If for most parts of the countries of Latin America 3 weeks are not enough for a trip as there is a risk of spending most of the time on the buses, traveling to Ecuador is easier at least logistically given its reduced geographical size.
Ecuador, as one of the smallest countries in South America, is in fact a country that makes moving around it easy and that facilitates the visits of the major tourist destinations in an arch of a short period like 3 weeks and, this, was one of the main reasons that had made me like it, but I will talk about this in the post 10 reasons why I like Ecuador.
3 weeks thence not a lot, in any case you need to make haste and have to give up on some destinations of the continent if you want to go to the Galapagos; however, the travel itinerary is agile and the distances are short enough to reduce the night bus trip to one only and to move around instead in the day-time without wasting a whole day away sitting in buses.
The great thing about this country is that though the dimensions are smaller than the neighboring countries here you wont be missing anything, you will pass through quickly and without too many hitches from the forest (selva), to the volcanic area, to then reach the coast and appraise the archipelago of the Galapagos.
In this post I would like to propose an itinerary that includes the Galapagos Islands, which requires a minimum stay of 6 days, in the case that a change for an alternative tour is preferable to that for the archipelago, there are numerous options that would include:
- The Amazon forest
- 2 days trekking in Cotopaxi (around $170 and $220 per person depending on the number of the participants)
- A trip on the train of the Devil’s Nose to Alausi (the cost of which I have my doubts $25 but well worth visiting given the peculiarity of this engineering feat).
3 weeks in Ecuador – Travel Itinerary
Day 1/2 – Quito and Otavalo Market
Quito is a particular city and because of its structure , it is a city that extends itself in length , and because of its vitality especially in the tourist area , The Mariscal , it never stops .
After a long journey and a time zone of 7 hours you need to stop in Quito , to dedicate a day in the discovery of the historical centre and to spend the evening in one of the many bars or restaurants of the city that has a lot to offer.
For more information about Quito go to the post What to do in Quito.
If you arrive on Wednesday or Friday early in the morning of the day take a bus from the station north of the city that for $ 1.50 in two hours will take you to Otavalo, the largest and most famous handicraft market of South America. It can be done in a day, buses leave from the station every 5 minutes so don’t be disheartened by the queue to buy tickets, it will run along quickly.
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Follow some hostel and hotels ideas you can check out.
Vibes Hostal – District La Mariscal – Book in advance because it’s always full. Bed in dormitory from € 7 breakfast included.
Community Hostel – Historical centre of Quito. Bed in dormitory from € 7.82.
Mia Leticia – The property is located in the historic centre of Quito. The rooms are decorated with woodworks and opening out on a plaza. Double rooms starting from €45.
La Casa Amarilla – Located in the historical center of Quito ( Quito Colonial ) double rooms including breakfast from € 55.
Hotel Rio Amazonas – The hotel is located in the prime centre of tourism and business in Quito. The rooms are spacious and feature wooden flooring. Double rooms starting from €90.
Days 3/4 – Latacunga and Laguna Quilotoa
Early in the morning head for the station south of the city easily reached by means of public transport , $ 0.25 , or by taxi, $ 10. The bus ride will last about 50 minutes in time to catch the first bus going to Latacunga .
Latacunga is the ideal city to visit : the Quilotoa lagoon and the famous Cotopaxi volcano , which is not the biggest of Ecuador but it is the most famous thanks to its perfect shape .
Latacunga is a small town where not much happens , well-known because of its proximity to these two major tourist spots.
Given that time is pressing you can choose between two possibilities : the most famous volcano in the country or a day at the suggestive lagoon in the crater of the volcano, Quilotoa, with a stop at the village of Zumbaua .
How to get to Quilotoa
To reach the Quilotoa lagoon go at 8 am the day after arrival.
The 8.30 am bus will take you directly to the lagoon as an alternative , if you wake up a bit later , the bus will leave at Zumbaua where you can hop on to one of the pick ups for $ 1 ( bargain with decision before boarding because otherwise they make tourists pay more , simply make your own offer which will be accepted ) that will take you right up to the lagoon.
Finished with the trekking , if you want you can go down to the lake and then up again , wait for another pick up to return to the village and to take the first bus back to Latacunga.
Follow some hostel and hotels ideas you can check out.
Hostal Cafe Tiana – $9 per night in shared room including breakfast . Very nice , lovely rooms and beautiful internal patio.
Villa de Tacunga – Double rooms starting from € 52, wifi and breakfast included.
Hacienda la Cienega – An elegant place where to stay, wonderful architecture, great location close to Cotapaxi and the Quilotoa loop and kind, attentive staff. Double rooms starting from €110.
NB. NB . In alternative to the Quilotoa lagoon (which I highly recommend ) for $ 30 you can pay a taxi to take you to the base camp of Cotopaxi . The more daring can pay a 2-day tour to climb the volcano , cost of the tour $ 100 .
Day 5/6 – Banos
Banos is the destination for sports and for activities such as bungee jumping, bicycle riding and rafting at the foot of the volcano that erupts frequently in this period.
Small and touristic it is one of the favorite destinations for international and local tourists.
At 2 hours from Puyo , the entrance to the Amazon forests of Ecuador , this small and compact city offers plenty of activities to do .
A nice idea is to rent a bike and cycle up to Puyo following the Route of the Cascades . This area is full of waterfalls, the most beautiful of which, in my opinion, is the Pailon El Diablo . For return no problem , you can always load your bike on a bus and go back to Banos without pedaling .
The stops from Banos up to Puyo are as follows: Manto de la Novia, Pailón El Diablo, the Manantial Dorado. At this point , you can either turn back or continue up to the Río Negro where the scenery becomes tropical . We are at the gates of the Amazon forest .
For those not interested in sports activities, a morning at the waterfall or a bus trip up to Puyo to visit the Paseo de los monos , center for the prevention and treatment of monkeys taken care of by a Swiss couple who over the years have created a center where volunteers work and whose aim is the rehabilitation of monkeys ill-treated in the past so as to be able to put them back in their natural environment, can be organized.
The entrance fee that serves to help this center is $3.
The bus to Cuenca takes about 8 hours , the ideal is to take it around 12/13 so as to arrive in Cuenca in the evening. The center accepts volunteers.
Follow some hostel and hotels ideas you can check out.
Great Hostel Backpackers – Cheap and nice hostel for backpackers. Dormitory beds from € 5.45
La Casa Verde Eco Hostel – A beautiful, comfortable and ecological place to relax and enjoy Banos and around. Double rooms from € 25
Monte Selva – With swimming pool equipped with different types of rooms, including cabanas , double room from € 26.
Day 7/8 – Cuenca
Cuenca the precious, a beautiful and orderly city of which historical center is often compared to that of Quito .
The city can be visited in one day , its palaces and colonial structures make of it a delicious and safe city near the El Cajas National Park . The park can be reached easily with public buses that depart regularly and frequently from the town’s station.
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La Cigale– Loved this hostel, cheap but beautiful in the city center. € 5.41 per bed in rooms shared by 4 with bath and breakfast included, € 22 per double room and private bathroom . Access to wifi.
Hotel Casa San Rafael – In beautiful building with internal patio , double rooms and breakfast included from € 66.99.
Forum Hotel – Lovely hotel, classy and dignified, beautiful interior, excellent location in Cuenca, walking distance to every part of town. Double rooms starting from €80.
Day 9 – Guayaquil
I admit that I have spent too much time in Guayaquil, I used to go when I had to chatch a fly to the Galapagos, I prefer to spend more time in the villages along the coast not too far from the city than in the city itself.
This is the most “dangerous” town of the country according to the locals, it is the largest city in Ecuador and it overlooks the sea but there is not that much to do. Iff you have an afternoon to pass my advice is to take stroll to Malecon and to make a not too late return to the hostel, in any case take always a taxi when it gets dark.
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Murali Hostal Airport Guayaquil – $ 8 if booked online , shared room , $ 25 per double room with private bathroom.
Re Bed and breakfast – if you want to stay in the city center this funky hotel can be the right one. Double rooms starting from €50,
Holiday Inn Guayaqul Airport -Convenient airport location and shuttle service. Double rooms starting from €92.
Day 10/16 – Galapagos Islands
Fly from Guayaquil to Baltra, Galapagos Islands, usually flights depart between 8 am and 10.30 am, the maximum time of arrival in Puerto Ayora is 3pm.
For more information about the adventure in this remote and world unique archipelago refer to the various posts written, if you want to see some photos click here.
Galapagos is a protected national park, the kind of trip you will live is a marine safari, 97% of the islands are protected and here even indipendent travelers have to take part to tours if want to see animals and the fauna that makes this archipelago so unique in the world.
There are two options for traveling the islands:
- Cruise (from 5 up to 8 days)
- Islands Hopping (from 3 up to 15 days or more, it’s incredibly flexible)
In fact apart from Isabela, Floreana and San Cristobal that can be reached by speed boats with daily departures, 2 boats per day, all the other islands are not accessible to tourists not accompanied by authorized guides and boats.
Each boat can host no more than 16 people. Once the seats are all sold there are no other boats. The National Park is infact very strict with the maximum number of people that daily can sail into its water and can walk into the islands where the animals are.
So basing on availability, I strongly recommend making a proper travel itinerary including islands such Bartolome, Seymour the only island where you can see the magnificent frigates, Santa Fe or Plazas, the itinerary can be planned and well organize but would be not a bad idea doing it in advance, mainly during the high season.
To avoid getting grounded without being able to take part in tours due to lack of boats or places available on these, I can help to organize a week islands hopping, or more, in the Galapagos considering a full itinerary that is hard to find online, relying on guides and local agencies, thus skipping intermediaries of international travel agencies that is known … can charge as much as 50%.
For more details about how to travel the Galapagos islands click here.
If you are looking for a personalized itinerary to the Galapagos Islands send me an email ([email protected]) and I will be happy to help you to make your dream true thanks to the local travel agency I work with.
Day 17/18 – Return Guayaquil and Montanita or Puerto Lopez
The air flights from Galapagos to the Continent are till 12.30 , landing in Guayaquil. The airport is close to the bus station so proceed to the station and take the first bus towards Montanita , the seaside village where to party or to surf … or both .
For information about Montanita I have written the post Montanita surf , hippies , whales and party .
Alternatively, during the season of sighting of whales, if you are not in the mood to party until 6 am you can go to Puerto Lopez where with $ 20/25 per person you can buy a 3-hour tour to go whales sighting.
If you have not gone to the Galapagos then pay something extra and visit Isla de la Plata, also called the Galapagos of the poor, inhabited by friendly blue foot Bobbies , it is also worthwhile a visit to the National Park Machalilla.
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Resort El Campito Art Lodge – Beautiful cabanas and well cared garden . Double rooms from € 75 with breakfast included . Wifi connection.[/su_tab][/su_tabs]
Day 19/20 – Canoa
This is my favorite seaside village , it is not as confusing as Montanita and the beach is definitely more extensive besides being impressive .A Montanita less messy and definitely quieter for those who love surfing. Populated during the high season with a meditative and melancholy tone during the low.
If the flight from Quito is early in the morning or at lunchtime the day after, take the night bus of 21.30 (to be booked in advance ) from Bahía de Caráquez ( $ 10) . The bus will arrive in Quito at 5 / 5.30 in the morning , then take a taxi and go directly to the airport .
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Day 21 – Quito and departure
Time to say good bye to Ecuador and keep on traveling north to Colombia or South to Perù!
This obviously is an itinerary that concerns the main centers of the country , if you do not go to the Galapagos for 6 days you would have time to discover the Amazon (Tena or Puyo ), spend a few days in homestay in the jungle, take a ride on the train the Devils Nose at Alausi and stop for a day in Riobamba.
These are the highlight of Ecuador and Galapagos and how I would think a travel itinerary in this magical Country.
Have you been there? Where have you been and what have you done?
I would love to hear from you!