Ecuador - Central Highlands Route Map

Central Highlands – Ecuador – A One Week Tour


JULY / AUGUST 2018:


Why not read our Retirement Reviews.


OVERVIEW:

PLEASE NOTE: The currency in Ecuador is US$s.

I had already been to Banos and Tena. From Tena, I had hoped to get into the Amazon and, perhaps, go even further north to Coca to get even deeper into the Amazon.Puerto Misahualli - Riverboats

I didn’t like Tena much. As a town, it is ‘drab’ and lacks ‘character’. And, alas, the weather was also too miserable (for us ‘wrinklies’ anyway) to get the best out of the day trips that Tena does offer …Puerto Misahualli - Bridge

So, I turned my head south (to better weather) and decided to tour the Central Highlands instead.Banos - Foot Bridge

This post summarises the good and bad that I found on my journey.

At the end of this post, I make a recommendation for a 1 week Do-It-Yourself ‘LIVING IDEAS’ tour: Quito-Banos-Alausi-Quilotoa-Quito.


AMBATO:

GETTING THERE:

I decided to start my trip in Ambato which meant re-tracing my steps back from Tena.Ambato Location Map

I took a Direct bus from Tena to Ambato. You catch the bus from the Main Tena Bus Terminal.Tena - Bus Terminal Tena - Bus Terminal Area

I decided on the ‘Expreso Banos’ bus because it was direct (with only a quick stop in Puyo and Banos).Tena - Bus to Ambato

It was a 4 hour trip over the Andes for US$6.25.Banos - Gorge to Puyo 2

These buses are, generally, very comfortable and you have no problems with comfort on a 4 hour trip. Please read my Banos post for information about how to keep your luggage safe on these buses.

We arrived in the Ambato Bus Terminal on schedule at 2pm.


ABOUT:

Ambato (San Juan de Ambato) is a city located in the central Andean valley. Lying on the banks of the Ambato River, the city also sits beneath several tall mountains. It is 2,577 metres above sea level.Ambato City Map

The city of Ambato was founded in its present location on 6 December 1698. The city has been fully or partially destroyed by earthquakes several times in its history, most recently on 5 August 1949 when the city and its cathedral were almost completely levelled. The city has been rebuilt.

Ambato lies in the main valley of the Central Cordillera, the highest of the Andean mountain ranges. The city itself is carved into the side of Cerro Casigana, the mountain that dominates the north end of the city. From Ambato, it is possible to see many snow-capped volcanoes including Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Carihuairazo, and the largest mountain in Ecuador, Chimborazo.Ambato - Steps

The threat of eruption from the Tungurahua volcano is constant. On May 16 2006, Tungurahua erupted covering the city with a thick layer of ash.

The city serves as a main transportation hub, especially for travelers moving south on the Pan-American Highway (like me).


PHOTO GALLERY:

The roads north of the ‘Historical Centre’ near the Bus Terminal are uninspiring.Ambato - Typical Main Street

After walking about 500 metres into the Historical Centre from the Bus Terminal, the side streets become a bit more picturesque.Ambato - Typical Side Street

The Cathedral (as usual) is found in the main square.Ambato - Cathedral

The ‘Historical Centre’ is only about 7 blocks long and 3 blocks wide.Ambato - Main Square

Around these streets you find some nice old buildings.Ambato - Main Square Buildings

Ambato - Main Square BuildingAnd, a couple more small parks.Ambato - Small Park


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked 2 nights at the Colony Inn.Ambato - Colony Inn - Room Entry

I paid US$20 / night (Single Occupancy) for a Double Room with Cable TV, Hot Water Ensuite, and Breakfast.Ambato - Colony Inn - Furniture

I chose the Colony Inn because it was near to the Bus Terminal and I knew that I was catching a bus from there to Alausi … I wanted to be within walking distance of the Bus Terminal.Ambato - Colony Inn - Room

The ensuite was OK too.Ambato - Colony Inn - Vanity Ambato - Colony Inn - Shower

The Colony Inn room was better than the rooms that I had in Banos and Tena. The wifi, however was still very bad most of the time and, on many occasions, I could hardly load Facebook. I fell back on my own Claro Smartphone Data Plan on many occasions.


WHERE TO STAY:

If you can, avoid Ambato completely. It offers very little for those touring the area.

If you must stay 1 night ‘in-transit’, stay near the Bus Terminal. The ‘Historical Centre’ is not worth the return taxi fare.


TRANSPORT:

The city’s main bus terminal is located in the Ingahurco neighborhood, which lies on the north side of downtown. This main terminal, or Terminal Terrestre (as it is known in Spanish), serves some of the country’s numerous bus operators.

The Ambato Train Station is situated next to the Bus Terminal. I went down to find out if I could catch a train from Ambato one-way to Alausi. You cannot. Although there used to be a train service running through Ambato from Quito to Riobamba, this service has long since closed. This is what Tren Ecuador do offer:Ecuador - Tren Ecuador - Routes

I was told that all trips are Return Only. You cannot get a one-way ticket … this ruined my plan of returning from Alausi by train to Riobamba! On that basis, I removed Riobamba from my itinerary.


MY CONCLUSION:

Avoid Ambato and Riobamba. Start your tour in Banos.


BANOS:

For full details on Banos, read my Banos post.


GETTING THERE:

Get yourself to the Quitumbe Bus Terminal in southern Quito.

Quito - Quitumbe Location Map

A good way of getting there cheaply (25c) is to jump on Trolebus which takes you all the way from City Centre (10-12kms).

There are several bus companies that service the Quitumbe to Banos route. A bus from one of these companies leaves for Banos every 30 minutes during the day. A ticket costs US$4.50.

Quito - Bus to Banos

The trip takes about 3.5 hours.


ABOUT:

Baños de Agua Santa is commonly referred to as just Baños.Banos Location Map

Baños is a major tourist centre located on the northern foothills of the Tungurahua volcano which, frequently, has powerful ash explosions and lava flows. In October 1999, all 17,000+ residents were forced to evacuate the city for weeks.Banos - Bridge

Baños is named after the hot springs located around the city which have a reputation of having healing properties due to their various mineral content.

The city is, also, a Roman Catholic religious centre and it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared at a nearby waterfall. So, a sculpture of the virgin, called Virgen de Agua Santa, was placed in the cathedral.


PHOTO GALLERY:

Banos is small and walk-able.Banos Town Map

From the roads around the Bus Terminal …Banos - Bus Terminal Cafes

You get the typical main streets.Banos - Street 2

The parks …Banos - Street 1

And the typical side streets. They are nothing special during the day but they improve at dusk as the night-life starts.

The further away you get from the centre, the more untidy it gets.


ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS:

As this will be the first stop on your tour, it is worth looking at your costs.

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night in early August 2018 …

BOOKING.COM:

Banos Booking 1Banos Booking 2

PLEASE NOTE: BOOKING displays prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You (usually) have to add 12% to the displayed price to get the final price.

AIRBnB:

Banos AirBnB

PLEASE NOTE: AirBnB displays prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. BUT, the displayed EXCLUSIVES ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%). ALSO, watch out for the ‘Cleaning Fee’, as some places charge more than 1 day’s rent!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

There are many GRANDPAcking options to choose from. I suggest that you book 2 nights in Banos.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked at the last minute and I got a Double Room (single occupancy) at the Hostal Maria Jose for US$15 / night (discounted down from US$20 / night) including Breakfast. It was 1.5 blocks down the main street into town from the Bus Terminal.Banos - Street From Bus Terminal

It was only 2.5 blocks from the main square.Banos - Maria Jose - Room Entry

It was an average size.Banos - Maria Jose - Bed

… and it came with Cable TV (usually only 1 English Speaking channel).Banos - Maria Jose - Room

The ensuite had lots of hot water.Banos - Maria Jose - EnsuiteBanos - Maria Jose - Ensuite Entry

The free Breakfast was simple.Banos - Maria Jose - Free Breakfast

The Free WiFi was almost useless. It was only usable late in the evening.


WHERE TO STAY:

You can stay anywhere around town … exactly where depends on how far you want to walk to get to the main central square and tourist bars.Banos - Square

Most of the tourist bars are on Eloy Alfaro Street.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


EAT & DRINK:

There are many restaurants to choose from.

CHEAP EATS:

Your ‘cheap eats’ can be found down in the central Mercado.Banos - Mercado

In the Mercado you find a selection of stalls selling various meals in the US$2.50-US$5.00 price range. The Mercado starts packing up at 5pm and closes at 6pm. As always, the Almuerzo (Lunch) set meal is the best value for money: a soup starter, a rice-based main, and a glass of fruit juice for US$2.50. Pay a little bit more for something fancier:Medellin - Almuerzo Ejecutivo C$9k

You can, also, get a set Breakfast (Desayuno Completo) for the same price (US$2.50).Quito - Desayuno Completo $1.75

However, ‘cheap eats’ are not just limited to the Mercado. You will find many local cafes around town doing the same Breakfasts and Lunches for only US$0.25c-US$0.50c more.

Around the Bus Terminal (as usual) you will find more cheap eateries. A reasonable Hamburger costs US$2.50 (add US$1 if you want French Fries).

DRINK:

The normal price for a small 330ml local beer (western bars) is US$3. Alas, I couldn’t find any ‘local’ bars anywhere … the climate is too cold and unpredictable for Banos to have the Cafe-Minimart type bars that you find in (say, Rodadero) Colombia.

In some of the more rustic central bars, you can get a 1 pint bottle of beer for US$2.50-US$3.00. In a side-street Convenience Store, you can buy a 1 litre local beer for US$2.25 (with no deposit on the bottle).

HAPPY HOURS:

There are very few Happy Hours around town. You find a couple on Eloy Alfaro Street. Happy Hours are, usually, 2-for-1 Cocktails in the US$6-US$8 price range. I found 2 exceptions:

  1. The Leprechaun Pub: 3 craft draft beers for US$8
  2. A bar 30 metres from the Leprechaun: 1 pint of standard Brahva for US$3

Drinking in the Tourist Bars around Banos is expensive.

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$2.75 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of US$2.75 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$7.50 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.

MY ADVICE: You may get a simple Breakfast with coffee included in your hotel price but your room price is likely to be US$5 higher as a result … you are better off getting a cheaper hotel exclusive of Breakfast and buying a cheap Breakfast yourself in your favourite local cafes. Follow that up with a mid-afternoon US$2.75 set menu Almuerzo … and, you can keep your main cost (Dinner) down to a minimum.


TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere around town.


WHAT TO DO:

There are plenty of tours available including a 5 hour White Water Rafting trip for only US$30.

Termas El Salado:

A taxi from town centre to the Termas El Salado hot spring baths costs US$1.50. It is compulsory to wear a swimming cap (you can buy them for US$0.75c if you don’t have one). However, we did not enter as the place was crowded and, to be honest, the waters looked dirty. I do not know the Entry Fee.

La Casa del Arbor:

The Tour Operators want to charge US$3.50. You can do it yourself for US$2. Catch a bus from outside of Panaderia La Delicia Don Gato. They leave on the hour during the day. It is US$1 to La Casa del Arbor. The trip takes about 45 minutes. Entry to the swing is US$1. The bus back to town leaves hourly on the hour for another US$1.

We did not want to swing from a tree out over a canyon so (instead) we sat in a small cafe and had one of Banos famous hot chocolates (US$1.25 each) whilst looking out over the lovely view.Banos - Road to Tree Swing

It was overcast that day and the clouds sat on the hills.Banos - The End of the Rainbow

But, we did manage to find the end of a rainbow.

Hill Walk Across The Bridge:

On a nice day, take a walk across the bridge. The more adventurous can try the footbridge.Banos - Foot Bridge

You can follow the road then track up into the hills.Banos - Hill Walk

From there, you get some nice views.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY:

There are several banks and ATMs around town. There is no Bureau De Change. I took out US$500 from a Banco Guayaquil ATM and was charged US$1.50 for the privilege. Most other banks limit you to US$300 and charge US$3.


INTERNET / WIFI:

Your accommodation should provide free WiFi – but, in the cheaper accommodation (where you will be staying), don’t expect it to be very usable.Banos - View from Hills

I suggest that, in Quito, you buy a US$27 Claro Prepaid Tourist Plan which includes 4GB of data, unlimited texts, 20 minutes of International calls (in the Americas), and 110 minutes of local calls.

I had an H+ signal most of the time that improved to 3G in some places around town.


ALAUSI:

GETTING THERE:

Get down to the Main Banos Bus Terminal.Banos - Bus Terminal

You may be able to get a bus from Banos to Cuenca (or Guayaquil) that passes through Alausi. The trip should take under 3 hours.Ambato to Alausi - 4

If not, you will have to catch a bus to Riobamba and another bus to Alausi from there. Riobamba to Alausi buses leave very frequently. The trip should take about 3.5 hours.Ambato to Alausi - 8

Both options should get you to Alausi for about US$5 each.Ambato to Alausi - 10

Regardless, be prepared to see some typical highlands scenery on the way. Ambato to Alausi - 14


ABOUT:

Alausi is the start-off point for the Nariz del Diablo train.Alausi - Railway Tracks

This engineering work is among the most audacious projects realized in the Andean mountain range. Nariz del Diablo was the tomb of many Jamaican slaves contracted to dynamite the mountain.Alausi City Map

Alausí is known for its architecture, and most of its houses are more than 100 years old.


PHOTO GALLERY:

I liked Alausi.Alausi - From Main Road

It has character.Alausi - Merging Rail Tracks

A couple of blocks east of the Train Station you find the main square.Alausi - Main Square

And the church.Alausi - Main Square Church

The main road through town is not picturesque.Alausi - Europa - Street

But the side streets make up for that.Alausi - Back Street 2

And they become particularly atmospheric at night.Alausi - Night Street 1 Alausi - Night Street 2

Alausi has the most ‘character’ of all of the places that I have been to in Ecuador so far. It is definitely worth staying a couple of nights. So, add 2 more nights in Alausi to your tour.


ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS:

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night in early August 2018 …

BOOKING.COM:

Alausi Booking

PLEASE NOTE: BOOKING displays prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You (usually) have to add 12% to the displayed price to get the final price.

AIRBnB:

Alausi AirBnB

PLEASE NOTE: AirBnB displays prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. BUT, the displayed EXCLUSIVES ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%). ALSO, watch out for the ‘Cleaning Fee’, as some places charge more than 1 day’s rent!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

Accommodation is a lot more expensive than it is Banos. Expect to pay double the price.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked myself into a Double Room (single occupancy) at the Europa which is located on the main street opposite the Alausi Main Bus Terminal.Alausi - Europa - Rooms

The room had a Double Bed and a Single Bed (which made the room feel a bit small).Alausi - Europa - Room Entry

The room didn’t have much furniture.Alausi - Europa - Room Beds

But it did have a wardrobe and a small TV (no English Speaking channels).Alausi - Europa - Room Furniture

The ensuite was ‘sufficient’.Alausi - Europa - Ensuite Vanity

And, it included a Hot Water shower (which, alas, was only warm – not hot).Alausi - Europa - Ensuite Shower

The price included a free Breakfast: bread roll, coffee, fruit juice, fruit, and 2 eggs (scrambled or fried).Alausi - Europa - Breakfast

Breakfast was served between 7am and 8am.


WHERE TO STAY:

You can stay anywhere in town but, as you are no doubt here to do the Devil’s Nose Train ride, I would advise you to stay within 600 metres of the Train Station.

If you are catching the 8am train, you need to be there at 7:45am. If you are catching the 11am train, you need to be there at 10:45am.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


EAT & DRINK:

There are plenty of options for all budgets.

CHEAP EATS:

You can get cheap meals down at the Mercado but, remember that it closes by 6pm.Alausi - Mercado

There are stalls on the main street at night selling snacks in the US$1-$2 price range.

A 1/4 Chicken, Fries, Rice, and Salad meal in a ‘local’ restaurant will set you back about US$4.50.

Expect to pay about US$10 if you want to eat in one of the more upmarket restaurants.Alausi - Cute Restaurant

DRINKS:

I didn’t find any ‘pubs’ or ‘bars’. But, a 1 pint bottle of local beer in an atmospheric little cafe (like the Wiksa Happy) will cost US$2.Alausi - Side Street Cafe

I didn’t see any ‘happy hours’ around town.

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$2.75 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of US$2.75 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$7.50 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


TRANSPORT:

Buses connect Alausí to many destinations in Ecuador.

Alausi’s main bus station is located three blocks down from the train station, on 5 de Junio along the town’s main street. This terminal services the main routes such as Guataquil, Cuenca, Riobamba, Ambato, Latacunga, Quito …Alausi - Bus Terminal

Buses to and from smaller towns run regularly. These are found parked on the side of the street about 2 blocks further south of the main bus terminal (south of Route 47).


WHAT TO DO:

In Alausí, one finds various monuments of interest.Alausi - Parked Trains

Without doubt the most important is the Monument to Saint Peter (Monumento a San Pedro), the patron saint of the city. This monument is located in Loma de Lluglli, and can be seen from any point in the city.

The most important church in the city is “la Matriz”, located in front of 13 November park (parque 13 de Noviembre). The church was constructed in the 18th Century with stone extracted from the mines of Chiripungo, located about 2 kilometers outside of the city.

DEVIL’S NOSE:

This is / should be the main reason why you are here. There are 2 trains (8am and 11am). The 11am is the most popular because the clouds can still sit a bit low for the 8am. For this reason, you are best to book the 11am in advance at the Tren Ecuador website. You can pay by Credit Card. I booked the day before and got the last available seat for 11am.Devils Nose - Waiting Train

The inside seating is very comfortable and spacious.Devils Nose - Train Seating

Each Train Car has its own guide.Devils Nose - 1

Your guide talks you through the journey in both English and Spanish.Devils Nose - 3

He talks you through the history.Devils Nose - 4

And the construction.Devils Nose - 6

As you pass through deep valleys.Devils Nose - 7

And switch-backs on the most difficult slopes.Devils Nose - 9

After 45 minutes you stop to view the Devil’s Nose itself.Devils Nose - Mountain 1 Devils Nose - Mountain 2

With the almost obligatory tourist Llama rides.Devils Nose - Llamas

After about 20 minutes, you return to Sibambe Train Station where you stay for nearly 1 hour.Devils Nose - 11

A cafe and local dancers await you.Devils Nose - Dancers 1 Devils Nose - Dancers 2 Devils Nose - Dancers 3

The dancing is a bit ‘amateur’ but it is colourful. Just enjoy it for what it is. For many people, the dancing goes on too long. But, you can fill in some time visiting the old ruined village that they are renovating next door.Devils Nose - Ruins 2 Devils Nose - Ruins 1

Or by having a look around the small, 1-room museum. After 1 hour in Sibambe most people have had enough. Some are already sitting back on the train and waiting to leave.Devils Nose - 10

The return trip to Alausi is much more sedate with people’s smartphones seeming to be more picturesque than the scenery outside the window.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY:

You will find a Banco del Pichincha with an ATM. You will not find a Bureau De Change.


INTERNET / WIFI:

Your hotel should provide good wifi. I suggest that you come with your own Smartphone Mobile Data Plan.


QUILOTOA:

Laguna de Quilotoa is our last stop before returning to Quito.


GETTING THERE:

There are no direct buses from Alausi to Quilotoa. Get down to the Main Alausi Bus Terminal and catch a bus to Quito but get off at Latacunga.Alausi - Bus Terminal

I suggest that you target the 8:10am or the 10:10am. I chose the 8:10am. You buy a ticket on the day that you leave. A ticket to Latacunga is US$5.50.Alausi - Bus to Latacunga

These are normal long distance buses in Ecuador (not the fancier Tourist Class buses). For instance, there is no toilet. But the seating is perfectly comfortable.Latacunga Bus to Quilotoa

The bus left on schedule and we were in the outskirts of Riobamba by 10am. These buses do not go to the centre of town. Anyone going to Riobamba gets off in the outskirts and makes their way into town from there. The same happens 1 hour later in Ambato. At 11:50am you arrive in Latacunga … and the same happens to you.Latacunga to Quilotoa Map

The bus does not go to Latacunga at all. You get dropped off at the roundabout junction of E35 and E30 (about 5kms out of town).Latacunga Roundabout

Long Distance Buses going in all directions stop here. This is where you catch your connection to local destinations. There are taxis waiting who will try and tempt you to catch a taxi to Latacunga or Quilotoa. Don’t believe a word that they say. Walk 50 metres to the Route E30 on the Pujili side. You will find people waiting. This is where you catch the bus to Quilotoa.Latacunga Roundabout Bus Stop

Many buses will pass you – most heading for Pujili. Don’t panic. Sooner or later a bus will pass that will take you directly to Quilotoa. I had to wait 30 minutes. The price is US$2.Latacunga to Quilotoa - 1

From the roundabout you begin your 1,500m climb.Latacunga to Quilotoa - 2 Latacunga to Quilotoa - 3

You pass through more typical highland landscape.Latacunga to Quilotoa - 4 Latacunga to Quilotoa - 5

Just under 2 hours later you are dropped off on the main road at the entrance to Quilotoa.Quilotoa Town Map

As I got off of the bus, I was given a brisk reminder that I was 4,000m above sea level … it started to hail storm!Quilotoa - Entry to Park

At the entrance to Quilotoa Park there is a booth where you ‘register’ and pay a US$1 ‘Entrance Fee’. It was a useful shelter from the storm.


ABOUT:

Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. The 3km-wide caldera was formed by the collapse of the volcano following a catastrophic eruption about 600 years ago (which produced pyroclastic flows and lahars that reached the Pacific Ocean … and spread an airborne deposit of volcanic ash throughout the northern Andes).Quilotoa - The Lake

The caldera has a 250m deep crater lake, which has a greenish color as a result of dissolved minerals. Fumaroles are found on the lake floor and hot springs occur on the eastern flank of the volcano.

According to local inhabitants, the lake level has been slowly declining over the last 10 years.


PHOTO GALLERY:

From the main road kiosk, it is a 400m walk into town.Quilotoa - Road into Town

There isn’t much to the town … just a splattering of buildings inter-mingled with souvenir shops, restaurants, and hostels.

You soon reach the caldera and a viewing platform with a vista out over the lake.Quilotoa - Viewing Platform

The road quickly turns to track going both east and west.Quilotoa - Track into Town

You can follow the caldera track going east.Quilotoa - Track East

Or west.Quilotoa - Track West


ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS:

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 2 nights in early August 2018 …

BOOKING.COM:

Quilotoa Booking

PLEASE NOTE: BOOKING displays prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You (usually) have to add 12% to the displayed price to get the final price.

AIRBnB:

Quilotoa AirBnB

PLEASE NOTE: AirBnB displays prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. BUT, the displayed EXCLUSIVES ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%). ALSO, watch out for the ‘Cleaning Fee’, as some places charge more than 1 day’s rent!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

You only have a couple of options … and they are all at the upper end of your GRANDPAcking price range. The plus is that most include Breakfast and Dinner in their room price … so, you only need to buy a cheap lunch.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I chose a Single Room at the Hostal Chukirawa.Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Frontage

The price was US$33 / night including Breakfast and Dinner. In my opinion, it was over-priced for what you get …Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Rooms

My room was small but functional.Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Room Entry

The bot-belly next to the bed was just for show. The room had no heating. It was very cold.Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Bed

The room had a table and chair but no wardrobe … so, out came my washing line again (which I hung around the curtain rail)!Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Room

The ensuite was small but functional. They forgot to leave soap and to empty the (full) bathroom bin that had been left by the previous occupants.Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Ensuite Vanity

But, thank God, it had a hot water shower (make sure that, when you book your accommodation, the reviews say that the water is hot – you need it)!Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Ensuite Shower

The free Breakfast was typical for Ecuador: fruit, bread roll, scrambled eggs, and coffee / tea. We actually got some yogurt too.Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Breakfast

The free Dinner was simple: a vege soup starter …Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Dinner Soup

… followed by a main of rice, salad, and meat in some form or other.Quilotoa - Chukirawa - Dinner Main

They also gave you a hot, natural drink – but I didn’t know what it was. You can get a 1 pint bottle of beer for US$2.

For many people, with the ‘average’ Breakfast, this would be insufficient food for 1 day (I saw some disappointed faces around the room) … most will want to buy their own lunch.

It was so cold after 6pm that most people were back in their hotel thinking about snuggling up in a warm bed before 8pm.


WHERE TO STAY:

Camping is permitted at the bottom of the crater, but there is no potable water (except half-litre bottles sold at the hostel), and only a single pit toilet, located in the hostel.

GRANDPAckers will want to stay up the cliff in a hostel in Quilotoa town. Anywhere will do (as long as it meets GRANDPAcking Standards).

LATACUNGA:

Quilotoa is very cold and it can be windy. When the wind blows, the chill factor is ‘to the bone’. If you come and stay in Quilotoa, make sure that you have proper cold weather gear and proper walking shoes.

As an alternative, you can get an hotel in Latacunga. The difference in temperature between Latacunga and Quilotoa is significant; in Latacunga you can take your jacket off again. Total ‘accommodation & food’ costs will be similar, but you will have the added benefit of being able to explore the Historical Centre in the evenings. If you stay in Latacunga, you can do Quilotoa as a Day Trip: 2 hours by bus there and back plus however many hours you need to do your chosen activity.

My Recommendation: Stay in Latacunga and do Quilotoa as a Day Trip.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


EAT & DRINK:

You should be reasonably happy with the free Breakfast and Dinner that you get at your accommodation. If you want lunch, here is a typical menu from one of the restaurants (but, there are cheaper places around town):Quilotoa - Typical Menu

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$4 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.


TRANSPORT:

Quilotoa is a tourist site of growing popularity. Most people get to Quilotoa by colectivo (shared taxi) or bus. Sometimes you need to connect in the town of Zumbahua (14 km to the south of Quilotoa).

A bus from Latacunga (or the E35-E30 roundabout) to Quilotoa costs US$2. For Colectivo costs, keep reading …


WHAT TO DO:

There are a number of simple hostels in the immediate area offering services such as mules and guides. Activities include a four to five-hour hike around the caldera.Quilotoa - Lake View

The caldera rim is highly irregular and reaches its maximum elevations at three lava domes. The 10 km hike is sandy and steep in places and can be quite taxing, particularly if there is fog.Quilotoa - View From West

It’s a half-hour hike down from the viewpoint (and 1-2 hour hike back up the 280m vertical ascent), and very basic lodging down in its bowl.Quilotoa - Steps Down to the Lake

The village of Quilotoa and the associated crater is also a popular destination within the Quilotoa Loop and is a common starting point for the Quilotoa Traverse, a multi-day village to village hiking route.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY:

Bring cash.


INTERNET / WIFI:

The wifi in my hotel was very good considering its remote location. I could even stream videos. I would imagine that it is unreliable in bad weather though.

I had no signal on my smartphone most of the time.


QUITO:

From your Quilotoa accommodation walk up to the main road and flag down the next bus to Latacunga.Quilotoa - Main Road Bus Stop

My hostel told me that the bus passes at 8:45am. I got there at 8:30am to find another man waiting – he had been told 8:30am by the same hostel. Ten minutes later, 2 more people from my hostel turned up. We waited until just after 9am … no bus.

As we waited, several colectivos passed offering us a ride 14kms down the road to Zumbahua for US$1 each. Finally, we took one. From Zumbahua there are more ‘regular’ buses to Latacunga than there are from Quilotoa. The bus fare from Zumbahua to Latacunga is US$1.50.

When we got to Zumbahua, our colectivo driver tried to negotiate a price to take us all the way to Latacunga. The price started at US$2.50 each. We got him down to US$1.50 each (the same as a bus) by sharing with 6 other locals and us sitting in the flat-bed on the back.

PLEASE NOTE: It is possible to get from Quilotoa to Latacunga by colectivo for US$2.50 (the bus is US$2).

We were at the E35-E30 roundabout by 10:30am. Here, we divided in 3 directions. This is where all of the long distance buses stop. If you want to make a connection to somewhere like Quito or Banos, you come here (not the Latacunga Bus Terminal).Latacunga Roundabout

I walked 50m to where the buses going north along Route E35 stopped. I waited 2 minutes before I was on a bus to the Quitumbe Bus Terminal in Quito (US$2.50). We arrived in Quitumbe at 12:15pm.

From there I went straight to the Metro. In Quitumbe Bus Terminal you can connect to all 3 of the ‘Bus Mass Transport’ companies that service Quito: Metrobus, Trolebus, and Ecovia.

I entered the metro station for US$0.25c and jumped on an Ecovia articulated bus to La Paz.

PLEASE NOTE: If you have a lot of luggage, you should be OK getting onto one of these buses as long as it goes direct to your bus stop. Boarding is very civilised and there is plenty of room for everyone – including your luggage. If you have to connect in Quito to another bus … good luck pushing through the crowds! You may be better off going direct to a bus stop that is nearest to your hotel …  and, then, catching a taxi home from there.


HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in the Americas. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room. Lock up your valuables within your hotel room (single lock hotel room doors are notoriously easy to break into without a key).

Be very careful with your carry-on luggage on the buses.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

Banos gets busy in July through September (the main European holiday period). The average temperature is a constant 22-ish all year round. November through to March are the driest months.


Banos Climate Chart


Alausi has a temperate climate. The average temperature is a constant 15-ish all year round. The driest months are May through January.Alausi Climate Map


Latacunga’s climate is cold and windy, due to the neighboring snow-clad heights, and the barren, pumice-covered tableland on which it stands. The average temperature is a constant 19-ish all year round. Latacunga is comparatively dry all year round.Latacunga Climate Chart


Quilotoa is 1,500m higher than Latacunga and has a colder climate and more rain. On average, Quilotoa is about 4 degrees colder than Latacunga.Quilotoa Climate Chart


In summary: The best time to do this 1 week tour is November through January.


GRANDPAcking COSTS:

GRANDPAckers CANNOT afford to do this trip to GRANDPAcking standard … for GRANDPAckers, this is a ‘holiday’ where your spending will be over-budget.

Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.

SPREADSHEET SUMMARY:

Central Highlands GRANDPAcking Costs

MY ACTUAL COSTS:

My costs are broken down into:

  • Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
  • Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):

I did this trip to GRANDPAcking standard. But, please note that I was travelling alone and I get Single Occupancy rates in my GRANDPAcking Double Rooms and I take advantage of ‘last minute discounts’.

All of my accommodation included a free Breakfast. I spent US$20 / night on accommodation in Ambato (but, you won’t be going there). I spent US$31 / night in Alausi. I spent US$33 / night in Quilotoa.

I averaged US$9.50 / day on food. I averaged US$1.50 / day on Lunches – I don’t eat Lunch anymore so, this was mainly for nice coffees.  I averaged about US$8.00 / day on Dinners (with a beer). Drinking water was free at my Hostals.

It cost me US$4 for a bus from Ambato to Alausi. It cost me US$5.50 for a bus from Alausi to Latacunga plus US$2 for a bus from there to Quilotoa plus a US$1 Park Entrance Fee. It cost me US$2.50 for a colectivo from Quilotoa to Latacunga plus US$2.50 for a bus from there to Quito and US$0.25c for the metro home.

I did the Devil’s Nose Train Trip in Alausi.

I already had a 1 month Claro Smartphone Plan that I had loaded up with an extra 10GBs of data. This lasted me for my whole trip.

My COE worked out to be about US$37 / day.

COST OF LIVING (COL):

In / Out Costs:  It cost me US$6.25 to get to Ambato from Tena (you won’t incur this cost).

Living Costs: I averaged about US$2.50 / day on beers. I got an haircut in Alausi for US$4. I spent US$22 on a warm sleeve top in Ambato.

My total COL was about US$44 / day (84% of my total budget).

COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:

Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).

COST OF EXISTENCE:

Accommodation: I have booked you into the cheapest decent ‘pre-booked’ accommodation in each location. You may be able to get better prices if you take a gamble and wait until the last minute. In Quilotoa you get Breakfast and Dinner included. In Banos and Alausi, you are better off finding your own meals.

Food & Beverages: Your budget averages US$28 / day. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants. You should be able to get a filling Desayuno Completo at US$2.75 each for Breakfast and an Amuerzo Del Dia at US$2.75 each for Lunch … this will set you up nicely to keep your Dinner cost to a minimum.

Transport: Your costs are based on my real costs.

Tours: I have budgeted for you to do one of the main attractions in each location. In Banos you can go White Water Rafting or on the Waterfalls Tour. In Alausi you do the Devil’s Nose Train. In Quilotoa you go on a DIY Trek.

Communications & Fees: You are on a 1 week trip from Quito … it is assumed that you already have a Mobile Data Plan.

Your COE is US$65 / day. This is 25% (only US$10) over your daily budget.

COST OF LIVING:

I have included your tour costs in your COE. Your additional COL costs will be, mainly, alcohol.


CONCLUSION:

The Towns & Cities:

The Central Highlands towns and cities in Ecuador (like Ambato and Riobamba) lack character. This is, probably, weather related. You do not get the nightlife focus around the central park / square like you get in places like Mexico:Antigua - Central Square 4 Queretaro - Jardin Zenea BarsTlaquepaque - Central Street

Nor the ambient little ‘nooks and crannies’ where you find cute little outdoor cafes:Guanajuato - Small PlazaSan Cristobal - Walkway View 2

Instead … you get lots of little, slightly run-down, local versions of a KFC-BurgerKing looking place where you sit inside with a TV on.

The Historical Centres are almost always disappointing:Ambato - Main Square Buildings

And can’t compete with those in other Latin American countries.San Miguel - Street to Church

The towns and cities are best avoided in favour of the better things that Ecuador has to offer.

Recommendation:

Bite the bullet and get directly to Banos in one day. Then Alausi in one day. Then Latacunga in one day. Do Quilotoa as a day trip from Latacunga (you’ll be a lot warmer!). For Quilotoa bring proper cold-weather gear.

TTFN


Why not FOLLOW US to stay up to date with our Postings and Retirement Reviews.