Travel to Ecuador and Galapagos: what to see and other tips

Ecuador was a real surprise! I had chosen to go there to visit the mythical ones Galapagos islands, but I liked the 'mainland' the same way. I didn't have too many expectations and I was delighted by the beauty of the cities and landscapes that I could see. Quito I found it simply magnificent, one of the most beautiful South American capitals, as well as Cuenca and Cotopaxi National Park. In hindsight I wish I had more time to visit too Banos, the Quilotoa Loop and the Amazon, but this will be a very good reason to go back. 

Necessary documents and visa

As Spanish citizens we do not need any visa to enter Ecuador, up to a maximum of 90 days of stay in the country. All you need is a valid passport.

When to go to Ecuador

Ecuador is crossed by the equator (which “passes” a few kilometers outside Quito) and, thanks to this, the days always have 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. The climate varies according to the areas: the central part (the one where Quito, Cuenca, etc. are located) is crossed by Ande and it is more or less cold depending on the altitude but the temperatures do not change much and are mild and spring-like all year round. The area to the east occupied by the Amazon region it has an equatorial climate and is hot and humid all year round, with more or less constant rainfall; the (relatively) least rainy period is August-November in the north-west, while in the Amazon area it runs from November to March. Along the coast and on the Galapagos Islands the climate tends to be dry and the high season corresponds to the months from December to April / May. If you want to visit the whole country, the best time is probably summer, from June to September, but you can go there all year round without any problem. I went there in October and found a nice climate with little rain. 

How to reach it and how to get around

The main airport of access to Ecuador coming from Europe is that of Quito, located 38 km east of the city. The second is that of Guayaquil which is located on the south coast of the country, from which flights to the Galapagos depart

Like all South American countries, there is also one in Ecuador dense bus network which allows you to reach almost every corner of the country and is the best way to visit it. There are buses of all categories, including VIP buses where you practically sleep on your back (perfect for night journeys). Even if you arrive from neighboring countries (Peru, Colombia, etc.) you will find comfortable connecting buses that cross the border. For getting around the city, in Quito, I have always used Uber X and I had a great time and I advise you to use it also for a safety issue. 

Security: Is Ecuador Dangerous?

No, Ecuador is not dangerous! At least, it is no more dangerous than other countries in South America or Europe. Common sense is always the winning weapon to avoid unpleasant inconveniences. There are areas in Quito (such as the nightlife where I slept, La Mariscal) where you have to be a little careful in the evening, but the locals will advise you not to go there, ditto in Guayaquil (which is considered more dangerous than Quito). In general I have always felt quite safe (and I was traveling alone), certainly more than in Lima in Peru, just to make a comparison. In the city I have always used Uber and I have not had any problems. 

Update 2019: Around September-October there were many riots in the country (as in all of South America), but everything was back to normal within a few weeks.

How much does a trip to Ecuador (and Galapagos) cost

Ecuador has dropped out its currency in favor of dollar now several years ago and this causes the prices to be quite high. Compared to Peru, Bolivia or Colombia, Ecuador is a much more expensive country. Not to mention the Galapagos! In general you will have to calculate slightly lower prices than the Spanish ones. ATMs are practically everywhere (except in the Galapagos, where they are only found in Santa Cruz) and you can withdraw dollars directly. If you bring the dollars directly from spain remember to get them given small denominations (maximum $ 20) To have no problems.

Travel insurance is required

In Ecuador  our health coverage is not valid. My advice is to always take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip (country, duration, etc.) and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online (!!!). 

Trip to Ecuador and Galapagos: 2 weeks itinerary

  1. Arrival in Quito
  2. Quito
  3. Quito
  4. Quito (excursion to Otavalo - Cuicocha lagoon)
  5. Cotopaxi National Park (1-2h) - Secret Garden Cotopaxi
  6. Cotopaxi National Park - Secret Garden Cotopaxi
  7. Transfer a Cuenca (9h)
  8. Cuenca
  9. Transfer to Guayaquil (4-5h) and Volo x Santa Cruz (Galapagos)
  10. Santa Cruz
  11. Santa Cruz
  12. San Cristobal
  13. San Cristobal 
  14. I fly from San Cristobal to Quito
  15. Return to spain

If you have more time available or if you intend to skip the Galapagos I recommend you to enter the Quilotoa Loop, Banos and a few days in the Amazon. 


Where to sleep in Quito

When deciding where to sleep in Quito I recommend that you consider two areas, the Old City  o The Marshal. Architecturally, the Old Town is much more beautiful and you will find yourself close to many attractions that you can walk to, but in the evening there is nothing. La Mariscal, on the other hand, is the nightlife district, a modern neighborhood made up of low houses and full of restaurants, people and clubs. From here you can walk to the “artistic / hipster” districts of La Floresta and Guapulo. In a nutshell, if you are young and you like nightlife .. this is your place (but in the evening you will have to be a little careful anyway). 

  • Hotel Casa Gangotena (Old Town): if you are on a budget and love colonial buildings, you can choose this magnificent hotel overlooking Plaza San Francisco. It is a 5 star hotel with a beautiful terrace, perfect for an aperitif at sunset.
  • Masaya Hostel Quito (Old Town): a very nice boutique hostel a stone's throw from the historic street called La Ronda, with all the colonial houses. It has both dorms and double rooms and a beautiful garden in which to relax.
  • The Secret Garden  (Old Town- San Blas): A very young (and super young) hostel in a very nice street near the San Blas Church. It has a nice terrace bar where they also organize events. Staying here it is more convenient to reach The Secret Garden Cotopaxi (see below).
  • Selina Hostel (La Mariscal): a party hostel of the famous Selina chain. It is located a stone's throw from the streets of nightlife and has nice common areas.

Where to sleep in the Cotopaxi National Park

The Secret Garden Cotopaxi: without going around it too much, overall I think it is one of the most beautiful hostels in South America! The Secret Garden is a magnificent place surrounded by nature, not far from the slopes of the Cotopaxi volcano. It is a hostel consisting of a central and common building, with the living room, the kitchen and the large dining room where we all eat together, and several other buildings (all small eh) with dormitories with several beds or double rooms (for example I had a mini-house all to myself), a jacuzzi with a view and several hobbits houses. The basic package (less than this you can not stay also because it takes a long time to reach it) is 3 days and 2 nights and includes full board (the food is great!) And an excursion (I did the trekking del Pasochoa). Once there you can add other activities such as horseback riding, trekking on Cotopaxi, etc. For me it was a wonderful experience and I met a lot of people. To reach it from Quito you can use the free shuttle that leaves every morning at 10 from Secret Garden Quito, or take a bus that goes down south and have you drop off at Machiachi; from there you will then have to continue by taxi (more than 1 hour on the road - cost about 30 dollars). The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is a very well-known place in South America among backpackers so you should book well in advance (at least 1 month I would say, you pay the advance with PayPal and the rest there in cash); I forgot, there the cell does not take and there is no wifi .. one more reason to love it!

Where sleeping in Cuenca

Hostal Posada del Angel: this hotel is located in a historic building a few minutes walk from the main square of Cuenca. It is all wooden and the rooms are gathered around a kind of enclosed courtyard on the roof. He's very nice and the staff are really nice. 

Where to sleep in the Galapagos

On Where to sleep in the Galapagos I refer you to the dedicated article: How to organize a trip to the Galapagos Islands: all you need to know (how much does it cost, when to go, cruise or not? ..)

What to see in Ecuador


Stay tuned! An article entirely dedicated to the magnificent capital of Ecuador will arrive soon!

Otavalo and the Cuicocha lagoon

Two of the most popular excursions that are made in the day from Quito are those to town of Otavalo and the Cuicocha lagoon. Otavalo is located 2h from Quito, surrounded by volcanoes, and is very famous for its markets: in fact, here are the most famous and characteristic markets of Ecuador. In addition to the fruit and vegetable market there is, above all, the largest textile craft market in all of South America. You will find weavers, leather artisans, silver jewelry, carpets, embroideries, paintings and ponchos .. if you want to buy souvenirs this is the right place!

Continuing another 32 km to the north, you can instead reach it by collective taxi the lagoon of Cuicocha to make a really nice excursion, trekking along the path that surrounds the lake, along the ridge. The walk takes about 6h and the altitude is between 3000 and 3500 meters. The waters are of a splendid blue and in the middle of the lagoon emerge two islands whose shape resembles that of a guinea pig. It is precisely for this reason that the lagoon was renamed "Cuicocha", "Cuy" means guinea pig (a delicious dish in the Andean regions) and "Cocha" for lake. The surrounding landscapes are of intoxicating beauty. 

Cotopaxi National Park

Clearly visible when you leave Quito to go south, with his 5897 meters, Cotopaxi is the second highest active volcano in the world! Its name means "Neck of the Moon" in the Quechua language and a large area on its slopes has been declared a National Park. Here it is possible to do various walks / trekking on foot or on horseback and, above all, it is possible (but not for everyone!) To climb the summit of the volcano. Most mere mortals actually just reach out the Josè Rivas refuge (4864 mt, as high as Mont Blanc anyway..not really pizza and figs!). If you stay at the Secret Garden Cotopaxi they organize the tour for $ 30 (price 2018). From the parking lot you climb about 300 meters in altitude along a sandy path before arriving at the refuge (about 40 minutes which seems eternal!). If you succeed, you can continue for another 200 meters until you reach the glacier (5050 mt, see photo below). Those who are trained (and reckless) can try the climb to the summit: you go up to the Josè Rivas refuge around 3-4 in the afternoon, you rest, and then at midnight you start to climb. We are talking about 5-6h of climbing with crampons on the ice at a considerable altitude and with little oxygen: it is no coincidence that not all those who try can do it! It reaches an altitude of 5987 meters at dawn and the show is nothing short of incredible (I've seen photos of those who have succeeded). The cost of the climb to the mouth of the volcano, including guide, equipment, a night in a refuge and dinner is $ 290 per person if you go up in 2, or $ 390 if you go alone. 

Another very nice excursion I did inside the park was the trekking al Pasochoa (4200 mt); it is a trek of about 17/18 km, medium-difficult, which lasts between 5 and 6 hours (depending on your pace). 

If you don't have 3 days available, you can do one day trip to Cotopaxi National Park from Quito. It is a trip that lasts about 10h and allows you to reach up to 4800 meters and also visit the Limpiopungo lagoon.


After Quito, Cuenca it is the most beautiful colonial city in the country and it is no coincidence that its historic center has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Cuenca is a fairly small town, clustered around the Tomebamba River, but it has respectable monuments, museums, and churches, and a nice college town vibe. If you sleep in the center (and I recommend it), you can easily reach all the attractions on foot. Among the things not to be missed there are certainly the Calderon Park (i.e. the main square of the city) with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the old cathedral (called The tabernacle) with its beautiful cloister, Long street (i.e. the long river), San Sebastian Square with the church of the same name and, a little further from the center, the beautiful Central Bank Museum "Pumapungo", a museum on the different local indigenous cultures. Attached to the museum there is also a Archaeological Park with the remains of what appears to be the ancient Inca city of Tomebamba. 

A curiosity: the famous e historical hat that everyone calls "Panama”(Because it was used a lot in Panama to protect oneself from the sun)… whose original name is actually Montecristi. 

Galapagos Islands

Find all the info on this incredible earthly paradise in the article How to organize a trip to the Galapagos Islands: all you need to know (how much does it cost, when to go, cruise or not? ..). It is useless to reiterate that for me the Galapagos are one of the most beautiful places in the world and that, alone, they are worth a trip to South America.

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