Travel advice: Ecuador
April 17, 2009 8:45 PM   Subscribe

EcuadorFilter: So many questions, so little time.

I am going to be going to Ecuador for 2 weeks in May with 3 friends and we have been overwhelmed by all of the places to see presented in the guidebooks. We are flying in and out of Guayaquil. We are planning to visit Puerto Lopez/Isla de la Plata, Riobamba/Banos and Cuenca. I have my eye on birdwatching on Isla de la Plata, taking the Nariz del Diablo in Riobamba, whitewater rafting close to Banos and seeing Ingapirca by Cuenca. We would also like to spend some time exploring Cuenca and Banos.

Info about us: 4 young Canadian folk (in 20s, early 30s). We speak Spanish. We have a reasonable amount of travel experience under our belts (SE Asia, S America, West and East Africa) but are not used to doing short, jam-packed trips like this. We are interested in hiking/rafting but are beginners. Also interested in history (Incan ruins) and culture. I would love to see a blue footed booby!

Can anybody help with the following questions:

1) Is this too ambitious? We don't want to feel like we are on a whirlwind tour.
2) We plan to rent a 4x4 and pay a guide to drive us from town to town (bourgeois I know). Is this overkill?
3) Are we missing out on something super fantastic and, if so, what should we drop to do it?
4) Do you have any suggestions of what else to see in/near the towns listed above? Where to stay?

Any guidance or pearls of wisdom would be very much appreciated!
posted by madokachan to Travel & Transportation around Ecuador (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you go to Ingapirca, there's a train that goes there. Take the train for two reason: First, I've heard it's a beautiful trip. Second, if the road out there is anything like it was years ago, it's terrifying.

Banos is nice, assuming we're talking about the same place. There are multiple Banos, I know the one outside of Cuenca. I would yuppy out and go to Hosteria Duran while you're there. Don't go to the smaller cheaper pools, you'll get fungus. All the pools will have the water from the mineral lakes (warm, white water). Also, Hosteria Duran has things like horses to rent if you want to go horseback riding and other such made-for-tourist amenities, including a nice buffet.

It sounds like you're skipping Quito? How come? I would definitely take Quito over Guayaquil. If you go to Quito either plan to stay a few days before you start the sight-seeing or see your doctor for pills to counteract altitude sickness. Quito and Cuenca though they are the two major cities are quite different architecturally. Quito is grander, but Cuenca is more charming.

If you're interested in hiking and such, go to Cajas national park. Again, you may give some thought to altitude sickness, though I don't think it's as bad as Quito. If you choose to go hiking in the interior of the park be sure you have a guide who really knows the park itself (i.e. not a local who's been there, but somebody who knows it inside out). You can get lost there and die of exposure if you don't know what you're doing.

Ignore the guidebook warnings, eat roast pork in the market. It's delicious. I dream of that roast pork. Also eat cuy. It has a unique and delicious flavour. Not at all like chicken.

I've been to Ecuador a bunch of times, and will be going again in August (including my first trip to the galapagos). Feel free to memail if you want.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:49 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and one more thing. If that 4x4 is for driving between cities, I would give serious thought to flying instead. Internal flights are cheap. Lanchile just started flying between Guayaquil and Cuenca, for example, and I've heard their prices are excellent.

Driving takes a lot longer than you would guess from the maps because there are a lot of mountains to go up and down and around and around and around, and because the roads are often bad (meaning they're just bad to begin with and mudslides, falling rocks and political protests/strikes can render parts of the roads unusable parts of the time).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:18 PM on April 17, 2009

I can't offer much of the logistics of your trip and haven't been to most of your list but I have spent some time in Cuenca and loved it. Two memorable things were visiting a (nothing to do with tourism, just on our curiosity) hat shop and learned about the ever so popular bowler hats which come back in to get repaired for decades, and visiting the Pumapungo museum that had shrunken heads.

I also really enjoyed Quito, and though regardless, there are some great things to do there, I don't know how it measures up to the other places on your list I havent been to (or places you have, etc). It took 10 hours in bus from Cuenca to Quito though.
posted by nzydarkxj at 1:24 AM on April 18, 2009

Best answer: I second the suggestion to look into internal flights. There's not a great deal see in between Cuenca and Guayaquil, and the road is sometimes not so great. As of two years ago Guayaquil --> Cuenca cost ~$50 each way. I flew both Tame and Aerogal several times, and actually it felt safer than taking the bus.

The Banos that Penguin mentions above is probably not the Banos you intend to visit. Banos de Cuenca is a teensy town a short drive from the center of Cuenca with a couple of "baths" - really just hotel swimming pools with mineral-rich spring water. On a short visit I'd skip it, especially if you are planning to visit Banos de Ambato (that's the Banos you've probably heard about.) It's in between Riobamba and Ambato and a good launch point for rafting and jungle tours.

Cuenca's a beautiful city. A nice way to start is to to drive up to Turi, a tiny village with great views of the city. Up near the top of the hill you'll also find the workshop of ceramicist Eduardo Vega - definitely worth a visit. Cafe Eucalyptus on Gran Colombia is a traveler hotspot, but also frequented by locals, and a good place to catch live music and dancing. Del Tranquilo on Calle Larga is also a good spot for dancing. Cacao y Canela is a nice cafe with good hot chocolate.

I never did the Nariz del Diablo train and I'm not sure the best way to fit it in. It takes you from Riobamba to Alausi, which is near Ingapirca, but note that the train does not go directly there. I don't remember the road to Ingapirca being especially bad. The road conditions throughout the country will vary through the year, depending on weather, volcanic conditions (near Banos, for example) or whether striking workers are blocking the roads. It's all part of the fun :) Have a great time, feel free to PM if you have specific questions (especially about Cuenca; I lived there for a year.)
posted by messica at 8:11 AM on April 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your help! It is great to get the inside scoop from those who have lived and travelled in Ecuador. I must say that the idea of doing all of that driving was beginning to take on a nightmarish quality. We are now thinking of spending time in Puerto Lopez and Cuenca without doing the foray out to Banos (de Ambato). We will also look into flights from Manta to Cuenca as this would be the longest leg of our journey.

I have one follow up question. The one travelling companion who really wanted to go to Banos was particularly interested in rafting (she has never done it before) and seeing some of the rainforest. Would it be possible to get some of this experience nearby Puerto Lopez or Cuenca instead? I read that the Parque Machalilla by Puerto Lopez has areas of coastal cloudforest.

To follow up on Penguin's question, we are disappointed not to get up to Quito but feel that given the time constraints we will have to save that for another trip. We don't actually plan to spend much time in Guayaquil.

Thanks again to all 3 of you for your suggestions. We'll check them out!
posted by madokachan at 1:13 PM on April 18, 2009

I went to Ecuador four years ago and visited a few of the places you are considering. Maybe my blog posts and pictures will help out...



Inga Pirca

Puerto Lopez / Isla de la Plata

FYI, I did all of this (and a few other destinations) in only 2 weeks by bus. We started and ended in Quito.
posted by bengarland at 1:39 PM on April 18, 2009

I think you can only get blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos, which are super expensive. :(

If I were near Riobamba I would go to Banos, too, but I haven't been to Puerto Lopez or Cuenca, so I don't know if you can get the same experience there.
posted by ramenopres at 7:10 PM on April 18, 2009

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