Why You Should Travel to Ecuador Solo
Arriving in the dead of night at Mariscal Sucre, Quito’s international airport, I hopped off the plane with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was this really a good idea, solo backpacking in Ecuador? Luckily, my jet lag and fatigue-fuelled trepidations were premature: Ecuador is the perfect place to travel solo. Here are a few reasons why.
Why You Should Travel to Ecuador Solo
It’s just the right size
As the continent’s fourth smallest country, you can travel within Ecuador ridiculously easily, and the short night buses mean you have more hours to explore. Ecuador solo travel couldn’t be much easier.
After a few days enjoying Quito, at the foothills of Cotopaxi (an active volcano!), I hopped on the Wanderbus. It’s a slightly more expensive hop-on-hop-off tour operator compared to local transport, but as a solo female and on my first trip alone, I felt it was worth the extra buck. I met fellow travellers and could relax a little more.
In a short time I was able to roam throughout Ecuador, from the backpacker coastal towns of Puerto Lopez and Montañaita, to the sprawling metropolis of Guayaquil, alongside mountainous must-sees like Cuenca and Baños.
Ecuador rolls out the Latin hospitality
An unending barrage of friendly encounters followed me around Ecuador. For instance, as I waited in the line for a cable car surrounded by families, loved-up couples, boisterous school kids and rural Ecuadorians enjoying a trip to the capital, I felt a pang of loneliness, wishing that I had someone to gossip with.
Yet, my solitude was short-lived. I was bustled into a car with an Ecuadorian family of six, including a grandmother who, perplexed at the incongruous gringa, beamed at me. “Why are you here?” she fired at me, in lilted regional Ecuadorean Spanish. During any exchange with Ecuadoreans, any sense of inhibition or privacy was quickly abandoned. The family fired quick-round questions:
“Why are you here?”
“Do you like Ecuador?”
“Have you been to Mexico?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No…” I responded.
“Do you want one?” the mother asked, gesturing at her two sons. One of them boasted to be an apparently famous Ecuadorian trap artist, whilst the other became my unsuspecting photographer at the summit. Within just 20 minutes I had been invited to stay in their family home! This warmth was not isolated. From taxi drivers to bartenders, I was welcomed with an openness not always easy to find when travelling.
There is something for everyone
Ecuador makes it hard to leave disappointed – or leave at all. Take the well-preserved colonial cities like Cuenca, a personal favourite of mine, with craft shops and trendy vegan cafes. It was a welcome home-away-from-home, with its distinct European feel. Get lost in the cobbled streets, drink in bars thronging with local students, or spend a rainy afternoon in one of its many museums. It’s the ideal place to recuperate when you tire from being on the road.
If you are in search of a little more adrenaline, try adventure towns like Baños, where I tried canyoning for the first time. Who knew throwing myself off waterfalls surrounded by dense jungle could be so fun? (Just remember to always use a reputable local tour operator, for safety’s sake). Party hotspots like Montañaita are also not to be missed. Recently, more and more tourists are venturing to Guayaquil, Mindo and even the Amazon enclaves like Puerto Francisco de Orellana.
It’s not as scary as you think
When I told my friends and family that I would be heading off to South America by myself, I was confronted with their confusion and concern. But to the shock of my older relatives, South America is not like it was during the 1980s. As long as you remain vigilant, Ecuador can be fairly safe, and in comparison to surrounding countries it is pretty tame.
The worst experience I had was arriving to Quito late at night (which you should avoid if possible, as the city doesn’t look its best at 2:30am!). On arriving at my hotel my taxi was quickly swarmed with drunks. But luckily, my taxi driver swiftly called the security at the hostel where I was staying, and they helped me enter the building.
Traveller friends are easy to find
Ecuador is a little less popular than its southern neighbour, Peru, but this makes for a warm, close-knit backpacker community, and locals much more receptive to foreign visitors. So not only is it slightly easier to find friends in your hostel, but every bar, tourist attraction, street market, or walking tour is a great place to acquire some new travel acquaintances.
I was rarely travelling by myself, and it is always more fun, cheaper and safer to go out in a group when getting acquainted with a new place. Solo travel doesn’t always mean being alone.