What’s the plan for Ecuador?
Arriving at Quito’s airport immediately sets a good impression about Ecuador.
The brand new airport only opened in 2013 and Quito is vying to become a major South American hub (offering 40% fuel subsidies to attract international carriers).
During our month in Ecuador, we will end up taking three internal flights, in addition to our arrival and departure. Generally, I hate airports, but this is probably one of the more pleasant airports to be wasting time in.
The biggest tick is that it has good FREE WiFi, along with reasonable coffee, plus a variety of places to eat, comfortable places to sit, with lots of power points and USB points to charge devices.
Oh and I should mention great toilets (even ones you flush the paper down).
The one downside is that it’s a 45 min trip into downtown Quito (without traffic). The fares are fixed so it’s reasonable at US$26 (Ecuador uses the US dollar).
We arrive at the Hotel San Francisco de Quito around 11:30pm, to be disappointed that the premium room I had booked was not available…..but I booked months ago!
We’ve just had 21 days on the road, in OK, but basic accommodation, I was looking forward to a nice room with a big comfy bed.
My disappointment turned to fury at 5am in the morning, when a departing tour group decides to have a number of loud conversations below us. It went on for so long I eventually called reception.
Anyway, the hotel did redeem themselves with moving us the following day.
We ended up on the 6th floor (away from the entrance), in an enormous apartment style room – glass on three sides with fantastic views over Quito and with our own little kitchen.
The downside was traipsing up to the 6th floor everyday. At over 2800m you feel the altitude.
Our plans in Ecuador are somewhat fluid because we are hoping to land a last minute Galapagos deal. We are here for 35 days, so we can be flexible with dates to get the best price.
Our first day is spent visiting tour operators. I’ve done considerable homework and have a Galápagos short list.
Our preference is a full 7 day cruise (not a combined 3&4 nighter that wastes time exchanging passengers mid cruise).
There are 9 boats that fit the criteria and the price ranges are anything from around $2,000 per person up to $6,000 per person.
My first choice is Nemo II, a 12 passenger catamaran. There is availability on Nemo for the week starting June 14th, the price is close to 50% off the published rate, with airfares included.
This turns out to be the best deal we find.
The only small problem we have is our departure flight from Quito, that we booked through Bravofly, was rescheduled on us and now leaves the morning we return from Galápagos.
If we want to go on Nemo II we need to move our flight. We make a reservation on Nemo assuming we can sort out our flights with Bravofly over the weekend.
The epic hassle we went through with Bravofly is worthy of its own entry (you’ll have to wait for that installment). On the Monday we pay our deposit for the boat.
We still haven’t sorted out our departing flight from Ecuador, which we eventually do, with no help from Bravofly. Now that the Galápagos trip is locked in, we can plan around that.
I’ve also been looking at Amazon lodges and Sacha Lodge has availability the next day!
Thanks to the internet, I make an instant Paypal transaction and by Monday afternoon Sacha lodge confirms our flights and accommodation.
At the same time Don is working on the rest of the itinerary and logistics of getting to various points of interest.
If we are flying back from Coca, we might as well just get straight on another plane and head south to Cuenca – which is what we do.
Within the day we have our next 21 planned out: Amazon, South to Cuenca, back to Quito airport, transfer down to Quilotoa and Banos, back to Quito before heading to Galápagos.
It’s quite amazing what you can organise, book and confirm within minutes through the internet. It has certainly changed the way people travel, and definitely the way we travel.
So, what about Quito…
Ecuador’s capital sits in the Andean foothills, high in the foothills at 2850m.
It was also constructed on the foundations of an Inca city and conquered by the Spanish – those Spaniards got around!
The ‘Old Town’ is charming, full of beautifully restored buildings eking Spanish colonial charm, with grand open plazas and magnificent churches.
The nearby district of Mariscal is often referred to as Gringolandia, because it’s popular with tourists, plus a hub for travel agents to organise tours from, good restaurants and coffee.
We had planned to get the bus up to Otovalo when our hotel asked if we were interested in a day trip with three others.
We were picked up at 7am and made a few stops on our way to the markets.
The first stop was the ‘middle of the world’ at the Quitsato Sundial where you can do the obligatory standing across the equator with one foot in the northern and southern hemisphere.
Morning tea is at a biscuit factory in Cayambe where they handmake “bizcochos”, a buttery biscuit baked in a wood-fired oven.
The town of Otovalo is famous for its textile and craft market, which is one of the largest in South America.
The Otavaleño people have been weavers for centuries, their skills led to many of them being enslaved by the Spanish to work in textile workshops.
The resulting textile trade that flourished in the region continues freely today.
Centred around Plaza de Ponchos, the market snakes through the streets of the town; with stalls selling everything from alpaca rugs and blankets, jumpers, hats and scarves (I went a little overboard on buying scarves), Panama hats (actually made in Ecuador), hammocks, ponchos, wooden carvings; the list goes on.
The most fun was the bargaining, which Don thrived on – we probably bought twice as much as we should have simply so we could haggle the price.
A T-shirt starts out at $12, Don offers $7 and stands firm. The woman reduces her price a dollar at a time until out of total frustration she agrees to $7.
We also found a great chocolate shop which had the best hot chocolate and was also selling bananas freshly dipped in a vat of chocolate – so good we had to have two.
On our way home we stopped at Cotachaci, a town that is known for its leather. For hundreds of years the indigenous people made a living from providing saddles and tack for horses.
The reputation for quality workmanship from the town resulted in demand extending throughout Ecuador and now internationally.
The leather skills have been passed from generation to generation and are now taught in the local school.
Our final stop is a roadside flower shop. Ecuador is known for its bananas, but I didn’t know it was the third largest exporter of flowers.
It has produced prize-winning roses and the success apparently comes down to being on the equator where roses grow perfectly straight.
Now Don is not the flower-giving type. I think he’s only every bought me home flowers once and that was because a client gave them to him!
He outdoes himself today and buys me a dozen roses for the exorbitant price of $2. And to our surprise, when we get back to the hotel there is another dozen in the box!