5 reasons to go to Ecuador
Even among South Americans, Ecuador is not considered the most popular tourist destination. It would seem – the country is not affected by major internal or external conflicts, the crime rate here is certainly not higher than in neighboring Colombia, and the economy, although it is in a rather difficult situation, but slowly moving to the bright side of power. Moreover, Belarusians, Ukrainians and Russians do not need a visa to travel to Ecuador.
So what is the reason? One of the main reasons is banal lack of information. Ecuador seems to be in the shadow of its famous neighbors – Brazil and Peru. Even Colombia’s notoriety has benefited in the end, attracting adventurers like a magnet. Deprived of high-profile news and attractions from the list of “most visited in the world,” Ecuador, however, has its own compelling and attractive reasons to visit. Sergey Konovalenko, a round-the-world traveler, tells about them for 34travel.
The Galapagos Islands – the most famous and tourist province of Ecuador, unfortunately, it is also the most expensive. Budget option of a week trip to Galapagos will cost about $ 1000 per person. Incidentally, it is the U.S. dollar as a result of the latest economic collapse has become the official currency of Ecuador, saving tourists from conversion.
You can get to Galapagos by direct flight from Guaquil or Quito (with a connection in Guaquil) to the island of Baltra. A round trip ticket costs approximately 350-450 USD; if you can find an offer lower than 300 USD, then grab it with both hands. Ideally you should start looking for tickets about a month and a half or two months before the trip. The same situation is with accommodation – there are a lot of expensive hotels on the islands, and the budget ones are not enough, and they sell out fast. The cheapest accommodation option – $ 20 per night in the hostel, on average, the prices for budget variants range from $ 25-35. To the budget for the flight and accommodation immediately add another $100 – that’s the tax fee for all visitors.
To avoid unnecessary expenses, try to make a plan for visiting the islands in advance and choose your favorite activities: wildlife watching, hiking, diving, snorkeling, kayaking … In this case, book a tour in advance is not necessary – you can do it on the spot, and the prices will be better than those presented on the Internet.
Each island of the archipelago is unique, but for a stay in the Galapagos to be diverse and rich enough three: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabella. Moving between them is done with the “aquataxi” – $ 30 per ticket one way. The most convenient base for exploring the islands is Santa Cruz and its administrative center Puerto Arroyo, a small relaxed town with a famous fish market. Watching the local fishermen bustling with their catch is a separate kind of entertainment. Not far from Puerto Arroyo is Tortuga Bay, or Turtle Cove, a beach area that, as its name makes clear, is ideal for turtle watching. You’ll be especially lucky if you’re in the bay in April or May, when the turtles hatch from their eggs and head out to sea. There is no entrance fee to Tortuga Bay, and free entertainment is a must. That said, Tortuga’s main beach, Playa Brava, is not suitable for swimming because of the strong currents, but the neighboring Playa Mansa has no problems with the currents. Another attraction is the turtle nursery, one of them – Rancho Primicias (El Chato Area). It’s not easy to find, but thanks to this minor complication, you seriously reduce the risk of running into a crowd of tourists. The two easiest ways to get to the Rancho are a cab and a combination of a map and a rented bike, and the entrance fee is $3.
If Santa Cruz is about turtles, San Cristobal is about sea lions. La Loberia Beach, a thirty-minute walk from the island’s main town, Puerto Baquerizo, is a favorite resting place for these fascinating beasts. Plus, La Loberia is great for snorkeling. Imagine: swimming next to sea lions! If you don’t have your own gear, you can find a mask and snorkel at local travel agencies for as little as $5.
Isabella – the largest island in the archipelago, which will appeal to fans of hiking, because the main attraction is an active volcano Ciera Negra, the crater of which is the second largest in the world. A cab from Puerto Viejamil will take you to the start of the route, where you will have to pay another $ 30 for the services of a guide (unfortunately, they are mandatory).
Of the many tours available on the islands, only a few can be called mandatory – and the tour to Los Tuneles is just one of those. A thirty-minute boat ride from Puerto Viejamil takes you to clear pools bordered by hardened lava. Los Tuneles is home to stingrays, sharks, and seahorses. Needless to say, snorkeling and diving here is an unforgettable experience, for which you have to pay about $ 80.
There is a beautiful free attraction on Isabella – its sunsets, which is especially pleasant to meet with a bottle of rum or wine. When traveling to this island, be sure to bring extra cash. While the sunsets on the island are great, the ATMs are very, very bad.
Observing wildlife such as birds, iguanas, crabs, and turtles is possible on almost every major island, and in most cases you can do so without a tour. Galapagos fauna, which once struck Charles Darwin with its diversity and served as an impetus for the creation of “The Origin of Species”, is still impressive today. The flow of tourists does not weaken, despite the cost of the visit. But anyone planning to visit the islands should remember that the local ecosystem is incredibly fragile and should be treated very carefully.
The most important rule for travelers in Central America is to stay as far away from capitals as possible. It easily applies to Bogota, Caracas or even La Paz. But Quito is another matter. Of course, the locals will certainly warn you not to get too relaxed in the city, yet the security situation here is much, much better than in the aforementioned capitals. But just being safe, especially for a tourist who is used to Europe, is not enough. And that’s where Quito’s trump card comes in. The fact that the historic center of the city is actually beautiful and well-maintained, police officers ride segways, and some streets can easily be mistaken for Madrid or St. Petersburg.
In addition to the standard museums, churches, and squares, there are some unique activities, such as climbing to the top of Ruca Pichincha. The Teleferico cable car to Pichincha is located 30 minutes from the center of Quito, between La Comuna and La Comuna Alto, at the corner of Caye Mariscal Sucre. The easiest way to get there is by cab or Uber. A one-way ride will cost $8, but is definitely worth the money. The observation deck at the foot offers a great view of the city and its surrounding volcanoes, on a clear day you can easily see three or four at once. Before climbing it is worth stocking up on water and something to eat, the prices in the cafes at the observation deck will not make you happy.
You don’t even need an Uber to get to one of South America’s most unusual parks, the Center of the World ($7.5 to enter); you can catch a city bus in the downtown area. A line runs through the park dividing the planet into hemispheres. The park was created before GPS and, as it turned out later, the park line diverges from the real one by about 200 meters. The road to the park is a chance to look from a safe distance at not-so-well-to-do neighborhoods.
As you walk around Quito, you can’t help but feel that everything here is in balance and harmony. Urban areas alternate with sprawling parks. There is no drunken revelry or ceaseless festivity, but for those looking for a great night out there is always room in one of the many bars and clubs of La Mariscal. Local legend Finn McCool’s Irish Pub (Diego de Almagro N24-64 and Joaquín Pinto) – yes, yes, an Irish pub in Ecuador! Every gringo must visit here – simply because pretty much every gringo who has visited Quito before you has probably checked out Finn’s too. Overall, Quito is big enough not to get bored in a couple of days, but at the same time, it’s not a giant metropolis with its crazy pace and noise.
If you pick up a map of the country and a pencil, you can easily divide Ecuador into three zones: the jungle, the sierra and the coast. Such a natural trinity is a space for choices, possibilities and options. Tired of lying on the beach? Pack your backpack and go to the mountains! Cold in the mountains? You can always get into the jungle.
The eastern part of the country, the jungle, is the Amazon jungle. Navigating here without a guide is almost impossible and rather pointless. Only an experienced local will help you get into remote Indian villages, show you wildlife habitats and all the things people go to Amazonas for in general.
Prices for jungle tours range from $90 to $600 (you can and should bargain here!) depending on the number of days, program, and comfort. You can start in the tiny village of Puyo, aka “Gateway to the Ecuadorian Jungle.” The shortest route to it carries the resounding name of “Waterfall Road” and is well deserved as a separate attraction as well as the most beautiful road in the country. Another jungle destination is Coca, a port town where you can catch water transport to surrounding villages or compose a complicated, multi-day itinerary to Brazil or Peru.
Central Ecuador’s sierra is a band of cloud-wrapped highlands, with its snow-capped six-thousand-degree peaks, the most famous of which is Cotopaxi, a perfectly conical stratovolcano, a cousin of Japan’s Fuji. Even if volcanoes do not surprise you anymore, it is worth a look at Kotopahi, in the non-existent ranking of the most beautiful volcanoes he would definitely be in the top five. For those who want to go above and beyond – a tour to the top of Cotopaxi will cost about $ 150-200. The Sierra gives great opportunities to the knights of the backpack and tent – one-, two-, and three-day routes of varying degrees of difficulty. Unlike the jungle, you don’t need a guide here at all – most of the trails are obvious even without a map. “Checkpoints” in this part of the country are the cities of Latacunga, Riobamba and Cuenca. Cotopaxa and Laguna Quilotoa (another popular trail) are easiest to reach from Latacunga, where you can find a guide for the climb. Riobamba is the shortest route to Chimborazo and El Altar volcanoes, and Cuenca will help you get to El Cajas National Park. For all three cases, the same scenario applies – just get to the city bus terminal. When you spot a tourist, the staff of the transportation companies will immediately start shouting out the names of the destinations you are interested in.
The self-proclaimed “adventure capital” of Baños de Agua Santa, or simply Baños, a small town whose center is crammed with travel agencies, deserves special mention. Its name (literal translation of “baños” – is a bath, bathing or even a toilet), the city has received because of the many hot springs. Within a radius of 40 minutes from the main square you can find three such pools. Admission to the nearest and most popular of them – Termas de la Virgen, will cost $2. To find the baths, choose one of the streets – Caye Martinez or Caye Montalvo – and move east to the end of the street, towards the waterfall of Cascada de la Virgen. The springs are located right at its foot. It is at Baños that the “Road of Falls” to Puyo begins. You can travel it by tourist bus, or rather, converted for this purpose truck, rent a bike for a modest $ 10, or take public transportation, skipping in your desired places. “Road of Falls” goes through the picturesque green mountains, passing three major waterfalls, the most impressive of them – Pailon del Diablo (Pailon del Diablo). For those who like extreme entertainment there are ziplining and rop-jumping spots along the road. Here in Baños is also the famous tree house with the “swing to nowhere” whose pictures are so popular on the Internet. A special bus a few blocks from the main square will take you right to the house for the same $2. And you can also find the most honest I love Banos (“I love the bathroom/toilet”) tourist T-shirts at the markets!
Moving from east to west, you’ll hit the third zone, the hot Pacific coast. The main city of the coast, Guaquil, has the unfortunate reputation of being the most dangerous city in Ecuador and does not make a very pleasant impression. A much friendlier option is the local “gringolandia” (Latin Americans call the high concentration of white tourists), the hippy town of Montanita, where it is easy to find a companion for further travels around the country. It should be noted that such characteristics as “dirty”, “dusty” and “stuffy” with small adjustments apply to most coastal settlements, and Ecuadorian beaches, at least those that do not belong to the Galapagos Islands, it is difficult to call the best in the world. But even here, if you wish, you can always find a secluded and peaceful piece of sand and ocean.
As it happens, the aforementioned national parks don’t have their own websites, and the Ministry of Environment website is rarely useful. For information, it’s easiest to turn to one of the third-party resources, such as Ecuador Explorer.
The 10 most popular tourist attractions in Ecuador
Ecuador is one of the most fascinating countries in South America, more than making up for its small size with its many local cultures, colonial architecture, scenic landscapes and dense rainforests. Surrounded by Colombia, Peru and the Pacific Ocean and no larger than most U.S. states, this beautiful country attracts climbers, hikers, adventurers and nature lovers to its lush, ecologically important forests; wildlife watchers to its famous Galapagos Islands; and sun seekers to its pristine tropical beaches. Once part of the Inca and later Spanish empires, Ecuador still displays many influences from both groups, especially in the rich culture of its people and the magnificent colonial architecture of the capital Quito, much of which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1 Galapagos Islands.
Bartolomé Island, Galápagos
Since their “discovery” in the 16th century, the Galapagos Islands have intrigued and inspired visitors from around the world. Named for the giant turtles on the islands, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to a unique ecosystem that has largely evolved without outside influences (the Ecuadorian mainland is about 1,000 kilometers to the east) and offers an exceptional wildlife viewing experience. The Galapagos Islands remain one of the most active volcanic regions in the world, and island formation is still ongoing. Most of the 13 large islands, six smaller islands, and 42 islets that make up the Galapagos were declared part of Galapagos National Park in the 1950s, and a visit to this fragile ecosystem can only be undertaken as part of a guided tour of designated visitor sites (there are, however, one or two areas where visitors can go without guidance, including some areas popular with scuba divers). The main attraction here are the many bird species, of which 28 are unique to the islands, including the Galapagos penguin, the flightless cormorant and the flapper albatross, as well as 13 species of Darwin’s famous finches. Hot tip: Be sure to book a behind-the-scenes visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island (tours of this important research facility can be made prior to your arrival).
Official website: www.galapagospark.org
Map of the Galapagos Islands
2 Quito: Historic Andean Capital of Ecuador
Quito: The Historic Andean Capital of Ecuador
High in the Andes, Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is filled with colonial architecture and is the largest historic center in South America. Preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many old churches, beautiful public squares and world-class museums, the city has long been a favorite of artisans and is a great place to shop for local arts and crafts, from ceramics and woodcarving to colorful clothing. The most famous landmark in historic downtown Quito is the San Francisco Church in San Francisco Square. Beginning in the first half of the 1500s, the church’s white tower towers on either side of the entrance to this massive complex. It is notable for its magnificent Baroque interior and the San Francisco Convent Museum with its religious paintings, sculptures, carvings, china, textiles, and handmade furniture. Other great churches to visit include the Church of San Francisco, built in the early 17th century and listed by UNESCO as one of the 100 most important buildings in the world, and Quito’s Cathedral, the Basilica del Voto Nacional, built in the 1560s. Be sure to explore Plaza Grande , a beautiful square surrounded by a cathedral, the Presidential Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Municipal Palace, and Calle La Ronda , a buzzing street lined with restaurants, cafes, art galleries and other entertainment.
Accommodation: Where to stay in Quito
The beautiful city center of Cuenca, officially known as Santa Ana de los Cuatro Río de Cuenca, is located in southern Ecuador and is a delightful city to walk around on foot. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has beautiful colonial influences and architectural treasures spanning 400 years and encompassing both Spanish and Indian elements. The historic center of the city is also home to many of Cuenca’s key landmarks, one of the most important of which is the Old Cuenca Cathedral (Iglesia del Sagrario), built in 1567 from stones taken from nearby Inca buildings. Highlights include its old organ from 1739, its towers from 1751 and the Museum of Religious Art. Cuenca’s massive New Cathedral, built in the 1960s, is also worth a visit and hard to miss because of its three beautiful blue tiled domes. The Church of San Sebastian, with its mix of Gothic and neoclassical elements, is also worth seeing. As you wander the narrow streets of Cuenca, be sure to spend some time exploring the many plazas and parks, including Calderon Park in the heart of the old town; Plaza San Blas, dominated by the Church of San Blas; and Plaza de San Francisco, with vendors selling textiles and other goods.
Accommodation: Where to stay in Cuenca
4 Cotopaxi and Cajas National Parks
Cotopaxi and Cajas National Parks
Two of Ecuador’s most popular national parks, Cotopaxi and Cajas, are within easy driving distance of the cities of Cuenca and Quito and make excellent day trips. Of the two, Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, just 50 kilometers south of Quito, is perhaps best known for the massive (and still active) Cotopaxi volcano that dominates the area, as well as the smaller volcanoes Rumignavi and Sinchelagua. About 30 kilometers from Cuenca in the stunning highlands of Ecuador, Parque Nacional Cajas offers a different experience with its many hills and valleys, making it ideal for hiking and biking. It is also a delight for water sports enthusiasts, especially kayakers and canoeists, thanks to its more than 270 lagoons and glacier lakes. Finally, Podocarpus National Park , often referred to as the “Botanical Garden of America,” offers a wide variety of flora and fauna. In the southeastern part of the country, its humid mountain forests are home to more than 4,000 plant and tree species (up to 40 meters), including the famous hignana, Ecuador’s national tree.
5 Editor’s Choice Guayaquil Walking Boards
Ecuador’s largest city by population, the Pacific port of Guayaquil is known as the gateway to the Galapagos Islands , In addition to its many historical sites, Guayaquil boasts excellent shopping and entertainment venues in its many picturesque plazas and squares and along its magnificent waterfront. A highlight for those who like to explore on foot is the magnificent Malecón 2000 , a two-and-a-half-kilometer promenade adjacent to the Guayas River. Undoubtedly one of the most memorable promenades in the world, this remarkable urban renewal project winds along the west bank of the river past many of the city’s best attractions, including important historic sites, gardens, museums, and entertainment. For a real treat, take a pleasure boat on an evening trip along the river when the city is lit to beautiful effect. Other highlights include the magnificent Guayaquil Cathedral as well as the Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporaneo with its fascinating exhibits and collections focused on the country’s rich culture and history.
6 Nariz del Diablo: The Devil’s Nose
Nariz del Diablo: The Devil’s Nose
A visit to the stunningly beautiful Nariz del Diablo (“Devil’s Nose”) should be on every bucket list. Whether you’re a train enthusiast or not, this spectacular part of the Andes Mountains near the town of Alausi is best seen on one of the country’s gorgeously restored railroads, which is part of a network that stretches across the country to the most scenic spots , the 12-kilometer reverse of Nariz del Diablo is certainly one of the most popular and includes a fantastic train tour that zigzags through several switchbacks as it ascends the nearly vertical sides of the mountain to a lookout station n You’ll have the opportunity to experience the rich culture of the Andes, including a visit to the Pununa Condor Museum with its exhibits and displays relating to the area’s indigenous peoples.
7 Baños Hot Springs
Baños Hot Springs
Thanks to its beautiful surroundings and numerous hot springs, the small town of Baños de Agua Santa is a popular tourist destination in central Ecuador. On the western edge of the Amazon basin, Baños is nestled among dense jungle-like forests and offers many recreational opportunities, including hiking and mountain biking. But the big draw is the mineral-rich hot springs and many waterfalls, some of which are accessible from town via a series of fun trails that include rope bridges with incredible views of the waterfalls and their deep pools. Adventure sports such as rafting and kayaking are also popular here. More tranquil pleasures include visiting landmarks such as the Virgen de Agua Santa Church with its famous statue of Mary (said to have originated in one of the city’s waterfalls) and shopping for local goods such as colorful carved balsa parrots while enjoying the city’s famous “chalkocha,” like candies made from cane sugar.
8 Otavalo Market.
In a pleasant valley surrounded by mountains is the picturesque town of Otavalo. The town’s great attraction is the excellent market, where locals and tourists come to buy colorful locally made rugs and blankets, sweaters, bags and other wool products made by the local Otavalenos. Other notable items include unique walnut jewelry, leather jewelry, local costumes, and many interesting foods, particularly local spices. If you visit in June, be sure to visit the famous Inti Raymi (Sun Festival) music festival featuring numerous local musicians with their distinctive instruments and sounds.
9 Exploring the upper reaches of the Amazon in Tena
Another great place to encounter some extensive Amazon basin is the city of Tena, capital of Napo province. Known as the cinnamon capital of Ecuador, Tena was established by missionaries shortly after the Spanish arrived in South America and has become an increasingly popular destination for travelers because of the many opportunities for adventure. Here you will find jungle tours into the Amazon as well as interesting river trips, including rafting, canoeing and kayaking along the Tena, Misahualli and Napo rivers, the latter of which flows directly into the Amazon. For those who enjoy their river act a little smoother, the Tena also boasts a superb footbridge and tower high above the Tena River, which offers great views of the city.
10 Beaches of Salina, Bahia and Montanita
The Beaches of Salina, Bahia, and Montanita
While Ecuador is known for its ecotourism and adventure travel opportunities, it also boasts a number of beautiful beaches worth visiting, whether for a short break from sightseeing or as a base for a longer sun, sand and sea vacation. One of the most popular places, because of its many beach resorts, is the coastal town of Salinas, slightly west of Guayaquil, and has a warm year-round climate. The Pacific coastal town of Bahia de Caraquez is also popular. On a beautiful peninsula jutting out into the ocean, Bahia attracts many tourists with its beautiful beaches, numerous hotels, and lively entertainment scene. Another popular area, especially among younger travelers and surfers, is Montanita in the southern coastal region of the country (for families, head a little further south to the quieter beaches of the fishing village of Ayange).