Flying to Galapagos Islands
There are no international flight to Galapagos Islands, but you have to fly from Quito or Guayaquil. From Quito to Galapagos it takes almost 2.5 hours, and that includes a stop in Guayaquil (when I travelled this route we changed planes in Guayaquil). From Guayaquil it takes 1.5 hours.
From mainland Ecuador you can fly to Baltra Island (just off the north coast of Isla Santa Cruz) or to Isla San Cristóbal. There is also an airport on Isla Isabela, but it is only operated by small planes coming from Baltra or San Cristóbal (so far at least). There are several daily flights, all arriving to Galapagos in the morning. They then return with passengers to the mainland, and the last plane is leaving around 13.00.
A return ticket in high season cost over $400 dollars for foreigners and less than $400 in low season (2011). For Ecuadorian citizens it is cheaper and for residents of Galapagos Islands it is even cheaper. My airplane ticket was included in the price of the cruise.
The three airlines flying to Galapagos are TAME, LAN and AeroGal.
When you arrive to Galapagos Islands you have to pay the National Park fee which is $100 (June 2011). There is also an INGALA transit control fee of $10 to be paid already at the airport in Quito or Guayaquil. This INGALA-fee was included in the price of my cruise.
At the airport on Isla Baltra there is a restaurant/café and there are a few souvenir stands. If you want to have a Galapagos stamp in your passport you can get it at a counter at the airport.
Galapagos is an hour ahead of mainland Ecuador, so don’t forget to change the time on your watch.
Before going to Galapagos Islands in 2013 I had seen the cheapest flights on TAME and Aerogal, but they did not accept payment over Internet with foreign bankcards (I have heard that at least TAME does now). LAN had return tickets for $400 (June/July) on their website but I didn’t know if it was a ticket I could change or not. In the end I decided to go on another cruise and when I booked it I let the travel agent book a flight for me as well. I got a ticket with TAME for $525. The ticket could be changed at the airport on Baltra, at the airport on San Cristobal and at TAMEs office in Puerto Ayora without any extra cost. There was no problem to change the ticket the day before departure.
Flying to Quito
We had originally booked our flights to Quito through Opodo, flying out via Miami with Delta and returning via the same hub with American. Miami isn’t exactly my favourite airport, and I’m no fan of American Airlines either, but this was the best value I could get on the dates we wanted to travel. But about six weeks before the trip Opodo contacted me to say that both airlines had changed their schedules and the connections in Miami would no longer work. They proposed instead that we flew both ways with Delta, and via Atlanta. The outward option looked good to us, with a reasonable connection time and arriving in Quito only five minutes later than we had planned. But the return flight looked tough – a late night departure, overnight to Atlanta, the best part of the day there and another overnight flight to Heathrow. Luckily the person I spoke to at Opodo was very helpful and offered to look for alternatives. And she came up with a great one, proposing to book us on a flight with KLM (one of my favourite airlines) to Amsterdam and a short hop to Heathrow from there. What is more, they didn’t charge us any extra for what I am sure would have been a dearer flight had we booked it from the start!
In the end we had a mixed outward journey and a very smooth return. Going out, we left Heathrow on time and arrived in Atlanta 30 minutes ahead of schedule after a reasonable flight – OK food, good in-flight entertainment, nothing to complain about! Atlanta Airport impressed us – clean, bright, not too busy, and possibly our fastest ever experience at US immigration!
We got a coffee and settled down to wait through the three hour lay-over. But three hours became four, and eventually five, as our flight to Quito was delayed by the late arrival in Atlanta of 50 connecting passengers coming from Tokyo. We therefore arrived in Quito almost two hours late, around midnight local time (5.00 AM London time!), and it took a further 1.5 hours to get through immigration and customs there (mostly spent queuing for the former – we had thought that arriving so late would mean shorter queues but another flight had got in just before ours and staff seemed unable to cope with two late flights).
Eventually we were through and out into the Quito night where Jose Luiz, who was to be our guide on our trips to Otovalo and Cotopaxi later in the week, was there to meet us, and to whisk us to our hotel through the mercifully deserted street. We finally arrived there just after 2.00 AM local time, 7.00 AM London time – 24 hours after we had got up that morning!
Our return flight with KLM went much more smoothly, and the standard of service on board was as good as I’d remembered from a previous long-haul flight with them some years ago. Travelling directly from Quito to Europe was great, as it meant a long overnight leg with a chance to catch some sleep, and a short hop back to Heathrow on a plane so small that baggage reclaim was mercifully quick, and we were home from the airport in record time!
Next, some local Ecuadorean customs, starting with some typical dishes and food.
distances are relatively short so easy baby easy
Ecuador is a relatively small country, the size of the UK or the state of Nevada so distances are not great compared to some of its South American neighbors. Add to that a great road system and it makes for pretty easy traveling. Buses are not as cheap per mile/kilometer as say Bolivia but with distances being much shorter it’s still a bargain getting around by bus. It’s also easy to get a ticket right on the bus and the ticket collectors don’t seem to tack on extra money. We took local buses from Quito to Machachi and then onto Latacunga with a stop near El Chaupi. We then did the Quilotoa Loop via the bus and to Baños. We had our first glitch from there to the Chimborazo turnoff when we had to wait on the side of the road for some time before getting picked up by a bus that wanted a short ride passenger. As luck would have it we got a ride with someone transporting a new car to Cuenca the next day!
If you don’t have time to do everything via land, flights are again not overly expensive due to their short duration. If you figured out how much they were per mile/kilometer they probably are but when you want to save a day, shelling out $50 seems worth it say from Cuenca back up to Quito. It’s also more or less the only way to get to the Galapagos Island and you’ll pay dearly for the privilege at around $400 R/T. That's almost as much as we paid to fly to Quito from Miami ($425 R/T in 3.5 hours).
Ferries are a great option once on the Islands. For details check out my individual pages.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
A tour or independent?
It was my original intention to put the trip together myself, booking our Galápagos cruise on our chosen boat, the Angelito, through their Quito-based agents, Cometa Travel, and arranging time in Quito either side of it, from where we would have done tours to various parts of Ecuador in the north. But out of curiosity I also contacted a UK company, Real Ecuador, to find out what they would charge if they were to put together a package for us – not a group tour, but to book the accommodation, internal flights etc. Their quote was of course dearer but not as much so as I had expected, and it included a couple of overnight tours from Quito, as well as a flight to and few nights in Cuenca in the south, which I really wanted to see. So we decided it was worth the extra to book with them. And I was very satisfied with everything, especially their flexibility. The original quote had included things like a guided tour of colonial Quito, which we didn’t want as we preferred to explore on our own, and a hotel in the city’s Mariscal district, whereas we wanted to stay in the old colonial area, and there were no problems changing things around to suit us. In the end I reckon the costs worked out only a fraction higher this way than if we had done exactly the same things but made the arrangements ourselves!
The only major thing I did arrange separately was our flights from London to Quito and back. We also chose to do our own sightseeing in Quito, as I said, and were able to spend two of our days there with the parents of a London friend who introduced us to some of the well known, and less visited, sights of their city. Meanwhile the arrangements made on our behalf by Real Ecuador for the other elements of our stay worked out very well and we were very happy with the decision we had made.
Next tip: Flying to Quito
The bus is the best (if not the only one) way to go from one city to another. There are some flights connecting the major cities but they are quite expensive.
The network is good and allows to visit most of the country.
A bit dangerous... (see the warning and danger).
A train line was built to go from the Andes to Guayaquil. Unfortunately the line is now working for a few miles and mainly for tourists.
It's a great experience, however, and a good way to see the Andes.
For more details and pics, you can see my Riobamba's page.
Autoferras.....cheap, but not undervalued. : )
In order to compensate for (a) a lack of serviceable railroad locomotives and (b) a shortage of well-maintained roads, Ecuadorans have put a bus onto the train tracks. It's called an autoferra, and it consists of a bus converted to run on the country's train tracks.
They service many small towns and villages in rural Ecuador. They're very, very cheap, but don't even ask about "first class" seats. :) Your seatmate could be holding a chicken or goat.
The autoferras, while cheap, are pretty undependable, with regard to punctuality and service. In fact, the only saving grace is that they're cheap. But, if you're traveling on a shoestring, they might be "just the ticket".Related to:
- Budget Travel
Laguna of Quilotoa : To go there from Latacunga
No need to pay a tour if you only want to see the Laguna (the tours include the visit of other small villages and picture-stops).
Take a bus to Zumbahua (2,5 USD : be careful, some may make you pay 5 USD).
Once in Zumbahua, bargain with people to get a camioneta that will wait for you over there until you come back from your climbing down... We paid only 10 USD for 2 persons (the whole trip in camioneta) : but I am sure it can be negociated at a lower price...
Le Chemin pour y aller...
Il n'est pas utile de payer une excursion pour simplement voir la Lagune (ca le devient si vous voulez faire des poses-photos en cours de chemin). Prenez le bus de Latacunga pour Zumbahua (2,5 USD : attention, on essaiera de vous faire payer 5 USD par personne). Une fois sur place, negociez une camioneta qui vous attendra jusqu'a votre eventuel retour, en cas de descente vers la lagune). Nous avons paye notre camioneta 10 USD pour 2, mais je suis sur qu'on peut mieux negocier !Related to:
Flying to Ecuador
Travelling from the USA: American Airlines flies daily to Quito from Miami. This is usually the cheapest route.
Travelling from Europe: Iberia has direct flights from Madrid. Most other carriers have a stopover in the US or elsewhere in S.A. (For example, Air France flies from Paris through Bogota, Colombia). It can wok out cheaper to buy two tickets - one round trip to Miami and then a round trip Miami-Quito.
The bus (2) - Le bus (2)
Don't forget it ! The bus price is about 1 USD per hour (except next to Monta?ita, where it is exceptionnally more expensive). The assistants of the bus driver, recovering money ("pasaje"), are always trying to make the gringos pay more than the usual price. For, I may advice you to ask the price of the ticket to another passenger. But, you have another method : when you think that the price announced (often after a little moment of reflexion) by the assistant is more important that it should be, look at the assistant in the eyes, smile and say "Noooo !" and announce your price proposal. It's working almost everytime! Don't do it with female assistants : they scarcely look you in the eyes (and it may be a proof of their lying)....
N'oubliez pas qu'un trajet en bus coute generalement 1 USD par heure de voyage (sauf du cote de Montañita ou dans les Andes, mais c'est pas beaucoup plus). Les assistants des chauffeurs, qui vous reclameront le "pasaje" auront tendance a augmenter le tarif pour vos tetes de gringos. La parade qu'on a trouve : vous leur dites "noooo !" en leur souriant. S'ils sourient, c'est qu'ils mentent ! Proposez leur alors le prix qui vous convient. Quand les assistants sont des femmes, c'est quand elles baissent les yeux qu'elles vous grugent !!!
The bus - Le bus
You'd better be patient if you want to take the bus in Ecuador !
We could make a poem out of our experiences with the buses.
If you are more than 1.75 meter tall (as I am), you can't avoid banging your head ! Buses are the number one reason for pollution, but if they weren't, they would certainly be ideal : they go everywhere, even in the places you wouldn't try your old crashed car ! They stop anywhere, except at the bus stops : you just have to shout and the drivers pull off !
But, even better, there is always a very loud south american music played in the buses, and you feel like acting in an ad for coffee or tortillas !
Recently, we wanted to be infidel to a bus about to leave, after the nice proposal of a driver's pick-up : guess what ? The bus driver passed the pick-up with its vehicle, jammed the road and refuse to move until we join the bus ! What we did, of course. And after bawling us copiously, the driver broke in every 2 meters to challenge his view with the local population attending the scene... A great moment !
And no doubt there will be others...
Il vaut mieux etre patient pour avoir un bus ici ! On pourrait en ecrire tout un poeme ! Si vous faites plus d'1m75, faites gaffe a vos tetes ! Le truc genial, c'est qu'ils s'arretent partout sauf aux arrets prevus ! Malgre la pollution (terrible) qu'ils engendrent, ils sont les meilleurs moyens de transport du pays. Et il y a toujours une musique sud-americaine jouee a fond pour vous rappeler ou vous etes !Related to:
Taxis are convinient to go around the cities of Ecuador. They are cheap but you need to bargain a little...
You may use unofficial taxis to get to some areas in the Andes as well (like in the picture).
Really the only option.
As far as I know, there is no rail system in Ecuador and short of driving yourself (which I don't) or hiring a private car and driver (which I could not then and still cannot afford) your transportation option is really the bus.
I travelled all over the country by this means and had some, shall we say, interesting experiences. Again, I add the caveat that this was many years ago and this tip is a very general one. I would urge the reader to check on more recent information both on this site and elsewhere.
I mention interesting experiences, let me explain. The buses then were not that comfortable, no air-con and with generally pretty uncomfortable seats. However, especially in the interior mountain region some of the journeys on really rough winding roads with no barriers or anything did afford some wonderful views and thrilling times. It is a great way to meet the local people who are amazingly friendly. Sadly, the thrills come at a price. Whilst researching this tip, I read that 13 people died less than a week ago when a bus crashed down a ravine on the road between Ambato and the town of Pillaro. Ecuador in the four years to 2012 loses 13 people a day to road accidents. any travel has some inherent risk and I shall leave the reader to decide whether they want to use the buses or not.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Getting around in Ecuador
A touristic bus - well airconditioned - some good drivers - because believe me - the roads are different from Europe or many other countries - not that bad as in India or Cuba ! We had some long drives - but thanks to the drivers - it was a good riding through this beautiful landscapes of ecuador.
Getting around Ecuador
Visiting and enjoying a country is some times depending on the way you do the transport.
We were lucky to have those two young drivers - from Quito - through the mountains till the airoplane for Galapagos Islands.
Thanks guys - you made for a big part my journey to your beautiful country i like to revisite once !Related to:
- Budget Travel
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