Ecuador is a beautiful country worth a long and lengthy visit, from top to bottom. We only stayed about three weeks in total, but we enjoyed every bit of the trip. Here are our thoughts:
1. The Pacific beaches are very nice and worth the visit, though they aren’t the cheapest towns in the country. We stayed in Montañita, a small surf-town, and found a hostel further away from the beach for 8 USD a person a night. Drugs seem to be pretty common on the beach scene as well. It wasn’t a problem, we just had to turn down “happy brownies” and cocaine often.
2. All the extreme or adventure sports you’ve ever been interested should be done here! You won’t find it cheaper anywhere else. And it is pretty safe. Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador, and while it is a little touristy, we definitely thought it was worth the trip (we stayed three nights and loved it). For a price example: half-day white water rafting in Ecuador was 20 USD a person, but in Panama and Costa Rica about 65 USD a person.
3. Want to eat guinea pig (cuy)? Eat it in Baños, where it is street food on a stick. A whole one will cost usually below 10 USD. It’s the cheapest in probably the whole country. Quito serves it in fine restaurants, but you will pay a pretty 35 USD per plate.
4. Happy Gringo is a well-known third party company to see the Amazon, and while we did get a good deal for our money, it wasn’t exactly what we had hoped. It isn’t Happy Gringo’s fault, but rather that Ecuador is on the northwestern corner of the Amazon. If I could do it all over, I would do a tour in Leticia, Colombia or perhaps northern Bolivia. I bet the ones in Brazil are great also.
5. If you do go ahead and book an Ecuadorian Amazon tour, know that you won’t see piranhas. I specifically requested a tour that included those on my tour, but no one told me until I was in the boat that Ecuador recently passed a law against piranha fishing. I didn’t want to fish them, just see them, but apparently it all amounts to the same thing. If piranhas are your primary goal, don’t expect to find them in Ecuador.
6. Buses are reliable, if pretty run-down, and the prices are cheap. We frequently went without air conditioning or bathrooms, but it got us where we needed to go cheaply. We took a couple of overnight buses and didn’t have any problems, besides the roads falling apart beneath the bus.
7. If you pass through Quito, expect cool temperatures. Nestled in a valley at the foot of a volcano, the climate it cool all year-round. We pulled out our long-sleeves while in the city, though we immediately went back to tank tops and shorts anywhere else in the country.
8. They still use some of the local currency as well as US dollars, so be careful when people hand you change–they could be the discontinued local currency from before 2001, or a regular US quarter. I wasn’t paying attention one day and was handed a 25-centavo piece. When I later tried to purchase hot chocolate with it, they wouldn’t accept it, saying it was defunct and worthless now. So don’t be an oblivious gringa (like me) and pay attention to the coins you’re given.