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Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

London, United...
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Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

Hi all,

We've just got back from a lovely time in Ecuador, here's my trip report in case anyone finds it useful:

We are a couple, late 20s, from London UK.

Quito - day 1

Stayed in Hotel San Fransciso in Old Town, which was good value and well located.

Did our own walking tour of the old town and churches and La Ronda.

Did the hopper-bus for the afternoon (which was quite good, actually)

Amazon - Day 2-4

This was in the middle of the trip to Quito due to lack of availability at Napo Wildlife Lodge (excellent). They have a new second lodge, that is actually in the tribe's village - might be worth a look if Napo isn't free.

I would really recommend this if you like wildlife, we saw loads of things, and it is seriously well run.

Back in Quito - Day 5-7

Day 5: We arrived from the Amazon back into Quito airport at midday, so used this as an opportunity to visit Otavalo market, since we were already north of the town centre. A good use of time I think, as it's a good 2-3 hour drive. Otavalo was dead though (we were the only gringos there!) so we had a nice relaxing look around and bought lots of blankets and other woven things without it being too manic. Worth a trip just to look at it all.

Day 6: We did the museums (Banco Central, Casa Alabado and Mindalae). All good.

Day 7: Went up Cotapaxi in an organised trip. Very good. Had one of the best meals i had all trip in a little restaurant in Machachi (totally locals only, delicious soup).

Had the only seriously annoying bit of the trip here where I left a mediocre review for the Dios no Muere restaurant that the owner didn't like (I still don't know why he's in the top 10 in the whole of Quito, must be running solely off US expat business I think) and he replied and accused me of being drunk - not being able to handle the strong beer - and therefore not being able to understand the menu. How rude. Avoid.

Cuenca - Day 8-11

Stayed at the Mansion Alcazar. Excellent, but very pricey. Also had it's xmas decorations up, which I don't approve of, in November!

Day 8: Arrived in Cuenca about 2pm. Went for a shuffle around the cathedrals and a couple of the smaller museums etc. I wasn't that impressed actually as lots of things were shut that afternoon and Cuenca has a real problem with graffiti tagging everywhere. It's not that pretty when all the shops are shut.

Day 9: Museums (Banco Central excellent), markets, hat shopping

Day 10: Guided trip to Ingaperica - good

Day 11: Self guided trip to Caja National Park. Bleakly beautiful. Get up early. Check the bus times in advance with the tourist office (they are infrequent to get up there) or take a taxi ($20). Buses back every 40 mins. It got very wet and cloudy at 1pm - mornings are probably your best bet. Take lunch from a panadaria. In the afternoon we went to Vega's pottery (beautiful)

We didn't get chance to visit the little Banos next to Cuenca as my partner wasn't keen. We would have had the time though.

Puerto Lopez - Days 12-15

Stayed at the Hosteria Mandala, which is wonderful.

Day 12: Fly to Guayaquil, 3 hr taxi to Puerto Lopez (fly to Manta, it's nearer!). Sit on beach.

Day 13: Trip to Isla de Plata - nice to see birds and turtles, fairly good snorkelling

Day 14: Trip on horseback up to San Sebastian. Probably not worth it - very little wildlife compared to Amazon and the trails were steep and challenging. We had to dismount and walk for quite a lot of it as it was calf-deep in mud! I would have gone to the Agua Blanca community instead, I think

Day 15: Sit on beach, start of 36 hour trip home

Puerto Lopez is an odd place. We were out of the whale season, and it was quite quiet at the beginning of the week. Not much was open and it's a bit scruffy anyway so it didn't have a great feel. We also had really cloudy weather for every day but the last day we were there, which didn't help. I would go in whale season, but I would say a visit needs serious consideration out of season (apparently it is often cloudy, this time of year). There were hardly any tourists there, although it did seem to liven up a bit on the Friday (the day we left).

I would possibly have spent another day at Quito for Mindo for the hummingbird cloud forest (quite sad I missed this actually) or at Banos for the springs / outdoor activities.

Other things we discovered:

Travel books: We travelled using the Footprint Ecuador book. It was printed in 2009 and is now massively out of date. Don't use. (The series as a whole I have found excellent though, so worth a look when it is reprinted)

Trips out (e.g. to Cotapaxi, Otavalo etc). Get your hotel to organise them (preferably via email in advance). Yes you are tied to certain days but it is much, much easier and quicker than doing it on your own, and you will guarantee a trip on the day you want - not everything is available the day beforehand. Organising stuff on your own direct with the travel agency takes aaaaages (1 hr to print out all the documents, just sat in their offices :( )

Safety: Ecuador is absolutely fine. On practically every page our guide book said something about safety, to the point of it being a bit concerning. It is no different to travelling / living in any other city. Be sensible with your stuff, don't leave things unattended, zip valuables away and you'll be fine. We live in London so do public transport and busy markets etc on a regular basis - this is no different.

Weather: the Highlands can get quite hot during the day (25 C in the sun). When we were there the weather pattern seemed to be - sunny morning (21-25C), cloudy afternoon (14-17C) and then cold nights (7-10C). Take layers, the temperature changes fast. Also the coast and amazon weren't as hot as I was expecting - in the cloud about 23-25C, when sunny 27-32C. You need sunscreen even when it's sunny though (and a hat).

Taxi drivers: Most don't speak English. About 2/3 of the taxis we took were fine. We had a garbled discussion about fares (do make sure you do this before you start!!) and off we went. The other third deliberately pretended not to understand us, took us to the wrong places or 'got lost' and charged us extra - funnily enough they knew the English for '10 dollars' at the end of the trip. Several didn't know where even the most famous restaurants or hotels were - take directions. Taxis in Quito should be $5, in Cuenca $2. Haggle if necessary.

English generally: The hotels we stayed in all had at least one member of staff who spoke English. Most restaurants had English menus. I would recommend though getting at least some lessons and a decent grasp of numbers before you go.

Quito airport - we took 4 trips there / back to the airport. It took us 45mins - 1 hr each time into the historical centre, but this wasn't at rush hour. $30 each way, book in advance with your hotel on the way back (you can just pick up a taxi from the rank at the airport on the way into town).

On external flights out of Ecuador there are extra random narcotics checks - if they call you over the tannoy, they have picked your bag to be searched. You have to go down into the baggage loading area and take it apart with the police and dogs watching. It's all fine (assuming you're not carrying anything you're not meant to be, of course!). It does take a while to do (20-30 minutes) so be prompt answering that tannoy call.

Quito - unless you are a party animal, stay in the old town. Mariscal at night is very busy, rowdy and reminds me (not in a good way) of the Costa del Sol in Spain (Kings Cross bar, anyone?!) The Old Town is much more authentic and less touristy.

The trolley buses are a cheap and easy way to get around, and can be quicker than a car as they have their own lanes.

Internal flights: Quick, easy and cheap. TAME have a reputation for cancelling flights (according to our Napo guide!) and did so for our flight into the Amazon, but the lodge managed to sort it for us. Weight limit is 20kg, it is not strictly enforced at all - we managed to get 25kg on, no problem.

Dry Sunday - no one told me about this before I went! If you want booze on a Sunday, buy some in the supermarket on Saturday. Some hotel restaurants will serve beer, on the quiet, but many won't. We were in the Amazon for one Sunday (who cares - no one's going to check!) and managed to find a hotel restaurant in Cuenca serving beer the next Sunday.

ATMs / Cash points - seem to be a bit hit and miss with out credit cards. There are loads in the towns though - keep trying. Carry cash though, smaller towns only have 1 (or 0!) banks.

Internet - wifi prolific in all hotels (even in the Amazon!), some cafes, and available free in the larger airports. Also available free in Plaza Grade and Foch in Quito and the central square in Cuenca, if you need to check anything when you're out and about.

Tucson, Arizona
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1. Re: Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

Thanks, Kitty, for your detailed trip report. I will add it to the Top Questions about traveling in Ecuador.

A few comments:

You arrived on the coast during the garua "dry" season, a time of chilly and overcast weather. Not ideal beach weather, for sure. It runs roughly from about June to December.

Puerto López is a typical small fishing village. I do like that aspect of it, that it's quiet and people go about their business. It's more lively on the weekends especially during whale season and in the hotter rainy season.

Haha, 25C would have been most welcome when I lived in Quito. That's just barely Tshirt temperature to me, a thin-skinned desert rat, and is actually somewhat unusual.

The taxis should have their meters on when you get in and there should be no negotiating. Most trips will be $2 or less. At night they are legally allowed to turn off their meters (after 8, but some define "night" rather leniently; you can still request they turn it on if it's before 8 and many will comply). It's always a good idea to know your cross streets as well as the exact address for where you're heading; if you show them on a map be prepared to hand them some reading glasses as they all seem very near-sighted.

I'm glad you enjoyed Ecuador and found it safe. I don't know why there are so many dire warnings about it.

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2. Re: Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

Thanks azbuceadora,

We really struggled to find decent weather information - everything in our book was rather vague - so I thought I'd put our experiences on here. We were travelling from the UK in Nov (average day temp 8-13 C or thereabouts) so everything seems warm to us at the moment!

We didn't take a single taxi with a meter. Not one. Not even during the day. that's why we took a lot of trolley buses :)

We worked out the cross-street grid system pretty quickly - luckily my partner has lived / worked in NY previously, so this all made perfect sense to him straight away! We still had problems getting a taxi driver to find Zazu's in Quito though (just too used to London cabbies and 'the knowledge' I guess!)

London, United...
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3. Re: Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

Oh, I should also add: if you are coming from the US - take change! Collect up all your $5 notes, all your $1 notes and coins, and some smaller stuff, and take it with you. Ecuador has a serious change problem - you pay for something, even in a shop or cafe, that's $7 with a $10 note and they will be scrabbling around for the $3 change. I'm not kidding. Take it with you. Travellers of other nationalities, take note - don't squander your small change unnecessarily.

Toronto, Canada
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4. Re: Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

Thanks for the detailed report. I'm worried about the change situation - we will be taking USD, but of course my bank will provide it in $20 bills. I am not sure how we're going to collect a bunch of smaller US bills, but I know we need them.

pacific northwest
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5. Re: Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

We didn't have too much trouble with the change thing. Take some $1 and $5 bills with you, and only use them when necessary. Many places will be able to give change, and you just learn to squirrel it away so you have some on hand.

Fort Lauderdale...
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6. Re: Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

interesting how much we agree on. See my trip report (fortlauderdale15) posted today. What a wonderful place Ecuador is. I recommend to everyone. One of the best things is how easy it is to get around and how cheap it is.

Toronto, Canada
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7. Re: Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

Jodi489, we tend to squirrel away our small bills whenever we're travelling since it seems that getting change is an issue in several of the places we've visited. But since we live in Canada, I don't know how we're going to accumulate very many USD $1 and $5 bills before we go. Maybe we can try to arrange to get some from our bank.

Susan

Edited: 19 November 2013, 01:00
Ottawa, Canada
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8. Re: Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

Thanks for the great report. Lots of good practical details. Thanks.

Susan, I use an exchange bureau when I need US as is cheaper than my bank. In the past have needed newer print bills in specific cureencies. I call ahead with my list, giv ethem a few days and then pick up my request. For smaller amounts, I just arrived, and they still had plenty of small denominations.

9. Re: Trip report - Quito, Amazon, Cuenca, Puerto Lopez

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