Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ecuador Travel Notes

In case anyone is visiting Ecuador here are some notes about places to stay, eat, and visit.

Note: This is based only on our experience, I'm sure there are lots of other good alternatives.

We enjoyed staying in the old (historic) part of Quito. There are fewer hotels, restaurants, and shopping but we enjoyed walking around the old churches and architecture and plazas instead. And it's only 25 cents on the frequent buses if you want to get to the new part of town.

Hotel Patio Andaluz is where we stayed in old town. The full rate is $200 which is pretty pricey but we got a rate of $113 booking through TravelRes. That's still not cheap but it was a lovely hotel. If you're on a budget there are lots of cheaper places.

On a clear day (mornings seemed to be best) you get some great views from the top of the Teleferico. If you're ambitious you can continue hiking all the way up Rucu Pinchincha.

You also get good views from the Panecillo. You can walk up but it's safer to take a taxi. Based on an internet recommendation we went to Pims (the restaurant near the top) for lunch. We enjoyed it enough we went back for supper to see the night lights.

Other restaurants we enjoyed: Theatrum, Mea Culpa, Tianguez, and also Fruteria for fruit and ice cream. (These are all in old town.) We enjoyed lunches at The Magic Bean and Zocalo in new town.

We also spent one night at Hotel Cafe Cultura which was recommended to me. We didn't think it was quite as nice as Patio Andaluz but still a nice place to stay in the new town.

Hacienda San Jose de El Chaupi is where we stayed before & after climbing Iliniza. To get there you can take the bus to Machachi and then another to El Chaupi and then a "taxi" (pickup truck) to the hacienda. It is possible to just show up but if no one is there it can be tough to find someone to let you in. Better to phone first, although we found that was tricky too. It's pretty basic but for $10 per night per person including a good breakfast it's hard to beat. It's clean and there are hot showers. And the owner, Rodrigo, was extremely helpful.

In Riobamba we stayed at Hotel La Estacion (recommended by Rodrigo) for $24 per night, including breakfast. Again, nothing fancy, but clean and good location. We'd recommend El Delirio restaurant. The guide book recommended Sierra Nevada but we (and the other people that night) had a pretty awful experience. The food took forever and came out in random order. I eventually canceled my main course because Shelley had long ago finished hers. We ordered wine by the glass and it was blatantly watered down. When we pointed this out to the waiter he just shrugged.

We just spent the day in Banos because of the volcano eruptions. We had a good lunch at The Hood "where the food is good". If you like zoos, we enjoyed the one nearby. It's quite a small town but nice - I could see spending a night or two there.

In Otavalo, based on a magazine recommendation we stayed at Hostal Chasqui for $7 per person per night. Nothing fancy, but clean and private bathrooms. It was outside the main downtown area which was nice since it was quieter. And Roberto was extremely helpful, walking us to a nearby restaurant to make sure we found it, and making good recommendations of places to visit.

The big market day in Otavalo is Saturday, but the big difference is quantity. You can get pretty much the same selection any day of the week at the smaller daily market. If you are there on Saturday it's worth checking out the animal market (7 - 9am) where they sell pigs and cattle.

A couple of day trips from Otavalo that we enjoyed were the Peguchi waterfall (taxi or a longish walk) and Laguna Cuicocha (bus to Quiroga, taxi to the lake).

Considering it's reputation as a tourist town, we expected Otavalo to have more tourist restaurants and coffee shops but there didn't seem to be many. Maybe most of the tourists just come on day trips from Quito. For breakfast and coffee we liked SISA. We had a good supper at Quino (although initially we thought it was closed due to a mixup over which was the right door). The restaurant at Hotel El Indio Inn was also quite good. (Not to be confused with the lower end Hotel El Indio.)

We also stayed one night at La Luna about 5 km south of Otavalo (take a taxi). It was very quiet and peaceful here; lots of greenery and great views down the valley. For $12 per person we had a really nice room with our own fireplace that they lit for us in the cool evening. From La Luna we took a taxi to Laguna Mojanda and hiked up Fuya Fuya.

We chose not to visit the coast or the jungle since that would have meant taking malaria medication (and we had enough to do anyway). But we did enjoy visiting the cloud forest. We stayed at Septimo Paraiso, a few kilometers outside Mindo in a private 300 hectare reserve. It was pricey at $100 per person, but at least that included three meals per day. The hotel hired a guide for us for one day for $50. He was great - we wouldn't have seen anywhere near as many birds without him.

There's not much in Mindo itself. The small butterfly farm is worth a visit if you have time. We had coffee and lunch at Caskaffesu. It also looked like a nice place to stay, at least from the outside.

It was easy to get around on the buses and very cheap (a dollar or two). Occasionally they can get crowded but usually they were comfortable. In most cases all you have to do is get to the terminal and say where you want to go and someone will point you to the right bus. (Usually you just pay on the bus - you don't need to buy a ticket in advance.) The only time we had trouble was getting to Mindo and that was because the guide book was out of date and talked about a bus terminal that no longer existed.


There are a lot of companies offering boat trips in Galapagos. It's really the only way to visit most of the islands, which is important because they all have different wildlife. We ended up booking with Ecoventura on a 20 passenger boat with two naturalist guides. Not having experience with anyone else we can't say how they compare but we were certainly happy with our experience. The boat was nice, the food was great, they filled our days with activities, and we got lots of chances to snorkel (which suited us). They're not the cheapest, but they're not the most expensive either. It cost us $2675 each for a 7 night cruise (everything included except alcohol). From what we saw of them, I wouldn't want to go on one of the big 100 passenger ships.

Unlike most cruise clients we chose to stay an extra night on Santa Cruz before the cruise and three nights afterwards. We stayed at Hotel Sol y Mar which we'd recommend. The other place that looked good (from eating in the restaurant) was the Red Mangrove Inn. The Finch Bay Hotel looked nice but it's pretty isolated - you have to take a water taxi to get there. For a nice meal we really like the Angermeyer Point restaurant. Living so far away from the ocean, I like to sleep and eat near the beach if I can!


Before the trip we enjoyed browsing through the Insight Guide for Ecuador & Galapagos with lots of pictures and background information. During the trip the Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands was more useful with its lists of hotels and restaurants.

Before the trip I enjoyed: Galapagos Diary, Galapagos: The Islands that Changed the World, and the Traveller' Wildlife Guide for Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. On the trip we carried Lonely Planet's Watching Wildlife: Galapagos Islands and the Pocket Naturalist Guide to Galapagos Wildlife. We could have used a better guide to the fish and other underwater wildlife.

For an interesting look at the human side of Galapagos, I enjoyed Plundering Paradise. I also liked Lonesome George.

For climbing we used Ecuador: A Climbing Guide.

For help with the language we carried Lonely Planet's Latin American Spanish Phrasebook.

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