Ecuador is a unique country in many ways. It is located on the equator and here is the most stable climate in the world. Only in Ecuador, the temperature at the ecuator not hot and quite comfortable. It is also the only country with a visa-free regime for all other countries. Official currency is the American dollar, which is very convenient for tourists. However, it is better to have a stack of twenties as $50 and $100 bills are not accepted everywhere.
The capital and most cities are located at an altitude up to 2800-3000 meters, but thanks to the equator here is not cold.
Ecuador is the smallest of the major countries in South America. Taking into account nice climate it is good idea to choose it as the first country to visit on the continent. Although we flew here primarily to visit the Galapagos Islands, which became part of Ecuador in 1832. We have decided to do this after watching documentary about Galapagos from BBC. Islands are unique place and generally can be described separately from Ecuador.
They are located approximately 1,000 kilometers from Ecuador and consist of 13 major islands. Why are they unique? There many reasons. Islands were born from volcanoes, in fact the entire surface is lava. It is almost not visible on the islands, which were formed 5-10 million years ago, but there also islands with active volcanoes.
Animals are the main reason why tourists come here. During millions of years here has formed a unique ecosystem, many animals do not live anywhere else and most importantly they are not afraid of people. To most of them we easily approached by 2-3 meters and to some even closer. Here are some photos:
On the Galapagos Islands has been made a scientific discovery, which has been called the most important discovery in the history of science (according to Discovery: 100 Greatest Discoveries).
In 1835 the islands were visited by Charles Darwin. He made sketches of various animals and, in particular, several species of finches. 25 years later he wrote the book "The Origin of Species" which changed the world. The difference in the beaks of finches from different islands led him to the discovery of the theory of evolution.
When to go to the Galapagos Islands
There is a very good article with a description of each month in the islands. Using it, we chose April.
What to bring to the Galapagos Islands
Be sure to take sunscreen, insect repellent and seasickness pills.
Getting to the Galapagos Islands
Not easy and quite expensive, especially from Europe. You have the following options:
1. KLM and Iberia have direct flights to the capital of Ecuador, Quito from Europe. We had to buy regular tickets without discounts from KLM ($1,700 per person).
2. You can fly to the capital of Colombia, Bogota and continue to Quito with some local airline, for example TAME. However, additional transfer is always bad idea. AirFrance and Lufthasa fly to Bogota, the latter usually has cheap offers.
3. If you have an American visa, you can fly via the United States, this is usually cheaper. There are no transit zones in the United States, so visa is absolutely necessary.
Islands can be reached from Quito by local airlines (Avianca or LAN, round-trip ticket costs $400-500). Usually plane makes a stopover in Guayaquil, so you can fly from this city also.
At the airport at the Galapagos Islands each tourist pays a tourist tax of $100. And at the airport of Ecuador $10.
To visit the Galapagos Islands, you need to pre-register online at this website - http://www.gobiernogalapagos.gob.ec/. Press the menu Pre-registro, then Pre-registro turistas (TCT). Next you will see a link to the English version and instructions, follow them.
What to do at the Galapagos Islands
Galapagos islands take only about 200 thousand tourists per year. The focus is on wealthy tourists, in fact, even to get there you need to spend quite a lot of money. And the prices on the islands are high, at least twice as expensive as in Ecuador.
Planes fly to airports on the islands of Baltra and San Cristobal. On these islands there are two main towns: Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Also there is a small town of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island and quite tiny settlement on the island of Floreana. You need to decide how you will spend time on the islands. Two options: to live in the town and take daily trips or take a cruise on a yacht.
Cruise on the Galapagos Islands
We have decided to choose the yacht, just because it is the only way to see everything. We have booked cruise year in advance, paid with a bank transfer. Each boat has its own route (itinerary) and we wanted a specific route that's why have booked so early. On this website you can see the overview of all yachts, prices and routes. We should say that the prices are very high and it makes sence to go on the first class yacht that have a separate cabin with toilet and shower. If you can not pay $2,500+ per person per week for the cruise, then it's better to take cruise onsite. Many tousrists take cruise and flight in Quito or directly on the islands. We saw offers of $1800 for a weekly cruise. 3-4-5-6-day cruises are even cheaper.
There are two main weekly routes and some variations: northern islands and southern islands.
We were on the north itinerary, as for me it is more interesting. The southern islands are visited by tourists during day trips and the northern ones are for cruises only. The examples above are from website of Rolf Wittmer, German captain, the first man, who was born on the islands. His company owns several yachts Tip Top. The website has detailed descriptions of 3-4-5-6-7-8-day tours with maps.
If you suffer from seasickness, but want to take a cruise, then select a big boat. There are several boats with capacity of more then 100 passengers, while most of the other yachts have 16 places and that is optimal number.
So, if you do not have enough money for the cruise or afraid of seasickness, you can just come and live in the towns, taking day trips to nearby islands. Tours, by the way, are quite expensive, $150-200 per person.
During the preparation for the trip we have considered this option, but rejected it because in this case we can see only small part of the islands. Also we do not like to spend a lot of time (4-5 hours per day) for a boat to the nearby islands. And if you just want to relax on the beach, then Galapagos should not be your choise. Yes, there are nice beaches on the islands, but people come here to see unusual animals in their natural environment and unusual landscapes.
The best place to live is Puerto Ayora, as it is the most developed. Hotels are not particularly expensive, we visited few just to ask the price and it was about $50. If you have time, then it is nice idea to live on several islands and therefore see more interesting places. Islands of Isabela, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal are connected with speed boats and small airplanes.
Our video about the Galapagos Islands
After spending 9 days at the Galapagos we have returned back to Ecuador and continue our journey. We were travelling with a local guide on his car. The route was the following.
On this day, we saw another miracle of Ecuador - flooded crater of Quilotoa volcano. Next went to the mountain spa resort Baños, where had a walk through the city and went up to the observation deck of the volcano Tungurahua. On this site located one of the most fabulous attractions in the world - a tree house with swings. The night we spent at the Hotel Luna Runtun, one of the best in Ecuador.
On this day we went to the north through Tena, where visited the great city park. Next we stopped at the animal resque center and stayed overnight at the hotel Papallacta Therme, which offers thermal pools right next to each room.
Proof of Life (2000) - movie with Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, was filmed partly in Ecuador.
Man vs. Wild (2007) - in the second season there is an episode about Ecuador, where Bear Grylls "survive" in the jungle.
Comments (Total: 4)
# 1 Mimi
I am planning a Trip to Ecuador with my boyfriend in January.
We are wondering if it is better to drive around or to take the bus...Is there parking problem or you can easily park everywhere.? Are the roads good or we need 4x4 vihicle.?We are staying in Hostels mostly...Also if you have any Jungle tours recommendations will be great to hear them.
# 2 Yuriy Buryak
If you going to travel the same route as we did, then you don't need 4x4 as the roads now are good, even in the jungle. Country is small, so distances are small. This was our first trip to South America, we took car with a driver, but next time we will rent a car.
Did not visit jungle, only Puerto Misahualli city.
# 3 Mimi
Thanks for the fast reply Юрий. We are keeping a low budget, thus will rent a car not hire a driver...So far our plan is Quito-Latacunga (Volcano and Quilatoa)- Banos - Tena (if we could go to the jungle)...I dont know if it is better to reserve tours prior our arrival or locally...Were there people who offered you guys any local attractions (hourse riding, biking, ATW , kayaking)...or you need to book them yourselves?
# 4 Yuriy Buryak
No need to book ahead, in Puerto Misahualli there are a lot of travel agencies around central square who offer all that. In Banos there are hundreds of travel agencies on every street and corner. In Tena I don't know, since we visited only the park, but seems the same there.
In Banos be sure to visit Casa Del Arbol on sunset, that is one of the best places in the world (at least was in 2014 :).