What is more exciting than writing about a trip during COVID? Dec 27th, 2020 – Jan 8th, 2021
ECUADOR TRAVEL REPORT – COVID VERSION
BACKGROUND STORY & WHY ECUADOR?
After having my solo trip to Nicaragua and Belize cancelled in March and then a planned family trip to Argentina, I started looking day and night (Remember that was my passion) for safe destinations which doesn’t involve too much headache. The criteria for the winning destination was 1. Covid rate under control with proper government measures, 2. Enough allowed time to take a free PCR test prior to departure, 3. Only one stopover from either Montreal or Toronto.
I kept checking and evaluating different destinations. I can travel only during school breaks which leaves me with only one option for the year “Winter Break”. I need to find a destination compliance with above 3 conditions and not super expensive. After extensive research and daily price checks, finally found it. The winner is ECUADOR. A small country in South America which I can fit in less than 2 weeks. So here is the 2 Weeks Ecuador Itinerary including flight days.
And just coincidentally, this happened to be with United Airline which I have a voucher from (Belize cancellation). The price is the exact same amount of my voucher! AMAZING. I DO NOT NEED TO PAY but use my $480 voucher. I book it over the phone and get email confirmation. Book my seats and all good to go! Here I am coming to visit you Ecuador!
RENTING A CAR or HIRING A GUIDE-DRIVER DRAMA
I initially wanted to rent a car but the prices were stupidly high plus they force you to take their insurance which has a $1200-$1700 deductible versus zero deductible with my CC or pay a $2K – $20K deposit. SIXT is the weirdest one asking for $10K for their tiniest car which isn’t even worth $10,000. So, the initial plan of renting was cancelled.
Plan B was hiring a guide-driver with own car. I used the list on Trip Advisor and emailed all of them. Out of 25 I ended up having initial discussions with 10. Narrowed down the list to 2. And agreed upon the plan with a final guide. The guides charge whatever they feel like it and I got a price range of $110-$250 per day. Ecuador kept changing its rules and restrictions including a new curfew for the holiday season which affected the mobility of my booked guide. Two days prior to my flight he messaged me saying as a freelancer he can’t make it happen due to the restrictions but can commit to some days (Another rule in Ecuador with car plates ending with Even digits can be on the road half week days and vise versa). I was like either all or none. I DECLINED and there comes the adventure.
ARRIVAL: 2 AM – Hostel sent a taxi for $20. Smooth and beautiful foggy ride.
Day 1 – Walked all over QUITO to see the main points of interest. I could see all except the Ecuadorian National Museum which was closed sadly. This was a 20 KM walk all over. It started pouring rain by the end of the day and I ended up taking a $2.5 taxi back.
Note: When I landed at the airport, sadly, all stores were closed. I bought a SIM card from the historical city where my hostel was. A Claro. $5 (1.5 GB + 50 Minutes for 30 days) and $5 Activation Fee. They activated it and all went smoothly.
A SCARY FAST SPEED BIKE RIDE DOWN A VOLCANO TO A LAGOON
Day 2: An exciting day. I luckily found a tour to Cotopaxi. It was with EcoSporTour and Alexander was our guide. He is so enthusiastic and speaks perfect English. He kept sharing stories and updated us about the upcoming attraction. Cotopaxi was fun but wish it was a bit less cloudy. We hiked to Refuge 1 on a snow-covered ground. Then Had hot chocolate and before hiking down. Sadly, they restrict the hike to Refuge 2 to only those who are going to the summit due to safety reasons (Not Covid related). We then biked down (oh WOW) to the lagoon and enjoyed a free time walking around the lagoon. Of course, lunch was included.
TAKE A KAYAK IN THIS MAJESTIC VOLCANIC CRATER – QUILOTOA
Day 3: I used the same company to go to Quilotoa. A majestic volcanic crater. Another amazing day. This is a downhill hike. It took about an hour. Easy to go down. Tough to hike back up! Pick up on time and very reasonable price of $40 USD for a shared tour even though it felt private as we were only 3 passengers. We visited a local farm and their traditional house, an art shop, the lagoon which was majestic. I rented a Kayak for $4 for half an hour and it was magical. Rent a Kayak or Canoe. I had a snack on the lagoon. The color is so perfect. You will see the difference in colors when the sun comes out of clouds or disappears. Then it was the return time. Alex showed us some of the volcanic flows with fantastic views. We then hiked back up and had lunch. I got off the highway and Alex showed me where to get a bus to my next destination, Banos famous for being the playground of Ecuador (I saved about $12 USD and 4 hours by not backtracking to Quito and going directly to Banos).
Some kids were closing the streets randomly with a thin rope in their neighborhood. They do this every year during the holiday to raise some money and all drivers stop and give them some small cash. Another noticeable thing is that farther from the city the less Covid precautions.
Guinea Pigs are a popular food in Ecuador. They raise these cute creatures everywhere and apparently it is delicious. I don’t eat Pork (Or any form of Pig).
TIME FOR THE SWING AT THE END OF THE WORLD IN BANOS
Day 4: Banos. Another perfect magical place. Remember I arrived her by bus last night which saved me couple hours and bucks. I left my hostel at 5:30 AM and hiked all the way to the top where the Swing at the end of the world is. Honestly, the swing is a tourist trap and I would never go all the way up for the swing or the zipline, etc. Even though it is a dirt cheap $1. I think the main attraction is the hike itself. When it is first magical, and the sun is coming out slowly from behind the clouds. You see the town is hiding under the clouds then slowly appears from nowhere. It was just amazing. I can’t even describe it. You don’t need a guide. Just use Maps.me and follow the trail. No way to get lost. Occasionally, you will come up with some farmers dogs which look aggressive but just keep walking and you will be fine. In one point, one of the dogs wanted to jump on me but I was prepared with a stick so he (YES, a HE is confirmed) backed off quickly but kept barking. I got to the top early (To me about 3 hours and I stopped a lot to take photos) but it is a tough hike (700-meter elevation gain in 7 KM). I had breakfast and then did the Swing and other attractions all by myself. There was literally nobody else.
I then walked back down. There was no shuttle on this day. The hike took 1.5 hours. I took a different route. TAKE THE LONGER route on maps.me to come up but the shorter one to go down. It is a loop. Maps.me is perfect. Just follow it.
After returning to the hostel, I took a quick shower, snack, and it was time to go out again. I just picked one of many bike stores (randomly) and rented a bike for $6 for the day and biked the Waterfall route. Oh wow. I stopped counting how many waterfalls. This was perfect and luckily there was no rain. You can park your bike and lock it on any designated area or just find a pole by a vender and ask them to watch it 🙂 I was done around 5 PM. The return was fun! The big trucks outside of the parking lot were supposed to charge $2 but the guy was nasty, and he said $2 pp and I must pay for 5. I said NOPE then rode to the first tunnel and took a normal blue passenger bus for $2 back to town. I then biked all over Banos including downtown and the 3 waterfalls closer to the city before returning the bike and taking back my driver license ID which, I left as a deposit.
WHAT CAN YOU GET FOR $25? AN ALL-INCLUSIVE FULL DAY AMAZON TOUR
Day 5: I GOT LUCKY!!! YES!! I Found an AMAZON TOUR. This is AMAZING and EXCITING. However, I can’t recommend this company just because the guide was very quiet and not attentive. He didn’t have much information. He was more of a driver than a guide and he brought his wife and boy along the way, which is perfectly fine and nice, but a guide needs to be a guide too, right? Anyway.
The plan was great and packed. We visited a tribe and they did the face painting, dance, fire, and other activities. I didn’t drink their tea, but others did. Weird though during a global pandemic sharing the same cup with tens of people! That is just too risky and disgusting as there were many more mouths on that same cup.
We then did a river canoe. It was short but exciting. Then we went to where the AMAZING SWING is. This was so much fun. The caves, the swing, the guy with the POOR snake (I felt so bad for the snake with smashed neck), and the view. Have your photo taken while jumping if you dare (I did). There were long lines but who cares. I had the whole bus waiting for the 2 of us. Sorry can’t be here and not doing this. This was by donation only. We then had lunch. I had their last fish and then a 35 min walk in the Amazon to the waterfall. Oh wow. So refreshing and nice to swim there.
NOTE: Sadly, nobody told us there will be an optional swimming so almost none had swimming clothes. I did as I thought I might need to change. So yeah, all foreign ladies didn’t swim sadly. Local Ecuadorian ladies on the tour were prepared. This is yet another reason to not recommend this company. I should say it was $25 only so it is a good deal.
After the hike in the majestic Amazon and the waterfall, we then headed to a local chocolate farm. We learned and participated on the making of the chocolate. This was the best chocolate tour I have ever attended. It was just amazing. Then we had hot chocolate and some cookies made locally for $2. So delicious. This was the best day along Quilotoa crater.
TAG ALONG DEVIL’S NOSE TRAIN – TO CUENCA
Day 6: Time to leave Banos. I took a bus to Riobamba. Got off and walked around the city. Then another bus to Alausi. I wanted to take photos with the train, so I walked there with my suitcase. And took some photos. The train was closed due Covid and lack of tourists. From Alausi I took a $1 co-op truck to the highway and got a bus to Cuenca which dropped me off by the highway. I walked down hill crossed the river twice to get to the hostel. It was fun (One of the wheels of my luggage broke here which made it an interesting walk around). I got to the hotel around 6:30 PM after a nice and very enjoyable with many views and points to look at in Cuenca.
HIKING A NATIONAL PARK IN WATER STREAMS WITH THE LAMAS (AND NO HUMANS)
Day 7: I took a bus to Guayaquil and got dropped off at Cajas National Park. Sadly, the park was closed but I DO NOT GIVE UP! There should be another entry. The guard with the gun didn’t speak any English and was no help at all. He didn’t even allow me to walk down take photos and come back. I walk miserably toward Cuenca on the highway. Take photos here and there randomly with a sad face. Came to my mind to check Maps.me and see if any trail close by. Luckily found one. It was Trail 6. Inca Trail. I forgot to download the Park map but Maps.me was awesome. Yes, I hiked Inca Trail in the park. IT WAS AMAZING. I am so happy I could find and do it. I was all by MYSELF the whole trail back and forth. Not a single soul. Except some Lamas, birds, and spiders I saw along the path. FOLLOW MAPS.ME and you will be fine. I got distracted couple times by the beautiful lakes but quickly turned back on the trail. Trail is obvious when you are on it but as soon as you go couple meters away, you can’t see it so MAPS.me with a working GPS is a MUST. This was a prefect hike until my return when it started pouring rain. The trails became water streams and small waterfalls / rivers. I literally was walking in water the whole time and got soaked despite my rain jacket and my waterproof boot (But they couldn’t handle the amount of water). I got to the highway and a bus to Cuenca for $2 it was.
I was back at Cuenca before 2 PM. Toured Cuenca including most cathedrals. Sadly, the number 1 museum Pumapungo was closed. I walked around Cuenca till my legs started screaming at me at 6 PM and the sky started to cry heavily (again)!
A HOT, DIRTY, NOISY, AND UGLY WITH A BEAUTIFUL SIDE CITY, GUAYAQUIL
Day 8: I took a bus to Guayaquil. Got to this hot, dirty, noisy, ugly city around noon. Everything was closed including Malecon 2000, so I walked around during the day and night. One of the must interesting sights was the central park with lots of Iguanas of all sizes. Some were outside by the street hiding underneath parked cars. Drivers had to look underneath before driving away. Quiet a scene. Guayaquil is totally different with all the lights during Christmas at night.
A WHOLE DAY BUS RIDE BACK TO QUITO
Day 9: I got my Covid test done at 9 AM. Then took a bus to Quito. What a long journey. We started at 11:30 AM and got to Quito at 8 PM. It was for $12. Very comfortable and safe bus ride. I then took 2 Metro buses and a 12 min walk to my hostel in Quito.
LET’S GO TO THE MIDDLE OF THE WORLD LATITUDE 0
Day 10: I took the bus to Mitad del Mundo. It is a very over-rated place honestly. Nothing too special there but it is one of those things you must do when in Ecuador. I saw the museums and the center of the world city and then bus back to Quito. Walked around Quito. Teleferic was closed.
Day 11: Fly home day! THANK YOU, Ecuador. You were awesome.
- Food is cheap here. You can get a meal for $2.5 including juice and salad.
- Public transportation is cheap too. Inner-city buses are about 20-35 cents in both Quito and Guayaquil.
- People are nice and friendly. I didn’t encounter any aggressive behavior anywhere toward me or between the locals. Everyone seems chill and nice.
- Masks are worn everywhere I visited except in Guayaquil and rural.
- It rained every single day and it is sometimes a very heavy rain you need to shelter from. It is a tropical rain so starts by very slow drops. Then you know it will be crazy. Find a shelter when those small drops start.
- Lots of stray dogs which might look aggressive. Mind your own business and you shall survive.
WHAT I MISSED IN ECUADOR
Chimborazo Mountain (Highest peak in Ecuador) and Mindo Valley (Cloud forest and a bird heaven). Of course Galapagos Islands are the biggest missed parts in this trip!
ROADS: They are safe mostly and not as bad as people say. You can drive easily and let those big trucks to take over. Not a big deal. The only place I wouldn’t drive is Guayaquil. Even Quito is fine, but Guayaquil is a mess due to non-stop horns. You don’t know if you are doing something wrong. It gets stressful. Regardless, I DID NOT see anyone not stopping for traffic lights. Everyone stops for RED light no exception. STOP signs are more like a yield but be very careful. If the car behind you don’t except a stop, you will get rear-ended. And if you go without checking, you will be smashed by the upcoming traffic. It is a bit tricky but easy to get used to. I did not see a single accident during all this journey. Some random police check points which looked OK. Tolls are $1 and they are a lot. Gas is cheap. $1.7 – $2.25 / Gallon.
SOME USEFUL INFO ABOUT ECUADOR DURING COVID (AND IN GENERAL)
- Regarding Covid, I honestly don’t think masks will protect on those packed buses or when you take a shared tour ending up on a table with people you don’t know. If you can afford a rental car or private guide just do it. Other than that, do your best. I used double masks (Both 3 layers one being Surgical) and changed the surgical one at least twice a day. Don’t be shy to use a face shield. I saw many using it. Generally, I felt safe as everyone was wearing a mask (Except in rural villages and some in Guayaquil). Don’t touch your face after touching anything including your belongings or clothes.
- The shared tours for Cotopaxi and Quilotoa were $40 each (Usually they are $50). This included everything from transportation to entrance fees and lunch. Plus, bike and helmet in Cotopaxi.
- Maybe one day I will be back (After seeing the rest of the world) to do Mindo Cloud forests (Even though I am told they are very similar to the Costa Rica ones) and maybe can do some other parks, volcanos and go deeper in the Amazon.
- I averaged $7 per night for private room and a shared bath. Although I had a private hostel bath everywhere except Guayaquil where there was a volunteer. Two of the places had breakfast included (Cuenca and Guayaquil). Honestly, I am now encouraged to travel more.
- I brought my pot, spoon, and fork for cooking reduce the risk.
I truly enjoyed Ecuador and encourage others to go explore this amazing country. Please let me know in the comments if you have any question or concern. I will be delighted to answer them.