We can tell you all day long about the beauty you’ll witness by traveling in Ecuador—the breathtaking mountain vistas seen from Casa Mojanda, the remarkable detail of Otavalan textiles, the caught-this-minute freshness of the ceviche in Puerto López, or the creak of leather and clop of hooves as the Vilcabamba cowboys prance by on their Paso Finos. But sooner or later, you’ll have to come down and travel in Ecuador to experience it for yourself.
The Best Resource for Tourism in Ecuador
The best travel resource in Ecuador is Nuevo Mundo Expeditions, owned and operated by Oswaldo Muñoz. Oswaldo earned his bachelor’s degree in agronomy and has an abiding love for all things natural in Ecuador. He’s also the founder and former head of the Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association and is currently a volunteer warden for the American Embassy in Quito, providing first-hand travel information to tourists visiting the country. He knows Ecuadorian tourism.
Oswaldo’s tourism company provides highly structured ecotours throughout Ecuador, including one aboard the only floating hotel in Ecuador’s Amazon basin, the Manati Explorer. Oswaldo can also provide city tours of any Ecuadorian city, as well as anything else you can dream up.
If you want to see the country, he can get you around from the time you land to the time you leave, or even provide you with a van and driver so you can do your own thing when traveling in Ecuador. A former U.S. resident, Oswaldo speaks perfect English. We have used his agency extensively, and referred many others to him, and have had only the best of feedback.
Nuevo Mundo is a full-service travel agency that can book package travel throughout Latin America and the world, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Week, a Fortnight, a Month, or Longer…in Ecuador
Think you might like to retire or move to Ecuador? Then you need to plan a “check-out” visit. But take it from us, a week is not long enough to get a true flavor of any country or city. Of course, personal obligations come first… so here are our recommendations for getting the most from your visit to Ecuador, whether you have six months or six days…
Getting There: Many international carriers fly to Ecuador. Check out Kayak.com or expedia.com to compare fares on several airlines to Ecuador’s two international airports in Quito and Guayaquil. Tip: Not all airlines are searched by these web tools. Depending on where you are flying from, you may find better deals by checking bargain airlines like JetBlue or Spirit on their own web sites.
If you have a week…
Day One: Fly to Quito and spend the night in modern Quito at Hotel Quito (from $100 per night) or Hotel Andino (from $25, breakfast included) or in Old Town at Hotel Real Audiencia (from $36).
Day Two: Find your way to Old Town’s Plaza de la Independencia (also called Plaza Grande) and sign up for a tour of the old city, which earned the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1977. On the southeast side of the plaza, stop in at the Quito Tourism Office and ask for a tour, given by one of the bilingual tourist police. (Your hotel can also set this up for you.) Don’t miss: the gilded interior of Compañía de Jesus Church and La Basilica del Voto, the largest neo-gothic church in the Americas.
Browse the fantastic maze-like artisan shop Tianguez, under the church at Plaza San Francisco. Stroll the narrow, cobbled-stone La Ronda Street with its many cafes and shops. For dinner that night, head to the Mariscal Sucre tourist district. Ask your taxi driver to drop you at the corner of Foch and Juan Leon Mera Streets (or simply say “Plaza Foch, por favor”) and grab a table at one of the many sidewalk cafes. (Gas heaters will keep you toasty warm at night.) One of our favorite restaurants is Boca del Lobo at the corner of Calama and Reina Victoria Streets.
Days Three and Four: Contact Mauricio Bonilla in advance and arrange a transfer to Cotacachi (from $55) and spend two nights at Hotel Land of the Sun (email email@example.com, starting at $59) or splurge at the first-class Relais and Chateaux Hotel La Mirage (starting at $180)—definitely enjoy an unforgettably decadent dinner at La Mirage (six courses just $35).
Budget travelers will like the family-run Hotel La Cuadra ($50, includes breakfast and WiFi). Spend a half day at the largest open-air indigenous market in the Americas at Otavalo. (A bus ride to Otavalo from Cotacachi costs just 25 cents.) You’ll find local expats frequenting restaurants such as Serendipity and Solid Rock.
Days Five and Six: Travel back to Quito and fly to Cuenca via one of three domestic carriers: Aerogal, Tame, or Latam. (Domestic flights anywhere in the country average $50 to $100 one-way although it’s possible to find promotional fares for less.) In Cuenca, stay at Hotel Inca Real (from $60) or the luxurious Mansion Alcazar (from $158). Budget travelers, check out Hostal Macondo (from $34). See here to learn more about the Cuenca expat community.
Day Seven: Travel back to Quito and check into your hotel to await your early morning journey back home.
If you have two weeks…
If you have two weeks, spend more time in Cotacachi and Cuenca. You may also want to visit Vilcabamba. To get there it’s best to fly from Quito or negotiate the fare from Cuenca with a local driver. Another option is the six-hour bus ride from Cuenca to Loja, where you can arrange van or taxi transport on to Vilcabamba from there. (You can fly to Loja only from Quito or Guayaquil.) In Vilcabamba, stay at Le Rendezvous (from $32), Izhcayluma (from $26) or Madre Tierra (from $57).
If you have a month…
If you have a month, you may want to add an exploratory trip to Ecuador’s Pacific Coast. Start with a flight to either Guayaquil or Manta. Rent a car through Kayak.com, Avis or Budget (and for low rental prices, check autoslash.com). Tip: Use can drive on your North American license as long as you are a tourist. International Drivers License is not required, although some vendors may offer discounts if you have one. Important to know that all car rental agencies will put a hold on up to $5,000 on your major credit card to secure the vehicle. This may not be returned to your account for 30 days, as it also will be used to pay and tickets or fines you incur (there are traffic cameras in most cities and along major highways).
From south to north (or vice versa if you start in Manta), explore the following:
Salinas: Salinas is the most upscale of Ecuador’s resort towns, with high-rises lining the waterfront, modern hotels and shopping centers. Stay at Hotel Casablanca (from $35 per person).
Montanita: If you’re into the hippie bohemian-chic experience, you’ll like this funky little surfer town. From here you can explore several other beach areas where good real estate deals abound, including Ayangue and Olón. Stay at Casa del Sol. Budget travelers will like Hostal Kundalini (from $30).
Puerto Lopez: This gorgeous crescent-shaped bay is what famous resort of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, must have looked like about 50 years ago. Stay at Hosteria Mandala (from $60) or the Maremonti Bed and Breakfast (from $26, breakfast included).
Manta is a city of 200,000—a center for tuna fishing and processing, with Ecuador’s largest seaport. There is a growing expat community there, mostly living in high-rise condos with expansive ocean views. Splurge at the ultra-modern Oro Verde Hotel (from $105) or stay at Hotel Perla Spondylus (from $77, including breakfast). To hook up with local expats, email Linda Flierl Hooks of the Manta International Social Club.
During a day trip from Manta, you can easily check out Crucita (about 45 minutes by car from Manta) and Bahia de Caraquez (about 90 minutes from Manta).
Canoa and the nearby town of Jama are the center of activity in this area north of Bahia de Caraquez and south of the town of Pedregal. If you go, stay in Canoa at Hotel Bambu (from $50).
If you have six weeks or more…
If you’ll be in Ecuador for an extended length of time, consider making your base in one of the destinations mentioned here. You can find rental apartments or homes from $150/month and up, although for a short-term rental (six months or less) you’ll probably pay from $500/month for a fully furnished apartment in a nice area.
To find rentals in various parts of Ecuador, visit vrbo.com, homeaway.com, flipkey.com, and viviun.com. In Quito, check out the Quito Craigslist and to rent a home in the valleys near Quito, check in with Sarah Dettman. In Cotacachi, rental homes and apartments can be found on vrbo.com and by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Final Word…
Tip: Ask for the International Living rate when making hotel reservations, some hotels offer IL or other discounts.
And note that taxi drivers do not know every hotel by name—so be sure to write down the address and telephone numbers for them. Be vigilant when out and about at night in Quito or Cuenca (or any large city anywhere in the world). Ask your hotel or restaurant to call a taxi for you. Tip: Cab drivers can also be booked by the hour. Sometimes it is convenient to have a driver who will take you to multiple sites and wait for your return. Generally, this service costs $8 to $10/hr. Keep in mind it is customary to provide lunch or dinner for your driver if you stop for a meal.
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