RSS

Tag Archives: Ecuador

Ecuador to Peru Border Crossing

Our border crossing should have gone a lot smoother than how it actually went, however, we had politics against us.

We decided to cross the border at the Peruvian, Tumbes area, partially because we wanted to follow the coast in Peru instead of the mountains as we had done in Ecuador, but also because all the main bus routes seemed to head that way.

After a 3 hour bus journey from Puerto Lopez we reached the very large bus terminal of Guayaquil. We had originally wanted to stop in Mancora, Peru but as we had delayed already by a couple of days in Puerto Lopez we decided to skip our beach days and head straight to Chiclayo.

We had previously looked into going with Cruz del Sur but they only went on certain days and they also seemed a little expensive. So we scoured the desks until we found a bus company called Semera, who could take us straight to Chiclayo on an overnight bus for $22 each. Perfect we thought, we could grab something to eat, freshen up and head out that same night.

However, as we paid for our tickets they alerted us that there may be a problem as the frontier was currently closed due to a political dispute. They assured us that by 5pm it should be resolved, so we bought our tickets and headed off to eat. At 5pm we returned to be told that yes they would be going and that we should return at 9pm to collect our backpacks, as they had been storing them for us.

At 9pm we came down to collect our things only to be told that the frontier was still closed. We had now spent 9 hours in the terminal. The staff explained we could change our tickets for the following night’s bus and that things should be resolved by the following lunchtime. We had nowhere booked and the prospect of hotel hunting in Guayaquil at 9pm was not appealing. Luckily, they helped us into a taxi and pointed the driver into the direction of cheap hotel.

The following day we returned in the afternoon and were luckily told that yes the bus would be going. We therefore proceeded to wait again in the terminal until our departure at 10pm.

We finally arrived at the frontier at 2.30am and I have to say this was so far the easiest crossing we have had. We simply disembarked and went into a building with 2 desks, an Ecuadorian and a Peruvian. It was literally that simple, stamp out at desk 1 and stamp in at desk 2, then back onto the bus. Life had been made even easier by the bus company who had given us the immigration forms to fill in ahead of time.

We proceeded into Peru but came to a military checkpoint a little after the frontier. We disembarked again, had our hand luggage briefly looked at and were allowed to board again. No fees, no real checks and really quite hassle free.

Just after 10am, following a 12 hour bus ride, we finally arrived at our destination: Chiclayo.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Puerto Lopez – Whale Watching

We had originally planned to head straight to Peru after our week in the Galapagos Islands, but on a last-minute whim we changed our minds and decided to go whale watching first.

We had met a couple of people during our travels who had suggested Puerto Lopez as a prime viewing area, and with the whale season running from June until the end of September we hoped to have a good chance at a sighting.

Our flight from Baltra landed at Guayaquil airport a little after 3pm and we headed straight out to the bus terminal, located a short 10 minutes’ walk away. Luckily we were able to catch the last bus going out at 4.30pm.

At 8.30pm we finally arrived on the main road in Puerto Lopez with no idea as to where to go next. For the first time in my life I was actually grateful to the street hagglers you get when you get off a bus. After a quick chat with a tuk-tuk driver we were off to look for hostels. The deal was we could look at 3 places for a $1, fair price we thought. In the end we settled on Plaza Real, just 2 blocks from the beach.

The same evening we managed to book ourselves for the 2 hour whale watching tour the following morning. After negotiating we managed to get the tour for $15 per person. The tour basically consisted of driving around the bay in a small yacht looking for whales. From the launch off point on the beach you can see the numerous tour boats all heading out.

For the first hour we didn’t see anything and were starting to feel like we might end up not seeing any whales. Then as we changed course we suddenly started to see them, at first just surfacing out of the water, but then to our amazement one jumped out of the water!

Puerto Lopez - humpback whale first appearance

Puerto Lopez - humpback whale side-fin-wave

Puerto Lopez - humpback whale tail-wave

Puerto Lopez - humpback whale jump

It was a truly amazing experience and we were glad we took the detour. Puerto Lopez itself also turned out to be a nice place to relax, with restaurants and bars along the beach and at reasonable prices too. And at night the whole beach would come to life with bars playing music and selling cocktails.

Puerto Lopez - bars on the beach at night
Puerto Lopez turned out to be a great little place to spend a couple of days eating good food and enjoying a beach nightlife, and we were glad of the last minute detour.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: ,

Galapagos Island Hopping and Travel

The one thing we could never find information about was island hopping in Galapagos. Unless you want to do a cruise or tour of Galapagos Islands there isn’t a website that I could find which would categorically list out what can and can’t be done if you choose to island hop Galapagos instead. As such, I have created a series of posts dedicated to explaining how we spent 10 days island hopping, what tours we did, which are on the menu and most importantly what to expect!

This first post covers getting there and a rough guide as to what to expect, I will then be publishing posts per each island that we visited, with outlines of what we did but also what else there is to do. I hope this provides anyone looking to island hop with enough information to make you feel like you’ll know what to expect.

Arriving in Galapagos

You can fly from either Quito or Guayaquil into Galapagos and there are several airlines that offer flights including, AeroGal and LAN. Your first entry point into the Galapagos Islands will probably be the small island of Baltra whose main purpose is to serve as an international airport base. The other entry point is the airport on San Cristobal Island.

Before leaving Guayaquil you will be asked to fill in a form and pay $10 tax. Your bags will also be scanned before check-in and then tagged. The reason for this being that no vegetables, fruits, seeds or animal products can be taken into the Galapagos. Your bags will be constantly searched at each entry and exit point when you travel between inhabited islands. You can however take products such as cereal, pasta, biscuits etc, and if you do bring a small supply you will save yourself a few dollars as shops are very expensive in the Galapagos, due to everything needing to be imported.

Upon arrival in Baltra you will be requested to pay the national park entrance fee of $100 per person. At this point you will also be asked for the form given to you at the time of departures. You will be given a receipt which you will need for your departure so ensure you keep it safe.

The airport of Baltra itself is very small and services are very limited. Be prepared for a rather long wait to reclaim your bags as each bag needs to not only be manually disembarked from the flight, but also needs to be checked over and sniffed by a police dog. Only after this process is over you can collect your bags, and you will need your bag receipt to do so.

Note that there is currently a new terminal being built.

Getting from Baltra to Santa Cruz Island

Free shuttles run from the airport to the ferry dock. Once at the dock which is located about 10 minutes away you will have to board a ferry for $0.60 each to literally cross the small channel that seperates Baltra from Santa Cruz.

Once across the channel you have the option of taking a taxi for $25 or a bus for $1.80. There is only one route to Puerto Ayora so unless you really want to splash out I would recommend taking the bus which is direct anyway and takes about 45mins.

Tell the driver where you want to be dropped off and they will tell you when to get off and where to go. If you have nowhere booked then head all the way to the centre as most places are located within a block or two from the port. There are enough lodging options in Puerto Ayora if you want to try and bargain for your stay in person. We had pre-booked but found a cheaper place whilst walking around despite it supposedly being high season.

Travelling in Galapagos

As mentioned before, airports are also located on both San Cristobal and Isabella mainly for internal flights between the 3 islands. The prices for these short flights can range from $100 upwards and are operated by www.emetebe.com.ec

Alternatively, you can travel between Santa Cruz, Isabella and San Cristobal by daily boats. You can either take the ferry for $25 per person or ask to go on a tour boat for $30 each. The only real difference is the time, the ferry for example will leave Isabella at 5.30am to return to Santa Cruz, whereas the tour boat will return at 2.30pm. You can book tickets either via your hotel or at any agency and can book as late as the evening before, however they are all dependant on space so try to plan ahead if possible.

The other way to see Galapagos outside of the cruises is to do day trips. The vast majority of these leave from Santa Cruz and prices vary greatly depending on where you are going, and to some extent with whom you book. Be prepared to bargain for every tour as saving even $5 on each tour can add up to a free night’s accommodation!

The islands you can visit from Santa Cruz include:

  • Floreana (as a tour)
  • San Cristobal (independent or as a tour)
  • Santa Fe (with or without San Cristobal as a tour)
  • North Seymour (as a tour)
  • South Plazas (as a tour)
  • Isabela (2 – 3 nights on the island as a tour or independently)
  • Bartolome (as a tour)

Accommodation in Galapagos

Santa Cruz has the largest selection of accommodation in Galapagos from budget hostels to upmarket lodges and there should be something to suit most budgets. However, this is the Galapagos and as such you have to be realistic in both your budget and your expectations. You can find a good hotel room from $35 – $40 per night and as most people only stop for a couple of nights you can usually get a good deal if you stay more than 3 nights.

Isabella is a fraction of Santa Cruz and accommodation is more scarce, however as most people stay in Santa Cruz the prices in Isabella are lower and we paid $20 per night in a posada.

We didn’t visit San Cristobal but met a couple who had and it would seem that it is similar to Isabella in terms of size of inhabitants and prices.

Eating in Galapagos

Regardless, if you are vegetarian or not you will find something to eat in the Galapagos. Despite being small in size the inhabited islands have a fair selection of food, although not very cheap. Meal prices will set you back from around $8 per person if you eat in local eateries and around $20 – 25 for a pizza.

If you can bring food to the island and cook for yourself at least once a day like we did you could save yourself up to $60+ each per week. For example we spent $20 on pasta and tomato sauces in Guayaquil and with that catered for 8 meals for the 2 of us, saving us an around $150 during our stay. It’s worth considering…

Safety

Galapagos is a relatively small community and as such there is no real crime or sense of danger when walking around any of the islands. However, having said that, a certain level of vigilance should always be observed when travelling.

The Islands

There is an obvious difference between the uninhabited and inhabited islands and that is mainly people and rubbish. Despite it being a National Park with controlled tourism and population levels, the inhabited islands did disappoint us a bit as there was rubbish on the roads in the towns, and I don’t just mean the odd can of coke but small mounts of rubbish here and there. It is a shame that despite priding themselves on recycling so much they don’t keep the islands as clean as they should. On the other hand the uninhabited islands were spotless and luckily the animals had their original living conditions with no human additions around them.

Other points

Depending on when you go you could find that the water temperature varies a great deal. If visiting during the winter months – July to September, you will need to rent a wet suit for snorkelling as the water is very cold. Wet suits can be hired from most tour operators or dive centres and prices range from $5-8 for the day.

Snorkelling gear can also be hired at a cost of $5-10 depending on which island you are on. Ensure that you always check your equipment beforehand as the masks can sometimes be old and leak. Also, if going on a day trip, take fins with you from your tour agency which are free as most boat trips we went on didn’t have any available.

If you plan to island hop and would like to see a few of the islands then you will need a minimum of a week, as there are plenty of free activities to do on each of the islands.

The following posts will cover the islands that we visited with what we did, what there is to do and tips for your time in Galapagos, enjoy!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Cuenca

Before our marathon week in Galapagos we wanted to settle down somewhere for a few days and just relax. We had planned to do this in Banos, but after 2 nights there we quickly decided it wasn’t the place for us and so we moved onwards taking in an overnight stay at Alausi for the Devil’s Nose train ride.

And so we arrived at Cuenca, described as a UNESCO city filled with pretty buildings and streets. Big enough to give you plenty to explore, yet small enough to not feel like you are in a huge city.

We had pre-booked ourselves into the Hostel el Monasterio, overlooking the beautiful old cathedral and after arrival decided to stay for 5 nights. The hostel is conveniently located to take in the 2 cathedrals of Cuenca, the historic centre and the nearby food market. Perfect for us!

Cuenca - cathedral view from the hostel

Despite wanting to get away from it for a few days our first night at the hostel unfolded into a bit of a drama. It was one of the churches feast day and as such there were processions in the evening followed by fireworks. However, we noticed that this abruptly ended and we started to smell smoke.

Looking out from our bedroom window we could see smoke coming from the front of the old cathedral and hurried round to the balcony at the front of the hostel for a better look. What transcribed were several hours of dozens of fire-fighters trying to put the fire out. At first we weren’t sure if it was the actual cathedral that was on fire or not, but we later learned that luckily the fire was in a building opposite the old cathedral.

Cuenca - fire behind the cathedral

However, despite the fire-fighters best effort the monastery behind the cathedral did not come off unscathed and suffered some damage on some of its side buildings. The cause of fire was apparently due to a dodgy firework which had not properly exploded when it took off. Sadly, the buildings that caught fire were of colonial heritage and invariably caused a loss to the city.

Cuenca - historic centre street

The rest of our time in Cuenca went by without any more dramas, we were able to go for walks around the city, relax at the hostel and shop at the local market for fruit and vegetables. One thing we noticed about Cuenca was the array of health shops and the large variety of vegetarian supplies, including frozen soya meat products. Something we had not encountered in other countries so, needless to say, we had a feast of good food during our stay!

Cuenca - historic centre

The one thing we didn’t get round to doing was to go and pay the nearby thermal pools a visit. Apparently, they are located a 30 minutes bus ride away and have varying price ranges from spa to free pools.

Once our rest time had come to an end we took a 5 hour bus ride to Guayaquil, we didn’t want to spend long here and so arrived in the afternoon with the intention of just staying night before our flight to Galapagos.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: ,

Alausi – Devil’s Nose train

Ever since I first saw the Devil’s Nose train ride on television as a child I have wanted to ride the train. Therefore, from Banos we decided to take a slight detour on our way to Cuenca, and pay the town of Alausi a visit.

Devil's Nose - the mountain

Finding information on the Devil’s Nose train ride, or any other train line in Ecuador can be quite a task as information seems to constantly change. Luckily, our guide in Quilotoa referred us to the Ecuadorian train website – www.trenecuador.com. On the website you will find information on prices, timetable and routes for all the parts of the still active train rail system. It is worth noting that a great deal of work is being undertaken to reunite the sections of the rail, and I expect that in the next couple of years a lot of the rail system will be back up and running again.

We arrived in Alausi at 2pm hoping to take the 3pm train ride, we found a lovely new hostel on the main road called Hostal Estacion del Tren, checked ourselves in, dropped off our bags and headed for the station. Unfortunately, they were fully booked for the afternoon but we were able to buy tickets for the following morning.

The only downside was that the good seats with the view, on the right hand side of the train, were fully booked except for in first class, which would cost $35 each. It was steep but I had waited so long to take the ride that I didn’t hesitate for too long. With our tickets booked we headed back to get something to eat.

The following morning we were at the station at 7.45am for our 8am train ride. The first class area consists of a horseshoe-shaped couch so you can maximise your views. The whole train has windows on the sides and part of the roof so you can really see around you.

Devil's Nose - train carriage

The ride took just over an hour to reach the station of Sibamba, going through the famous switch back rails, enabling the train to descend comfortably. The views of the surrounding mountains and scenery is beautiful and the train goes fairly slow to allow you to take it all in.

Devil's Nose train ride - approaching an interchange

Devil's Nose train ride - the mountain panorama

At the station we were greeted by locals performing a welcome dance, a tour of the museum and a courtesy light lunch and drink before heading back up for another ride through the switch back system.

Devil's Nose train ride - dancers at the station

Devil's Nose train ride - surrounding views on the way

Although, the train ride is much more tourist orientated than the one I saw all those years ago, it was still a fun experience and definitely something different. Originally we had wanted to take the weekend train, which supposedly is the “local” train but our days did not coincide, so if you are considering doing the train ride it may be worth seeing if you can take the weekend train instead as it is also a fair bit cheaper!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Banos

Everyone we met insisted that we should go to Banos as it was the place to go in Ecuador, regardless if you wanted to relax in thermal pools, hike mountains or do extreme sports. Apparently, Banos had it all.

So we arrived in Banos from Latacunga following a 2 hour bus ride, and from the bus terminal we headed off to our pre-booked hostel, Plantas y Blancos, located near the edge of town.

As we walked to the hostel we couldn’t help but notice the door to door hotel, hostels, restaurants and tour agencies. We were slightly concerned but thought maybe this is just one side of town.

Banos - Parque Central

Reaching the hostel we checked into a lovely room, however, by evening we discovered that the hostel had no kitchen facilities in the building, despite having been told by email that they did. If we wanted to cook we would have to go to the sister hostel round the corner. We weren’t too pleased about it and asked if instead we could simply just move rooms, we were told we could, so we went to see the other hostel.

Once we explained our situation to the reception at Santa Cruz, the sister hostel, we were told that they in fact did not have a kitchen either, that the kitchen was located at the third hostel, a further 20m down the road. We could not believe it, 3 hostels and only 1 kitchen, not a problem unless you cook for most of your meals. We were told that there were rooms in the third hostel, so we had a look. The room was spacious and the place seemed quiet enough, so we reserved a room for a week and the following morning we moved across.

In the meantime we took a look at the town. We had had an active couple of days at Latacunga and were not looking for hiking, carting, rafting or bungee jumping. Instead, we wanted to get some provisions from a market and relax for a few days, however, this was not to be. There was only 1 supermarket in the town, with very limited food and the fruit and vegetable “market” consisted of a couple of small stalls.

The town was obviously centered around eating out, after all there was a large selection of restaurants and cafes, which is great if that’s what you want. However, for anyone wanting to cook it proved a little harder.

The other problem was that there was actually nothing to do or see in Banos itself, unless you went on a tour. We decided that Banos was not for us, the town was far too catered towards tourists and tours. We wanted to be somewhere where you could walk around and see things and not have to trek or join a tour.

So the next morning we cancelled our reservation and set off in the direction of Cuenca hoping to find what we were looking for.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Quilotoa Crater Lake

On our third day in Latacunga we booked ourselves onto a day tour of the Quilotoa crater lake. The day trip was again $35 per person and the schedule was the same as per Cotopaxi, pick up at 8am and return back by 5pm.

The tour itself is made of a couple of stops along the way, the first of them being the small and incredibly quiet town of Pujili. We stopped for only 10 minutes to take a quick look around the main square and learn about the style of architecture used, and the rope powered Swiss tower clock which chimes every 15 minutes.

Pujili - main plaza

Following this we carried on along a beautiful road through the mountains with stunning scenery, until we arrived at another pit-stop; the traditional houses of the indigenous people. We were shown a couple of the thatched houses that were dotted along the road and then invited to see the inside of one. However, what we came across was hard to accept.

Settlement near the main road between Pujili and Zambaua

Outside the house lay 2 near starved to death dogs and a wild falcon with clipped wings, in what can only be described as a triangular hand-made cage, which barely gave the powerful bird any space to manoeuver. It broke my heart to watch this majestic bird desperately trying to free itself from the cage. When I asked the guide why the bird was there, he replied that they had managed to catch the bird to display it for tourists who came to visit. In that instance I decided to not partake and turned off my camera and went back outside to wait for the others, needless to say without leaving a “donation” for the owners.

Our journey carried on until we reached the market town of Zumbaua, as it was a Saturday our visit coincided with the market. However, this was not a type of market I had come across before. At first it seemed pretty standard with the usual fruit, vegetable and clothes but as we wandered to the other side we stumbled across what can be best described as an animal cemetery.

Zumbaua - saturday market

The streets were littered with animal bones, and not just your usual chicken bones and odd steak bones, but rather half skull bones with teeth still attached. The smell of dead animals was also strong and everywhere you looked you could see hungry dogs chewing on animal skulls. Personally, I would not recommend this market for this reason and for the fact that it is not of any particular interest.

After a good half an hour of slowly being led through the market we moved onwards again to the view-point for the beautiful Rio Toachi Canyon. Apparently the biggest in Ecuador, the canyon has depths of up to 150 metres, and if you are feeling brave enough you can walk right to the edges of the ridges in the centre and feel as if you are flying above the canyon!

Rio Toachi canyon - panorama

Rio Toachi canyon - viewing point

After taking a few photos we finally headed off to our final destination; Quilotoa crater lake. Once parked we were led up the path to the view-point and were then told to stop and close our eyes. The guide then led us the last few metres with our eyes shut. When we reached the fence we were told to open our eyes, and were met with this amazing sight!

Quilotoa - the crater lake panorama

The whole of the crater is filled with amazingly blue-green water and from the view-point you can see all the way around the crater. When you do the tour you can choose to either do the standard descend down to the lake and hike back up, or you can opt to walk around the crater which takes around 6 hours. The one thing to bear in mind though is that the crater rim is at 3850 metres altitude and that does take a toll on your system.

I was not feeling up to doing either option as I was feeling the after effects of climbing Cotopaxi the day before, therefore I decided to just do a short walk by myself part of the way round the crater while my partner went down to the lake and back.

Quilotoa crater lake view from path

When he returned he said the views from the lake where not as impressive as from above, whereas the short walk I took I thoroughly enjoyed as the views from the rim are remarkable. I just wish I had been feeling well enough to do the circuit as I imagine it to have been truly worthwhile.

Nevertheless, the crater view-point offers everyone the opportunity to appreciate the beautiful surroundings, and when you have had enough of the cold wind you can pop into one of the nearby hosterias for a hot tea!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,