My first trip to South America! 🇪🇨
February 1st, I decided to travel down to Quito with a girl I had just met to embark on an adventure of a lifetime! We flew from Miami to Quito and stayed at the cutest little hostel called The Secret Garden! The staff was amazing, the location was perfect, and the views were incredible! Our flight was delayed and the hostel still arranged to have a driver pick us up at the airport when we finally got in!
The first day in Quito we woke up and met our sweet dormmates and then grabbed some breakfast and did a free walking tour! I would always recommend doing a free tour at the beginning of your trip to get your bearings in the area and save some cash while learning a little history. After the tour, we took the public bus (25¢ score!) to the Equator monument with a few new friends we had made. If you are trying to save money, this is the way to go! However, if you are trying to save time, take a taxi and it will cost you $20 each way, which if you split it, is not bad at all! Things to note about the equator:
1. It’s not really the equator line (Gasp!) but it’s pretty close! Before GPS rolled out, they built the monument thinking they were on point, but really it’s a few hundred feet away at the museum.
2. It cost money to get in. Around $3.50
3. Do not forget your passport when you go! They will give you a unique stamp for visiting the equator!
The next morning, we ventured to the airport to sit standby for the flight to the Galápagos Islands! We brought the flight attendants goodie bags and they were so appreciative! Even though there weren’t any first class seats available, the lead brought us, and our seat mate/new friend, some champagne🥂 when you land in Baltra Island, you take a bus to the ferry, and a ferry to the main island, and then a bus down to the beach city! Once we made it we had to go on a hunt for a hostel and got a sweet deal at Hotel España. Don’t be fooled by the name, it wasn’t really a hotel, but we found many accommodations were not on hostel world and if they were, the cheapest one was near $35 a night per person. We were able to stay in a private 2 bedroom with a private bathroom and air conditioning for $20 a night per person.
That night we went “excursion shopping”. We wanted the best deals since everyone was basically selling the same thing. In the end, we went with a scuba diving company who kind of swindled us. We did a “discovery dive” for beginners in an area that you need 20+ dives to go to and had very rough currents. We were told we were going to North Seymour, the only spot for discovery dives, and that we would just be snorkeling while the experienced divers were doing their dive at Gordon Rock. However, we all went to Gordon Rock and we only got a total of 45 minutes in the water. We never were able to snorkel and just had to wait while the other half of the tour did their second dive. Also, we had almost zero training beforehand whereas most of the shops told us we would watch a video and go through a few basic instructions. That being said, we did enjoy having our first scuba dive in the Galápagos Islands and we did see a manta ray and a hammerhead shark! It was breathtaking! Or maybe I was just scared 😉
Our second day on the island we did the tortoise reserve, hiked through a lava tunnel, and then swam in Las Grietas! All of this was under a couple dollars, but we missed the bus and had to take a taxi which cost us a pretty penny. If you take the bus though it will only run you back $1! We had the opportunity of meeting the family who owns the tortoise reserve and they explained how all the creatures of the island were protected! It was truly amazing to see how they take care of the animals in their natural habitat and protect them from harms way until they are fully grown. The lava tunnel was next to the reserve so we figured why not? It doesn’t take very long and is fun to walk/crawl through, but not much is down there. Las Grietas is a beautiful swimming tunnel where many people snorkel in the deep blue waters and it was so refreshing after spending the day out in the heat!
The last full day on the island we went snorkeling. The guy who we booked with had told us that snorkeling was going to be the highlight of our trip and we didn’t believe him. Boy were we wrong! Snorkeling was by far our favorite day on the island! The guy who sold us the tour actually paid so he could come with us himself and he made sure we had a great time! We went to 4 different spots and they provided transportation and lunch for us. While snorkeling, we saw a white tip shark and baby black tip shark, as well as swam with so many sea turtles and sea lions! It was incredible! Even though our skin was fried and my friend got a little seasick, it was worth it! This was probably one of the highlights of my life to just be one with the ocean and share the home of so many animals for a weekend!
After our Galápagos adventures we headed back to Quito so we could catch a bus to Baños. This day was a FULL day of travel! We took every type of transportation that you could take besides a rocket ship! We took a bus to a ferry, a ferry to another bus, the bus to the airport where our flight was delayed for 3 hours, then we took another bus when we landed so that we could get to the bus station for a bigger bus up to Baños! Many hours and bags of Doritos later, we got to our hostel at 1 am. We stayed at Hostel Molina Blanco and they were also superb! Amazing with communication and switching our stay to different days without any extra charge!
Our first day there, we rented bikes and rode 2.5 hours up to the waterfalls! Pailon Del Diablo is the largest waterfall at the end of the route and we spent about an hour hiking there and making friends with other backpackers. After, we hitched a ride down to the city via the back of a tarp covered truck for $2. We ate some local food for dinner and called it a night pretty early since we were sunburned and exhausted from the trip thus far.
Our final full day we woke up and got crepes at the cutest little purple cafe and then headed up to Casa Del Arbol, the treehouse that holds the swing at the end of the world. The bus cost us $1 and then the entrance fee was another $1. We spent half the day taking pictures and swinging off the edge of the cliff into the most amazing scenery of the volcano and clouds in Baños. When we were done, we started hiking down. This is NOT recommended. I had read that the hike down would take approximately an hour and after an hour we realized we weren’t even close. We decided to try our luck at hitchhiking and the sweetest little family traveling from Quito picked us up and drove us back to town and would not accept any money!
The last day of our trip we packed our backpacks which turned out to be only 30lbs, even though we were sure they were much heavier, and went back to the bus station. The 3 hour bus ride to Quito cost us $4 and we hung around The Secret Garden hostel for most of the day. They let us stow our bags for free since our flight wasn’t until midnight, and we continued to meet other travelers and hang out with them for the rest of the day. Our final taxi ride was split with the nicest Aussie gents and they ended up being on our flight back to Atlanta as well. When we finally landed we all parted ways and said goodbye to the best vacation and went back to reality.
Overall, this trip probably ranks among the top 3 vacations I have ever taken and swimming with the sea lions in the Galápagos Islands nears the top of the list for highlights of my life thus far. Such a humbling experience to share this world with so many amazing creatures!
Some tips of advice when traveling to Ecuador:
•Know they take the US dollar 💵
•Make sure you have cash on you at all time, and try to have smaller bills. We found many people did not want to give you change for large bills and cards got charged an extra 15-20%.
•Haggling is expected. We got the price down for our alpaca blankets, all of our excursions, and every taxi ride that we took.
•Even during the “rainy” season, the weather was quite nice and you will need lots of sunscreen!
•The people here are extremely friendly! Like I said, we hitchhiked in Baños, we chatted with the police at the station for a while so they would show us the iguanas hiding out in the back, and the police officers in Quito tried to give us money for the bus when they were confused with us asking for the bank.
•You will need to know some basic Spanish before heading down here. I know very little, but luckily my travel partner knew much more than she thought and she was able to speak with almost everyone.
•The Galápagos Islands are pretty expensive and even on a budget I don’t think you can do them for under $600 when it comes to flights, accommodations, and excursions.
•Be cautious but don’t be paranoid. We did not have any trouble while we were there as two young girls. Most of the people are extremely friendly, but if at any point something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. Our first night in Baños we felt a little unsafe walking to the hostel and when we got to the hostel the owner told us that the boys who crowd around the bus station usually try to take people’s stuff when they get off.
I hope this helps out my fellow travelers and if you ever have any questions feel free to reach out to me! Have fun exploring this small world! 😘
Galapagos Vacation Video: Ecuador Adventure 2017