When I first started to plan out a trip to Ecuador, I was conflicted. Everything the internet was telling me screamed that my priority should be The Galapagos. However, getting out to those enlightening islands is both time consuming and pricy. My boyfriend Steven and I chose a different approach and decided to explore Quito, the capital, and the small town of Banos.
Quito is a lively city with a good mixture of old and new. The historic city center (Old Town) is full of bright buildings and bustling streets full of food vendors and markets. Everyone always seems to be smiling there, the people are so happy and full of life! The historic center is perfect for relaxing with a cup of coffee and watching life go by. Seeing the way other people go about their daily life is so captivating to me. You can learn a lot about a place and its people by merely observing.
Steven and I stayed at El Hostilito, a hostel close to the trendy neighborhood called Bellavista. The hostel itself was very nice, with rooms about $15 a night. Their breakfast was superb and the location was nice and quiet. The Bellavista area is a whole different Quito, filled with high rise apartment buildings and nice cafes and restaurants on every corner. This area of Quito is quite a walk from the historic Old Town but I enjoyed the more relaxed vibe and always felt very safe. Plus, taxis in Ecuador are inexpensive, it only cost us about $3 to get to the historic center. We even walked on the way back which took just over an hour.
My favorite thing to do in Quito is the Funicular Tramway. This tram takes you up a mountain and from the top there are beautiful views of the whole city. To reach the Funicular you have to take a cab considering it would take more than 2 hours to walk up the winding roads to get there! When we reached the top of the Tramway it was clear and sunny but about 5 minutes later it started to rain! The weather in Ecuador is very unpredictable so always have a raincoat or umbrella handy! There is a small café and shop at the top and you can, if you so dare, hike up the rest of the mountain to reach the summit. Considering the fact that it was raining and I was wearing TOMS I opted out of the hike yet Steven and I met two lovely people coming down from the hike and they rode the tram to the bottom with us. They told us the hike was actually quite difficult so I wouldn’t recommend it to the faint of heart or the unexperienced hiker.
Banos is an entirely different vibe from Quito. It holds the charm that the historic center of Quito has, but in a small town way. You can walk the entire city area of Banos in less than an hour. Banos is known for being the “adventure” capital of Ecuador. There are places to bungee jump, white water raft and zipline. There is a famous waterfall in Banos called in English, “Devil’s Cauldron” which is still one of the coolest waterfalls I’ve ever seen. It’s no Iguazu Falls in Argentina, but it is a great up close and personal view of the Ecuadorian rainforests.
The hostel that Steven and I stayed in in Banos is one of my favorite hostels ever! It was called Princess Maria and it felt more like a hotel than a hostel. Our room had its own bathroom and the owner of the hostel, Victor, was the sweetest man. He explained everything to us in slow basic Spanish. I only speak a little Spanish so his patience was much appreciated. It was very inexpensive as well, our room was only $13 a night. There are many hostels around Banos but many have the reputation for housing loud groups of party goers. Princess Maria was one that didn’t tolerate any nonsense which was perfect for Steven and I as we were mainly there to relax and explore.
The “Devil’s Cauldron” waterfall is the main attraction in Banos and for good reason. This waterfall can easily be accessed from the center of Banos by a bus that costs only $1 return trip. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes and once inside the park you can walk up, down and around the famous waterfall. Bring a rain jacket and pack away valuables because you will get soaked! Getting that close to a booming waterfall is quite the experience and it is not one you want to miss. There are walking bridges and paths that lead you all through the forest and around the waterfall and river, be prepared to spend a whole afternoon there.
Banos is also home home to natural springs and there are a few scattered around town. There is one called Termas de la Virgen at the end of town that has a waterfall running behind it which is most popular with the locals. Steven and I checked it out and found it to be both sanitary and relaxing.
There is also what has been known as “The Swing at the End of the World.” I originally found this on Pinterest of all places and decided it had to be something on my list of things to do. The actual name of this place is La Casa del Arbol and it is nothing more then a swing on the top of the tallest mountains in Banos. However, this swing is placed on the edge of the mountain and when you swing on it you feel as if you are flying right off into the beautiful scenery. It sounds scary but I promise, it is a must do when coming to Banos. There is only a $1 entrance fee and once inside you can swing and swing as much or as little as you want. The photographs taken from this spot are breathtaking.
Ecuador is a country that pleasantly surprised me. It has everything you could want, good food, nice people, beautiful scenery and a lot of fun things to do. The price was a positive as well, this country is perfect for budget backpackers and people looking to escape the dread of currency exchanges. Ecuador uses the American USD which was helpful and easy to navigate!
This post could go on forever about the magical nature of this country so if you have any questions, let me know on my contact page.