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Trip Report Returned from 3 weeks in Ecuador, no Galapagos.

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This won't be much of a report to start with but if anyone has questions I am happy to answer.

Quito airport
Lots has been written on the new airport. Transportation and lack of lockers are not the only problems, they put it in a location where high winds can close the airport in the afternoons! Instead of arriving at 3pm, LAN decided to divert us to Cali Columbia, sending panic through the ranks of tourists with Galapagos packages the next day. Apparently this happens all the time, the just sit in Cali for about 3-4 hours, and combined our flight with the regularly scheduled Cali-Quito departure at 5:30 pm. (Only a few seat conflicts thankfully). At the Quito airport immigration, there were about 5 stations opened for foreigners and about 15 open for nationals! So it took about an hour to clear immigration at 9pm at night, welcome to Ecuador. Your bags are x-rayed rather than inspected. No red light/green light system. There is a tourism info desk, and right next to it is the taxi booking desk. Prices should be fixed, it will be around $25-$26 to most hotels. I shared with two Aussies on my flight (we were going to nearby hotels) and the driver agreed to just add another $5 to the fare, so $15 each. They spoke no Spanish and were nervous about security, so we went to their hotel first. They did not like it when the driver stopped to take a phone call just around the corner from the hotel, so I asked him in Spanish to cut it out.

For my return, there was a tremendous afternoon rain storm so it 1.5 hours in bumper to bumper traffic from the center of Quito just to my hotel in Puembo. My hotel arranged the transfer for $20 but I felt a $5 tip was warranted. The next morning I left at 6:15 am for an 8:40 flight, but arriving 2 hours ahead was not necessary at that time. I was done with bag drop and immigration control in 20 minutes.

Hotels: Quito
JW Marriott, Heaven. Lucky to have found a 50% off price booked through the Marriott members website, two weeks prepaid and low season September. Absolutely perfect. If you decide to travel carry-on only, the spread of toiletries on offer should carry you through for a week! Roses and a soaking tub. Location is not the best unless you are using taxis, however it is close to the Interoceania Highway that leads to the airport. Luckily I eventually made it to the hotel at 10:30 pm after being diverted to Cali Columbia!

Eugenia: A decent mid-range hotel, with a helpful English speaking front desk. Rooms are a bit small and have no ventilation or conditioning other than windows (I had only two small ones that opened to the stairwell). Good mid-city location that feels safe, not actually in Mariscal (but nearby) and not much street noise at night. Decor may not be for everyone. They have an elevator!! Okay buffet breakfast. A few blocks to Orellana stop on the EcoVia.

Real Audiencia, Colonial Center. Awful front desk staff. The rooms are tiny, but some have updated bathrooms. Neighborhood slightly sketchy and too quiet at night (a bit too close to Santo Domingo Plaza and a bit too far from Plaza Grande). Just a block to Santa Domingo Trole, but this station is extremely crowded at times. Poor value, although the breakfast buffet from the hotel restaurant was excellent. Would not return.

Su Merced, Puembo (in the morning, about 15 minutes to the airport). http://www.sumerced.com/- Highly recommended, I loved this restored hacienda, operated by two families. One of the owners will take you personally to the airport at $15 for early flights, and can print out your boarding passes. I found quite a good single rate via booking.com. There is wi-fi only in the main house lobby and no TV. Can't recommend the prearranged dinner but the breakfast is fine. Communication can be a bit erratic depending on who is checking their emails.

Latacunga.
I went to partake of the Mama Negra festival, and didn't have time for any excursions. I found Villa de Tacvnga on booking.com and was given an upgrade to a lovely top floor room with a sitting area and a rooftop view. Very helpful front desk with some English capability. Breakfast is included but service is a bit slow, allow extra time if you have a tour to catch. The rooms have space heaters!! No issues with wifi or hot water during my stay. Colonial center location near various travel agencies. http://www.villadetacvnga.com/

Otavalo
Hotel Coraza, cheap basic hotel in the center of town on booking.com Major chaos during breakfast with a full house. Worn but functional, no elevator. Noise only a problem from other guests at night. Nice restaurants next door (SISA). OK, just a place to sleep.

Mindo.
Bio Hostal Mindo. Affordable basic option at the edge of town run by a Mindo birding guide (Irman Arias) who made us breakfast as early as 5 am. Large rooms, wifi, hot water work fine. Be careful in the showers, two of us slipped getting out (at different times!). I imagine most Fodorites stay at one or more of the luxury lodges but this isn't a bad choice for budget travelers.

Getting around Quito.
The Hop on Hop Off bus is a great way to orient yourselves to tourist Quito. It is $12 for all day, no need to buy ahead, tickets are on sale on the bus.
www.quitotourbus.com/
I basically rode it all day my first full day in Quito. The stop at Panecillo hill is for 30 minutes, which is plenty of time to take in the view and buy some "colada morada" or purple corn/fruit drink from one of the vendors. The stop at the Naciones Unidas is near a big modern shopping mall, the stop at Elijido park is not far from the excellent archaeology museum (free and a nice gold exhibit included).

Using the Trole/Ecovia/Metropobus (25 cents per ride).
Unless you get on at the right time and right place, these main north/south routes are extremely crowded, especially the Trole. It is not a good idea to try to do this with any kind of luggage (although I actually did). For the Trole and Ecovia, there are ticket booths that can make change, but that is likely to result in handfuls of Ecuadorean coins being given back. For the Trole you are given a ticket, for the Ecovia you drop a quarter in a slot to gain access.

Taxis. These are supposed to use meters. Official taxis have a number in an orange box on the side, two cameras, and a red panic button near the back seat (right side). Using the meter doesn't necessarily mean you won't be taken advantage of, though! Tricks like taking roundabout routes, etc....

Long distance bus terminals are located at either Quitumbe for the south and Oriente (a nice modern station) or Terminal Carcelen for the north. Taxi from Quitumbe to the colonial center was $7 (fixed rate). I used the meter to the north and got ripped off to the tune of $22!! There are ways to use public transport but it involves several transfers and is difficult with luggage, although I managed to do this without too much trouble in the return direction from Otavalo.

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