We saw a fair few sets of road-works in Ecuador, especially over the couple of days we spent in and around the Cotopaxi National Park and Quilotoa. According to Jose Luiz, the president of the country took a camping holiday in the former last year and was so horrified by the state of the main road into and through the park that he declared it should be tarred. The result being that what was a rough but perfectly passable gravel road is now (November 2012) in a total mess. But that was nothing compared with the road to Quilotoa. It seemed that every couple of miles along this road, part of it was being dug up. I’m sure it’s going to be lovely when it’s finished!
The worst road-works, or at least for anyone in a hurry, involved a narrow stretch of road on a tight bend on a steep hill. To widen the road they were using dynamite, which seems to be a popular “tool” here, and this involved closing the road totally (in both directions) for lengthy periods while they set off a blast and then cleared the resulting rubble. We were stuck in the waiting queue here twice, when passing through in both directions, too and from the lake. It’s a good job that we weren’t in too much of a hurry, and that we were able to use the time to enjoy the views of the surrounding countryside and the drama of a storm in the mountains.
Later in the trip we were in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island in the Galápagos, where the whole of the main street is being dug up for the laying of pipes and resurfacing. Fully half of its length was either holes or rubble, with narrow boards laid down for pedestrians and no vehicles permitted at all. And again, dynamite was the favoured tool, so there were periodic warnings, halting of pedestrians, and the boom of a blast before we could pass through. It seems that when Ecuador does road-works, it does them on a grand scale!
This is my final tip on Ecuador; please click here to return to my intro page.
Ecuador is a small country but a very varied one. Its mainland is usually regarded as consisting of three very distinct regions – to the east the Amazon and surrounding rainforest, down the centre the highlands of the Andes, and to the west the coastal plain. Most of our time here was spent in the highlands, where many of the main draws for visitors are to be found – the capital Quito, the interesting indigenous villages, the mountain scenery of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, and beautiful colonial Cuenca. But if travelling in this region you need to be aware of the impact of altitude. Quito itself is at 2,800 metres, and that can be high enough to cause shortness of breath and making climbing its many hills a challenge (altitude sickness is generally thought to be possible anywhere above 2,400 metres). We found that we didn’t really notice the altitude here as much as we’d expected, except on the evening of the day we returned from the Galápagos Islands. But then, we didn’t try to do anything very strenuous!
But the higher altitude of the Cotopaxi National Park did trouble me a bit, making a slight headache into a pounding one, and the local remedy of coca tea, which we bought at a little café and gift-shop inside the park ($1.50 per cup) made no difference, unfortunately. I had expected to be OK after nearly a week in the country at this point, all of it spent in Quito or (higher) Papallacta, so the effect took me rather by surprise and somewhat spoiled what would have been a super day. There’s not much you can do to counter it though, so best to be prepared to have to suffer a little to get these magnificent views! And if you’re planning to hike here, do allow extra time to acclimatise and maybe not plan to do too much the first day. On our second day in this area, when we went nearly as high, I had no problems other than a slight breathlessness when climbing even a short flight of steps.
You also need to be aware of the signs of more serious altitude sickness such as fever, coughing, permanent shortness of breath (even when resting) and even loss of consciousness. Altitude sickness of this magnitude can lead to potentially fatal complications and the only cure is to descend, so if you should experience any of these symptoms don’t try to struggle through – just get down that mountain. No view, or sense of achievement, is worth dying for!
Next tip: the ever-present Ecuadorean road-works!
I have mentioned in a transportation tip here that the buses can be pretty dangerous in Ecuador. Not only can they be dangerous but there are frequent delays. Apart from mechanical defects which do happen, there are the powers of nature to contend with. In a country with such a mountainous interior it is almost inevitable that roads will be washed away, blocked by landslides or whatever. The image here shows the type of thing you may be up against. Fortunately, by the time we got here the situation was under control and the heavy plant soon had the road open again but I did wait some considerable time due to other road blockages.
Be aware that bus timetables are, at beat, an indication and do not rely on them for tight connections.
Quito is at ca. 2800 meters above sea level, and this is just the beginning. Places like Quilotoa, Cuicocha, Cotopaxi are on a even higher level. Even if you are reasonably fit, you will notice that the altitude makes physical activities more exhausting; sometimes I had the impression that 1 hour high altitude hiking in Ecuador equals 2 hours hiking in Germany. So try to adjust to the height slowly, and know your limits.
I was a little paranoid after reading the warnings in guide books and internet forums that Ecuador - mainly the cities - can be dangerous, given that this was my first time in Latin America. In the end, I had a perfectly good time here, with not one bad or dangerous event along the way. Still, a few recommendations that are based on reliable hearsay from Ecuadorians, hotel staff, and fellow travelers:
Security is mainly a concern in the big cities - Quito and Guayacil - some towns along the Pacific Coast, and the border area with Columbia. Less so in the countryside along the main tourist routes (apart from opportunistic pick-pocketing), although in more remote areas hikers have been mugged on isolated paths. Especially Guayaquil has a bad reputation even among the locals (one taxi-driver simply made a throat-cutting gesture when he mentioned Guayaquil). Quito seemed perfectly safe to me, but the Oldtown and the Mariscal area are said to be unsafe after dark, i.e. from 6 p.m. If you out after 6 p.m. best take a taxi.
The area between the southern Quito oldtown and the Panecillo Hill has a bad reputation, and it is not advisable to walk the steps to the viewpoint as there have been muggings. The viewing area on the hill itself is safe. Take a taxi to and from the Panecillo Hill and ask the driver to wait for a 5-10 minute photo-stop.
It is recommended to take only licensed taxis (the yellow ones with a license number at the front window). Most taxi drivers seemed pretty honest compared with those I got to know in other places - only one tried to overcharge. Still, to insist on the use of a taximeter is very reasonable.
Most important: Don`t be overly concerned, I regard Ecuador as a reasonably safe and very rewarding destination.
Reading all these comments I am amazed and shocked. I am a Canadian living in Guayaquil, the subject of many comments, and have done so incident free for over a year now. Many times I have had the opportunity to run into tourists from many parts of the world and frankly I do not know what is going through their minds. First off, they dress as if they are on Safari hereby standing out as if they have a neon "sucker" sign above them, 2) many walk around as if they are in Disneyland (you can get robbed there too) with $1000 cameras hanging around their neck, blackberries in hand totally oblivious to the world. It has nothing to do with poverty, or the people, it has to do with opportunity...I dare any of them to walk in NY, LA, Chicago etc. as they do here and NOT get robbed there too. More than once I stopped tourist and warned them to put away the BB, or the camera and 8 times out of ten they act as if I have slapped them. Best was one American tourist, a large portly gentleman who told me where I could go with my advice because he was (and this is a direct quote) "...an American and I have every right to do as I want." Good for you, I really hope stupidity is not contagious there is enough to catch living in the tropics. People, just use common sense if you would not do it home why would you do it thousands of KM's away...please.
As everywhere in not-that-rich-countries be aware of pickpockets and possible robberies. Walking up the hill to Virgin Mary statue in Quito through a really poor area you probably shouldn't do at all or at least not by yourself.
There is a hard to detect powdered drug that people use to trap tourists. Don't accept any cards or advertisements on the street as they can contain the drug. It will make you willing to go along with anything (such as handing over all your valuables) and you will forget everything. And as always, be extremely careful with your drinks.
Do not let anyone talk to you about their winning money at the LOTO~!
I speak Spanish but am from Canada. This poor looking Ecuadorian comes up to me and ask me to read this letter as he says he does not read or write? You read the letter about his boss writing to the lawyer that says my worker does not read or write he has won 200,000.dollars at the national Loto, but just give him 1000. and you and I will split the rest of the earnings. So as a foreigner you know that this poor farmer is going to be fleeced... so you want to defend him right? so you offer to help him find the address and go with him to the lawyer.... Someone else shows up and reinforces that he needs help! Of course they work as a team but you dont know that and they start to debate that if we go together to the lawyer, which this new guy says you dont need as Loto winnings are given directly to whomever has the winning ticket... so he proposes to go to the bank with him, but the poor farmer says I would rather you go with this lady as she is an honest person and I dont know you and maybe you will kill me once I have the money in my hands etc.... ends up the shaking farmer wants a guarantee that we will both come back to him from the bank with the money and he offers to pay us for the help cash. But he needs a guarantee that we will come back so the 2nd guy offers him a wad of cash his salary... and he asked me what I could leave so I left my pack sack wich had my house keys in Canada,
and a disposable camera, and of course a pay as you go cellular phone from Canada which did not have any minutes left but I had to replace once back to Canada. They were not violent very believable, and maybe the high altitude got the best of my common sense, so I wanted to help the poor oppressed Indian!!!! Liars and robbers they were. Ecuador is a magnificent country but the whole system is corrupt from the banks to departure tax $41.00 cash only and you cannot pay with Visa and you could lose your flights if you do not have the cash on hand down to the .80 cash I had 41.00 they would not budge!!! SO wATCH OUT FOR THESE SCAMS AT THE POLICE STATION THERE WERE British people whose $2,000.00 camera was gone, and several other my report number was 238 so that means there were that many robberies in that week! Police says they cant do anything!
Well if there is not a political will as a whole to better that society, it will not be a country for tourists as they are preyed upon!
The story of my lost luggage triggered off a lot of different narrations from other travelers. Everybody had some bad experienced to tell. Some had been robbed of their bags during a bus ride others had lost things left in the room, and a little more... scary but very common, unfortunately, many had been robbed of their necklace, or cameras in the street while they were walking. They just snatch them from your neck as you are walking even during daylight, and even among thousands of other passers by. They are so quick and so bold that they give you no time to realize what has happened. Most victims seemed a little freaked out. But, I have a question to ask them. Why on earth do they come to such a poor country, with a notorious reputation of theft and robbery wearing this provocative gold chains around their neck?? I don't get it. People are so poor that they have no scruples about it. They take it as a perfectly justified reaction. Why do we have to torture them more or tempt them? What they do is absolutely wrong but is what we do right, after all?
But the worst is the kidnappings. There are notorious places in Quito, such as the climb to Panencito or to the closest volcano Pinchicha. Seven tourists were abducted and disappeared while I was in Quito. One was found dead...Take care my friends. Take a taxi to Panencito and avoid Pinchicha or I don't know what. I just didn't do it. There are more volcanoes to climb and they are all safe. Separate with your valuables on this trip. Don't wear shiny expensive things. Plaza de la Independencia and the busy streets in the historical center, such as Chile, Venezuela, Sucre, are all notorious for daylight attacks. Keep your cameras in a bag and take it out with caution when you need to shoot. If you take notice of someone following closely rush into a shop or cross the street immediately. Put your money in a hidden pouch and never take out a whole bunch of them. There are signs with these rules in many shops and public places in Quito!!! Even the locals stopped me in the street and warned me about my camera. And not only once. So be careful!!! Don't panic, just pretend you have nothing valuable to hide...
In the country side things are not so bad but it is not so safe,either. Take special care with your luggage when you are transporting on buses. Never leave it alone wihtout keeping one eye and ..both hands on it. But don't stop smiling to people because of that! Ecuadorians are very nice and helpful!
How do you feel about it? Losing your luggage upon arriving. Well, I'll tell you ..It's a bit of a shock. Especially because you can't buy all the things you need until your luggage is declared lost for ever. So you have to wait for 21 before you get compensated. The worst is that Avianca wouldn't pay me even then, using some unacceptable excuses, such as having lost a lot of luggage. Is this an excuse? On the contrary it shows how badly organised they are. And why didn't they do something about that? I have heard this unhappy incident is just very common with this company. A couple of weeks after my loss I saw it on the news...All the luggage of the flights from Madrid had been lost or found torn open and robbed!
Finally after too many calls and a lot of harassment from my side, and after I had found a nice lady working for them in another town who tried her best, did I get my money. It was 45 days later!
What can we do about it? Since Quito and Colombia are notorious for losing luggage, according to many local and foreign travelers I have spoken to, we should at least carry all our valuables in our day pack! And a change for the first nights!!(ha ha ha)
Between you and me, they gave me all the money I asked for, quite a reasonable sum of course, and they were all very polite. At least!
Avianca is a Colombian airline company operating in Quito, too, other parts of South America and Miami...
A lot of Ecuador is at a high elevation. Quito is close to 2800 m (~9000 ft), which is far above the elevation which most people are used to living. If you head to the highlands of Ecuador, even Quito, give yourself some time to adjust. Don't rush out to hike right away; you might find climbing stairs a bit winding. But don't worry, your body will adapt. In the meantime, go a little slower, and enjoy the scenery until you acclimate to the oxygen in the air. And have a great trip.
I had no problems in Ecuador at all. The only problem I heard of was a friend who's personal debit card details were swipped when she used her card to oped the door to enter the cash machine room. Otherwise if youve been to Mexico City you will find Ecuador far less intimidating. Obviously take the usual precausions with cash etc. Its a lovely country. Im sure youll enjoy it.
OK, this was something that I found difficult to understand.
Cuenca is, like, the 3rd largest city of Ecuador. OK, maybe it is a distant 3rd. But once I stepped out and hit the street at 7pm and found that nearly all the shops were shut, and the streets were nearly deserted with most lights out. It was frankly, a little eerie, as you just see the stray long shadow of one lone passer-by down one street and another.
Gosh, I was hungry and I had to find a place to eat. I hurried along to try and locate a place. Some cafes were absolutely empty and the owners were stacking up chairs and about to lock up.
What?? At 7pm?? It was quite unbelievable, that the 3rd largest city of Ecuador can be so 'sleepy'. I finally found a Chinese restaurant that was opened (I was the only patron). But gradually, through the days spent there, I did come across a very small handful of other restaurants that stayed opened til 8pm.
My warning to you is to head out to grab your dinner EARLY.
On Sundays, many towns and cities in Latin America go to sleep and it does feel quite eerie to walk around in most of these towns and cities on Sundays. Frankly, of the few times I was robbed in Latin America, they happened on Sundays.
I totally could guess that colonial Quito will be like a ghost-town on Sundays. But I certainly did not expect the New City Mariscal Sucre to turn into a ghost-town as well as there are many many hostels and restaurants there.
Well, truly, the streets are nearly empty with quite a few dodgy-looking characters loitering around. I actually felt very very very spooked and uneasy during my brief walk around there to return a key which I had taken away by mistake back to a hostel. My friends also repeatedly warned me not to walk around alone here on Sundays.
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Av. de las Amazonas, Banos, 2000, Ecuador
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