge was comfortable for tourist. We were accommodated in huts with thatched roof. There were 4 apartments with a bathroom in every hut. We had fresh water to take a shower. The water was taken directly from the river and was cleaned a little. The water had brown colour and smelled awfully. We had three meals every day and they were delicious. Every day we had to remember to check our clothes, boots and sleeping bags in case of spiders or other small animals.
A program of the jungle trip was very varied. A few times we took jungle trips. Everybody had rubber boots and rain coat. We were tracing animals in the jungle. We walked in the mud and had to cross small rivers on the fallen trees. Everything was exciting except the animals. I saw only a few of them. Most of them were far away from us. Monkeys were high on the trees. I saw two dolphins 50 meters away from the boats. It was easier to see spiders, frogs or birds.
We went for night trekking in the jungle. We were supposed to trace caymans. We used torches to look for ‘red lights’ on the bank of the river. The lights were caymans eyes. When we approached to the caymans, they usually hid into the water. Luckily we saw two caymans on the bank of Cuyabeno. At the of the trip a guide catch a small cayman, about 1 meter long, and volunteers could hold it for a moment. I was one of the them. I held it firmly by the neck with a hand. From time to time we had some challenging attractions. I ate special ants alive. They tasted like honey and I could feel them moving in my mount. The guide gave us some spiders and other awful insects to hold. It was a big challenge for the girls.
One of my favourite activity was piranha hunting. We had very simple fishing rod made of wood stick. The bait was a piece of fresh meat. It was quite easy to catch the piranha. I managed to do it three times. The fish was not very big but the teeth were very sharp. Piranha bit off small wooden stick easily.
We spent in Indian Community one day. Some people expected traditional- dressed Indians. Luckily we went to the ordinary Indian Community, not to the tourist orientated Indian museum. Locals were dressed with jeans and t-shirts. All of them spoke Spanish fluently. We were shooting with a blowgun, tasted some tropical fruits and manioc bread. Indian lady showed us how to cook manioc bread. It tasted very good.
We went to Indian shaman afternoon. Shaman expected us. He was dressed traditionally with many necklaces. Old man told us a story about his teacher, medical plants, healing. He sang a prayer to protect us against curses.
To sum up the jungle trip was OK but it was too much tourist. We didn’t see many animals. All jungle trekking were close to the lodge. It was perfect for the first time. Next time I will hire a guide on my own and try to explore wild parts of the jungle.
It took us all day to come back to Quito. We were stopped three times on check points. Military men checked passports and asked stupid questions like where are you going? Everybody was going to Quito.

Galapagos

Huge land turtles and many endemic plants and animals make Galapagos one of the most desirables tourist destination. I am afraid it is also expensive site to visit. A flight from Quito to Galapagos costs about 400 USD. The entrance fee - 100 USD. We spent 500 USD and we didn’t see any animals. Islands infrastructure is very friendly for tourist.
There are two options to visit the island
  • expensive boat cruise.
  • visit islands on your own. This is cheap option.
First we tried to find very last minute boat cruise. We walked from one agency to the other almost all day. We could not find a good offer for us. Finally we decided to visit the Galapagos on our own. First we bought one day trip (55 USD) to Floreana. The weather was fine, pacific was calm. We travelled from Santa Cruz to Floreana two hours. We saw two whales. They were not very far from our boat. The mammals were very impressive.
We stopped in small bay to snorkel. I saw two marine turtles. One of them was giant. There were plenty different size and colour fishes in the bay.
Floreana is a small island. There were plenty animals on the island. Many iguanas and seals were resting at the harbour. We visited land turtles reserve on the island.
Next day and next island. We spent at Santa Cruz all day. In the morning we went to El Chato. This was private farm where we saw many land turtles. The area was very muddy. The trekking shoes or rubber boots are the best to explore the farm. We were advised to go to Lava Tubes next to El Chato. This was a tube made of running hot lava. The Tubes were 2 km long and large in one places but very small in the other. It was so small in one place that we had to crawl throughout the passage in one place. When we were coming back to the main road tropical rain started. Luckily we managed to hide in the local shop. After two hours it stopped to rain and we came back to the Puerto Ayar. We found out that it was no rain at the coast and tropical rain was only inland.
It is good place to relax at Santa Cruz. Las Grietas means a cracks. The crack is filled with clear water. The water is a little bit cold but it is good place to swim. Tortuga Bay is another good place for relaxing. There is nice beach with white sand. Tortuga Bay is quite far from Puerto Ayar. It takes about 40 minutes to get there by foot.
You can spend 2 hours in Darwin Research Station. The centre is focus on proper preservation of the Galapagos Islands. The area of the centre is huge and there are many turtles. We watched turtles in different stages of life from egg to huge adult turtle. The station remained me a zoo.
In the evening we had delicious meal in the restaurant at Barton street. There were many local people around and the food was good and fresh.
We went to Isle Isabelle by a ferry (25-30 USD). It took a few hours to get from Santa Cruz to Isla Isabella. The destination is very popular and it is better to buy a ticket one day before departure. It is easy to find accommodation on the island. Many hotels are in Puerto Villamil, small village near a harbour. We found nice room with a bathroom for 20 USD.
The island is very nice. We went to a beach. We walked between seals and iguanas. The Iguanas were dug nests and laid eggs.
In the afternoon we went to Las Tintorenas by boat. It was the very small island next to Isle Isabelle. We saw penguins, blue-footed boobies, many iguanas and seals. When we finished visiting the island we went for snorkeling It was amazing. We saw 3 sharks. They were 2-3 meters below us.
Next day we hiked to Sierra Negro (35USD). This is the volcano in the middle of the island. The trail was not difficult but the weather was very rainy. Although we were all wet we were admired Sierra Nego. The crater had impressive size (7x9 km). The volcano was active. Hot fumes got out of crater. We walked around the crater and went up to the second volcano – Chico. This part of excursion showed us the power of volcano eruption. We admired incredible lava formations. When we came back the weather got better and we managed to take some pictures.
In my opinion Isla Isabella is the fantastic island. We saw there many animals, birds, volcano and rest on the nice beaches. I think it is good to spend there 3 days.
To sum up Galapagos is a must despite of high costs. We spent there only six days and managed to see:
  • iguanas
  • iguana
  • turtles, land and marine
  • blue-footed boobies
  • sharks
  • pelicans
  • flamingos
  • seals
  • sea lions
  • penguins
  • water snake
  • whales
  • some endemic plants

Sierra – Andes

The time was merciless and we had to leave Galapagos. At the airport they checked the bill of entrance fee. Don't throw it away. The flight was very pleasant and we managed to go from Quito to Baños by bus (3.5 USD) the same day. There are many hotels and hostels in the tourist town. We found nice double room for 12USD.
We bought rafting for 25 USD. Two Argentinians, we and guide went to mountain river by Jeep. The guide did short training and took us to a bridge, 10-15 meters above the river and encourage us to jump into the water. Argentinians and I did it. It was thrilling experience for me. I had never jumped from the bridge to the river. When I jumped into the river I had to swim to the bank quickly. The current was very fast. I survived.
Rafting was super. The guide drove the pontoon on rocks and some of us fell into the water. It was really great and we came back very tired to Baños. In the evening we went to hot springs. The water was heated by volcano. The temperature was above 50 degrees. It took me 20 minutes to dip into the pool. The water was very hot and I had to leave the pool after a few minutes. Then I went to the other pool with very cold water. It was shock for my body but I felt great.
Next day we hiked to Quilotoa volcano. The excursion started at 7 o’clock in the morning. We had to go to the volcano three hours by Jeep. The road was winding and went up to 4000 meters asl. The views were fantastic. Finally we reached Quilotoa volcano. A crater of the volcano was filled with water. The volcano was surrounded by mountains. It was possible to go around or go down to the crater. We chose the second option and went down. The altitude difference was about 300 meters. Going up it was a little bit challenging. But the views were magnificent and took my breath away. The excursion was nice but the volcano was too far from Baños and we spent 6 hours in the car and only 3 in the mountains. In the evening we went to hot springs again. It was very relaxing.

Otavalo

Last day of our holidays we started at 4.30 am. We went to Otavalo from Baños via Quito by bus. There is famous market in Otavalo on Saturdays. It is great opportunity not only to buy very south American souvenirs but also to see indigenous Indians. You must be there very early in the morning to see the Indians. We were too late about the noon. There were not many people at the market. We bought panama hat, scarves, bags, local painting. There were many goods to choose and the prices were reasonable on the market. In the evening we came back to Quito.
This was the last day of our holidays. Ecuador is fantastic country. Andes, Pacific, jungle are close to each other. It takes few hours to go from Andes to seaside. The people are very friendly and helpful.

Useful Advices

  • Ecuador is situated at the equator. The day last 12 hours all year. It is getting dark at 7 pm.

  • High denomination of USD (50 USD or higher notes) are not accepted in many restaurants and hotels. It is better to have up to 20 USD notes.

  • Ecuadorian are very careful with money. They check every higher note carefully. Sometimes they say it is false. Don't worry. Take the note back and it will be accepted in the other shop or restaurant.

  • Prices are reasonable in Ecuador. Accommodation costs 7-15 USD per person. Dinner costs 5-10 USD. Galapagos is expensive. Prices are approximately 2 times higher than the ones at continental Ecuador

  • Ecuador is fantastic country. Andes, Pacific, jungle are close to each other. It takes few hours to go from Andes to seaside. The people are very friendly and helpful.

  • Ecuadorian people are very friendly and helpful.

  • Travel agencies in Quito. There are many of the agencies at La Mariscal district. Most of them are closed at weekends.

  • Jungle. Most of the tourist agencies sell 3-5 days jungle trips. Tourists are accommodated at lodges in the jungle. There are usually a few lodges around. All tourists hike the same trails in the jungle. Many people and the noise has already made the animals go away from the tourist trails.

  • Checkpoints. There are checkpoints on the roads to Quito. Military men check passports and ask stupid questions.

  • Galapagos boat cruise or travelling on your own? It very difficult to advise what it is better. Boat cruise are very expensive especially for the people from developing countries. Boat cruise lasts from 4 to 9 days. The most expensive is the diving cruise. It cost 3000 USD per week. The second option is ordinary boat cruise. Tourists explore islands and snorkelling. It usually cost from 120 USD to 150USD per day. It depends on the boat and service. The best choice are 16 people boat.
    There are some catches during the cruise. A Tourist buy 5 days cruise and paid 550-600 USD. In fact the trip lasts only 3 day. It starts late afternoon at the first day and finishes at 10 am last day. There is a lot eating and resting during the cruise. At the end don't forget to give some tips to a guide and a crew. On the other hand all people are very satisfied with the cruise. They see a lot of fishes and animals. One man said it is expensive but it is worth the money.
    You can explore Galapagos on your own. It is much cheaper but logistics take a lot of time. Probably you don't see as many animals, fishes as during boat cruise.

  • Volcano climbing. There are some volcanoes to climb in Ecuador. The most popular is Cotopaxi 5897 meters asl. Many agencies provide climbing with professional guide. The equipment can be rent for extra money. You need to make sure that the weather is fine enough to climb. Sometimes a guide can say that it is to danger to climb and you must come back. No money is return. It is also necessary to have acclimatisation. It usually takes a few days.

  • Safety. You must be careful with your belongings e.g. camera. Take a picture and hide your camera. Thieves are clever. Sometimes they want to help you or be friendly and wait for proper moment to steal you wallet or camera.