30 Things No One Tells You About Backpacking in Ecuador

30 things no one tells you about backpacking in Ecuador!
Before we spent a month backpacking in Ecuador, nobody told us that the entire country is obsessed with creepy clown trashcans. WTF, Ecuador?!Here's 30 random things that nobody told us before we went backpacking in Ecuador!Before we spent a month backpacking in Ecuador, nobody told us that the sea lions in the Galapagos Islands act like dogs begging for table scraps! Here's 30 random things that nobody told us before we went backpacking in Ecuador.

Backpacking in Ecuador was one of the best decisions we made during our South America trip. Sadly, this small country often gets cut out of itineraries. Don’t miss out on the incredible beauty of Ecuador! We spent a month exploring Quito, the Quilotoa Loop, the Galapagos Islands, Banos, and Vilcabamba. Along the way, we learned some entirely unhelpful things and made a lot of completely useless observations. And just for you, dear reader, we put together the most important things (and also the most totally irrelevant) that we learned while backpacking in Ecuador…

Creepy clown trash can in Ecuador! This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things nobody told us about backpacking in Ecuador...
There are creepy clown trashcans EVERYWHERE in Ecuador, and we have no idea why. Nobody told us this before we went backpacking in Ecuador. Also, this is one of the LEAST creepy ones we saw. Ahh!!
  1. There are creepy clown trashcans everywhere. No, we’re serious. WTF is the deal, Ecuador? Why?? These things are beyond terrifying!
  2. Literally everything in Ecuador is a volcano. Everywhere you look, there’s DJ Khaled’s voice like “Another one!”
  3. You don’t have to stay in the historical center of Quito when backpacking in Ecuador. There are tons of hostels all over the city. What’s great about Quito – unlike some other capital cities we’ve visited on this trip, lookin at you, Bogota – is that it has a convenient and intuitive public transit system, so it’s easy to get around town. That said, even though you don’t have to stay there…
  4. Spend a day being touristy in Centro Historico Quito. There are a bunch of churches to see, such as the Basilica de Voto Nacional (ideal for Instagram photos!) or the Compañia de Jesus, which is a straight up house of ballerdom made entirely of gold. I’d show you a pic, but I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside (trust me, I tried. One day this blogging gig is going to get me arrested.) If your sightseeing goes into the night and you haven’t been arrested yet, check out La Rhonda! It’s the cutest little street filled with bars, salsa clubs, and restaurants.
  5. Take the teleferico up to the volcano in Quito. A cozy gondola will take you up to Vulcan Pinchincha, a giant lava-filled mountain casually towering over the city. (Remember how I said everything in Ecuador was volcanoes?) Once up there, you can pose with llamas (AND HUG THEM!!!!) see a panorama of the city, and – if you are less lazy/more in shape than we are – take the long trek up the volcano to peer inside (or throw an evil ring in, or whatever). Be sure to bring a big jacket though. Even though Quito/lava might be warm, high up on the mountain it’s windy and cold.

    Basilica del Voto Nacional in Quito, Ecuador
    Basilica del Voto Nacional in Centro Historico, one of the many beautiful churches dotting Quito. It’s a must-see when backpacking Ecuador.
  6. Quito Airport is actually really far from Quito. Factor this in when choosing your arrival time. You can easily take a cab and be in the city in 45 minutes for about $25. I know this sounds expensive, so we looked into other options. The only other way is to take a collectivo for $8 to the bus terminal, then bus for about $3. The whole trip will add about 2 hours, depending on hostel location. So basically if you’re in a pair, you only save three bucks. Honestly, just cab and accept it.
  7. The chocolate is phenomenal. And it’s everywhere! You can take tours, see factories, or stuff your face. Our absolute favorite brand is Pacari, especially their salt and nibs bar. Chocolate is one of the must-eat foods in Ecuador!
  8. The coffee is not great. There are the odd good shops like Umami in Quito, Arome, and Honey (both in Banos), but for the most part don’t expect much. Or maybe we were just spoiled after Colombia…
    Baños, Ecuador: A Complete Guide to What to Do in Baños
  9. Drink all of the hot chocolate you can. IDGAF if it’s offered at breakfast, you will drink it and you will love it. It goes without saying, but if the chocolate is amazing, the hot chocolate is amazing. The absolute best hot chocolate we had in Ecuador was at Arome Chocolate in Banos. You can get everything from classic hot chocolate with marshmallows to chocolate with a shot of booze – and everything in between! But the best option they have is the choose your own chocolate bar option. You literally pick ANY chocolate bar from their enormous  collection, and they shave the whole bar and turn it into hot chocolate. We now fully understand the meaning of the phrase “like a kid in a candy shop.”

    Delectable hot chocolate from Amore in Banos, Ecuador
    One of the most delicious cups of hot chocolate ever, made from Pacari’s Cocoa Nib and Sea Salt bar. Get this at Amore in Banos, Ecuador.
  10. Guittig is the gold standard of gas water. “Agua sin gas o con gas” is a phrase that backpackers in South America will be quite familiar with. We used to drink regular boring water, until we tried gas water and got hooked. Some people are addicted to Inca Kola, but we’re fully obsessed with gas water. We once spent 2 days fighting bubbly cravings when we arrived in a town in Peru that was somehow completely out of gas water (aka hell on earth) and realized we’d taken Ecuador for granted. In 4 months we’ve had more brands of gas water than we’d like to admit, and nothing beats Guittig. The water used is from Cotopaxi (which is, you guessed it, a volcano)!
  11. Never pass on the llapingachos. These are little fried potato cakes that are essentially cheesy mashed potatoes thrown onto a griddle and served with sauce, and yes, they’re as good as they sound. They’re heavenly. I once ordered a side order of them at a mercado and got a lot of weird looks – apparently they’re usually an accompaniment.
    30 Things No One Tells You About Backpacking in South America
  12. Order Sopa de Queso if you find it.  Sometimes jokingly referred to as Honeymoon Soup (because it’s cheap and easy to make, and I guess us newlyweds can’t cook for s**t), this bowl of deliciousness is made of chicken broth, melted cheese, potatoes, and pasta. Sounds like college right? I think this is the Ecuadorian answer to cup o’ noodles.
  13. Otavalo Market is a fantastic day trip from Quito. You can take a guided tour to see the famous Otovalo Market (like this one) and spend a day exploring this colorful indigenous market. Or, you can DIY your own day trip! It’s easy to grab a bus from the North Terminal. It takes a couple hours on the bus each way, but you will save a decent amount of money. We also suggest going relatively early, since shops start packing up around 4. We left around 10 AM and were fine.
  14. A lot of the alpaca products at the Otavalo market are fake. You’d think in an area with so many cuddly and fuzzy alpacas, this wouldn’t be true, but it is. I was lured in by the cheap prices and promises of cuddling up in fluff. Days later, Lia (who studied fashion design in college) gave the sweater a rub and a sniff, and realized it’s mostly acrylic. We’ve been more skeptical throughout South America, and it appears the scarves are usually pretty safe, but sweaters and complex knitted pieces are often fakes. If you can’t master the sniff and feel test, we’ve found that if you show an interest in a product and ask specifically if it’s a mix, they’re more apt to be honest. For instance, “Oooo! Ahhh! It’s so warm! And this is a mix? Wow!” Honestly, if you’re planning on continuing into Peru, just do your alpaca product shopping there.

    Shopping at Otavalo Market in Ecuador. We didn't realize you shouldn't buy alpaca products in Ecuador. Just another one of the things nobody told us about traveling to Ecuador!
    Shopping at Otavalo Market in Ecuador. We didn’t realize you shouldn’t buy alpaca products in Ecuador. Just another one of the things nobody told us about backpacking in Ecuador!
  15. Cotopaxi National Park is a must see. You can take a day trip to Cotopaxi from Quito that includes a gorgeous hike, like this one, or even horseback riding!  Or, if you’ve got time, make a reservation at Secret Garden Cotopaxi, a fantastic hostel/farm right by the foothills of the volcano. Getting there is a combination of buses and cabs, but it’s so worth it! They also have a Secret Garden in Quito, and can shuttle you between them. If you have the money for it, I highly suggest booking the Hobbit Hole. It’s a bedroom built into a hill with a Shire style door that looks right out to Cotopaxi!
  16. Hike the Quilotoa Loop, but use the regular route. You might hear there is an easy and a hard route. The “hard route” is the more popular route. Make no mistake…they’re both hard. We did the less popular route (starting in Quilotoa) and regretted it. The problem is the hardest day is between Chugchilan and Quilotoa, so if you save that until the end (the popular way), you can recover. If you did it our way, you have no recovery time, and you have to keep going on sore (or injured, in our case) legs.
    Hiking the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador: Reverse Route Travel Guide
  17. Stay at Llullu Llama Hostel, even if you don’t do the Quilotoa Loop. The tiny town of Isinlivi is typically only traveled to for two reasons: it’s a stop on the Quilotoa loop, and it’s home to the amazing Llullu Llama hostel. And you know what? This was one of our favorite hostels not just while backpacking in Ecuador, but for all of South America! The food is great, beds are comfy, staff is awesome, the views are breathtaking, the vibe is social but relaxed, and they have two of the best hostel animals we’ve met in all of South America. Spend a day of relaxation next to the fire, or outside playing with Baloo or Tito, their pet St. Bernard and llama, respectively (and yes, they’re friends.)

    Tito the Llama at Llullu Llama hostel in Insinlivi on the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador.
    Tito is the resident llama at Llullu Llama on the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador. We almost became friends when I gave him a few handfuls of grass. But then I ran out and he lost interest.
  18. Visit the Galapagos Islands! We’ve heard a lot of travelers say they thought long and hard about it, only to decide it was too much money. Do not make that mistake. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. You can actually do it relatively cheap by not doing a cruise: it cost us $800 each for a week. Oh and look, we have a post about that! You can also do an extended stay by teaching English. There is a huge demand for English teachers on the islands, because every tour guide and hostel owner needs to have some experience in English. We met a couple people doing 3-5 months in paradise! So jeal. The Galapagos is a must-do when backpacking in Ecuador! But hey, if you can’t make it to the Galapagos, at least check out the Isla de Plata off the coast of Montanita, another place where you can spot the ridiculously unmajestic Blue Footed Boobies in all of their silly glory.
  19. Spend plenty of time in Banos. It’s the adventure capital of Ecuador. As you walk down any street in this beautiful town, you’ll come across countless tour companies offering things like buggy rentals, ziplining, canyoning, rafting, bungee jumping, mountain biking, and more. There’s also a LOT of massage and spa places for the less adventurous (Lia). The town itself is built on thermal baths (hence the funny name… but don’t worry, they’re in in the joke. You can get t-shirts that say “I <3 Banos.”), and the public thermal baths are the best we’ve ever been to! We spent a week here and it wasn’t nearly enough.
    How to Visit The Galapagos Islands Without a Cruise: A Complete Guide
  20. Go to Guayaquil for chocolate farm tours. We loved all of the chocolate in Ecuador and were excited to find a farm to tour. Unfortunately they’re all located around Guayaquil, and that wasn’t on our itinerary. If farm tours are your thing, be sure to make it that way. Luckily, a lot of people go by Guayaquil because it’s on the coast, which brings me to…
  21. The party is on the coast, peace and quiet is inland. We were asked time and again if we were heading to Montanita, a little beach side surfing and party town just north of Guayaquil. People work their way west after Banos, and party on the coast as they head south into Peru. Some people, like us, opt for the inland route before crossing the border into Peru. We went to Cuenca then Vilcabamba. These are quieter towns that are still charming, but definitely not for partying. So it’s up to you.
  22. The biggest reason to go to Vilcabamba is Hosteria Izhcayluma, an awesome ex-pat owned yoga and spa retreat. The dorms are a bargain and there’s free yoga every morning. You need a reservation early, but it’s worth it!
  23. The center of the world is not the center of the world. Don’t be duped into “Be on two hemispheres at once” tours. Just like Four Corners in the US, it’s just an arbitrary park with a plaque. You could photoshop yourself reaching across to another hemisphere for essentially the same effect. Also, the place where they take you isn’t even the actual spot on the map …
  24. Try to be familiar with driving directions, because most cabs are on meters. When we were Latacunga, our cab driver took unnecessary turns through the exhaust smelling labyrinth city (our least favorite location in Ecuador, btw). The meters tick up by the distance, so our fare was going up and up. I didn’t realize we paid too much until our next cab took us near the bus station and it was way cheaper.

    Lupe the Sea Lion is a regular at the Puerto Ayora Fish Market on Santa Cruz Island! The Puerto Ayora Fish Market is a recommended stop in our complete guide to the Galapagos Islands without a cruise!
    Lupe the Sea Lion is a regular at the Puerto Ayora Fish Market on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. She sits patiently waiting for scraps from the table, like a dog. We want to take her home as a pet!
  25. Don’t stay for long in Latacunga. You have to stop in Latacunga if you’re doing the Quilotoa Loop, but it kinda sucks. It smells like exhaust, everyone is honking constantly, and other than a  great mercado, we didn’t find anything much to do in the actual city. We stayed at Hostel Tiana, which we don’t recommend. Most backpackers hiking Quilotoa Loop that Hostel Tiana is the best option to stay before and after. They say this because of the bag storage – for a fee, you can stash your stuff while you hike the Quilotoa Loop. However, here are some problems with Tiana: there’s no hot water, there are no lockers in the dorm rooms, one dorm was accurately described to us as “the dungeon”, and the desk staff misplaced our reservation even though we watched them write it down – and then gave us attitude about booking last-minute. There are other hostels in Latacunga, but frankly, we don’t know if they’re any better, either.
  26. The coast is the most popular (sometimes dangerous) Peru border crossing, and inland is the road less traveled (read about it here). Both are accessible from Vilcabamba. The La Balsa border crossing takes several days and routes you through some less-than-exciting parts of Peru, but it is supposedly much safer. I’m not sure which one we’d choose if we had to go back and do it again, honestly.
    La Balsa Border Crossing: from Ecuador to Peru
  27. The buses are uncomfortable. Unlike its neighbor Peru, Ecuador has a “take it or leave it” attitude about the bus you take. The seats are cramped with no leg room, and you’ll be thrown from side to side. But, you might luck out and get a movie in English. And…
  28. The bus rides are short and cheap. Ecuador is tiny. So if you’re trying to see several towns, don’t fret about travel. The longest bus we took was about 3 hours.

    The view from the crater at Quilotoa Lake, on the Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador
    The view from the crater at Quilotoa Lake, Ecuador. Viva Ecuador! We were super excited before we had to crawl up a mountain on our hands and knees and then injured ourselves….
  29. Even though Ecuador uses USD, the coins are unique to the country and therefore useless outside of Ecuador. What’s more is they love using 50 cent or $1 pieces. We came in with some cash from home, and left with change that is pointless past the border.
  30. Ecuadorians have tremendous national pride. Despite it being a beautiful country rich with incredible experiences and places to visit, backpacking in Ecuador is often overlooked next to its more frequently traveled neighbors: Colombia is experiencing an incredible time of peace and prosperity, Peru and Chile bring trekkers, and Brazil and Argentina have always been the stars of South America. It’s tough being a small country so close to those giants. But the country is getting some well-deserved attention as more people realize the joy in backpacking in Ecuador. While it’s small, Ecuador has beaches, the Amazon, the Andes, and the Galapagos to offer. And the people here love their country! I went canyoning in Banos, and the guide made us hold the Ecuadorian flag while we slid down waterfalls or ran through the canyon. When you pose for a picture in America, we say “Cheese.” In most of South America, you say “Whiskey.” In Ecuador, you say “Viva Ecuador!” The traditions, the pride, and the love for Ecuador are shown throughout every town and city. It’s truly fantastic.

Have you ever gone backpacking in Ecuador? Did some of these ring true for you? Let us know in the comments!


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Before we spent a month backpacking in Ecuador, nobody told us that the sea lions in the Galapagos Islands act like dogs begging for table scraps! So cute! Learn more random things that nobody told us about before we went backpacking in Ecuador.

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Hey, I'm Jeremy! I'm a California native, which means I grew up surfing and have really strong opinions about burritos and highways. I'm extremely sassy and I love terrible dad jokes. I also teach high school, which means I get to subject all of my students to my sass and terrible jokes daily. I'm married to Lia and I'm obsessed with her and it's super gross, unless you're us, in which case it's the best.

32 Comment

  1. Vibeke says: Reply

    Great post. Quito has two really good coffee shops Isveglio and Jervis worth trying.

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thank you for this! We’re always on the lookout for good coffee shops. This is super helpful!

  2. Excellent article! I’m heading to Quito next month and found your information to be so helpful! Thanks!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      I’m so glad to hear that, Heather! Happy to help! You’ll love Quito 🙂

  3. Meg says: Reply

    I’ve always wanted to visit Ecuador and this is such a great read! Really appreciate the hints and tips, and my goodness, that hot chocolate does look immense!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Ecuador is fantastic! ESPECIALLY the hot chocolate 😀

  4. Frank says: Reply

    Enjoyed reading this post, great guide to Ecuador and I’ll save it for when we eventually get there.

    My boss used to like to talk about fizzy water, comparing the size of the bubbles between Perrier and San Pellegrino.

    Anyway, fun and helpful post.


    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thanks Frank! Glad you liked the post. Frankly we’ve both become gas water snobs ourselves. And Ecuador still has the BEST agua con gas of anywhere we’ve ever tasted. There’s no comparison. We miss Guittig 🙁

      1. I loved reading this about Guitig! I am Ecuadorean and have lived abroad many years and if there is one thing I still crave when I’m away is Guitig!

        1. Lia says: Reply

          I totally feel you! I crave it too and I was only there for a month 😛

  5. This was a really interesting post to read! I love reading your insightful insider comments about traveling in Ecuador. This country is on my list of places to visit and I am sure this will be helpful for me when I start seriously planning. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thank Brittany! We loved Ecuador and I know you will too 🙂

  6. I am from Ecuador, and it’s true, we have so much pride for our country :). The middle of the world monument is a few meters away from the actual middle of the world. It’s actually what the natives thought was the middle of the world, and now that it’s GPS’d, they were very close. They have a lot of experiments that they do on the actual middle, it’s very awesome to see

    1. Lia says: Reply

      That’s interesting, I didn’t realize that it was an educated guess! That’s so impressive that they were able to get it so close.

  7. Francelly says: Reply

    Hey! I’m from Ecuador and I really enjoy reading this post (I didn’t realized about the creepy clowns until now, I think everyone just ignores them because the have been there forever). I came here because of your “10 Things we wished we did and didn’t pack” which has been useful since I’m traveling next month to Europe (any tips?).
    I feel insanely sorry for the bad moments you had to go through, because the look we are giving to the world may not be the best and some people do nothing to change it up. Sadly we don’t realize how important is to be kind and honest and yes, some of our tourism services have a lot of flaws.
    Hopefully you will come back anytime because I can’t believe you didn’t visit the coast. It is a must. Further than it is were the party is, it has amazing places to eat for a low price mostly. The seafood is AWESOME. Besides I think people there are a lot more outgoing and relaxed. Specially Manabí, look up for the Los frailes beach there. Also Salinas and Esmeraldas. All the coast actually. Especially after last years’ earthquake, the coast is trying hard to keep economy going through tourism.
    Thank you for visiting us, keep traveling the world because you are very inspiring.

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Francelly! We would LOVE to return to Ecuador – and we’ll make sure to visit the coast! Thanks for the awesome tips!

      As for your trip to Europe … I would say be careful with your bag, because pickpockets are pretty common there. I wear a “bra pocket” with my money and cards under my shirt, and my husband wears a money belt. I think purses are too much of a target! We do have day bags too, but we keep them locked. Something to consider for your travels! I’d also say to bring a very SMALL converter/adapter if you can, because they have weird shaped outlets that don’t fit the really big, bulky adapters. Frankly we had to throw away all of the adapters we bought online before we went and just bought adapters when we arrived! Have a great trip, let us know if there are any questions we can answer for you!

  8. Ashley Parks says: Reply

    Planning a trip to South America next September and was hoping to go to Quito and Banos so this was a great read! Would you safe it was relatively safe? I am planning on traveling solo and I can’t get a good view on Ecuador as far as that goes! Thanks, I am looking forward to reading more of your blog posts!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Both felt safe to us, but we are travelling together. I would say that Banos definitely feels quite safe – it’s a smaller town, not a giant city. I wandered through it on my own pretty frequently and was never concerned, even at night. Quito is a very large city, so I would suggest having the same precautions you would when travelling in a large metropolitan area anywhere in the world. But I certainly didn’t feel unsafe at any point during our month in Ecuador!

  9. christine says: Reply

    I stumbled upon your blog while reading about backpacking in Peru (we are going in August) and then wanted to check out what you had to say about Ecuador. I lived in Guayaquil in 2007 and have been back every summer since. I am appreciative of your reference to the Hostel Izhcayluma – I spent a few nights there back in ’07 but never knew the name, and when I clicked on the link saw it was the same spot. It brought back great memories, thank you. : ) I hope you both get a chance to go back to Ecuador again someday and visit Guayaquil and the coast! It’s really special. <3

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Happy to help spark your memory, Christine! We really want to return and visit Guayaquil. We really think we missed out. Plus Ecuador is awesome and we definitely want to go back again!

  10. Thank you for writing about my country! Yes, we are really proud of Ecuador… there are some things you missed guys like the coffee shops (I don’t like coffee cause we have chocolate!) that travelers love a lot! I think you really have to come back to Ecuador, and come to Guayaquil! all about Cacao History begins around here! You can contact me anytime you want, I can say I’m an expert Guayaquileña 🙂 I liked your post very much. (Pd: again, come to Guayaquil)

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Thanks Allyson!! We would love to go back to Ecuador and definitely plan to at some point! You’re definitely not the first person who’s told us we missed out on Guayaquil – we definitely won’t make that mistake next time!

  11. Bobbie says: Reply

    Thank you……. Ecuador and Galapagos have been on our bucket list for years and we thought out of our reach. However, you saved the day….. and also offered a solution that is much more like how I prefer to travel. I hate heavily structured tours – need some fun explore time. I am a single mom with 3 kids and we think we are going to try to do this trip this year. I would LOVE to do your entire itinerary…. sadly, have to work. I can’t wait to start planning!

    1. Lia says: Reply

      I’m the same way! I’m so happy to have been helpful 🙂 You’ll have a BLAST!

  12. Rocio says: Reply

    Thank you!!! You helped me a lot with my trip decisions.

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Happy to help!

  13. Tom says: Reply

    Great article. So much sounds familiar about Ecuador and my experience.
    One thing you guys can/should probably add: There is AMAZING kitesurfing in Ecuador – in the town of Playa Santa Marianita near Manta and it is a perfect place to relax on the long beach. Nobody ever tells that. I just found it by accident and I love it (already for a month). Best place for the real local experience is a bamboo hostel on the hill overlooking the beach!
    Thanks for the great blog post.

    1. Lia says: Reply

      Omg, I had no idea! We never made it to that area. Totally going back! Thanks for the excellent insight 🙂

  14. Kari says: Reply

    Heey! I am from Ecuador and I can say this was a really good post. Glad you like Ecuador, Guitig is amazing and Yeah we have creepy clown trashcans I don’t even know why and I have never thought about it.

    1. Lia says: Reply

      My favorite thing about the creepy clown trash cans is that apparently nobody in Ecuador has ever stopped twice to think about why there are creepy clown trashcans everywhere 😛 one of life’s greatest unsolved mysteries….

  15. From Quito says: Reply

    Wonderful post of my amazing country. #23 however is not entirely true. You can go to the equatorial line, there is even a museum where you learn more about the science behind the equatorial line and the phenomena that happen on that line only. The more popular line (yellow line drawn on the floor) was calculated hundreds of years ago before modern technology determined precisely where the middle is, which is only a couple hundred meters away.

    1. Thank you so much for pointing that out! That’s really cool, that the calculation was so close. I’m glad you educated us!

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