The first thing I realized about Quito was how spread out it was. Everything was an hour walk away. The city is massive, stretching itself thin between the Andes Mountains.
The city was worth it though. The beautiful Basilica del Voto Nacional competes with many of Europe’s most beautiful churches, with incredible views from the top.
We spent most of our days outside the city, though. Cotopaxi National Park is only a short drive away from the capital. A beautiful volcano in the center of a national park offers a day’s worth of adventure and a wonderful Ecuadorian lunch at the restaurant on site.
Quilatoa is another phenomenal day trip from Quito, and my personal favorite. A sapphire blue lake in the middle of the Andes is an incredible (and challenging, as I learned the hard way) hike, in which you can hike down to the water or up the surrounding mountains. Quilatoa was easily my favorite day from mainland Ecuador.
Baños de la Agua Santa
Baños is wildly different from Quito. While Quito resides up in the mountains and the air is thin and dry, Baños is lower, in the rainforest. The town is a backpacker paradise, hidden away from most tourists, three hours away from Quito. We stayed for a couple days and visited La Casa del Arbol, famous for a swing that goes over a mountain side, and Pailon del Diablo, a waterfall with the face of a devil within the rocks. Baños is a must see city with any trip to Ecuador.
The first thing to note when going from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos: the price. The islands are much higher in price than Quito or Baños, where I could’ve backpacked on $30-40 per day. Some of the tours I went on were hundreds per person for only one day. Once you consider this, you can be sure to know that The Galapagos are worth the cost. I saw some of the most incredible wildlife and look back on the trip as a memorable visit. However, I do wish I had saved up a bit more for it.
Some of my best recommendations if you want to see wildlife but also stay in budget: there is a famous tortoise sanctuary inland that hosts a tortoise breeding ground and tortoises that are up to 200 years old. Also the lava tunnels right by the tortoise sanctuary are an less frequented site. However, as I wasn’t about to miss out on wildlife, we did take some great tours to find penguins, sharks, seals, iguanas, blue crab, and bountiful birds. I highly suggest taking at least one of these tours to find the wildlife that makes the Galapagos famous. Also, to keep your budget somewhat within a backpacker budget, stay outside the downtown tourist trap, and also you can find good food outside of the strip as well for much cheaper. And be sure to take a day on one of the beautiful beaches!
I booked my flight to Ecuador because it was the cheapest flight I could find to South America. However, what I found out was that it could be either one of the cheapest or most expensive trips you could ever take. If I had tried, I could’ve budgeted the whole trip to probably $30-40/day, however I spent much, much more than that. But in return, I was able to see the wildlife in the Galapagos, see the tropical rainforest town of Baños, and the natural wonder of Quilatoa.