In July of 2005 my wife an I went to Ecuador and Peru. We didn’t have much time (less than 4 weeks), but we managed to squeeze in everything we wanted to see in that time. I’ll outline our thoughts about this area and what we did. Same as always, I recommend seeing this part of the world.
There were 4 main places that we went to that I would say are a must.
- The Galapagos Islands
- The Amazon Basin – a jungle tour
- Machu Picchu
- Lake Titicaca
Here are a few pros and cons.
- Lots too see in this area.
- Spanish is easier to learn than a lot of languages. You can pick it up easy enough to get around.
- Nice climate for being on the equator.
- It isn’t overly cheap to travel here. The big tourist draws will cost you.
- A lot of the things to see pretty much have to be done by tour (Galapagos, Amazon Basin, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca). These book up so you need to be reserve in advance in the busy season.
Should I Backpack or Should I Tour?
I would recommend either one here. The language is easy enough to learn and there is a fairly good public transit system to get around in. Backpackers are very common and you won’t have problems finding guest houses and such in the right part of the major cities. On the other hand, a lot of the big tourist areas need to be done by tour anyways so being in a tour isn’t such a bad thing.
What You Need
Be prepared. We were there in July and it was hot in the Amazon basin areas, but Quito, which is quite high in the mountains), will be cool and we were even wearing long sleeve shirts in the Galapagos Islands. Same thing in Peru, you will be warm at the lower altitudes, but it will cool off the higher you go.
Time of Year
We were there in July, I can’t comment on any other time of the year. It was quite nice, but a bit busy with all the other tourists.
We flew from Calgary to Houston to Quito via Continental Airways. They were the cheapest ticket with the best times and all-in-all were quite good. They even let us jump an early flight on the way home free of charge.
When We Arrived
We had arranged pickup from our first guest house in Quito. It was a nice little place down in the main tourist area called ???. I think the cost was $25/night, which was a bit ritzy for us, but the first night was nice. This included internet and breakfast. You’ll find that quite a few places there will include both these.
Getting Around Quito
Hop the bus or take a taxi. They are cheap and get you most places.
Mitad del Mundo
This is the “Middle of the World”. Kind of funny just to go see it. A massive monument that is on the equator line. You might as well go get a picture of yourself straddling the equator. One foot in the northern and one foot in the southern. You can just take a public bus from the downtown to get here. If you walk around the backside of the complex, there is another museum that claims it is on the equator line according to GPS. You need to check it out for a laugh too. They have science experiments that “apparently” only work there, because it is the middle of the world.
This is the “leather market” north of Quito in the town of the same name. We went on the non-market day (I think its Saturday), but it was still pretty good. We purchased some clothes and a few wall hanging things for a good price. We just took a public bus from the main bus station.
Wow, what can I say. This is a must if you are in the region. You’ll find that a lot of people don’t go because of the cost though. My wife and I went for 4 days, 3 nights and it was about $1000 each. The flight will cost you about $400 and then the rest will be the live-aboard boat, tips, and anything else you do there.
Basically the only way to see these islands is on a live-aboard. They don’t allow you to stay on the islands, except for one. They are also hours apart from one another.
We booked on the Sulidae. Basically the cheapest one we could find with availability. It was an old, black sailboat, but it suited us just fine. Only 16 people + crew which was a fun size. During the day we would take day trips out to an island, then have dinner on the boat, and they would begin the journey to the next island, usually arriving around 5 or 6 the next morning. Temperature wasn’t hot, but it was nice. Basically wore sandals and long sleeve shirts most of the time. Days with a lot of hiking I would put on shoes.
Beware. The ocean was rough and more than a few people were sea sick. When you go to bed at night I would just about roll out of my bunk a number of times and anything hanging on the walls was on the floor by morning. I’m sure a larger sailboat or the catamarans would have been a more comfortable ride.
Jungle Tour in the Amazon Basin
We did a jungle tour just a couple hours down river from Coca, Ecuador. We flew in from Quito and caugt a boat from one of the local hotels. Basically, we stayed in a “bare bones” lodge set up like a resort. Each person has their own little hut to stay in and there are group meals served 3 times a day. They had scheduled activities twice a day. This could be a walk, canoe ride, fishing for piranha, or visiting a local shaman.
I would say this is a must as well. I did here that the lodges in Peru were a little deeper in the jungle, so the canopy and stuff was a lot thicker, but there were also more bugs apparently (if that bothers you). The farther your journey into the lodge the more this is true I have heard as well. Cheryl and I did this four 4 days which was plenty.
We caught a flight from Quito into Lima with TACA and the tickets were only $180/person including taxes. We found this on Expedia and it was cheaper than anything else we were quoted so definitely check them out when booking. We were allowed to use our “printed online” receipt as well in case you want to save yourself the extra fee for paper tickets.
In Lima you will want to make your way to Miraflores. This is wealthier, tourist district of town. Lots of guest houses and hotels. A whole lot safer as well. The Larco Mar is situated on the ocean in Miraflores and is a large outdoor mall. Very cool, so make sure you check it out when you are there. If you are interested in booking tours and trips, there are travel agencies in this area as well
Cuzco and Machu Picchu
We caught a flight from here to Cuzco. This is where you will need to go if you want to do Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, and the Sacred Valley. Be prepared for some altitude sickness. We had it when we arrived. A little bit of coca tea and just take a quick nap at your hotel will help ease this quickly.
Cheryl and I did an afternoon tour around Cuzco to see some of the sights. The next day was the Sacred Valley. Lots of history and you will learn a lot of interesting trivia about the region.
The third day was Machu Picchu. The train ride in is quite beautiful. When you arrive in the town at the bottom of the mountain, you are put in buses and then you take switchback roads for almost half an hour to get up to the top.
Machu Picchu is truly amazing and make sure you take lots of film or memory for your camera. Also, make sure you have a guide if don’t already. There is lots of interesting trivia about the Incas and the science behind how it was built. The buildings have earthquake proof features, there are sun dials, and things that just line up with the sun and moon during the equinoxes.
Puno and Lake Titicaca
From Cuzco we boarded a train and went to Puno. I had booked first class tickets for us and it really paid off. We had our own table with a little lamp and big comfy chairs.
Puno is a bit of a scuzzy town. But here you will be able to see Lake Titicaca. This is an interesting lake. They say it is the highest navigable lake in the world. I don’t really care about that, but the water is almost unnaturally clear and a weird blue because of the altitude.
There are also people that live on the water. They figured out how to make floating islands from reeds and a certain technique. It is really amazing. The ones living there now have been encouraged (and subsidized) to stay there from the government, but it is neat nonetheless. We also toured a large island in the lake where a whole group of people live that have their own dress and culture.
We took a day tour from Puno through some different historical places to end up that afternoon in Juliaca where there is an airport. We took a flight from here back to Lima.
This concluded what we really wanted to see in Peru. In Lima we caught a public bus to a town called Nazca about 4 hours to the south. There are interesting formations in the desert here that they have never really figured out how or why they were created. You need to take a ride in a little single prop plane so that is an experience in itself as well.
2 hours further north by bus was the town of Ica. This is very interesting. We stayed in the desert oasis just a few miles out of town. Nothing but sand dunes all the way out to the ocean, but here is a little spot with a lake and palm trees. A great place to relax, try sand boarding, and take the dune buggies out. It is also wine country. We took a tour of the bodegas (wineries) and then caught our next bus back up to Lima.
We caught our return flight with Continental and soon we were home