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Hidden between Peru and Columbia, Ecuador should be on every travelers’ bucket list. If you are avid climbers, trekkers, adventurers, and nature lovers, you have to visit! Ecuador offers the experiences of different cultures: indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, beautiful colonial architectures and exploration of the Amazon wilderness.
Did you know: Five Interesting Facts about Ecuador
- Afro-Ecuadorians make up from 4% to 6% of Ecuador’s population. They are the descendant of African slaves brought by the Spanish during their conquest of Ecuador from the Incas.
- The Marimba music comes from Esmeraldas, one of the provinces in Ecuador where 70% of the Afro-Ecuadorian population reside.
- Fray Tomás de Berlanga, a Bishop of Panamá, was noted as the first visitor of the Galapolos Islands in 1535.
- What you call Panama hats have never been claimed by Panama. They are originally from Ecuador and the traditional Ecuadorian toquilla hat is a UNESCO cultural heritage.
- Ecuador means Republic of the Equator
On my trip to Ecuador, here are five cities highlights that are should be on your itinerary. Each will give you different perspectives of the country, culture, and people.
Absolute Must-do’s in Quito
Sitting high in the Andean foothills and hemmed in between majestic mountain peaks, Quito is a city founded on the remains of an ancient Incan city. Simple concrete homes mingle with modern apartment buildings as they wind their way up crowded thoroughfares packed with shops, people, and traffic.
As your gaze wanders over the architecture, you may notice certain European architectural influences blending with Moorish and indigenous design flare.
Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its many architectural treasures and colonial monuments, and home to many of the major tourist attractions in Ecuador.
As you wander through art-filled churches, meander through charming plazas, and gaze in wonder at the beautifully restored 17th-century facades, you’ll come to understand why Quito is easily the crown jewel of the Andes.
Best Vegetarian Restaurant in Quito
The climate of Ecuador is the perfect environment for a wide variety of foods to be grown, giving plenty of material for the locals to create many a gastronomical wonder.
Your stomach will soon be growling in anticipation as your olfactory senses get assaulted by the delicious odors wafting off the locally prepared fare. If you’re after flavors from all over the world, then you’re also in for a treat as there are ethnic delicacies inspired by every country and culture imaginable.
Followers of the vegan lifestyle have no need to fret. There’s an extensive menu of vegan delights you can enjoy at Govinda Gopal Vegetarian on Venezuela Avenue and Emeraldas while you dine in their cafeteria style restaurant.
Govinda Gopal Vegetarian is a favorite venue for locals and tourists, so if you don’t want to miss outset your alarm clock early, as the food goes fast.
The reasonable prices go a long way to making this my favorite place to eat, along with the delicious plain yucca, soy cheese yucca, veggie burger, and corn torta. You get all that for just six bucks; top value and so yummy!
Best Traditional Things to do in Quito
Wander over to Centro Historico situated 3.5 hours from Avenida Amazonas. On your way, be sure to stop over at Parque Almeida where you can chill out with a relaxing boat ride. You’ll appreciate the more relaxed atmosphere in this park than the busy noise you’ll find at Ejido.
There’s plenty of things to do when you visit Quito, Ecuador even if you’re on a tight budget, as there are lots of free cultural events for visitors to enjoy over at the Cultural Center.
Part of the reason many people travel in Ecuador is to take in its many architectural wonders. Church Basilica, a Roman Catholic church 16 years in the making (from 1892 – 1909), is a prime example and a must see location.
If you think the architecture is gorgeous outside, you’ll be blown away once you step through the doors. And you absolutely must take in the view from the main tower, where you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of the entire city of Quito and its surrounding mountain ranges.
When you drag yourself away from the majestic view from the tower, there’s plenty more to see over at Centro Historico, home to Virgen De Quito, the hilltop statue of the Virgin Mary. Make sure you take some water, as the area is rather hilly and will give you quite the workout.
Looking for a Place to Stay in Quito
Quito has no shortage of options for visitors looking for lodgings as there are plenty of hostels and hotels suitable for all budgets.
If you’re after something a little more central to everything, then you can’t go past the JW Marriott Hotel, Quito. Situated on Amazonas Avenue, it’s the perfect walking distance to Plaza El Quinde (about 15 minutes). There’s always something entertaining going on at El Quinde plus tons of places to eat, and bars to relax in while you soak in the culture.
Getting Around Quito
The historical center is just a quick bus ride away and will cost you just .25 cents. If you’re after something a little more comfortable, taxis are available for about $10 – $15.
What’s the Weather Like in Quito
The temperature in Quito will rarely drop below 44°F, or push the mercury much past 70°F. The wet season (December to May) can get a little chilly and overcast, while the dry season (June – September) is always a more comfortable temperature and only slightly cloudy.
Baños, Ecuador is a premier location for mountain bikers, hikers, rafters, and for those who enjoy partying all night, but the town itself leaves a lot to be desired. The architecture is uninspiring, and the town, in general, has a whole cheap backpacker vibe going on.
For most visitor’s that’s a good thing as a laid-back attitude with lots of hidden character to discover is just what they need to enjoy themselves.
Despite the grungy vibe, most visitors have plenty of good things to say about their time in Baños, and they always manage to leave with lots of great memories to share when they get back home.
Eat Local in Banos
In a town that feels overcrowded and grungy you would expect to eat well for less, and Baños doesn’t disappoint. All you need to do to enjoy a tasty meal is to step outside, as vendors line the streets selling all manner of freshly prepared local fare.
If street style eating isn’t your thing, there are still lots of restaurants offering tasty meals at the center of the Plaza.
Native Café Restaurant is another favorite of mine when I’m enjoying the food of Ecuador. There’s a great atmosphere, the dishes are delicious, and their chocolate dessert is to die for.
If you’re the adventurous type, it’s more like what isn’t there to do in Baños?
You can start enjoying the scenery without even leaving town as waterfalls, and lush forests make for a majestic backdrop and a promise of the adventure that awaits.
You can hike through the jungle, risk life and limb on a crazy mountain bike ride, or get soaked in an exciting raft ride down the river. Occasionally, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see an eruption from the nearby Volcán Tungurahua.
After you’re done adventuring, you can refresh your tired bones with a dip in the steaming thermal springs.
The fun doesn’t stop there as the Chiva bus offers several tour options. The bus itself is $5.00, and you can pay an extra $20 to $30 for a bungee jump, or an exhilarating ride through the jungle canopy on a zip line.
The $5.00 option will get you to the “Paillon del Diablo” (waterfall) and the famous Rio Grande. It’s an excellent bus ride that you’ll never forget if you want to partake of everything it offers.
Cheap Hostel in Banos
La Petite Auberge Hostel is within walking distance from the center of town. There’s a fireplace, a patio to relax on, and rooms with two levels. The owner is a helpful soul who can tell you the best places to eat. Her versatility also extends to being able to speak English and French.
Getting to Banos from Quito
Take the bus from Quitambe at Quito. That will only set you back $2.50. It’s a four-hour ride, but that’s only because there are numerous stops it needs to make along the way so vendors can sell food and drink to passengers.
What’s the Weather Like in Baños
On average, the temperatures are always high in Baños but the coolest time to go is in July, with the warmest month occurring in December.
If you plan on enjoying all the outdoor activities Baños has to offer then you should avoid the month of April as this is when it’s wettest. The best way to guarantee a dry stay is to visit in February.
Cuenca is home to two UNESCO Cultural heritage sites, so it’s well worth a visit and deserves a place on your “things to do in Ecuador” bucket list.
There’s a strong French and Spanish influence on the architectural style prevalent in Cuenca and a model of perfection for other cities in Ecuador to take notes from.
Sadly, it’s beauty and popularity are slowing being consumed by too much commercialization, which, in my opinion, has taken away a lot of its charm.
Restaurants and Cafes in Cuenca
Lots of delicious vegan meals appear on the menu at A Pedir de Boca on Benigno Malo, and Mariscal Sucre Avenue. Also on offer are Italian, Thai, and Vietnamese inspired dishes.
I had the savory and spicy Thai dish for $5.00, and it was delicious!
There are coffee shops aplenty in Cuenca. Stop by the Un Melatte on Antonio Borrero and Presidente Cordova for a heavenly latte pick-me-up made with almond milk.
Un Melatte offers a very relaxed environment where you can watch the world go by, or jot down a few words on your laptop. Their sandwiches and sweets are worth trying out as well if you’re after an afternoon snack.
Affordable Activities in Cuenca
Your first stop should be at the Office of Tourism on Parque Calderon avenue to find out the latest info on what’s happening around town. Here you will find everything you need to know about the local restaurants, places to stay, tours, and before you go don’t forget to grab your free map of the city.
Every Wednesday and Friday there is a free concert. I found the singing to be quite angelic.
Affordable Lodging in Cuenca
Hostal Cofradia del Monje on Calle Presidente Cordova is only two blocks from Parque de Calderon. The rooms are decent enough, and all come with a private bathroom and breakfast for $30 a night.
It’s a great location if you don’t mind the noise created by the hustle and bustle outside.
Getting to Cuenca from Baño
There’s a bus from Baños for $12.00 which will get you to Cuenca in about six hours. Take note that some of the buses don’t have toilets so empty your bladder before you go. Don’t panic, as there are two stops along the way for bathroom breaks.
Once you get to the Cuenca bus terminal, you can hop on a bus for .25 cents, or jump in a cab to the center of town for about $2.00.
Best Time to Vist Cuenca
There’s a joke among the locals that says, “if you don’t like the weather in Cuenca, just wait an hour.” As you may have guessed from that statement, the weather in Cuenca can be a temperamental beast.
You may wake up to chilly temperatures and an overcast sky in the morning, and be enjoying a bright sunny sky with one lonely cloud by midday.
There are two main seasons in Cuenca; the wet and the dry. The wet is from January to May, which leaves June through December for the dry.
Guayaquil, Ecuador is a gateway to the beaches and a jumping off point to the Galapagos islands. It’s not ideal for an extended vacation but is perfectly fine for a night or two.
Backpackers and tourists who like to explore and wander the streets during longer stays should avoid Guayaquil as it’s not the safest place to visit when you are traveling to Ecuador.
My stay in Guayaquil was not the most pleasant, decidedly unpleasant in fact. I arrived from chilly Baños to scorching hot 95-degree temperatures. I was hot, distressed and hopelessly lost. And to top it off I didn’t have a hotel reservation.
Fortunately, my taxi driver was very understanding and drove me around until I found a hotel which could take me in and that was also in a safe area of town. I was very grateful for his help and kindness.
Finding a Place to Eat Guayaquil
On Malecon 2000, there are lots of restaurants offering plenty of variety. You can chow down on a deliciously savory dish at one of the many restaurants, and finish the day with an aromatic coffee at one of the large assortment of coffee shops
Shopping in Guayaquil
It’s a shoppers delight on the Malecon 2000, where you can shop for the latest trends, or catch a movie at the grand theater.
Getting to Guayaquil from Cuenca
Guayaquil is a 4-hour bus ride from Cuenca. Buses leave hourly, and a ticket costs only $10.00.
Best Hotel in Guayaquil
The Maison del Rio on Santa Ana is a quaint motel that can give you a spectacular view of the shores of the Rio Guayas river.
What’s the Weather Like in Guayaquil
Hot!. It was 95 degrees when I arrived in Guayaquil and apparently it doesn’t change much. There’s a lot of rain in the months of January through April. It’s hot in January and cools down a little in July.
If you like the nice weather, go in July but if you like the dry go in August.
As far as the best places to visit in Ecuador go, Riobamba isn’t it. I was unimpressed, despite this being the largest city in Ecuador.
It lacks character when compared to the lively atmospheres of Cuenca and Baños.
I consider Riobamba to be a pass-through town if only so you can say that you visited the biggest city in Ecuador, but it’s not ideal for a vacation in my opinion.
There are still some positives to visiting Riobamba but you must time your visit. At Christmas time, every year, Riobamba comes alive with the Diablada Pillarena Parade; complete with bright, colorful costumes and dancing in the streets to traditional music. That’s more like it.
Hotel Choices in Riobamba
For $25 a night you get a room at the La Libertad. It’s on a busy street so if you don’t like the noise you’re out of luck. The rooms are modest but spacious.
There’s another hotel just across the street, the Hotel la Estacion. It’s a little cheaper at $20.00 and you get breakfast as well. You still have to put up with the noise though.
Do Local The Things in Riobamba
Apart from the parade, Rio Bamba does have one other high point; it sports some fascinating museums. There’s the Museum City, Museum of Natural Science, and Cordoba Historical Museum.
You can also hop on the La Nariz del Diablo to explore the area by train. You should definitely make an effort as this ride will take you through the mountains for some not to be missed views of the countryside.
Find a Place to Eat
Riobamba caters to all tastes with lots of local restaurants selling Chinese (Chifa), but I didn’t find it very tasty. There’s also a Chifa Vegan option that gives you rice and vegetables; plain and too greasy for me.
A few of the other local restaurants sell more variety but try as I might I could find no other vegan options.
Take a Bus to Riobamba from Guayaquil
Get on a bus at the Guayaquil bus terminal and enjoy the 5-hour bus ride for $10.00. Buses have a relatively frequent schedule so you shouldn’t have too long to wait.
What’s the Weather Like in Riobamba
Riobamba is a warm temperate climate and often receives quite the downpour, even during the driest months. So, make sure you bring your raincoat and boots if you’re planning on staying a while.
Alausi is a quaint small town where you can put your feet up for a well-earned rest after a long bus ride.
The statue of San Pedro (Saint Peter) is visible from the center of town, standing tall as he watches over the citizens of Alausi.
A short stay of one or two days should be enough to enjoy all that Alausi has to offer.
Take a Train Ride in Alausi
The La Nariz del Diablo Train Ride (The Devil’s Nose) is a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike.
You get to enjoy the majestic vistas Ecuador is famous for, as the train winds its way through the mountain ranges and over the narrow gorge of Chanchán. Ticket prices while I was there were $31.00.
A Quaint Lodging in Alausi
El Rincon is an unassuming little hotel run by a husband and wife team. The rooms are always clean and only $25 a night. It’s away from the busy streets, so it’s relatively quiet, but this does mean you have a 15-minute walk to the center of town. Of course, you can always jump in a cab for a $1.50.
Where to Eat in Alausi
My favorite restaurant In Alausi is the Noris. They are happy to modify some of their dishes to cater to vegans and vegetarians.
Getting to Alausi from Riobamba
Jump on a bus as Riobamba, relax, and take in the scenery on the two-hour ride to Alausi; amazing value at only $2.00.
What’s the Weather Like in Alausi
It gets warm in Alausi and stays that way for most of the year. There’s a lot of rainfall during the months from January through December. Yep, that’s right, any time of the year and you can expect to get soaked.
The coolest month to enjoy Alausi is in July, but if you like it warmer go in November.
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