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Ecuador Travel Guide: What to Do & Eat in Ecuador

Let's travel to: Ecuador

Interesting Facts

  • Ecuador is named for the equator, which runs through the country
  • Quito is the highest official capital city in the world at an elevation of 2,850 metres above sea level
  • Ecuador has many active volcanoes and also one of the greatest densities of volcanoes in the world
  • The Panama hats originates in Ecuador but is named after the point of export, Panama

Useful Information

  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: USD
  • Tipping: Not expected to tip in most places; however, 10% service charge may automatically be added to your bill
  • Best time to visit:
    • Peak season: mid-June to September and late December through early January
  • Transportation:
    • Between cities: take the bus (usually less than $10)
      • Many people will come onboard to sell food and drinks for $1-2. We enjoyed the popsicles and fried chicken and fries
    • Within a city: take a cab or walk
  • Bring small change - many places will hesitate to accept anything larger than $20.
    • $1, $5 and $10 bills will be the most commonly accepted
  • Most shops and restaurants are closed on Sunday and it is common to find shops closed on Saturday

WHERE TO STAY IN ECUADOR

  • Quito: The Secret Garden Hostel or Minka Hostel
  • Amazon Jungle: Cotococha Lodge
  • Banos: Hosteria y Spa Isla de Baños    

QUITO: WHAT TO DO & EAT

Quito is a capital city high up in the Andes. Spend some time here and discover its many Old and New World charms. (p.s. It has been chosen as the #1 retirement destination by International Living for the fifth year in a row!)

What to do

  • Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal - do your souvenir shopping in the hundreds of stalls here
    • Bargaining is encouraged - below I’ve provided the range of prices you will find for popular items available
    • Popular items to purchase:
      • Colourful backpacks (typically $15 - $25)
      • Panama hats (typically $15 - $25 depending on quality)
      • Llama fur scarves ($5)
      • Travel bracelets and key chains ($1 - $5)
      • Loose travel pants (~$15)
      • Tea & chocolates
  • Buy a Panama hat - you can find cheaper options in the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal or better quality options at Homero Ortega
  • Hike up one of the many volcanoes (Pichincha, Cayambe, Cotopaxi)
    • Climbing Pichincha Volcano
      • Preparing for the hike:
        • Pack layers of warm clothes, a pair of gloves and a waterproof jacket - it gets quite chilly towards the summit
        • Bring snacks and water because it will be a long hike (4 - 6 hours)
        • The hike is demanding towards the ends with 45 degree incline of loose sand and rock to the top
      • Day of:
        • Start early in the day because it tends to get cloudy and rainy in the afternoon and you don’t want to get stuck at the top when it starts getting dark
        • Take the Teleferico up for $8.50 - it’s one of the world’s highest aerial gondolas
          • Opens at 8am
        • Take your breaks - the altitude will affect you more than you know
  • Explore the Old Town, the Historic City Center  
    • Quito was the first city to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
    • Walk the rough cobblestone streets and visit the numerous, beautifully restored colonial-era churches, monasteries, convents, private mansions, and public plazas -- you'll feel as if you've traveled back in time.
  • Climb through the sketchy stairwell to the rooftop of La Cathedral in Quito
  • Riding a Train Past the Devil's Nose: Earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions have wiped out most of the rail-line that used to connect Quito to Guayaquil. One remaining operational section is also one of the most spectacular, a white-knuckle ride of sharp switchbacks and hairpin turns down the side of a steep rock mountain affectionately known as the Devil's Nose
  • Haggle at Otavalo, South America’s largest marketplace (3 hour bus ride north of Quito)
  • Go for a night out in Plaza Foch in La Mariscal district
    • This district is filled with numerous nightclubs and bars

What to eat

  • Casual dining options
    • Rosita’s - Juice featuring a blend of 25 Andean fruits and herbs
    • Fried Bananas - Hidden behind plaza Mariscal Foch - perfect for a break during busy streets of Quito. Traditional dishes of Ecuadorian cuisine: ceviche, fresh fish, soup, fried bananas. Generous portions and reasonable prices
    • Mercado San Francisco - Quito’s oldest indoor market - fresh cheeses, meats, superlative bananas, pressed juices; good for a snack
    • Mercado Central - Fresh produce, fish, meats and flower
    • Pizzeria El Hornero - Affordable pizza restaurant (less than $5 for personal pizza)
  • Nicer dining options
    • Zazu Quito - Contemporary food with Latin influences in an upscale trendy atmosphere and friendly staff

BANOS: WHAT TO DO

This tiny spa town is nestled into the majestic mountains of central Ecuador. What makes Banos so noteworthy is the varied activities it offers, from heart pumping adventure to slow pace peaceful spas

  • Soak in a thermal bath - These baths are fed by heated volcanic water that flows from the base of Tungurahua Volcano
    • Most popular public bath is: La Piscina de la Virgen
    • Favourite: Luna Runtun for $20 a person for hillside overlooking all of Banos
      • Call the make sure there is enough room beforehand
  • Swing at the “End of the World” at Casa del Arbol
  • Walk around the charming city and shop the shalls in Pasaje Artesanal
  • Rent an ATV or Jeep and explore the surrounding areas
  • Visit the majestic Pailon del Diablo waterfall
  • Go on an adventure
    • Canopy rides ($10 per person)
    • Bridge jumping ($15)
    • Rock climbing - ½ day
    • Horseback riding
    • White water rafting
    • Canyoning
    • Paragliding
  • Try the melcocha - a sweet taffy made from sugar cane
    • There are numerous shops where people and make and sell this taffy, which can be see being pulled and beat against door frames of shops
  • Food options: Leoni pizza, Arte Cafe & Te

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN ECUADOR

  • Self-guided motorcycle trip of the Quilotoa loop
    • After reading many great reviews, we chose to go with Freedom Bike Rentals - very professional
    • Participate in Pack for a Purpose initiative and deliver school supplies to a school on the way
    • Stops along the way:
      • Quilotoa Crater Lake: water-filled caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes
      • Pujili market takes place at Pujili every Sunday.
        • People from surrounding villages and towns gather at the indigenous market to sell crafts
      • Saquisili Market is held every Thursday as Saquisli
  • Amazon jungle excursion at Cotocoha Lodge
    • Different activities include:
      • White Water Rafting in the Napo River
      • Climbing up Pimpilala Falls
      • Go on a night canoe ride to observe wildlife in the jungle

List by: Carolyn Chen and Henry Poon

We have been on several backpacking trips together, seeking out adventure, breathtaking views and hidden gems for every city we visit. Follow us on our adventures on Instagram: @carolynjxchen and @henwhee 

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