Welcome to the Around the World Interview series on Ordinary Traveler! Every so often we have a new guest who has either lived or spent an extended amount of time in a particular country. Each guest will give valuable insights and tips to a different destination around the world.
This week, Talon from 1Dad1Kid.com shares his Ecuador travel tips!
Budget Tips for Ecuador?
It is one of the most budget-friendly countries in South America. Street food is ridiculously cheap and quite good. Also you can get multicourse lunch or dinners for as low as $1.75 USD per person quite easily. Speaking of which, Ecuador uses the USD as its official currency which is great for travelers from the US.
Getting around is SUPER cheap. In Quito, the transit system costs 25 cents for an adult. Buses between cities are generally $1/hour. So if travel will take 4 hours, generally speaking the ticket will cost $4.
If you are into adrenaline-inducing adventures, you’ll want to head to Baños. Great place for inexpensive wild adventures like puenting, zip lining, volcano watching, etc.
Cheaper accommodations tend to be a bit further from the plazas, which is good since it will also mean things are quieter.
Any favorite places or favorite experiences in Ecuador?
I absolutely loved Baños and the sleepy coastal town of Olón. Baños has such a great energy, and it’s easy to escape the tourists. I would’ve happily stayed there much longer.
Olón is a place I would consider moving to. It’s small, not touristy at all, quiet, has beautiful beaches, and is great for surfing or learning to surf. While it a very small town with mostly locals in it, it’s very close to the surfer party town of Montañita if you want to indulge in some crazy night life. You can get incredible seafood for extremely cheap.
What is the food like in Ecuador?
Food is fairly typical South American food. It isn’t very spicy and sometimes bland (except for saltiness). However, Ecuador has a large Chinese immigrant population, so you can find some amazing Chinese food (chifa), especially in Quito.
Outside of the big cities, it’s very common to find cuy or guinea pig. These aren’t the size you’d find in North America or Europe as pets. They are huge. It is very tasty and reminds me of the flavor of quail. You have to try it, even just for the bragging rights alone.
My other favorite Ecuadorian dish is churrasco, which is usually flank steak served with French fries and a side dish of rice with eggs served on top, usually sunny side up. I love to pop the yolk and let it soak into the rice. For street food, I like tostaditos for a snack (think fried hominy), and pinchos which are essentially kebabs. They are FANTASTIC and super cheap.
Any dos and don’ts regarding customs in Ecuador?
Ecuadorians are generally very laid back people. If things go wrong, avoid raising your voice and making jerking movements with your hands. If you lose your cool, you lose a lot of respect and will find much more resistance.
Be aware that mañana doesn’t necessarily mean “tomorrow.” It just means “not today.” If you’re trying to plan something, and they say mañana make sure to name the day for verification. For example, if today is Monday and they say mañana, I’ll ask Tuesday?
Bus schedules are usually kept, but most other schedules are pretty flexible, even more so in the coastal and jungle areas. The Ecuadorian sense of time is quite fluid. A “couple of minutes” easily could be a couple of hours. “Soon” is about as noncommittal as mañana. Just go with the flow.
Favorite hotel, hostel or campground in Ecuador?
In Quito, I REALLY liked L’Auberge Inn. It says it’s a backpacker hostel, but it’s nicer than the typical backpacker hostel I’ve run into while still maintaining low prices. They offer discounts for longer stays as well. Breakfast is quite good and all you can eat (about $3), and their dinners are quite excellent as well. They are in a great location.
In Baños, I’d recommend Hostel Chimenea. It’s a great place and has en suite rooms with fantastic views as well as dorm rooms. Another great location. There is a full kitchen and refrigerator available after noon (they do breakfast in the morning). Their breakfast prices are comparable to the really cheap restaurants in the town, so it’s pretty convenient. They have really decent coffee, too, and the juices are freshly squeezed. As in they make it when you order it.
Must-do activities or must-see sites in Ecuador?
So many! Surfing in Olón, the Basilica del Voto Nacional in Quito, tons of activities in Baños, but I would also recommend Ingapirca down near Cuenca. It is the site of the only Incan ruins in Ecuador and represents a mixture of Incan and Cañarí civilizations. It’s really quite fascinating, and the indigenous town is equally interesting. Make sure to go to the feria libre. These are the local markets. You can get AMAZING food as well as a true insight into the local culture. Each town has a different type of feria. I absolutely love going to them, and they’re great places to pick up produce and fresh meat.
Safety tips, warnings or things to be aware of before traveling to Ecuador?
Ecuador is generally a very safe country. It has its share of problems like anywhere, so follow the same guidelines you would anywhere else. Guayaquil has more crime issues, but tourists are generally safe from violent crimes. They just have a higher frequency of theft and such. Walking around Guayaquil at night is generally not recommended.
When going to Baños, keep in mind that it is very close to a very active volcano. It had some “burps” when we were there, so the town was covered in some thin layers of ash. If you have respiratory issues, you may want to check to make sure the volcano isn’t currently putting on a show.
Quito and Cuenca are both very popular cities and are also at high altitude. Until you acclimate, you’ll want to kind of take it easy with your activities. Also remember to hydrate more than you normally would. At higher altitudes, your body eliminates more moisture through breathing than at lower altitudes. Dehydration is a significant risk factor for altitude sickness, so drink plenty of fluids. Until you’re used to the altitude, you should go light on the caffeinated and alcoholic beverages as well. Also, alcohol has more kick at higher altitudes. Down by the beach drinking 4 beers may do nothing to you, but in Quito 1 beer might make you tipsy so go slowly until you see how it affects you.
The best and cheapest times to visit Ecuador?
Most of Ecuador is below the equator (you can actually stand on the equator outside of Quito), so when it’s winter in the UK, Ecuador is enjoying summer. Even in summer, though, the mountain cities can get very cool at night. It’s best to plan on wearing layers.
The coastal and jungle areas can be very warm and humid. October and November can be very wet months in the mountain areas. Rainstorms are usually short lived but dump a lot of water in a short time, though.
Ecuador is really inexpensive most of the year, unless you’re going to the Galapagos.
Packing tips for Ecuador?
If you plan on exploring the country (which you should!), then you’ll want to pack for four seasons because you’ll probably encounter most of them in a single day, especially in the mountains. The coast is much more temperate. Bring swimwear since many areas have wonderful hot springs, and you’ll want to treat yourself to a nice soak.
If you’d rather not bring too much, you can find clothing made from alpaca wool for extremely reasonable prices. Alpaca wool is very light and very warm! So feel free to pack light and treat yourself to some new clothes when you get to Ecuador. I have a coat that I bought there in the early 90s, and it’s still in excellent condition.