Travel Hacks, Ecuador
Ecuador’s changes in latitude spans beyond the sharp contrasts of the land. Navigating the culture is another set of directions to master which sometimes leave the newly arrived traveller and the long-term expat a bit sideways. Facts of life that people run out of change, taxis need to be vetted and negotiated with and that there are few places to get a Guinness are commonly covered on TripAdvisor and other travel forums.
Apart from the every day nuisances needed to successfully navigate the hills and valleys of the country, there are other points on the compass to be considered while traversing the land. This is an introduction to a new series about travel hacks for living and travelling in Ecuador and why you need them. Subscribe to the Bucketlist here, like us on Facebook or check back weekly for new posts about Ecuador and its hotspots.
6.Quito is a big city with a big heart-Don’t be fooled by the hype!
Quito has a bad wrap depending who you talk to or where you do your research. The travel promotion sites laud its heritage, culture and historic plazas and churches. The travel forums warm incessantly or its dangers-muggings, sketchy taxi drivers and the like.
Beneath the surface, Quito’s neighborhood’s and people are welcoming and go out of the way to help the weary traveller find their way around the city. While not having the influx of foreign citizens that Washington D.C., Chicago, New York or London, people from all over the country move to the city to seek another way of living. Ask any taxi driver, waitress or store owner where they are from and one hears different destinations from around the country with the accompanying accents.
Its also a city on the move. The president has redone most of its parks. There is a new train system being built due to open in the next year or so and new restaurants are popping up all over town offering international cuisine’s from around the world.
Despite the warnings and hassles it presents, spending a few days touring the streets of Old Town, checking out museums such as the Capilla del Hombre and exploring Parque Metropolitano and Guapulo are a pleasant break from the rigors of travelling.
Use precautions that you would in any big city. Don’t walk around in safari gear with expensive cameras around your neck. Try and stay alert of your surroundings and ask at your hotel or hostal where to avoid.
Do a walking tour of Old Town when you first arrive. Community Hostal in Old Town, Carpe Diem or Happy Gringo tour agencies offer experienced guides to show you the lay of the land while giving you tips for navigating the city.
If walking isn’t your thing, Quito Tour Bus has a hop on, hop off double decker bus that stops all over the city daily. The bus runs from one end of the city to the other and tickets can be bought at different points in the city.
For the more independent and adventurous, Ecuador Freedom Bike Rentals rents scooters with self guided GPS tours that gives the flexibility of planning your own agenda. These tours can take you places that the tour buses don’t and give you the freedom of stopping and starting at your own pace.
1. They take their celebrations and sports seriously as a rule and not an exception.
Ecuador’s spirit shines through when the national teams are on the television. During the World Cup, the country was a sea of national yellow and World Cup blue jersies on game days in the cities. The streets were on fire with honking cars and celebrations heard all over the country after a win. After a loss clear the streets, this is still Latin America and things can lose the plot at a moment’s notice.
Travel Hacks for Celebrations.
Travel hacks for Ecuador’s festive spirit include planning ahead, some research into the regional celebrations and planning a few extra days to relax and enjoy the fun doesn’t spoil anything. Protests and festivals stop traffic, cities empty and the coast is filled with all walks of life during Carnival and nothing is open on, before and, after holidays, At the end of the day, It’s a good life but can catch the new traveller unaware, and considerations need to be made.
Don’t apply for a visa close to the holidays and remember that banks and government offices will shut over a sporting event. Just trying to confirm reservations, ordering pizza or finding a good Chinese joint can be a sport unto itself during holidays.
Plan your time so that you can be in Latacunga in late September for the Mama Negra Festival or Otavalo for Inti Raymi at the end of June. The people and the colorful garb, the music and the celebrations that follow the parades and the step outside of the comfort zone are the essential bits that make travel worthwhile. Be ready to get a little wet and covered with shaving cream or flour and bring your A game to the party.
2.We are a bit behind the times.
To put it in a nutshell, Ecuador just caught on to the micro-brew trend. Google maps hasn’t been through many of the travel hot spots and trying to pay with a credit card can cause major problems. In a lot of cases, its easier and more reliable to find information person to person across the bar or by knocking on your neighbor’s door rather than on one’s phone.
The cell phone network here dates back to when the U.S. army tested the original technology. The internet comes and goes at will. The one site online that provides up to date an accurate bus schedule for Ecuador is also the first to offer online tickets. Once the order is received, Ecuadorbuses.com go to the bus company, buy the ticket, scan it and email it to their client.
Its just a little outdated..
I just had an email from someone who asked if they could actually buy film canisters here despite the popularity of the digital age, the answer, yep they are everywhere, along with the cameras and all the accessories.
In practical terms this means not only making sure you have spare batteries, your kindle and your passport,but bring along an actual guidebook, backup cash and cards, hard to find replacement chargers and a list of places, phone numbers and addresses for the destinations on your itinerary. (And some spare underwear or pants,) Many traveler’s hubs will try and help and are a good resource for lost stuff but can’t solve everything. Making a laminated copy of your passport and getting another internationally recognized ID is also a good idea, as is a stamped, translated copy of your birth certificate and diploma if you fancy sticking around.
3.Its a country of neighborhoods
Given the news that you can’t have information at the touch of a button, Ecuador’s neighborhood grapevine is the grandfather of all networks. The world doesn’t stand still while we wait for the current innovation to arrive here and either should you. To be fair, a little more Spanish mixed with a bit of common sense does wonders when navigating the terrain. Asking at the corner store, spending some time at the local traveller’s Hub or checking in at the backpacker’s hostal sometimes lead to unexpected results. If all else fails, try your local bartender or buddy-up to a partner-in-crime sitting next to you and see where the day takes you.
4. The Hubs are called the Hubs for a reason.
Whether its Uncle Hos restaurant and expat hangout in Quito’s Mariscal, the Secret Garden in Old Town, La Luna hostal outside of Otavalo, The Bee Hive and the Humming Bagel in Mindo or Great Backpackers hostal Los Pinos in Banos, these are good people.
Many have stayed after travelling here or returned after years away and despite the pitfalls have created solid retreats to enjoy the company of others, find new inspiration and meet others travelling in the same direction.
Being that it a country behind the times, these people and places are essential. The advice, contacts and experience garnered from the owners and travellers that frequent the hubs can make or break a trip. The owner’s bear this in mind and are constantly helping people line up and figure out onwards travel, arrange trips, lessons and sometimes jobs and long-term places to stay.
The proprietors of the above mentioned places hail from pinpoints on the map dotting the globe and all walks of life. The hubs that they have created in Ecuador are their hopes and dreams. They were started with industry and determination, kept moving with hopes and aspirations and set afire by the people who walk through their doors.
I’ve seen cameras returned from other cities, cash advanced to the weary traveller who was relieved of their possessions and new friendships founded on the spot because of such people.
If travelling in Ecuador, find your way to these small resources worth the time spent chatting to the owners or sussing out the next days details. For more in-depth information about the Hubs in Ecuador, check out The Bee Hive, Mindo or this one about Los Pinos, Banos. Subscribe to the blog for future updates or just like the FB page to catch a glimpse of La Luna, Uncle Ho’s Lullu Llama, and more articles to be delivered right on time about travels in Ecuador.
5. Bureaucracy here is King and there is nothing that you can do about it.
Case study number 1: A typical trip to Quito to get a visa extension is a lesson in patience and perseverance. Forms are summarily rejected, translations and stamps are required at a moments notice, and the same person who told you yesterday that you needed one other form tells you to find two others the very next day.
It’s no joke, there are buildings around Quito with mountains of boxes stacked floor to ceiling filled with paperwork sent to its grave. To give you an idea of the scope of its influence, the system in place for people to claim taxes requires a receipt for every item submitted. In practice this means waiting for a few extra minutes while someone in line to the front of you fills in a form for buying a fifty cent Coke.
The best advice is to go in armed. Do your homework online but also get in touch with a real person to find out exactly what you need. Spanish schools and volunteer agencies as well as those who employ English teachers have a proven track record and the experience of getting many the confused newbie visas. They also have people who know the system and often can go along to the visa offices, a huge game changer which helps tip the scales towards success.
Don’t be put off with the delays and mind boggling setbacks in any situation, these are hurdles to be overcome and many a soul bound by wanderlust’s dreams and the unknown’s call have navigated the gauntlet successfully. The system here is not perfect, but it’s a journey well worth taking..
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