Give me some tips for my Ecuador trip!
December 2, 2010 3:53 PM   Subscribe

TravelFilter: Help me make my two weeks in Ecuador the best they can be. Think low key, awesome, off the beaten path ideas. What have you done/learned that I can benefit from?

So I've already found previous questions related to this but I figured I'm a special snowflake so I'd ask again... Seriously, I'm not but I do feel like the situation is a bit different. Details follow but feel free to skip to the bottom if you want to just give generic advice.


I'm traveling down to see a friend who has been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador for the last year or so. The group will consist of three people:

A) Him: mid 20s, bilingual (spanish/english), Spanish descent (but not South American, he's taller)
B) Me: mid 20s, english with a touch of spanish since I can string together rough, simple sentences and understand 'the gist' of a converstaion, Native American descent (read: I'm still white but with darker complexion/hair...)
C) Her: mid 20s, probably worse spanish than myself, blue-eyed/blond haired (100% gringo, and that's not a pejorative word where I come from. Apologies if it is to you and yours).

We're all fairly outdoorsy and level-headed, so there's that too.

We're flying into and out of Quito but are by no means limited to that city. His site is in or near Palmito Pamba (now that I'm searching for that on a map it doesn't lend itself to searching and/or may be a local term). If I'm not mistaken I think it's near Imbabura province (or near the border of said province to be exact).

Our plans are mostly in his hands and we're going to be doing a fair amount of hostel hopping and/or staying with other PCVs in various communities/rural/remote areas. Our interests/plans are currently focusing more on the outdoorsy aspect of things like hiking, moderate climbing, whitewater, caving, hot springs, and beaches. Oh, I'm sure cool cultural things are on the agenda as well but I'm just not in the know as much with regards to them. I'm halfway looking into charter marlin fishing (I can't imagine how those guys compare to Florida Grouper/Snapper) prices but they will likely end up too costly or not on our route.

Places on the (very rough) agenda at the moment:
Nanegal, Tena, Puyo Banos, San Bernardo, Riobamba, Cuenca, Latacunga, Guayaquil.

Also (from the Amazon area), Maquipucuna (La Delicia), Mindo, Papallacta, Cuyabeno, Yasuni, Rio Napo.

Tips he's already provided me with and my (current) plans:
1. Pack light: I'm hoping to get by with one large backpack with, potentially, a smaller daypack inside, I'll be using my Osprey Kestrel pack and hoping noone notices the brand.
2. Less electronics are better: I will be leaving camera (he has one), laptop (ditto), and brand new Droid X phone (he has an extra) at home.
3. Bring small bills: >$10 USD bills are mostly useless since noone has change but I don't know how to handle this since he also says don't have more than $30 or $40 on you at any given time.

The list is going to be short but will include sunglasses, bug juice, sun block, passport(and photocopy), possibly a small sleepingbag (for day to day use, no overnight camping this trip), medications as needed (see below), one set of nicer clothes (read: nice jeans and a button down), swim trunks, sandals/shower shoes, and perhaps a travel guide and a hat.

I'll be going to see my physician next week regarding the shots recommended here by the CDC. I also hope to obtain Diamox to accelerate the acclimatization since, from experience, it tends to linger with me and put me in a foul mood. I'll also take anti-malarial pills if directed by my doctor. I hope to try out all medications before I leave but have no real history of allergic reactions, still better safe than sorry. I'll probably also take a bit of a 'stomach 911' kit but I tend to have a quite strong stomach by default (my family calls me the garbage disposal instead of the thing in the sink).

Ummm... I guess that's about it. My question revolves around any and all of the above in hopes that you can tell me if I'm on base with regards to the trip in general, but also give some information regarding must see/must avoid places, do's/don'ts of behavior, packing list critique and the rest.

Specific questions:

Regarding the caves near Tena (Jumandy Cavernas?)... I've done the Wild Cave Tour (6-8 hours, mud, hard hats, squeezes, sharp rocks, slight bouldering) in Mammoth Caves National Park and it was one of the most amazing things ever, and I would love to do it again. However, the thought of visiting ANY sort of cave with a guide who is anything below a master-level at what he does is terrifying and, quite possibly, not an option. I've confirmed neither one of them has been in a cave before. Has anyone been in these caves before and, if so, could you recommend a guide/company who would supply gear/guides for a full day (or less but still awesome) trip?

Besides common sense/well published stuff (see the CDC link above) are there any health issues you can think of that I should watch out for, especially in regards to eating fresh foods/fish/cuy/pork or bathing in local hot springs? I've bathed in wild thermal pools inside/near Yellowstone National Park so I'm familiar with the normal concerns but anything Ecuador specific would be great to hear about, first or second hand.

What are some awesome gift ideas to bring back to family/friends here? I'll be missing Valentine's Day so I need to have a show-stopper of a gift for my girlfriend if at all possible, otherwise anything goes.

Thanks all and sorry for being so verbose...
posted by RolandOfEld to Travel & Transportation around Ecuador (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Mindo and the ziplines for sure. There's an adorable lady that runs a restaurant out of her house there, I gave her a headlamp last year to cook during the rolling blackouts. Also, the outdiir tropical/tiki juice bar with rope swings.

Go see the equator near Quito, there's some great cui restaurants near there. :)

Got time for the Galapagos? If so, a must-go. Rent a house near the Darwin Research Station for a few hundred a week and go dive your hearts out.
posted by kcm at 4:01 PM on December 2, 2010

Response by poster: Galapagos has been ruled out due to cost, time, and tourist concerns. I've never done ziplines before but that could be awesome.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:13 PM on December 2, 2010

Best answer: I've been to Euador 13 times for various reasons, so here are a couple of thoughts:

Your US dollars cannot be written on or torn. Go to your bank and ask for fresh crisp currency. I literally had someone chase me across a street because there was a tiny rip in the corner of a $5 bill.

Never had an issue with the altitude. Quito is only 9300 feet - just take it easy the first day and you'll be fine. Most US flights arrive at night, so your body adjusts faster overnight.

I have never taken any shots for Ecuador. Bring mosquito repellent and you should be okay. I've never gotten sick there either.

Peguche Waterfalls are sacred and outside of Otavalo. Easy walk there.

Are you spending any time at all on the Ruta del Sol on the coast?

Otavalo has one of the largest Indian markets - best / cheapest gifts for women are the gorgeous beaded necklaces that the local women wear. Last time they cost about $3-5 each. They take up no space and everyone I gave them to oooohed.

Banos is not on your list and it's 3 hrs south of Quito. Fun place to go horseback riding, mountain biking, there's the amazing Avenue of Volcanoes to get there, the beautiful Avenue of Orchids outside of Banos. A neat hike is to the Pailon del Diablo to see waterfalls. Local waterfalls are a little sketchy tho.

I could probably talk about it a lot longer, so memail me if you want to talk longer.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:36 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Get a Panama hat. The best ones are made in Ecuador.
posted by fixedgear at 4:39 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok, here goes:

@ HeyAllie

Yea, I'm not super worried about the shots/diseases either and I'm the type that always forgoes the yearly flu shots. However, I put too much money into my pre-tax health account and have money to burn on health stuff, plus I'm scheduled for a physical for the same reason so I might as well do it. The funds don't rollover into the next calendar year. *shrug* Ditto on the altitude thing, but I'm at sea level now and I know how it hits me, it's a 4-7 day stretch of headaches, appetite decrease, and lethargy that I'd love to avoid as much as possible since I only have 2 weeks there.

Good call on the crisp/clean bills! I'll act on that for sure. How much money would you feel safe having on you at a given time? I mean it's not going to do me a whole lot of good to have a whopping $70 in crisp bills... I guess it's the nature of the beast.

Good call on the beads, is this what you're refering to? Or this (scroll down a ways)?

How about wool textiles? I love me some wool (even though I'm a nearly lifetime resident of the deep south, you figure it out).

I'll look into Otavalo. And expect a memail in the future weeks...


Wow, ignorant me didn't know that Ecuador seems to be the mecca for Panama hats. This is just the thing for a gift for my male (and maybe even a saucy female) family. I'm looking at various sties and seeing prices for ordering them range from the forty dollar range to much higher, how is that going to compare to the price while in country? Specifically for a nicer hat that's going to wow the family back home. I guess I'd have to bring it home via carry-on too since I don't suppose it would do to put a nice hat (or 3) into my checked bag.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:13 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Otavalo and the falls nearby.
posted by kcm at 5:30 PM on December 2, 2010

I hate Diamox, personally. Side effects weren't worth it to me. See if you can find some of the local mate tea - all natural and works fine. I only used Diamox in Peru - after 1 day, I stopped using it. I have never ever had much more than a slight headache the first day at altitude. Guess everyone's different.

No, the beads are similar to the ones worn in this photo . These are typical gold beads in the photo, but less expensive red coral is now being used. They come in different lengths, the longer the better to wrap lots of times around your neck.

You'll find a ton of textiles in Peguche too - there are some neat weaving workshops in that area (see how they use pine cones to brush out the wool), but at the Otavalo market, they're everywhere. Bargain hard, but pay fair. I used to see a lot more wool rugs - never spent more than $25 for them, but I don't see them as often anymore.

As for Panama hats, you get what you pay for. The cheap ones will last about a week before they fray and fall apart or won't hold their shape. Look at the tight weave - the tighter the better. Just because they sell it to you and give it to you in a little box does not a good Panama hat make.

Not sure how you spend your money, but I'd bring $300 cash in small bills. ATMs are pretty available in most major towns and it's easy to withdraw more cash if you need it. I use Bank of America, but Wells Fargo debit cards may be a wee bit more easy to use.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:47 PM on December 2, 2010

Response by poster: Hrm.. I'm usually not affected by "side effects" listed by drug companies (besides the obvious ones like painkillers or antihistamines making you sleepy) but I'll keep that in mind. I'm a bigger guy too *shrug*.

Coral beads sound awesome. I didn't even think about it but even getting loose beads would be a great gift for my craftsy mom. Turns out I think the others are tagua and seem to have an awesome history/story.

Wool rugs? Heck yea! My hypothetical wood floors are ready and willing.

Regarding 'bargin hard, pay fair', that's exactly how I operate and my PCV friend would expect no less of me.

I need to keep researching the Panama hat stuff because I definitely do not want to waste my time bringing a few back that are going to fall apart in a few weeks in the southern US humidity/sun. Any idea what I'd be looking at for a fino, super fino, etc or so?

Basically, to put it in the first terms that come to mind: I'd want to avoid wasting my/their time looking at the Lamborghini/Rolls Royce model, purchase the Lexus/BMW model if I can afford it, consider the Toyata/Honda model as a viable alternative, and ignore the KIA model as it is not an option.

If I haven't made it clear already, we may be traveling 'off the beaten path' and or on our own a good bit of the time, would you still adhere to that $300 rule? Yet again, it's a big catch-22 either way just trying to feel things out best I can.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:07 PM on December 2, 2010

Are you positive you can't borrow a few grand from an aunt/uncle to do Galapagos? OK fine then but it's worth some kind of family mortgage.

Back IRL in Ecuador, it's a long time since I was there but the above notes make sense. Loved Cuenca. Consider hiking in Cajas if you can sort the transport.

I was on a very iffy/scary fly-by-night amazon trip that was none-the-less amazing. So much cheaper than Galapagos if you're not afraid you're going to capsize, etc.

I had a friend in Quito so I spent a bit more time there than usual, and like most cities it gets more interesting as you get into some kind of routine.
posted by Mngo at 7:44 PM on December 2, 2010

I'll second Mindo and Baños, both are gorgeous locales. I was less impressed with Otavalo, the market seemed very touristy and there wasn't much else to the town. Although certainly not off the beaten path, if you end up in Quito, do ride the Teleférico, the view is spectacular.

I would recommend taking along some cipro just in case. I usually don't get sick but I got an awful stomach bug there, and nearly every other traveler I met on the road in Ecuador had experienced something similar.
posted by mahamandarava at 10:02 PM on December 2, 2010

Two things immediately from the top of my head:

1) In all my years of living in Ecuador, I never took an antimalarial. Admittedly, I spent most of my time in Quito, but I didn't know anyone who lived in, or frequently traveled to, the coast or the Amazon who took them. The side effects seemed to outweigh the actual risk of getting malaria there.

2) There are a number of amazing goldsmiths and silversmiths in Quito. You might want to check them out and see if there is any jewelry you can get to wow the girlfriend. There are several shops near or along Calle Amazonas that sell more traditional-looking designs, though quality and prices can be variable (with some obviously catering to the tourist set). But: overall, you can get some really gorgeous pieces at very reasonable prices.

Personally, I would recommend checking out Tinta. Their stuff is more modernist, but still very, very pretty. Some of their jewelry is a bit more expensive and you may have to take a bit of a drive to visit the studio, but you would definitely find some very nice gifts there.
posted by vivid postcard at 11:23 PM on December 2, 2010

This advice given with the understanding that I've been very few places in Ecua; these are things I've done and how I've enjoyed them, not an argument for these things at the expense of other things.

- Seconding Baños. Didn't have a lot of time there, but what I saw included rivers and falls and a center of town that rings European. Some good gift ideas here from the local shops, although I think I kept everything for myself.

- Riobamba, you probably know, is in the shadow of Chimborazo, along with many other volcanos. (I'm told Tungarahua is erupting nonstop right now.) The peak of Chimborazo, if you don't know, is the farthest point from the center of the Earth; Everest is higher, but not as far, if you follow the geology (or whatever). You can drive (or pay someone $20 to drive you) to a base I think 5,900 meters above sea level and then hike to the next base, a 100m stroll that took me an hour with the oxygen deprivation. Had to explain to my wife's cousin that I was going to stop talking, because I couldn't think in Spanish anymore. Probably it's opssible to climb higher than that, but that wasn't in the cards for us that first time. Lots of great photo ops all along the way, too.

- Also in Riobamba, or possibly just outside it, is a place called La Pampa. You grab a net and catch your own trout in a stream they have, then go do whatever appeals to you; they've got a sort of zipline, 4X4s, a soocer field, a tennis court, a ping pong table, I would think a pool or spa ... again, I'm not vouching for this over other stuff, but a day there with my wife's family was one of the more fun things I've done down there.

Lastly, when are you going? You know about Año Viejo, right? We're giong down for two weeks ourselves, in two weeks, and that's always great for a little cultural immersion.
posted by troywestfield at 7:00 AM on December 3, 2010

A former co-worker of mine recently moved to Quito and is blogging about it. Might be some good info there:
posted by Otis at 7:20 AM on December 3, 2010

Response by poster: Good info from all. Thanks.

Dates for the trip are Feb 5 to Feb 19.


Yes my friend mentioned that Tungarahua is indeed acting up and may affect our plans a bit since it's near Banos but we're still plenty flexible on our actual agenda.

Anyone have experience related to the caving (or could point me in the right direction?)? Specifically near Tena... that's a big question of mine that's still pretty wide open.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:34 AM on December 3, 2010

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