Our 3 weeks in Ecuador were jammed packed and took me far out of my comfort zone and into a buzz of adrenaline and happiness. We didn’t even expect to love Ecuador as much as we did, but the country was beautiful. So much so that little Ecuador quickly joined Bolivia in being our favourite 2 countries in South America.
During our 3 weeks here we swung off the edge of a mountain and we swam under waterfalls. We watched humpback whales from a tiny boat whilst simultaneously being sick. We trekked through the Amazon Rainforest at night looking for snakes, spiders, and mass-murdering frogs that can kill 10 humans instantly (not at the same time mind you). We ate ants that taste like lemon sherbet and we sat in a wooden boat at night next to a huge caiman after swimming in the same water as it. We’ve met some of the friendliest locals we met in South America, including a man who can speak to animals, and we saw more waterfalls than we’ve ever seen in any other country ever.
We only had 3 weeks in Ecuador so we had to whizz around the country pretty quickly as there is so much to see and do. Luckily Ecuador’s small size also meant that it was quick and easy to get around, which was good for us as we were so fed up of night buses by this point! The buses we took in Ecuador always left on time and arrived early (result!) the only annoying thing was the toilet doors were always locked, so you either have to beg the driver for the key or for him to stop the bus!
So here’s our 3 week Ecuador itinerary:
Guayaquil – 1 Night
Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city and especially if you are arriving from Peru, there’s a chance that Guayaquil’s absolute monster of a bus station will be your first stop.
On this stopover we stayed in a guesthouse as near as possible to the bus station as we only needed a place to sleep for the night before our departure in the morning. Note that Guayaquil has a nasty reputation and it is generally advised to take taxi’s around for your safety especially at night.
Montanita – 2 Nights
Just a 2-3 hour bus journey down the coast is Montanita, which is a bit like Ecuador’s version of a Southeast Asia beach town. It’s where you come to surf and party. Or in our case (as we are awful at surfing) just party and relax. Luckily we booked an incredible cheap guesthouse called ‘Hostal Lumaga’ located away from all the bars and noise, and it looked like a treehouse, with terraces filled with hammocks overlooking a huge garden filled with animals from ducks and geese to iguana’s.
This meant we could party all night long but then escape and relax in our nature haven guesthouse after.
Warning: the cocktails in Montanita are dangerously strong, you don’t need many!
Puerto Lopez – 2 Nights
A local bus from the main road in Montanita takes you to another small beach town located about 1 hour further down the coast called Puerto Lopez. The main reason to come here is to visit Isla de la Plata, Los Frailes beach, or to go Whale watching if it’s the correct season (from June to October).
For 40 USD each we took a day trip to Isla de la Plata- also known as ‘the poor mans Galápagos’. The boat ride there was extremely choppy, I was sick the majority of the way along with one other girl. So if you usually get motion sickness even the slightest, be warned! On the island we saw these weird looking birds called Blue Footed Boobies, it was the mating season when we were there and the males were doing a fancy dance where they stamp one foot and then the other in an attempt to seduce the ladies!
We then went snorkelling, and we saw sea turtles and brightly coloured fish, before getting back on the boat for the journey back. The driver sat me in the best seat at the back of the boat facing forward to try and help my sea sickness but this meant that I was whacked in the face by 2-3 meter high waves for the entire journey. This boat journey back was even more dramatic than the way there, with 3 people being sick and 2 people hyperventilating into plastic bags from panicking. Seasickness is officially the worst feeling ever.
But suddenly in the horizon we spotted humpback whales, we drove closer to them and watched their huge tails rise and splash into the waves, and even though Shaun and I were both being sick off the back of the boat at the time, suddenly it was all worth it.
Guayaquil – 1 night
The next day we took the bus back to Montanita and then another bus back to Guayaquil for another quick overnight stopover, we spent the night in a cheap guesthouse called Hostal Funky Monkey which is not too far from the bus station. There is also a big mall (Mall del Sol) opposite to grab some dinner or go shopping if you need to kill some time.
Banos – 5 nights
The town of ‘Banos de Agua Santa’ – translates to ‘the holy water baths’ and the natural setting of the town is stunning. It is also known to backpackers as the ‘adventure capital of Ecuador’ and we loved our time here. As the nickname suggests, there’s a lot of adventure sports and activities here. You can ride the famous ‘swing off the end of the world’, you can cycle the ‘route of the waterfalls’, you can go rafting, hiking or you can bathe in the natural hot springs nestled up to local old ladies, whilst going in and out of the freezing cold then boiling hot thermal baths.
Top Tip: We couldn’t find anything online that suggested there are direct buses from Guayaquil to Banos. But there are direct buses. There are a few a day actually. Just ask the information desk in Guayaquil’s massive bus station and they will tell you where to go. We took the 08.10am bus from Guayaquil which took 6 hours and cost $10.25.
Lago Agrio and The Amazon Rainforest – 5 nights
The journey from Banos to Lago Agrio (aka Nueva Loja) is a long one for Ecuador standards but easily done in 1 day. We left Banos at around 6am (buses leave every 20 mins) and took a bus to Quito which only took 3 hours. We then grabbed brunch in Quito bus terminal (there is a local food court in the basement) and then took a bus from Quito to Lago Agrio, a town in the Amazon Rainforest. Going from Quito at 2850 meters up in the Andes mountains all the way down to the humid Amazon Rainforest was an amazing bus journey and I’m glad we did this journey by day rather than getting a night bus, the roads were also extremely windy.
Lago Agrio is an expensive town for accommodation. We stayed 1 night in ‘Planeta Azul’ (about $20 a night) the room and bathroom had more insects in than I’ve ever seen in one place. But the bed had a mosquito net for us to hide under once we had chased all the moths and spiders out from under it.
The next day we were picked up by our driver to head to ‘Guacomayo Lodge’ where we had booked a 3 night Amazon trip to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve for $170.
The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is located deep in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. The area has a very high biodiversity, we saw so many animals including caiman, river dolphin, monkeys, snakes, sloths, tarantulas, piranhas and many colourful birds such as tucans plus lots of creepy insects like scorpions.
Our trip to the Cuyabeno Wildlife reserve was one of the coolest things we’ve ever done on any of our travels, if not the coolest.
We didn’t even want to leave; during our 4 days here we had so much fun – we dived off a little wooden boat into the same water that we spotted caiman, snakes and piranhas in. We hiked through knee-deep mud chasing the sound of monkeys in the trees, and then we hiked through the rainforest in the pitch black at night. We also visited an indigenous village, where we met a Shaman who worked his magic to fix Shaun’s back with stinging nettles. And we spotted a giant caiman a few centimetres away from our wooden boat in the dark, all whilst being guided by a man who can speak to dolphins, monkeys, birds and even caiman!
Quito – 2 nights
Quito was our least favourite capital city in South America, which is a shame because we loved the rest of Ecuador so much, but the old town was definitely nice to wander around for a day. If you have already visited lots of South American cities then you might find Quito as more of the same, otherwise you may find Quito quite charming.
In the end we were glad to only have 2 nights in Quito before heading back to the jungle!
Mindo – 2 nights
Mindo is a small town located in the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest, which is located on the western slopes of the Andes mountains at an elevation of 1100 meters, which means its a lot cooler than the rainforest, but still pretty humid especially when trekking through it!
From Quito’s ‘Terminal de la Ofelia’ we took a local bus a few hours away to Mindo town. One of the things we recommend doing in Mindo is to take a taxi to the entrance of the cloud forest where you then take a cable car/ zip line thing which flies high above the forest before dropping you off the other side where you can begin hiking to various waterfalls. The forest was filled with lush plants, clear water rivers and waterfalls which were perfect to cool down in, plus many bird species and so many colourful butterflies!
Back in Mindo town, we spent the afternoon at a small Chocolate making factory where we learnt how to make chocolate from scratch and then got to taste it in a fondu. So yummy!
Ecuador put a permanent smile on my face for the whole 3 weeks we spent there; every day was like a different adventure. It dragged me right out of my travel tiredness which had developed in Peru. We saw incredible wildlife, the landscape is lush and green, the locals we met were all lovely and the bus journeys are never too long unlike in the rest of South America. Saying that, it pushed me in ways that were challenging just the right amount. Ecuador is one of those places when you unexpectedly fall in love with travel all over again.