Ways to Travel to and in Ecuador from Los Angeles “Easily”

November 29, 2011 at 8:19 pm Leave a comment

You want to visit Ecuador. Yes do that, for the most part you will be warmly welcomed! There is much to see and experience – historical sites, eco destinations, extraordinary vistas of the Andes and volcanoes, delicious fruits and vegetables, and most of all the gentle people of every origin – black, indigenous, European, mestizo.  But do prepare to experience a lower standard of living if you have not yet traveled in this part of South America. Earnest Ecuadoreans are doing their best to improve quality, and, prices are considerably less than in the U.S. so it offers terrific budget traveler value.

If it’s your first trip to Ecuador I suggest you start in the north by flying into Quito, travel around the north, and then head south to fly out of Guayaquil (closest to the Galapagos Islands), or vice-versa.

To reach Quito, the capital, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site, taking the plane is a fine option. American Airlines works if you are collecting or using mileage ; there’s a day trip via Miami. I did that once but found the Miami Airport challenging because of its long distances between terminals and international and domestic flights; I almost lost my flight. As I am writing this I have just read that American Airlines has filed for bankruptcy. Ouch!!! There goes that option. Continental, Delta, and Mexicana also fly to Ecuador.

30-minute layover on tarmac in Costa Rica

My preferred route seems more direct if traveling from the West Coast. I like the overnight TACA/LASCA flight from LAX via Guatemala and Costa Rica, (you stay on the same plane so it is relatively painless); or LAN through Lima where you have to change planes. The LAN choice is less inviting if you have to overnight in noisy Lima. Wouldn’t you rather be stranded in lush Costa Rica?  Also, TACA prices are a little bit less than LAN prices as of this post.

Other than flying, which offers speed, great panoramas, and generally fewer challenges, you could bike down (as many adventurous Canadians and Americans do), drive down on the Pan-American Highway, take mostly country buses, or, go by ship – days to manifest. Wish there were a rail system through Central and South America the way there is in Europe.

Once you arrive in Quito (a small airport by North American and European standards) and pass through customs, you will see three booths on the right side as soon as you exit that offer taxi transportation. The price will be between $12 and $20 with a certified taxi (bargain if you can), often a van, direct to your destination in Quito. You can take taxis on the edge of the airport for $3-$5, but it is not recommended unless they are yellow and have orange plates.

In case you hadn’t heard, Ecuador, like some of its neighboring countries, is notorious for petty theft, so you must be vigilant at all times. Best to keep your passport, credit cards, and cash in bra stashes and interior holsters with small amounts in your pockets. Please watch your bags and your camera. Best not to wear expensive jewelry either.

The currency in Ecuador is the U.S. dollar.  Taxis in most cities are $1 to $2 for a trip, $3-$5 for longer city trips, depending on the time and distance. I like to agree ahead of time on the amount, less stress. Local buses are 25 cents. If the ride is about ½ hour or more, expect to pay 50 cents.

Long distance buses are generally a step above local buses in comfort and cleanliness but they cannot compare to a Mercedes Benz first class bus in Mexico, for example, or to buses in western Europe. Tourist buses are the exception in Ecuador, you can expect a modicum of quality with them.

One of the buses that goes from Quito to Otavalo

Flota Imbabura runs an overnight bus which starts in Ibarra, with stops in Otavalo and Quito, and then goes all the way to Cuenca for $14. It also travels from south to north. The time between Otavalo and Cuenca is 12 hours. If you are traveling alone, buy two seats and put your luggage next to you, not underneath the bus. And do not put anything underneath your bus seat. On occasion, travelers have lost belongings and funds. These buses have one driver and a ticket taker/luggage valet; there are bathroom facilities on board (not recommended). These direct buses are not supposed to pick up passengers along the road, but they do. Pack your own snacks and water.  There are other long distance bus companies to choose from as well but this is the only one I have experience with.

The best option for ground transportation, if you can afford it, is to hire a driver. There are several reputable tour companies that can arrange this service for you.

Suggested itinerary:
Arrive Quito.
Take a certified taxi to the north bus station, the Carcelen.
Travel directly to Otavalo which is about 2 hours north.
Take a taxi from the bus station to your hotel. ($1).
Spend two nights in Otavalo with side trips to Cotacachi, Ibarra, and the fabulous mountain and volcano sites around Otavalo.  Otavalo is famous for its indigenous marketplace full of handmade leather and wool goods, and, folkloric art.
Take the bus to Quito and spend two or three days that include a quick trip to the Middle of the World, the equator, if it is of interest.
From Quito drive or fly to Cuenca. It’s a long trip by car but worth it during the day with a private driver; you’ll see a part of Ecuador with vistas that may remind you of Switzerland except for the occasional cactus.
Spend two-three-four days in charming Cuenca, another UNESCO Heritage Site with many architectural wonders (you’ll see why so many North Americans have moved here); try to include a side trip to Banos to the thermal baths, to see waterfalls, and other wonders of nature. From Cuenca make your way to Loya and Vilcabamba to what is termed the Land of Eternal Spring with the best weather in all of Ecuador.
Then make your way to Guayaquil for a quick visit (it’s a port and commercial center known for its night life – not my favorite place but I do like that there are iguanas in the city parks), and then on to the Galapagos for more incredible experiences with nature and finally, relaxation.  Additional note about Guayaquil:  the U.S. State Department has put out warnings to not hail taxis in Guayaquil as there have been taxi kidnapings recently.  For all you beach lovers, the cities of choice for most travelers are Manta and Salinas.

Most of all, have fun! Ecuadorians are, generally speaking, kind-hearted and they wish you well.

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