In summer 2016 I spent 11 days in the highlands of Ecuador visiting Quito, Otavalo, and Cuenca after spending three weeks in Colombia.
|1||Flight to Quito via Bogotá||Quito|
|3||Bus to Otavalo||Otavalo|
|4||Bus to Quito||Quito|
|7||Flight to Cuenca||Cuenca|
|11||Flight to Quito, then flight back to US|
June and July are good months to visit the Ecuadorian highlands, since it’s mostly sunny with little rain.
Getting There and Away: I flew to Quito from Bogotá with the budget airline Viva Colombia. Using Viva Colombia went smoothly and saved me hundreds of dollars over using other Latin American carriers. See more about Viva Colombia here.
I flew TAME, Ecuador’s national airline, roundtrip between Quito and Cuenca. This was a cheap return flight at only US$100, but I was not impressed with TAME. My return flight from Cuenca was canceled without the airline notifying me, a fact I only discovered a couple of days before my flight when I tried to log in to see my itinerary and got an error. TAME doesn’t seem to answer their phones, so it was a stressful scramble to find an office open on Sundays to get my flight rebooked.
Uber is unfortunately not yet available in Ecuador, although there are other taxi services you can request via smartphone. The Claro cell plan I had bought in Colombia did not roam in Ecuador, so I just took official taxis on the street (identified by the green license numbers on the windshield).
I found taxis in Ecuador to be a mixed bag. Most drivers were incredibly helpful and friendly, but I encountered one with a meter that obviously had been altered to run faster. When I complained he first denied any problem with the meter and then eventually turned it off, settling on a price.
I stayed in Airbnbs throughout Ecuador and had a great experience.
SIM card and apps
The Claro plan I bought in Colombia did not have roaming enabled in Ecuador, despite Claro being a major provider there. When I asked, it turned out there was some paperwork I needed to fill out before leaving Colombia to enable roaming. (I had asked at a Claro store in Colombia and no one had mentioned this.) Still, there was enough free Wi-Fi in Quito and Cuenca to manage.
As in most Latin American countries, I recommend installing WhatsApp since it’s commonly used for messaging.
In Quito I stayed at an Airbnb in La Mariscal, the tourist area where most accommodation is located, a short taxi ride from the center.
I spent a Friday night at an Airbnb in Otavalo in order to get up early for the famous Saturday market. For hundreds of years, Otavalo has hosted one of the most important markets in the Andes. Otavalo is world-famous for its indigenous population, the Otavalos, many of whom travel around the world to sell their famous handicrafts or play in Andean folk music groups. The Otavalos are considered the economically most successful indigenous group of Latin America.
On Saturdays, most of the streets of town are filled with market stalls selling everything from food to traditional indigenous dress. There are actually several markets in Otavalo. The animal market, a short walk out of town, starts in the early morning and starts wrapping up around 10am. The animal market is not for the faint of heart, but provides a fascinating glimpse into local culture.
Least interesting of all to me was the touristy artisan market in the market square. I’m not much of a shopper, but for someone interested in buying blankets, sweaters, or other souvenirs it would be a useful stop.
Cuenca is a lovely city deservedly popular with expats. It’s worth staying a few days to check it out.