Time of Year: December-January 2017
Places I Visited: Quito, Otavalo, Baños, Cuenca, Vilcabamba,, Montanita, Guayaquil,
Hostel Names & Locations: Hostelito (Quito), Great Hostels (Banos), After Beach Hostel Bar and Camping (Montanita),
Highlights: La Floresta Walking Tour, Equator, Amazon Rainforest, La Casa del Arbol, Galapagos Islands, Scaling Waterfalls
This trip was the first time I backpacked with another person. I randomly convinced my roommate, Christy, at the time to join me on my trip to Ecuador for a whole month. We got along very well so much we wound up doing another trip together in Japan and plan to do many more! So without further ado, our month in Ecuador-including Christmas and New Year.
This is by far one of my most favorite trips. We started in Quito, we stayed at a pod hostel called Hostelio, they were very accommodating and recommended a lot of tours. which was where we met some fun people who even cooked for us. The first night one of the guys prepared arepas for us which were delicious. The next day we did the La Floresta walking tour recommended by the hostel and Quito street tours, which was amazing. They had us stop at a local chocolate factory and gave us samples, a local coffee shop, and a small movie theater. There was also time to shop for amazing views of the mountain. We then went and toured the Basílica del Voto Nacional with a new friend we had met at the hostel. Be careful it is a little sketchy on the walkway to go up to the top.
We planned a day trip to Otavalo from Quito. It was a bus trip for a few hours north where we encountered very crafty indigenous people. It was very different from Quito and they immersed you in the culture immediately. We first stopped at the checkpoint where it was the middle of the world. It was cool to think about being at the latitude and longitude 0. Then we stopped at a local cafe where we watched them make homemade bizcochos and we even got to taste them. We then traveled and walked around Cuicocha which has some amazing views. Then off to my favorite part of the tour which was the brightly colored markets. Here you can grab some fresh ice cream to cool off, grab some amazing souvenirs for home, or just window shop around. It is one of the largest markets in Ecuador.
From here we headed to the Amazon Rainforest, which you can read about HERE.
After we survived the Amazon, was headed to Baños for Christmas. This was ultimately my favorite spot. We celebrated Christmas over here with a bunch of people we met in the hostel. On Christmas morning, we headed onto a bus with them to La Casa del Arbol which was a huge swing over a scenic valley. Up there they have a bunch of little cafes and shops to hang out here for an afternoon, such a fun morning. However, be forewarned, the bus there is sketchy, very shaking, and very crowded. Baños is known for adventure and thrill-seeking activities, we scaled waterfalls on a tour and Chirsty did bungee jumping off a bridge. There are many little things about Baños that were interesting. They roast guinea pigs as a tradition, the little shops give gifts on Christmas morning for free that have little rings or bracelets in them.
After, we had a quick stopover in Cuenca before heading more South. This is a bit of an older town, we just did a lot of walking around the town. We spent took the bus to Vilcabamba to stay at a yoga resort and retreat called Hostal Izhcayluma. This place was so relaxing, provided fresh breakfast every morning after yoga sessions overlooking the lush green valleys, had a massage spa, and a pool. It was so nice for a peaceful few days before heading to Montañita for a crazy New Year’s Eve celebration.
Montañita is like your typical local beach town. It was so fun with parties on the beach, bonfires, small bar carts lining the streets, little tattoo shops, and everyone walking everywhere. It was a small little town but there was a lot to do. We mostly relaxed on the beach, grabbed some fresh fruit smoothies from the locals, surfed, explored, and partied. New Year’s Eve was the MOST fun. I’ve spent NYE in a few different countries but this was by far the best. In Ecuador, they make or buy Monigote ( kind of like paper mâché objects of famous people, superheroes, cartoon characters, etc ). Typically, this is to represent something that went wrong or right this previous year and they burn it to signify a new beginning and fresh start. In Moñtanita, they had a few huge bonfires where people would throw them in and jump over the fire. At midnight, the surfers would run around the bonfire and do a midnight paddle out. It was a cool experience. However, pro tip, watch your step on the beach a lot of guys like to just pee on the beach when holidays get crazy like this and the police do not fine people for it. So make sure to bring money to utilize the public restrooms!
Going from Moñtanita to Guayaquil, we walked around the vast city life they had to offer. It was a very big switch. It is not something I would expect to find in Ecuador as even Quito was not super city like. When you think of Ecuador, you typically think of wildlife, activities, and beaches. They had a little Christmas festival set up with a Ferris wheel and shops and it was nice to be back to city life but I would not spend more than a few days here. This was our connecting city to fly to the Galapagos Islands. If you would like to read more about our Galapagos trip, click HERE.
Overall, a little over a month in Ecuador was perfect to see a little of everything. I would highly recommend anyone goes especially as it isn’t a typical vacation destination. It is very backpacker friendly however I would learn some basic Spanish to get around a little easier and to be more respectful to the locals.