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Ecuador Trip Plan: What did we get right and wrong?

Ecuador Trip Plan: What did we get right and wrong?

Old Apr 7th, 2016, 06:15 AM
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Ecuador Trip Plan: What did we get right and wrong?

We are planning a trip to Ecuador this summer, myself, DH, and 3 teenage boys. We have sketched out a plan and want advice from those who know the country. My boys like activities like hiking, biking, and horseback riding. They are not interested in hours of art museums (they will have to tour a cathedral or two!), extended cultural events or long dinners watching the sunset. DH and I will do those things after they are on their own! So we have planned an active trip with one huge gap--we do not have the Galapagos in the plan. Ecuador seems affordable aside the from the Galapagos. I have read so much conflicting information about "don't go unless you can do a longer cruise" or "land based won't save you much money and you'll miss the good parts" to "don't you dare miss the Galapagos." We don't have days to spend negotiating on the docks with the cruise people to score an incredible deal as one poster did. In addition, DH and I are scuba divers but our boys are not yet certified. I don't think I want them starting their scuba careers in these cold, sometimes strong currents. Diving was one of the main reasons we considered Galapagos. They are fine snorkeling. Please feel free to comment on this part of the trip. We are leaning toward not going to the Galapagos but I am worried I am missing one of the best things to see in the whole country. I would need advice on where to stay for land based trip (island and hotel), minimum travel time to spend there and to get there) and where to place it in our trip.

We are planning on having a private driver for some of the travel. We usually drive ourselves but have heard the roads here are fairly confusing and we would have to hire a guide for the national parks in any case. We have driven in Costa Rica--before GPS and the roads became what they are now--we envision Ecuador that way. It sounds like a driver is convenient and cost effective. I don't think my boys are saavy enough to handle the bus system just yet.

Here is our current plan
Day 1 Arrive Quito (Probably in the middle of the night, where to stay? Driver pick us up?)
Day 2 Explore Quito
Day 3 Cotopaxi: Hike what is open. Maybe a horseback ride in the area. Stay in hacienda nearby or between here and Quilotoa. Suggestions welcome.
Day 4 Quilotoa: Hike Crater Lake, maybe kayak here. Hike up or mule ride up. Stay the night in Banos.
Day 5 & 6 Banos: Do some combination of these activities here. Devil's Caldron bike ride, zipline, canyoneering, hot springs, white water rafting. Have heard different points of view on these. Some interest in rafting if the river is the edge of Amazon Rainforest. Good marketing or worthwhile? What is really great here? Can be done somewhere else?
Day 7 Devil's Nose Train. Mixed feelings on this. We have to be there on the right day of the week and it sounds like a really neat thing for a train enthusiast. I'm not sure it is something we have to do but it is an option. How far out of our way are we going for this? Is it worth it? We hope to spend the night in Cuenca. Alternatively or inclusively we could see Ingapirca or stay another day in Banos.
Day 8 Cuenca Please comment on what to do here. I think see the city sites and relax at least part of the day. Can we stay here and still see Cajas National Park?

Now we have to make choices. Do we try to go to Galapagos at this point? Try to put it in earlier? Do we add a day (earlier) to Otovalo market (remember I am outnumbered--really no one else cares about shopping in my family) what else could we do in that area?

I have heard good things about Cajas National Park. How do we fit that in? Are we just moving around too much? Concerned about distances. What should we cut out?
Are we better off adding a side trip to Tena to see more of the Amazon jungle?

Puerto Plata has been suggested as well.

We are overwhelmed at this point and need guidance. Any help would be appreciated!
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Old Apr 7th, 2016, 07:15 AM
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We spent two months in Ecuador in 2013 and didn't visit the Galapagos. We are returning for a few weeks in June en route to Colombia and still won't be going, despite being keen divers. It's not compulsory!
If you have a major interest in wildlife then it clearly is a must, if not there are plenty of other amazing places in the country and you have already identified a few.

We travelled the entire country by bus and found it very easy. It is fair to say the buses aren't the most comfortable in the world but they are cheap and efficient. It also takes a fair amount of time.
Here is a link to our blogs of that trip with lots of detail and photos http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog...ai/6/tpod.html which may provide some ideas.

yestravel recently posted a trip report and, I believe, rented a car to get part of the way around the country ( use the search box to find it) so a self drive is not out of the question and we may do that this time.

Quilatoa is beautiful and we enjoyed the hike from there to Chughilan but you do need to be acclimatised as it is at quite high altitude and I am not sure you would have had enough time by day 4. Also, the best views of the lake are to be had in the morning before the clouds roll in around midday, so the closer you stay to quilatoa, the better.

If you like hiking then Otavalo has some great hikes like Mojanda lakes and Peguche, most people however visit for the weekend market. Worth a couple of days there, especially at a weekend.

We enjoyed Banos but it is a bit like "gringo central". More tourists than locals. the bike ride down to the Devils Cauldron was pretty good. Some others we met carried on down to the Amazon but that makes for a pretty long day.

Cuenca is a very nice city to spend a few days and Cajas NP is spectacular but needs a full day. I am sure there are tours from the city that will combine with Cajas and Ingapirca.

Route wise, I would be inclined to head up to Otavalo first and then down south ending up in Cuenca and if you want to go to Galapagos then fly from there to Guayacil.

Another highlight for us was biking down Chimborazo volcano but proably only worthwhile if you combine with the Devils Nose train which is in that part of the country.
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Old Apr 7th, 2016, 09:04 AM
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As crellston mentioned we just returned from Ecuador where we spent a month in the highlands. We also didn't go to Galopagos. We did drive and roads are fine and we had no trouble navigating ourselves around using the gas on my iPad or iPhone, it's easy to drive. Buses are also easy but take longer and of course, you don't have the flexibility to stop along the way. We didn't do the Devil's nose train due to the schedule. We did drive right beside the train tracks for part of our trip. Scenery everywhere is spectacular and it's hard to see what would be that much better with the train trip.

I agree, as usual, with Crellston that Banos, while nice, Is tourist central. We enjoyed a couple days there and ther are some adventure activities to enjoy.

Check out my TR, click on my name to find it. We didn't have kids with us so we did do more scenery watching then real adventure travel, but it will give you a general idea of what's what in the highlands.

Have fun, it's a beautiful country with lovely people.
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Old Apr 7th, 2016, 05:31 PM
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Thanks Crellston. I had not thought about the not be acclimatized after 4 days. Surely one of us will not be. The mule ride is sounding better and better. The hotel after Cotopaxi suggested to me was Hacienda Cienega. Would this put us close enough?

So if we don't go to the Galapagos, we should add a couple of days near Otavalo, hike these lakes and see the market? Any suggestions on where to stay?

We'll look into which of those two options, Devil's Caldron or the Amazon we'll try. If we are going to bike another volcano then we might not bike in Banos. Sorry to hear it is overrun with tourists. My boys will probably like getting a little familiar food, I am not a big fan of touristy areas.

The guide I have spoken to seems to want to combine Devil's Nose Train with Ingapirca. Is this doable? We could save the other day for Cajas NP. We love national parks and visit as many as we can, regardless of the country. I saw a video of a couple biking down Chimbarzo. We biked down Halakekla on Maui years ago--Chimbarzo looked much crazier! That may be of more interest to my crew than the Devil's Nose Train and the days may or may not work out. I won't plan around the train.

Thank you for your quick and very helpful response!
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Old Apr 7th, 2016, 06:09 PM
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Hi Yestravel! I actually read your TR yesterday or the day before. I was trying to put together all the questions I wanted to ask you. So glad you chimed in!

Love to hear you drove yourself and used your iPad GPS. We rented a mobile GPS last time we were in Costa Rica, said it was more updated than the Garmin we had at the time. We did fine. There seems to be a pretty good divide on whether or not to drive. I did think the buses were most economical but we have limited time.

I'm going to review your trip report and post some other questions. Thank you for your response. We are looking forward to this trip!
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Old Apr 7th, 2016, 11:16 PM
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If you don't go to Galapagos, I would definitely put Otavalo in pole position. We stayed last time at La Luna a few kms outside of the town and loved it. We are returning in June. Beautiful views, great food, nice rooms.
if you are into biking, then Chimborazo wins hands down over Banos but there is less to do in Riobamba than Banos.

Chimborazo biking was exceptional but not for the fainthearted. There are a number of difficulty otptions and lengths. The hardest part was not the bike ride but the optional walk up from the starting point at 4500 m to the refuge at 5000m. We had been at altitude for a couple of months but even so it was hard work - an hour to walk 1 km. But you don't have to do that part. The main downhill section was fast and furious which was then followed by a more leisurely ride through the countryside and villages around the base of the volcano

If you have your own car it would certainly make sense to visit Ingapirca on the way from Aluasi to Cuenca as it is more or less midway between the two. About three hours for the total journey. By bus it would be a LOT more difficult.

We did Cajas by bus from Cuenca which was pretty straightforward but if you have your own transport that would provide the opportunity to get to some of the less visited areas of the park.
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Old Apr 8th, 2016, 07:39 AM
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So, I am going to be the contrarian here. We just got back from Spring Break in Ecuador with our three tween boys and the Galapagos was a highlight. We didn't do a cruise as my husband would have been like a caged tiger on a small cruise ship. Being able to get up early in the morning and go for a run or to swim laps at the end of the day is very important to him. That wasn't possible on a small cruise ship. So, we did a land-based trip and it was really wonderful. We saw everything we wanted to see and had all the experiences I had hoped for. Maybe it would have been even MORE amazing had we done a cruise but I doubt it. Cost-wise, it was probably a bit cheaper to do land-based but cost savings wasn't my motivation here and we stayed at nice places.

Have fun in Ecuador. We loved it.
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Old Apr 8th, 2016, 06:14 PM
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I was not sure about the Galapagos on my first trip to Ecuador, but absolutely loved it when I went last year. I was glad I did the tour via small boat (16 passenger). Added a few days on Santa Cruz at the start.

I would pick it over the Amazon.

I am not one who suffers from seasickness but I can tell you that even those who took meds were enthralled. I went on a family owned yacht, Angelito. The balance of time for hiking, snorkel, and travel time was fine.

It is definitely a costly proposition and with 5 people even more so.
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Old Apr 8th, 2016, 09:47 PM
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We were advised against driving, but that was bad advice! We enjoy driving ourselves and in hindsight would have happily picked up a car upon leaving Quito and skipped buses and drivers altogether. We paid more for the rental because we paid dearly for the drop off in a different locale than the pickup. Gas was very reasonable and the scenery and ability to pull over and have a picnic or whatever was great.

We did Cajas with a driver and it seemed like it would be an easy drive. However both he and the guy we had for Cotopaxi mentioned about national parks needing a guide or someone with a license to enter with a vehicle. I wasn't clear on the rules, but you should check if you end up wanting to drive into the park. Both Cotopaxi and Cajas are beautiful and had some great hikes. We only did a few and nothing terribly strenuous. The altitude really effected our ability to hike at a normal pace and thus limited what we did.
We skipped Incapira for time reasons. We were driving from Cuenca to Banos and didn't feel we had the time to devote several hours there. You do want to do the train as early as possible in the morning due to the fog that rolls in. We had a section of our drive completely blanketed in fog where you couldn't see a foot in front of you, I would check to see what time you would take the train if you stop at Incapira first.
Happy to answer any questions you might have.
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Old Apr 9th, 2016, 09:20 AM
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Taitai
Can you tell me where you stayed? We are torn...maybe these are two trips?
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Old Apr 9th, 2016, 10:53 AM
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We stayed at Finch Bay on Santa Cruz and Iguana Crosing on Isabella. We did day trips from those locations. It worked well for us.
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Old Apr 9th, 2016, 03:39 PM
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With the exception of the people we met who were traveling for ~a month, most people who went to the Galapagos spent very brief time in the rest of Ecuador. So perhaps two trips is what is needed. In the amount of time you have you can't do justice to both. I say this without having ever been to the Galapagos, but I did research going there and pretty much came up with needing a minimum of 5 days and in general that was judged to be cutting it short. Cost wise we spent one month in Ecuador and spent about what we would have spent for 5-7 days in Galapagos.
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Old Apr 9th, 2016, 04:11 PM
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I wonder how the opinions break down between those who have been to the Galapagos and those who haven't. I've never run into any one who actually went, who regretted the expense.

Even those who have gone land based have enjoyed it.

Quite often if you book a month or two out from an Ecuadorean company you can get airfare thrown in. It isn't a matter of going down to the dock and negotiating. I don't even know if that happens! More agencies have offices in Quito.

There are some itineraries that are a better value than others (visiting islands with more unique wildlife, or particularly beautiful beaches or landscape). So research is important.
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Old Apr 9th, 2016, 04:22 PM
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For my extra days in Puerto Ayora, I stayed at Lava House. Great little family-run hotel (not a resort).

I tend to stay at inexpensive hostals, use public buses and eat at local restaurants. Then I splurge on special experiences or guides.

You can really make up a lot of the expense that way, if it is an issue...eg instead of private drivers at $100 plus for every transfer, take the bus $1 an hour..Simple room in Mindo $17 a night (or $60 a night in Puerto Ayora) vs $400 a night at Finch Bay.
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Old Apr 9th, 2016, 05:11 PM
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I booked my Galapagos cruise for next February through a California agent and negotiated airfare included...
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Old Apr 10th, 2016, 12:58 AM
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As much as it pains me to write this, I would suggest that you skip the Galapagos and go without the tweens when you have a chance.

Our trip last year was spectacular, as hubby and I combined a service trip (taking books to a newly-built school library) with a bucket list item (visiting the Galapagos.) We spent a couple of days prior to our 16-passenger cruise in Puerto Ayora with friends. The wildlife viewing in Puerto Ayora was entertaining, but we were blown away by the wildlife sightings and interactions that we had on Fernandina, at Egas Bay and on Rabida. Isabela's eastern sights were tame by comparison.

We had 2 teens and 2 early-twenties on our cruise and they had much less enthusiasm about the trip than did their parents. Having had a "least common denominator trip " to Europe a couple of years ago with my teens, (oh that's the Eiffel Tower? yawn, where's Hard Rock Cafe?), we decided to go with what they liked at the time.

This year I am returning with our daughter, spending a week in Quito/Otavalo; a week in Puerto Ayora visiting with friends and working at the school; and a week-long cruise, revisiting some of my favorite spots and exploring new islands.

Your itinerary (minus Galapagos) sounds great for tweens and teens.

Have a great trip!
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Old Apr 10th, 2016, 10:30 AM
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The previous poster brings up a couple of good points. The first is, know your kids. The Galapagos is an expensive endeavor however you do it and if all members of the family aren't committed it might not make sense. It isn't a beach vacation. Fortunately, my kids who are younger than the previous posters were excited about the trip and up for the adventure. We read Beak of the Finch as a family the month prior to going which was great as they got see and experience much of what they read about in the book. Other kids just might not see the value in the Galapagos so make sure everyone is on board with the idea.

The other important point is to research what you want to see and what islands are best for those flora and fauna. No cruise goes to every island or even every spot on the islands they do visit. Doing day trips from Santa Cruz or San Cristobal or Isabella limits you to the nearby islands that are quickest to reach. For instance, we were only able to visit Isabella, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, South Plaza, North Seymour and Bartolome on our trip. Fortunately for us, everything we were really interested in seeing were covered by those islands, often in droves. We didn't see the albatross or flightless cormorant for instance but those were not high on any of our lists so that was fine. For others, those animals are top of the list. It just really depends on your particular group of travelers.

Have fun planning. Ecuador is a great travel destination.
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Old Apr 11th, 2016, 10:14 AM
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Thank you so much to everyone! Lots to think about. Our itinerary is evolving, new questions all the time. We have a conflict now back home so if we travel the planned week we can't leave until Friday. We would arrive very late on Friday, maybe midnight. My question is, go to Otavalo Saturday, our first day in Ecuador, skip Otavalo on a Saturday and tour Quito while we're there or put everything back one week?
DH wants to add the bike ride down Chimbarazo, thanks for the suggestion. We will probably sacrifice Cotopaxi as it is mostly closed by eruptions. (This could change!)

Next we'll go to Quilotoa and hike what we can, I am going to keep my expectations low and just do what people are able and willing to do.

In Banos we will see what adventure they want to try while we are there. DH would like to go to the rainforest I would like to do the thermal baths, kids want to bike ride and zipline.

The next day we will possibly do the Devil's Nose Train and Ingapirca. We have a split decision on this right now. Any thoughts on Ingapirca. If Manchu Picchu in on our bucket list (not any time soon!) should we skip this and add the day on else where?
We feel the same about DN Train. Seems like we might not be there on the right day or it will take a day away if we deicide to extend to Galapagos.

If we leave on Friday our days look like this:

Friday Arrive
Saturday Otavalo
Sunday Quilotoa
Monday Banos (Valley of the Waterfalls)
Tuesday Free morning, afternoon/evening transfer to Riobamba
Wednesday Bike ride down Chimbarazo
Thursday Devil's Nose Train (or not if not running this day) + Ingapirca We are willing to skip the train if it doesn't run this day
Friday Cuenca (relax, tour sites)
Saturday El Cajas NP+ Guayaquil drive to
Sunday Transport Guayaquil-Galapagos

If we leave the next week and leave on Thursday:

Thursday: Quito arrival La Rábida
Friday: Quito Colonial + Equator La Rábida
Saturday: Otavalo
Sunday: Quilotoa Lagoon + Transfer Baños Posada del Arte
Monday: Valley of waterfalls Posada del Arte
Tuesday: Free morning + Transfer Riobamba Abraspungo
Wednesday: Chimbarazo
Thursday: Devil´s nose train + Ingapirca ruins + Transfer Cuenca Posada del Angel
Friday: Cuenca city tour Posada del Angel
Saturday: El Cajas NP + Transfer Guayaquil City Plaza

Sunday Possibly head to Galapagos for a few days.
Transfer out -
Galápagos package -
Transfer in La Rábida
Transfer out -


If we wait a week we would leave on a Thursday and tour Quito on Friday, then Otavalo on Saturday then Quilotoa Sunday etc. I have to see if this impacts prices a great deal. I am more in favor of this plan but I am open to suggestions.

About drivers and renting cars: won't drivers stop where we ask them to? Based on the overall quote we got on the "package" I can't imagine we are paying $100 per transfer. I did see one rental car that was $125 per day for driver and rental car. Remember we need a bigger car/ van to fit five, our bags and the driver. We would also be paying to return the car to a different airport. Any suggestions on where to rent? It does sound like we need a guide for national parks.

Thanks again everyone for your insights. We would never do this trip without the advice we get here! I feel a detailed Trip Report in my future!
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Old Apr 11th, 2016, 07:27 PM
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One reason we decided not to fit in Incapira was that from what we read it didn't sound that fabulous. We have been to Peru and MP so it would be hard to come close to all we saw there. If you havent been to Peru, you would likely enjoy it more I think.

We only did one transfer with a driver and that was ~5-6 hour drive for latacunga to Otavalo and cost $100. However that was pretty much a bargain because we were quoted way higher rates. Individual drivers for the day trips we did were ~$12 per hour. The driver we used in Cuenca (you can find his contact info in my TR.) did have a new 4 wheel drive SUV. I don't have a clue what a larger car would cost you for a rental. I just googled and found the best rate with Avis I believe. We did it last minute so not sure if you could find better rates further out. Driving yourself will likely be the most expensive for sure. But drivers arent cheap either. And yes, drivers would stop where you want to a point. If you're paying by the hour no problem, but if they quote you a flat rate, they're not going to be as inclined to stop a lot and spend more time on their flat rate drive. That was our experience however it was very limited to the one long drive and perhaps others have more experience with drivers.

I think you all would enjoy biking in Banos out to the waterfalls. We met quite a few people who did that and everyone loved it. There is also a bus that takes groups out there which people really enjoyed. If you want a really nice spa in Banos, check out my TR. Or you can of course, go to the town baths....very different than a spa. We had a great meal at an Italian restaurant in Banos. Again its in my TR.

In Cuenca we did the bus tour and pretty much hated it! They drive you around -- there is a southern route and a northern route -- and you get an overview of the town, but then they took us up to to oerlook and left us for a good 30 minutes. A big waste as far as we were concerned. I had read vfavorable reveiws but we werent thrilled with it. It was just a few hours and ot expensive, so no great loss. We stayed right up the street from your hostal in Cuenca and had a nice dinner there. There's also a good Mexican restaurant right up the street.
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Old Apr 12th, 2016, 07:24 AM
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If you opt for option A, there is brand new, rather ugly, Wyndham at the airport. That would be a great place to stay the first night before you headed out early to Otovalo.
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