Unfortunately, I didn’t have time for Guayaquil or Manta but was lucky to have a great stay in Quito. Keep in mind, Quito is one of the highest in elevation cities in the world, I’d recommend pacing yourself. Because of the charm, I stayed in the historic district, lots of beautiful old world buildings and tons of churches (i.e. the Basilica de Voto Nacional). Most of the affordable hotels will be dated, slightly dusty and sometimes cold. I stayed in a converted convent, which was extremely creepy (historically most women were forced to stay in convents), but not sleeping with both eyes open makes for a great story after the fact. The currency used in Ecuador is U.S. Dollars, mostly cash is accepted. For places where credit cards are accepted, expect a lot of additional fees. Getting around, there are taxis and public buses. I tried to Uber, but with lots of traffic and not speaking Spanish, I couldn’t communicate with the drivers for alternate pick-up points. I was warned about safety and pick-pocketers, I didn’t wear jewelry and hid my purse under my coat, but really had no issues.
What to do
The best food and musical entertainment were on La Ronda street. Nearby the historic district is a 5-minute taxi ride to TeleferiQo, after a cable car up the mountain you will find great views of the city. El Paneciello is a hilltop with the Virgin of Quito statue. About an hour away from Quito is the famous equator line at the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo ($5 entry). A few minutes away from the Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo, is the original marking from the indigenous people, which is said to be the more accurate marking of the two. Also close is Pululuhua Volanco (free entrance), where locals live quite close to the active volcano. For day trips, about 3-4 hours each way, I’d recommend hiking to the Quilotoa crater lake. For extreme sports like waterfall rappeling and canyoning, go to Mindo or Banos. If you want to see the rainforest, Mashpi is a great place to experience the cloud forest. To get to most of these locations on day trips you can ride on the $1/hour bus.
I always thought the Galapagos was not feasible financially unless I sacrificed my comfort. Luckily, I started to look at prices doing it independently rather than as a cruise or tour package. There are no direct flights to the islands, you have to fly into mainland Ecuador first. Airfare from the east coast to Guayaquil and Quito started at $200 round trip upwards. Airfare from mainland Ecuador to the islands are about $400 round trip and fly into Baltra or San Cristobal island, both are very modern and are the world’s first eco-airports. There are also, inter-island flights to Isabella available.
For my itinerary, I flew from Quito into Baltra ($20 transit fee). The island of Baltra is uninhabited by humans ($100 national park entrance fee). You have to then take a bus ($5) from the airport to the ferry ($1) which takes you across the canal to Santa Cruz island, then a 45-minute taxi ride ($25) to my hotel near Puerto Ayora. I recommend staying close to the marina in any of the islands, for easy access, as most day tours start early in the morning.
What to do
Staying in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, there is a supermarket and lots of shops, also several ATM machines. There is an abundance of restaurants, my favorite was the street food restaurants, where I got fresh caught whole fish and sides for $10-20. It is located between Charles Binford and General Rodriguez Lara streets. A lot of the attractions are walk-able and can be self-led like the Charles Darwin Research Station, Tortuga Bay, Camino a Las Grietas (No entrance fee, long walk on rocks, bring your own snorkel gear and life jackets).
You can book your tours online prior to your trip, to avoid tours selling out, if you have a tight schedule. Or you can negotiate rates when you arrive at the many local tour offices. I recommend if possible seeking tours that use catamarans as the sea can be a bit rough at times and most boats have people packed like sardines. Make sure the company discloses are pertinent fees as some islands require additional park fees. Ensure you get the name of the boat and tour company, as mornings at the pier are a bit hectic to locate your group. The operator’s request you to be at the pier quite early, because everything is regulated by the national park officers, sometimes they direct the tours to depart earlier. To get to your boat, you will have to pay a $1-2 water taxi fare, each way. I was only in the Galapagos for three nights, the first day I explored Santa Cruz, the second I did a day tour of Isabella Island and the third day a day tour of San Cristobal. I’d recommend looking up based on your dates, what’s optimal, as wildlife cannot be predicted, but certain times of the year there are higher percentages, due to factors like mating season and weather (i.e. Hammerheads and whale sharks are more visible when the water is colder, also rougher. This is June-November, the weather is drier and cooler).
What to pack
For Quito, definitely pack hiking shoes and layers as the temperature drops at night. Most public restrooms charge for toilet paper, if you don’t bring your own, make sure you have lots of change. Altitude sickeness inahlers or pills.
In the Galapagos, I’d recommend water shoes, again toilet paper and your own snorkel gear (if you don’t trust the saltwater theory for shared mouth gear). Dramamine for seasickness, a phone protector and a back-up charger, as well as a dive bag.
Panama hats originated from Ecuador, I’d wait to buy one there!
(All fees are quoted based on rates as of February 2019 and are subject to fluctuate)