Updated: May 4, 2021
Hello everyone. If you're here you probably want to know where to go and what to do in Ecuador.
Well I have a few pointers. I backpacked to some amazing spots in Ecuador during my 9th day stay but of course this could be adjusted to the days you're staying in the country. I went to Guayaquil, Baños, Latacunga, Quilotoa, North Cotopaxi region, and Quito and this blog post will talk about them in order of how I visited them to make it easier to understand.
But first let's start about how to get into the country as of March 2021.
You HAVE to take a Covid-19 test because before you even board the flight they WILL ask for proof, and then AGAIN when you land in Ecuador and will even make you email them so they can print it. It sounds like a lot but if you take a test and bring a copy of the result to the airport you should be fine.
I'm vaccinated but they didn't ask me about that at all, guessing so far it's not important.
Now that we settled that, below is a quick snapshot of the places we traveled. We landed March 28th, came back April 7th, 2021.
Guayaquil is the city that we landed in late evening, therefore we decided to explore it the next day. Guayaquil is a huge city that unfortunately we didn't have time to explore as much as we wanted to. We did have time to visit Las Peñas, which is a beautiful and colorful arrangement of houses that were renovated about 20 years ago and go up the 444 steps all the way to the top to have an amazing view of the city. Here you'll find El Faro, a blue and white lighthouse that you can actually go inside and have a better view, this is where I took the above picture from. Also from here you can see the river and El Malecon 2000. It's a boardwalk along the Guayas River that has stores, restaurants, and monuments. After the lengthy walk in the hot weather we stopped by Mercado Del Rio to grab a few beers.
Later on that night, we took the midnight bus to Baños. It's a 6 hour bus ride so you'll get there around 6am. There are other times you can take the bus, like during the day if you're worried for safety reasons but we felt it was best to take the midnight bus to be able to explore the next day fully and not waste a day.
2 - Baños
Baños was my favorite city out of the whole trip. It is regarded as the tourist heaven by many other blogs and it makes sense being that this small city (you can walk the whole city in half a day) has A LOT of hostels, meaning a lot of tourists visit this place. This city is filled with waterfalls, cliffs, mountains, and Tungurahua Volcano which is near by.
The first day in Baños, we ate breakfast at this spot called TARINACUY RESTAURANTE, the food was really amazing and there is seating outside so you can eat, enjoy the weather, and people watch. Later we took a taxi to La Casa Del Arbol. It's the place where the famous swing pictures come from. The swing is attached to the treehouse and from there you can swing into the open cliff. The workers help by pushing you, some harder than others. It's a thrilling experience, not for the faint of heart because you do swing into the open, meaning if the swings come undone you could seriously hurt yourself, or even die. And I definitely felt that I was going to die because was pounding out of my chest, but it was so worth it.
While on the way to Casa Del Arbol the taxi driver kindly suggested to visit his favorite place in Baños, somewhere my research didn't even show to go, it was around 15 mins from Baños, to the east. I was excited so I told him to take me. It was called Pailon Del Diablo. To get to the bottom of this waterfall, you have to do a 20 min hike. At the entrance of the path there's a bar and midway there's another type of restaurant. There's also a mirador which is a place where you can look onto the landscape. Once you reach the bottom, this waterfall reaches 80 meters up and is called Pailon Del Diablo because the rocks resembles the devils face. I personally didn't notice it because I was too busy enjoying the water fall onto my face. That's because there are steps that you can go down and catch part of the waterfall, but please bring a poncho because you will get soaked. I personally took off my sneakers and went down barefoot. Life changing experience.
Second day in Baños, we hiked around the outside of the city. We went over this bridge and hiked into the hills, we did a loop on the outskirts of the city for an amazing view of it. Hike took a few hours, but so worth it. That's where we were able to see the whole city with the cliffs, waterfalls, and river. It could be a little scary hiking through the countryside because there's almost no people so you'll find yourself alone a lot. But if you're into that then I recommend doing it if you're in Baños.
After the hike we took a taxi to a place called Manos De Dios. It's a place very high in altitude. The taxi takes about 20 mins just going up the mountain. From here if it's a clear day you can see the city of Baños along with the Tungurahua Volcano. This place has a restaurant but they cook homemade food, it's delicious. They also have few rooms you can rent if you want to sleep there overnight. We spontaneously decided to sleep there overnight... just because I wanted to see if it would be clear skies in the morning to see the volcano. Unfortunately the skies were cloudy all day but it was an experience arriving somewhere unknown and spending the night. Wouldn't do it again because at those altitudes it gets VERY cold and the place didn't really have heating so I was shivering whole night haha.
Next day we went down the mountain and left the city of Baños and headed to Latacunga.
3 - Latacunga
I only placed Latacunga 3rd on the map because I wanted to speak on it briefly. We didn't really stay in Latacunga but we HAD planned on staying. Once we arrived at the hostel there we realized it was actually far from where we really wanted to go and that was Quilotoa and north of Cotopaxi region. It would've been a hassle to wake up in Latacunga and head to Quilotoa to THEN head back to Latacunga that same day since it's a 2-3 hour trip each way. It just wasn't worth it. So after arriving to Latacunga we decided to change our sleep accommodations to a hostel in Quilotoa and started making our way there by bus that same day. It was easy because the bus went directly there. We arrived to Quilotoa town around 9:30pm due to the bus breaking down going up the mountain to the town.
4 - Quilotoa
In the morning, we had breakfast and decided to hike the Quilotoa Lake loop. This hike will ask a lot of you to complete, you have to be absolutely mentally ready because it is not an easy task. I've always loved running, I've done 5K runs in paved streets as well as backcountry roads so I'm in tune with my body and how much it can take. But I was not ready to hike this loop. Only because of the elevation, the oxygen concentration is lower so your body (or my body) that's used to low elevation oxygen concentrations is not used to it. Your muscles have to work harder with less oxygen to do what it normally does, and you will feel it. I was out of breath the whole way, almost hyperventilating at some points. This hike can get STEEP because you'll find yourself on all fours trying to climb some parts while holding onto what you can, which includes rocks, branches, and plants.
The hike took about 6 HOURS! I'm going to include that I also stopped a lot to take pictures and record videos but nevertheless that is a vast amount of time to be climbing rocks. I might add that some parts of the loop had little houses and you'll see indigenous people along the way. The highest point of this hike Monte Juyende and it's 12,893 feet, or 3,930 meters, above sea level. Basic skydiving has a minimum height of 10,000 feet, that should give you an idea of how high we were in the mountains.
Even after the excruciating pain we endured while hiking, this was my second favorite place on my trip because that view is life changing. I felt like I was on top of the world. Everything made sense in a way and I'll never forget that feeling of invincibility and greatness.
This same night we started to make our way to our next location which was the northern region of Cotopaxi Volcano. It took a long time to get out of Quilotoa and head back to the highway that drives north to our destination because there's a lot of turns coming down the mountain. It's not a straight road. Once in Latacunga region the highway up is pretty fast until you reach the town of Machachi. Then it's another road into the rural area and it's not a good road at all so it takes a while to get to the hostel. We arrived around 8pm.
5 - Northern Cotopaxi region
We stood at this hostel called Secret Garden Cotopaxi which had Lord of The Rings/Hobbit rooms in the ground type of thing and there's llamas all over the place. It was actually really nice and the view is amazing. You get a clear view of the Cotopaxi volcano, which is 100% the reason we decided to stay there. What we didn't know and was a surprise to us was the excursions the hostel had for free as well with payment.
That day we were able to hike along a river to the waterfalls behind the hostel. This also was a difficult hike because at some points you could slip and crack your head opened. Holding on to branches and leaning onto boulders while you try not to slip. It was fun though! moments like that I find so exciting because of the sense of accomplishment that comes after. At the end of the hike on the last waterfall you can dive in, which I did and you can watch on my YouTube @SonoTravels (when I post the video, so subscribe to not miss it!). That water was freezing and I would have definitely caught a case of hypothermia if I lasted in there any longer.
The hostel was very homey and this was the first hostel that actually had people. I met cool travelers here. Everyone was super friendly which made me very happy. That same night I was invited to drink wine with some of the people that I hiked to the waterfall with.
The second day here we headed to Cotopaxi volcano. It was $35 per person to be able to hike it. The hostel drives you to the volcano which is a long drive. Then you have to walk up to the refuge. That hike takes about 40-50 mins but it's the longest 50 minutes of your life. The volcano is very steep and the ground is sand-like so you never really get solid footing, with every step you get pushed a little back. This mixed with the fact that it was snowing HEAVILY so the wind was pushing us back even more was not helping. It was so worth it in the end though. Once at the refuge you can get hot chocolate for a dollar and the hostel gives you sandwiches to eat. This feeling was even more satisfying that hiking Quilotoa. I really felt like I could do anything if I set my mind to it. At the refuge there's flags from all over the world. We didn't find ours though, which was upsetting because we could've been the first Dominicans there to hang a flag.
After the hike up you have the option to bike down the volcano which of course I took. I mean, mountain biking down a volcano sounds pretty amazing doesn't it? The roads were BUMPY and at some points I felt my arms were going to fall off from all the vibrations. But it was extremely fun, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. That was the icing on the cake.
Here in this region there's also almost no light pollution so you get to see the stars clearly, and lots of them.
6 - Quito
Next day we headed to Quito, the capitol of Ecuador and our final destination. I don't know if i was completely exhausted from the previous hikes but when I got to Quito I was completely okay with just staying in the hostel watching a movie and eating sushi. My legs were starting to feel sore. Even though the next day would be the day we went to the airport, I was in no rush to explore Quito.
One thing we couldn't do was leave Ecuador without actually going to the place that makes Ecuador so special, to the Equator. Where the degrees are 0, the minutes are 0, and the seconds are 00. A La Mitad Del Mundo. Ride takes about 45 mins in a cab. But here's the kicker, there's actually TWO Mitad del Mundo.
The first one is the government owned location that's famously known but the coordinates are not really 0° 00′ 0″. This was a mistake actually but the place still stands and with new equipment a new Equator line has been established in this town.
The other is a small museum about 200 meters more north. It's called Museo de Sitio Initañan. It's the correct center of the earth. Also you'll learn SO MUCH MORE about Ecuadorian culture and the effects of being at the Equator. This museum made the trip feel complete, it made the trip come a full circle and without it I would've left the country with a feeling of incomplete. Learning about the indigenous people, along with the language, the correct spelling of Quito and much more. I highly recommend this museum to anyone visiting Quito.
After this museum we headed to the airport.
I want to add a few details that I didn't mention before because I felt the place to add them would be at the end of the blog post.
I travel and stay in hostels because they are EXTREMELY cheap, they could range from $10 - $50 a night for regular accommodations. They have shared or private rooms and shared and private bathrooms. I suggest everyone try to stay in a hostel during their travels. you meet people and don't spend large sums of money just to sleep, so you can use your money for other stuff. Below are the hostels I stood at along with their ratings. (Visit my TripAdvisor profile for specific reviews about these hostels)
Guayaquil - Hostel Nucapacha - ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Baños - Hostal La Casa del Molino Blanco ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ + Las Manos de Dios room ⭐️⭐️
Quilotoa - Hostal Chukirawa - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Northern Cotopaxi region - Secret Garden Cotopaxi - ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Quito - Secret Garden Quito - ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I ate out everyday for every meal, excluding the days the hostels included breakfast and in Secret Garden Cotopaxi since it was included. The food in Ecuador is very cheap, full plates that fill you up cost about $2 - $5. And the food is amazing as well.
Transportation in Ecuador is also very cheap. Buses from city to city are like $2. Only from Guayaquil to Baños the bus was $11 only due to the distance of travel. Taxis are cheap but they will try to up-charge you if they know you're a tourist. Try to see if you can get a lower price from what they tell you initially. We took a few taxis only because we were constricted with time due to all the things we wanted to do.
All in all this trip was amazing and very rewarding mentally. I felt rich in the sense that I was able to do so much for so little. Everyone was nice and respectful. I found a new love for South America through Ecuador. I can't wait to explore more.
PLEASE check out my Youtube channel and subscribe so you can see all the videos/footage of the things I talked about. That way you can REALLY get an idea of how it is and the things I did. You won't regret it.