Ecuador Vacation Day 1: Arrive in Quito
Quito, is the cultural, historic and political center of Ecuador. No Ecuador vacation could be complete without touring the old center’s squares and picturesque streets.
For your stay in Quito, pick a hotel in the center (there are a wide variety of options for every budget, from the posh La Rosario to several centrally located hostels such as the Hostel Quito Cultural).
After checking in, walk towards the main square. Here, just off the main square is the beautifully situated Vista Hermosa restaurant.
If the weather is nice sit out on the rooftop for some of the best views in the city. Even if its raining a little take a walk up the five flights of stairs for a view you can not forget.
After dinner, make your way back to your hotel past the picture-perfect streets and wander around a bit if you’d like. As you are located in the center you are a in a safe and tourist friendly area.
Ecuador Vacation: Day 2 Quito and Banos
There is much to see around Quito cultural center. You can spend an entire day wandering its small, colorful streets, or you can take a little time and visit some out of the way attractions.
With kids, I always find it easiest to stay in close proximity of my hotel, and so we decided to stay around the center. The famous plaza ___ is currently under construction but the beautiful church in its center is open in all its splendid glory.
Photography is allowed here but of course its always important to be non intrusive of worshippers.
As a side note, I always find it easier to wake up early with kids. Take advantage of those sunrise hours for beautiful photography on almost deserted streets.
During your Ecuador vacation, you will notice that in Quito streets will fill up quickly and those few golden hours (6 am to 8 am) are truly golden for taking pictures.
If you are not going to get sleep anyway, might as well have beautiful pictures to show for it.
We made our way to Independence Square, a gorgeous tree-lined square that hosts the presidential palace. Here, starting at 9 am from Tuesday to Sunday you can get a free tour of the presidential residence.
No appointment is necessary – just show up. But you must have a piece of ID with you and a passport is better than a drivers license.
I suggest trying to get on the 9 am tour. There were only a few people waiting which means we got to tour the palace completely uncrowded and the only other people in the palace were actual members of the president’s staff.
Besides touring the museum you also have an opportunity to visit conference and ceremony rooms, and the famous balcony where the Ecuadorian presidents make all their speeches, for a stunning view you have to see to believe.
Afterwards, we stopped by one of the many shops in independence square and enjoyed some local desert – fruit with whipped cream. (about $1 a portion). It makes for a great mid-morning snack and gave me a chance to get some strong local coffee.
Later, we made our way down to Mueseo Cividad. This former hospital has two entrances. One is on a side street, but the second entrance is out on a huge plaza with stunning views of the city.
We made our way down to the secondary entrance and took pictures both outside the museum and on its grounds – which are free to access.
This is another great place to use the facilities and give your kids a chance to rest up, giving your kids a chance to take breaks makes for a successful Ecuador vacation trip.
Next, we made our way to a small local restaurant for a local lunch of chicken, hot dogs and chicken soup (Ecuador chicken soup is outstanding and a must try).
Finally, we made our way back to our hotel where we had prearranged for a car to pick us up for a trip to Banos. A note about getting to Banos. There are several ways to get there, and most people opt for the less expensive bus option.
This is a very legitimate option if you are on a tight budget but there are a few things to be aware of. The area where the bus stop is located can be a bit sketchy, so taking a car here is preferable to any form of public transportation. Keep a close eye on your belongings.
And there is a scam running at the bus stop where a man who pretends to work for a bus company places you on a different bus than the one you have to get on, and charges you more for the experience. You might even get separated with your bag.
If I was traveling alone I am confident I could handle all these challenges, but since I am with kids and the cost of multiple bus tickets would have added up anyway, I opted to take a car.
A car ride from Quito to Banos is about $80, and of course, you have the convenience of leaving whenever you want. Additionally, you can ask the driver to stop at the center of the world, a fun if a bit touristy attraction located at longitude 0.
This is a great place for some fun pictures and the detour will cost you an additional $20. To arrange a driver, if you don’t speak Spanish your hotel is probably your best bet. Be sure to pre-arrange all your detours and negotiate the fare prior to your leaving the hotel.
Ecuador Vacation Day 3: Banos
Banos, Ecuador is a small city that has become one of Ecuadorian vacation’s outdoor meccas. This mountain town is known for beautiful environment, extreme sports and has recently become a center for cute restaurants, coffee shops and hotels.
As such, Banos is a great stop for a family trip. On our first day we decided to opt for a hike in the morning. There are many hiking trails and many of them start in central town. Your hotel owner should be able to give you a map with the trails – and the hours it takes to reach each summit.
We picked the Pointe Francisco trail and although we did not make it up to the Volcano the views we got were still breathtaking and worth the trip. Afterwards, we made our way back down and went into town for some lunch.
There are plenty of great places to eat in Banos, take a look at trip advisor (which is super helpful on Ecuador vacation for some suggestions.) We stopped by the highly rated Casa Hood and had chef’s salad to die for.
Afterwards, we made it back to our hotel for a bit of relaxation before the Banos, world famous hot springs after which the town is named.
Unfortunately, we were unaware (as were our hotel owners) that the newly renovated Las Piscinas de La Virgen is actually closed from 3 to 6 pm every day. We got there right at 4 pm which meant we were locked out.
There are beautiful waterfalls here to take pictures and we walked into town afterward to get dinner so the trip into town wasn’t a waste.
But if you do want to hit the Banos be aware of the closure times and have your hotel call ahead to make sure they are open.
Ecuador Vacation Day 4: Banos
Banos is a city set up for tourism and you will notice much has been done to accommodate the traveller. All around town you will note converted trucks that now accommodate tourists.
These travel all through the city and will take you to many of the out of town attractions – from the waterfalls to the volcano to zip lining adventure to the famous Banos swing. For a family, the best bet is to purchase a ticket for the double decker bus. These buses will take you to an entire half a day tour of local attractions.
For the price of 5 to 7 per person you can spend about 4 hours moving from attraction to attraction, and being on the rooftop of an open double decker bus is an adventure in itself (especially in the tunnels).
For our second day in Banos we opted for a double-decker bus which took us to the waterfalls tour. We covered seven waterfalls around Banos. From the smallest to the king of them all – Rio Verde, this was a day the boys and I enjoyed immensely.
Afterwards, we opted for lunch in one of the small places found around town. After lunch, we stopped by one of my café/chocolate shops in Banos.
If your kids haven’t tried the local hot chocolate yet, this is a great time to do so. Be sure to try the local dark chocolate to go with your coffee – for an absolutely delicious ending to your day.
Ecuador Vacation Day 4: Banos to Tena
If Banos is the tourist capital of Equador, Tena is its much smaller, Amazon sister. This tiny town is situated on the outskirts of the Amazon and Tena is the pathway to Amazon centered activity, such as treks, white water rafting, jungle walks and opportunities to meet Amazon Indians who still reside in the forest.
Tena itself hosts some hotels and hostels, but the nicer hotels can be found just outside of Tena. One advantage of staying outside is the much cleaner air and your location in the actual jungle as opposed to an urban center. We stayed in the Cotococha Amazon Lodge, which is located a 20-minute drive outside of Tena.
The lodge is a relatively posh “glamping” facility that features private cabanas that have no electricity but do have hot running water, an on-premise restaurant, bar and pool.
This is a perfect type of facility to stay with kids during an Ecuador Vacation, as it provides both the novelty of staying in the Amazon, surrounded by nature, and the convenience that you often need when traveling with a family.
If you want to stay at the Cotococha be advised that most things here cost an extra charge, for instance wifi costs an additional fee (and can only be used on one device), an on-premise restaurant charges pricy for the area $22 per person for lunch or dinner, and to go into town it’ll cost you $10 each way.
Additionally, the tours in Tena are much more expensive than their Banos cousins, with an average tour running $35 to $45 per half a day per person and double that for a full day.
Still, if you are looking for an authentic Amazon experience and a slightly off the beaten path stay, Tena (or rather its outskirts) are a great choice.
A word on tours. Whenever I visit a new town I check tour prices in several places. First of course is trip advisor, this gives me a basic idea of how much most expensive tours run and what types of tours the area has to offer.
Second is inside my hotel. These are usually a bit pricy, but offer the convenience of being picked up right where I am staying. Next, the prices for tours in tourist shops in the area.
Most tourist areas have shops dedicated to selling tours and those can often be fairly cheap (and sometimes you might be able to bargain down a bit). Lastly, stop by a local hostel and ask them what tours they offer.
Sometimes hostels organize their own tours, and they are often the cheapest you will find because they are organized for a larger group. In Tena, I found that there is virtually no difference between the prices of tours offered in all these different facilities, which means the area is fairly under developed.
Anywhere I asked the price was $35 to $45 per person for a half a day tour and double for a full day. As the area becomes more developed the prices will go down overtime.
For myself, as we were staying outside of Tena, it made the most sense to book through our hotel. If you are looking for a genuine amazon experience (and are travelling without kids) you can check out multi day trekking tours in Tena.
Just be careful – you want to make sure you are up to date on your shots before heading into the most biologically diverse area of the world.
Sleeping in the hut, no windows, only mosquito netting to separate us and the critters was probably one of my favorite experiences. The sound of the jungle, as intense as any white noise machine turned up to maximum, rocked us to sleep with its loud lullaby.
Ecuador Vacation Day 5: Tena
Tena, which is located on the outskirts of the jungle is the perfect base for many amazon related activities. Of these, I knew I wanted to do at least one – visiting the local native American community. Our hotel made arrangements for the tour in the Tiyuyako community.
To get here, we took a boat for a short ride to the community outpost. We were accompanied by two employees of the hotel, one of them a Tiyuyako, and he commutes every morning and night by boat to get to work.
Seventy-five families live here, all are interrelated, and trace their origins back to the native Amazonian tribes that have fought to maintain the lifestyle of their forefathers since the discovery by the Spanish. Although they all speak the Tiyuyaku language, they are also fluent in Spanish and their children attend the large public schools in Tena.
They live in raised huts and rarely venture out unless its for school or to trade. Our guide said he’d never been in a hospital or seen a western doctor, and he found them scary. I couldn’t blame him – so do I.
Its interesting to note that much of modern medicine originated in the Amazon. Discovered by western medicine after it has been used for thousands of years by the locals, the medicinal properties of local plants are legendary.
This kind of experience is, I believe, an essential part of family travel. Its critically important to give your children a connection to those who live in different ways (either by birth or by choice), in order for them to feel connected to the diversity of our world and everyone who lives on it.
This was a wonderful experience and one I would very highly recommend. We finished off our day with a few hours spent at the pool, for a decidedly western end to the day.
Ecuador Vacation Day 6: Tena
Ecuador is a developing country. As such it has been making a much bigger push, in recent years to preserve its nature and clean up pollution.
This means that the treatment of animals (both wild and domestic) has improved significantly over the past 20 years. However, there are still zoos and other places where animals are treated poorly – some are held as pets and others as tourist attractions in hotels.
One place created to combat this problem is the popular Amazoonico refugee. Here, hundreds of wild animals are cared for by volunteers and staff, and this donation based organization is thriving.
The refugee rehabilitates animals with the goal of releasing them into the wild, but the animals that can not be released become permanent residents here.
Here we got to see hundreds of birds, a leopard, a cheetah and puma, a crocodile (rescued from a hotel pool where it served as a tourist attraction), and much more.
The Amazoonico is closely located to Tena and for my children this was one of the highlights of our Ecuador Vacation. You can get here in one of two ways. The first is by taking a boat from your river based hotel (its about an hour to the refugee by boat from where we were staying).
The second, is by car and boat. The car ride for us was about 25 minutes, and a short boat ride about 10 minutes. We opted not to do this as part of a hotel tour as simply hiring a taxi was a much cheaper option.
When visiting here it is helpful to wear rainboots (you can borrow them from hotels) or at least footwear you don’t mind getting dirty. Also, be sure to bring a rain jacket with you, as this is a rainforest so conditions are unpredictable.
You can walk along the exhibit path accompanied by one of the local volunteers, and for about $4 a person this a great bargain and a stop worth making during you Ecuador vacation.
If you wish to extend your day, nearby river rafting is a great option. You will receive a solo rubber raft for a lazy river experience that is a bit more exciting than anything you will find in a hotel. Alternatively head back to your hotel after stopping in the nearby town for lunch.
Ecuador Vacation Day 7: Tena to Quito
Today was our last day of travel and as such we were vvidly reminded why an Ecuador vacation is still a bit of an unexpected adventure. The road from Tena to Quito passes over some of the highest mountains in the country, which means occasional snowfall is very likely especially during summer – rainy months.
On our way back we were almost rerouted back through Banos due to one such snowfall (the roads become impassable in snow) but we got lucky – snow trucks got to the road much faster than normal and saved us about 6 additional hours of travel.
However, this lesson is an important one – when traveling large distances do not count on getting to places relatively on time as you would in the states. Leave very early if you, like us are going straight to the airport on your last day.
Another important question I had to face when planning – does it make sense to rent a car. I opted to take taxis instead and I did not regret that decision. Due to unusually high insurance rates, car rentals here are very expensive.
Additionally, traveling at night is not always safe alone and if you do not know the roads you may get into big trouble if unexpected happens. Finally, I found that car gps does not always work in Ecuador. I would recommend taking the taxi route unless your speak fluent Spanish and are very familiar with this part of the world.
As I am writing this I am sitting in the front seat of a truck passing over winding roads. Green canyons spread out before us, alternating with mountains and waterfalls.
Ecuador is a beautiful land and I feel incredibly privileged I got to experience a small part o fit – and share it with my children. I hope you too will have an adventure of your own, in Ecuador. If you like my blog please share it & subscribe traveltipster for more interesting articles.