Ecuador, Months ago, I had big plans for you.
The Galapagos, Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil, the Equator, the Amazon basin.
After six months of traveling and an illness in Cusco Peru that wiped out almost all of us, we landed in Quito more than a bit tired of moving around. We settled into our hotel and almost immediately started to look for an apartment for a bit of a break. Maybe a week would be good. This was in addition to an upcoming month we already anticipated in Nicaragua
Where We Stayed
Holiday Inn Express Quito
This hotel is well above average for a Holiday Inn Express. The rooms were super spacious and modern. We loved the large bathroom with overhead rain shower. The included breakfast was exceptional. The only down side is there were no balconies. And a minor complaint is their is no Platinum recognition. No welcome fruit platter. No upgrade. Oh we did get rooms on a higher floor which apparently IS an upgrade.
At $77 USD per night we decided to combine our free award nights with a paid night to get a start on the 1st Quarter IHG Accelerate promotion (to earn more points). We only stayed four nights because even though 15,000 IHG points for a Category 2 hotel isn’t a lot of points, I prefer to save them for the Points Break hotels.
If you ever stay at IHG properties (like Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza etc) be sure to register for their quarterly and lucrative promotions.
Our upcoming Panama City seven night stay is completely free. Booked on the IHG Points Break rate, the Holiday Inn Panama City hotel was 5,000 IHG points per night.
Marriott Towers Quito VRBO
After four nights at the Holiday Inn Express, we moved just across the street. I think it’s funny we ended up staying in the JW Marriott in Quito. The manager of the VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) we originally settled on wasn’t able to confirm that reservation but offered us a two bedroom condominium unit at the Marriott Torres (attached to the JW) for the same price of $70 USD per night.
We ended up staying eight nights and made great use of the kitchen and laundry. Too bad we did not earn any Marriott points for this private condo stay.
Lack of Momentum
It took a good week in Quito before I even started to look at excursions. A trip to the Amazon basin was top on the list with the Galapagos as a close second. This was the first time that my new last minute planning habit hasn’t worked out for us.
Lots of online research. Price checks. Flight checks. Itinerary planning.
I had a solid plan based on availability with some reasonable time delays added in. I booked our onward flights to Panama and Nicaragua based on that timetable.
We took our modest Ecuador plan to the travel agent and were quickly deflated. Everything online was wrong. The published flights were phantom fares. The Amazon lodges don’t accept guests on certain days even though their website states otherwise. There were no Monday departures like we planned. Due to transport limitations, the Amazonas now had to wait until Friday.
No problem, we’re flexible, just switch the tours around. Damn. Flights to the Galapagos didn’t have five seats left.
Wow. I had just locked us into a deadline for Panama with non-refundable flights. On the same PNR as Nicaragua.
Because I was a bum we missed a lot of Ecuador.
We chose the Amazonas over the Galapagos.
Siona Lodge Cuyabeno Reserve Amazonas
One of twelve lodges in the Cuyabeno Reserve. Great staff. Cute and quaint cottage. Way fewer mosquitos than we expected. This place needs a review (coming soon) of its own. We were all sad to leave.
Hotel Vieje Cuba Quito
We stayed at this colonial style hotel just one night after our return from the Amazon and before our flight to Panama. The triple room was $7.01 thanks to some hotels.com ‘free night’ credit. And the double room was $65.36. The included breakfast was exceptional as was the service.
Our rooms were teeny tiny compared to what we’re used to but it was a charming place. I’d stay again but would ask for one of the larger rooms for a longer stay.
Eating in Quito
Dining out can be super cheap in Quito if you eat locally. Menu del Dia for $2.25 to $2.75. Really good stuff. Cevecerias (seafood restaurants) even have daily specials around $3.50.
Dining out can easily be super expensive in Quito, especially if you don’t pay attention and walk into a tourist restaurant. Here you’ll find prices on par with North American dining.
Although it would have been cheaper for us to eat out at local restaurants, we took advantage of our VRBO kitchen and cooked our own meals. We bought in season local fruits and vegetables, meats and staples at the local supermarket, SuperMaxi, and even used their frequent shopper discount card. We typically spent about $36 USD per day, including beer and wine. Cooking for ourselves was a nice break. We found the food in South America delicious but overly salty and scarce on vegetables.
Ecuador uses the USD. Lots of one dollar coins! Credit cards are not widely accepted outside hotels, tourist restaurants and large chains.
Even tour companies require cash payments or they add on a 6% transaction fee for credit card payments. Apparently this does not cover their full cost of accepting credit cards. You need an Ecuadorian bank account to make a money transfer. Otherwise, if you’re booking ahead (more than three days) you could pay the tour company by wire transfer.
The SuperMaxi grocery store accepts credit cards with no extra fees.
Since you’ll need cash here in Ecuador, either bring USD with you or choose your ATM wisely. Astonishing. The ATM inside the JW Marriott hotel did NOT add a transaction fee to withdraw US dollars. Though the cash limit is $300 USD. You can make multiple $300 withdrawals up to your personal bank limit.
Try to use an all inclusive bank account that doesn’t add on their own international ATM transaction fee. I covet the US Charles Scwab account that reimburses even the ATM fees.
Of note, the USD bills dispensed from ATMs here are NOT crisp. In fact, they’re pretty filthy, marked up and sometimes torn. It’s often difficult to get rid of these dirty bills abroad, especially at border crossings and money changers. Everyone wants crisp USD.
There is a fixed price airport taxi to the central area of Quito for $25 USD. If the dispatcher doesn’t give it to you, ask for a coupon card for a $20 return fare.
Taxis from the downtown hotels may be more expensive back to the airport. The Holiday Inn fare was posted as $25 USD.
We didn’t need to hand over the coupon card to get the $20 fare to the airport, so it’s not technically a coupon. But it eliminated the need to negotiate with the driver. And the hotel can’t really charge their own fare in this case.
Check back for our three night tour of the ‘deep Amazon’. Or just subscribe to our email list to receive a notification. We won’t use it for aything else, promise.
Or check out Rob’s post on Machu Picchu.
We’re in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua right now where each morning we enjoy our coffee on the balcony overlooking the ocean. Hannah’s friend from Ottawa will be joining us soon!
The ceviche is delicious.