4 DAY ECUADOR TRAVEL GUIDE
Ecuador marked my 11th country visited after snagging a free flight by using my Chase Credit Card Ultimate Rewards points (read my credit card travel hack here!). I was so excited to travel internationally again and visit another continent after I had to cancel my Colombia trip due to COVID. Planning this trip definitely was not for the weak. Not many people were traveling to Ecuador at the time and I was using old blogs, rummaging through old Facebook Travel posts, and trying to ask anyone I could find for advice for traveling to South America. In the end I’m glad I was able to travel to Ecuador and see this country’s wonders! My 3 friends and I including travel blogger, Tinsley Rios and lifestyle blogger, Marquice Gee all joined along for a truly adventurous trip.
If you’re traveling to Ecuador soon and looking for up to date information on Quito, Banos, and Otavalo Ecuador you’re in luck! Continue reading to hear about my adventures from a chocolate making class, Otavalo day tour immersing with the culture through food, music, and cloth weaving, and WATER CANYONING off 40 meter waterfalls! BOOYAH - now let’s get to it!
WHERE I STAYED
I used booking.com to scour the available hotels central to the city center in Quito and ended up choosing Hotel Rio Amazonas. The hotel on average is $50-60 a night. They had great communication through the booking.com site and answered any of my questions that I had. Their breakfast was also amazing and we had a stellar hotel view of the city and mountains. I did wish the rooms were a little more up to date as they advertised their photos and listing as a luxury hotel and I really only felt the true luxury...in the lobby. Y’all know what I mean...it’s like when you’re looking for an apartment and the complex adds a thousand photos of the dang lobby area instead of the ACTUAL rooms you would be renting. That’s exactly how I felt, but nonetheless our experience was fine for our stay because we were on the go from sun up to sun down and rarely stayed in the room!
One of the biggest hassles this year is making sure to adjust your itinerary to include taking your COVID test in ample time before your next departure day. It was a huge relief that the hotel was able to arrange our COVID tests for $40 each with a $15 travel fee. The medical professionals arrived directly to our room to administer the tests where we received our results the next day through e-mail. They even returned back to the hotel to provide us with paper copies!
Below are other boutique hotel options that are smaller hotels with unique experiences to offer guests. Normally boutique hotels are more affordable while adding a special touch to your stay. These options below had high reviews and centrally located in the city, Check them out below:
The Quito international airport used to be centrally located in the city center. But within the last few years they built an entirely new airport an hour away from the city. There are plenty of taxi options to take you to the city center or your hotel may offer shuttle transportation.
Uber and Taxi are frequent and the prices don’t differ much. You will pay only a couple of USD per ride with ease with high safety protocols embedded in the app.
Our main transportation was a private driver named Guillermo who works under Angel Rea (firstname.lastname@example.org). This experience truly showed me how amazing and sometimes how necessary it is to have a private driver at your disposal during your trip. Guillermo took so many potential hardships away by providing prompt and friendly service throughout our entire trip. Since I created the itinerary below to see as much of Ecuadorian cities as possible, there was little time to waste trying to catch buses, or even Uber’s for locations hours away from the city. Instead, Guillermo had plenty of space for the four of us and our bags, stored any of our belongings safely, and drove us carefully throughout Ecuador. He also provided recommendations on where to go, or potential adjustments to our itinerary in order for us to do as much as we wanted! Private drivers not only provide safe services, but are wonderful travel guides who know their country’s history and culture the best and are eager to share it with you. I highly recommend using Angel Rea’s transportation services and contacting him for quotes for your daily adventures or even your airport transfers ($40).
4 DAY ITINERARY + RECOMMENDATIONS
DAY 1 - Explore Quito (Budget $50+)
You’ve arrived in Quito and now it's time to explore! I found Quito rather budget friendly as most entrance costs were only a couple of dollars for major cultural sites. Other sites were less than $10 to enter. What a deal!
Ready for your first adventure? Hop in an Uber and wind up a mountain to visit TeleferiQo. You’ll be able to see some killer views and take one of the highest gondola rides in the world to the top. The entrance fee is $8 and they have a variety of cafes, gift shops, bathrooms, and hiking trails at the top of the mountain. They even have an amusement park at the park entrance called Vulqano park! Dress in super warm clothing because as you get closer to the top you are practically touching the clouds and it can be freezing. Stop for a coffee or tea and marvel in the clouds and city views. The hike to the swing is about 15-20 minutes depending on how fast you can walk uphill, while also being out breathe, dying of thirst, and killer headaches. So don’t forget to take your altitude medicine, drink coca leaf tea and plenty of water to avoid headaches from the high elevation! Check out the swing below:
After exploring TeleferiQo visit Independence Square which is located in the heart of the historic center of Quito. You can also visit The convento de San Francisco established in 1536, Basilica del Voto Nacional, and the Church of Jesuits.
End your day with a final activity by taking a chocolate from cocoa beans cooking class. I learned so much about the history and culture of Ecuador and we finished with delicious chocolate that we created ourselves, directly from a cocoa bean! The cocoa seeds were sourced from the Amazon Rainforest and we learned the entire process of roasting, pealing, grinding, and creating the final chocolate paste to pair with delicious local fruits. Learn this artesanal process and indulge in delicious chocolate treats for only $22. I promise you’ll see chocolate differently and never taste it the same way again! Plus you'll be supporting a local Ecuadorian family and Amazonian village by booking this Airbnb Experience ;)
If you’re up for some fun and partying, visit Calle La Ronda. This street is a colorful cobblestone alley with shops, restaurants, and a lively nightlife scene. Don’t miss Chez Tiff, a delicious artesanal chocolate shop on this street! Calle La Ronda is Quito’s most famous street for tourists with options for shopping, art galleries, fine dining, bars, clubs, bars, musicians and performers.
DAY 2 - Day Trip to Papallacta Hot Springs (Budget $60 + treatment)
After exploring Quito, and probably being out of breath due to the elevation, I suggest heading to Papallacta Hot Springs and choosing one of their massage treatments during your stay. The drive is 1.5-2 hours from Quito. Papallacta is a chance to relax in hot springs that vary in temperature with stellar views of the antisana volcano. You can also opt to go on a short hike around the area before or after your treatment.
Entrance fees: $8 to enter the public pools which fill up really fast. The private pool and spa has a $22 entrance fee. I would highly suggest arriving early. If you are doing a spa treatment book ahead or email them (email@example.com). Although we arrived early, the only spa treatment available wasn’t until 2pm. So we relaxed in the hot springs, had lunch, then it was just enough time to start our massage treatment.
I indulged in the wine therapy chocolate wrap massage. It was so perfect. I usually don’t treat myself in the states to massages or anything self care related but this was a great experience. After being wrapped away and whisked into relaxation, you will end your treatment with various teas and sit in a subtle relaxation room. See the treatments on their website or an overview below.
- $40 mud wrap
- $47 chocolate wrap
- $49 wine therapy body wrap
- $46 back massage
DAY 3 - Day trip to Banos, Ecuador (Budget $100+ includes food)
Visiting Banos was one of my favorite things we did because Banos is full of adventure, greenery, great food, and wonderful crazy people! We had a blast in Banos from sun up to sun down and if you have more time on your itinerary I would definitely stay a couple of days here. Hotel or hostel accommodations are plentiful and average $30-40 a night and sometimes even cheaper. You will definitely need taxi accommodations or a private driver because Banos is 3-4 hours from Quito. But, the drive is totally worth all the excitement and energy you will feel in this city.
From zip lining, water canyoning, canopy tours, sling shots, glass bridge walks, and swings the fun never ends! Initially I couldn’t find any information on booking the adventure activities ahead of time but Banos accommodates the unknown. You have free range to choose the activities you want throughout the day without having to book in advance. After a quick Google search we walked 5 minutes from a breakfast cafe to IGAVATOURS. They showed us a crazy video of people water canyoning and I looked at my friends like “LETS DO ITTTT” and they looked back at me like “are you f****** crazy???” And yes y’all...I am crazy. For $30 we put on our wetsuits, hopped in a random truck and arrived at a stop with several waterfalls. If you don’t know what water canyoning is, it's the act of navigating down a mountain by climbing, sliding or jumping, and in our case we were directly near a gushing waterfall. I mean just look at this free fall photo below - Would you do water canyoning?!
Another top attraction to visit is La Casa del Arbol known as the Swing at the End of the World which offers one of the best views in the city! It is about 30-40 minutes from the center of Banos and rests on a mountaintop next to an active volcano. It’s a pretty treehouse with stellar views. Unfortunately we didn’t get to visit this attraction in time because we wanted to see the epic Devil’s Cauldron instead. Hence, the reason to stay longer in Banos to see everything!
Translated as the Devil’s Cauldron, Pailon del Diablo is the top waterfall attraction in the city and one of the most breathtaking in my opinion. As you zig zag down suspension bridges, rock trails, and stairs you will be met by an 80 meter waterfall gushing and potentially soaking you as you venture down. I thought it was quite amazing and had fun navigating down to see the waterfall. There are two entrances and it costs $2 to enter. One of the entrances will definitely require a rain poncho because I could see the visitors on the other side getting soaking wet.
DAY 4 - Day Trip to Otavalo, Ecuador (Budget $80 + souvenirs)
Immerse yourself into Ecuadorian culture, history and food by booking the Otavalo Day Tour with Quito Tour Bus. Booking tours through Viator.com or GetYourGuide make it easy to deeply connect with a city and see a variety of cultural sites in one day, for only one price. Our $69 full day tour included roundtrip transportation and a guide on a big red tour bus to take us 1.5 hours away to Otavalo, Ecuador. The tour included a visit to the Otavalo market to see colorful stalls full of artisan souvenirs, clothing and jewelry, admiring the Peguche waterfall and Cuicocha Lagoon, and learning about cloth weaving and music from local artisans. We even stopped for food at a local outdoor food stand and tried a traditional dish in the area which was finger licking good. I absolutely loved this tour and our tour guide took amazing photo and video footage of us!
OTHER ACTIVITY OPTIONS
- 30-40 minutes outside of Quito is the Mitad del Mundo, a stone monument on the equator meaning the “Middle of the World“. See a stunning view of the city including the mountains in Quito and have some fun at the equator.
- Loma El Panecillo also has pretty views of the city
- Casa del Alabado Museum — This museum features a collection of pre-Columbian artifacts.
- If you are doing a longer stay take a Scenic Rail Journey through the Andes and book
Ride the Devil’s Nose: The Most Difficult Railway Ever Built
Tren de los Volcanes: This train from Quito heads to Cotopaxi Volcano
Tren de la Libertad: Journey from Ibarra through many tunnels to reach Salinas and explore the Afro-Ecuadorian culture that is nestled here.
Tren de la Dulzura: Learn about the farming of cocoa and sugarcane on this route.
- Hiking the Cotopaxi Volcano: Latin America in general has plenty of volcanoes and even some you can hike yourself. I mean who can really say they hiked a volcano (I can!). It’s always better to hire a guide to travel with you on your volcano hike who may also have a truck to take you part way.
- Visit Nambillo Waterfall Sanctuary: This site is a series of waterfalls within walking distance of each other. You can also jump into the cool natural pools that surround the falls. The cost is only $5 including the cable car ride up to access all of the fall trails.
- El Chorro de Girón Waterfall: If you happen to be in Cuenca this waterfall only costs $2 and is about 1.5 hours from Cuenca, Ecuador.
- Discover Ecuador’s Ancient Inca Ruins: Ecuador is full of native Inca ruins with archeological sites dating back to the colonial lives of the Incas.
- Hike to one of Ecuador’s Crater Lakes: Some of the best crater lakes in Ecuador include The Quilotoa Crater, Laguna Cuicocha, and El Altar. A lot of tours include visits to these craters so make sure to add a tour where you can stop by and marvel at their beauty.
- This itinerary was jam packed to see as much of Ecuadorian cities as possible, within a short term frame. If you have the option to stay a week or longer you can spread your time out and see much more cultural sites and cities!
- As of September 2021 a COVID test taken up to 10 days before departure is required for entry.
- As of September 2021 a COVID test is necessary to return to the US.
- Uber is used frequently around the city and only costs a couple of bucks per ride. Taxi’s are also common and cost as much but only take cash.
- Ecuador’s currency is in USD! This makes it so much easier to know how much you are truly spending without the need to exchange currency.
- The closer to the equator - the more sunscreen you will need.
- Bring layers as it could go from hot to cold to rainy within days of each other during the off season. The higher you are up in the mountains or in the city, the colder it is.
- We are traveling during the dry season which is a little colder 60-70s and dryer compared to summer and rainy season.
- Ecuador is in the Central time zone.
- Pack hiking boots, long sleeve shirts and pants, sunscreen, and bottled water.
- Bring altitude medicine and or drink coca tea to avoid nausea, headaches, or light headed tendencies. Especially if you are coming from somewhere with a low altitude. Ecuador is nearly 9k feet high and I definitely got sick the first day. No one mentions the altitude in South America so I’m here to tell you it AINT NO JOKE!
Even though we got most of our sleep on the rides to each day trip, I wouldn’t have changed a thing but stayed longer to see even more of what Ecuador has to offer. Not to mention the Galapagos Islands are a plane ride away from the city where there is plenty to explore.