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37 Absolute ‘Must dos’ in Ecuador for 2013

lake ecuador
A lake just south of Quito near the Ilinizas National Park.

It’s the end of the year.

You’re probably making your New Year’s resolutions and planning what you’d like ot do, be and have in 2013.

I know sometimes it can be hard to find the time, but you never know how long you’ll live, and I’d make a case that Ecuador is one of those few countries in the world that is really worth seeing.

So stop putting it off.

Hard to find such variety in a country the size of Nevada.

Below is my personal Ecuador bucket list for 2013.

Things I just got to do.

1. Watch the Tungurahua Volcano erupt at night from the look out over Banos. Tours can be arranged in one of the many agencies in Baños. Cost $20 per person.

2. Visit the gold mine in Zaruma where resident Spaniards found a 2 and ½ pound piece of gold and gifted it to King Felipe II several hundred years ago, causing the king such joy he decided to lower the taxes for everyone living in Ecuador. The mine is called “El Sexmo” and is now open to tourists with guided tours from actual nearby miners. Free.

3. Observe the amazing Pink river dolphins as they frollic in the unique flooded rainforest of Cuyabeño in northern Ecuador. Tours can be arranged once on the ground out of Quito or Lago Agrio. Canoe Tours start from $40 per person.

4. Scuba dive in the crystalline waters of Galapagos off Floreana Island with hammerheads and whale sharks. 2 Dives start from around $130. Best arranged once on the ground in Santa Cruz Island near the port in Puerto Ayora with local dive shops.

5. Snorkel with the worlds smallest penguin, gigantic manta rays, big marine iguanas and (friendly) reef sharks off las Tintoreras on the picturesque snow-white sands and turqoise waters off Isabela Island in the Galapagos. Day tours to Isabela arranged in Santa Cruz start around $65/person.

6. Eat two buckets of the locally-famous garlic crab at one of the best crabhouses (Manny’s Crangrejal) in Guayaquil, a city known for its numerous crabhouses. Near San Marino Mall any taxi will know where it is. $12.

7. Hunt for fossils along the banks of the Nangaritza River, the only river that connects the Amazon to the Pacific Ocean, high in the Condor Mountain Ridge (Cordillera del Condor). For more try lindoecuadortours.com $25-50 /person.

8. Deep-sea fish for Marlin and Whale-watch in August off the calm shores of Salinas. Trips can be arranged in one of the several agencies along the boardwalk. Cost: Whalewatching from $20 per person, deep sea fishing price varies depending on amount of people.

9. Bike on a rented bicycle from the city of Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos to the deserted, idyllic beach of El Garrapatero while passing through over a dozen micro-climates and witnessing the giant Galapagos tortoises grazing in their natural habitat. Cost: $5.

10. Visit a chocolate farm near Guayaquil and learn the whole process of how to make chocolate from harvest to belly. Get more info here.

11. Hummingbird watch and observe thousands of butterflies in the cloud rainforests of Mindo. Tours can be arranged once in Mindo. Start from $20/person.

12. Climb Cotopaxi, one of the worlds highest active volcanoes at 19347ft / 5897m with a guide arranged in Quito, I’ve been told even beginners can do it!

13. Explore the massive, underground lava tunnels on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. Free.

14. Trout fish in one of the surreal apline lakes in the barren Cajas National Park near Cuenca. Tours can be arranged with Terra Diversa in Cuenca.

15. Go way off the beaten path and discover the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) of Ecuador’s Amazon. Extreme adventure available through local guides only out of Nangaritza. Cost: Highly negotiable.

16. Pamper myself with a the natural mud bath in the mud pools in the dry rainforest of Machalilla National Park and spend the night playing volleyball with the local indigenous and later sleeping in one of their tiki huts. From Puerto Lopez hire a motorcycle taxi and pay a few bucks from them to take you to the indigenous community of Aguas Blancas in the park. Cost: $10 for the day tour to the mud baths and $10/person for the night.

17. View the thousands of Orchid species growing wild along the well-kept trails of the Podocarpus National Park easily reached in a $4 taxi ride from the town of Zamora. Free entrance to park.

18. Hike the 10km trek from El Tambo to Ingapirca, ancient Incan ruins and effectively Ecuador’s own “Machu Picchu”. You can also take a train, taxi or bus which can be arranged out of Canar. Ruins Entrance fee $6.

19. Get certified as a glider plane pilot in Ibarra through a one month course with a local flight instructor. They say if you can fly a plane without an engine you can fly a plane with one. Course starts around $1300. 2013 prices yet to be released. For more info write me here.

20. Visit the worlds only birds that live in a cave, in the only cave they live in at the CUEVA DE LOS TAYOS. Tours arranged out of Macas. Prices vary.

21. Tailgate, then enter a game in Quitos rowdy Atahaulpa Stadium as the National Soccer team attempts to qualify for the next World Cup in Brazil. The cheap seats start around $10.

22. Learn to kite surf with an instructor against the strangly barren cliff landscapes of Santa Marianita near Manta. Classes can be arranged on site. Prices vary.

23. Party with fun locals along the infamous Plaza Foch in Quito during Quitos Festival Week “Fiestas de Quito” the first week of December. Free if you can find a sugar-momma/pappa to buy you drinks.

24. Take a tour of a Banana plantation in Machala and learn all the ins and outs of the interesting business with CristyViajes. Tours start around $20 per person.

25. Fish for Pirana in Laguna Pañacocha, a beautiful black wáter lake backed by cloud forests. To get there, hire a local canoe where the Rio Panacayu meets the Rio Napo, to get there you’ll need to take a Nuevo Rocafuerte Canoe hired in the town of Coca. Price varies depending on season.

26. Bike the wonderful 7 hour (60km) downhill ride from the high Andes to the mouth of the Amazon in Puyo and witness the furious waterfall of Baños “Pilon de Diablo”. Bike can easily be rented in Banos. Cost: $5

27. Soak in the odd street water-wars during Carnaval in February in Cuenca where everyone goes around throwing water balloons and soaking random strangers with water guns. Free.

28. Hike the Quillotoa Volcano and witness the majestic, stunning turquoise-colored lake in the volcano’s crater. Can be done solo by taking a bus from Latacunga and getting off near the base. Cost: $4 bus fare from Latacunga.

29. Experience the naughty, packed, full-moon-style New Year’s Eve party in Montanita. Free if you sleep on the beach in a tent (doable), just don’t bring valuables.

30. Mingle with sexy locals dressed to the tilt during the 2 hour river-boat cruise on the all-you-can-drink boat ‘Morgans’ which leaves every night from the boardwalk (Malecon) of Guayaquil. Can be arranged out of my B&B in Guayaquil. $15 per person includes all you can drink.

31. Follow the rarely-visited path of the world-famous indigenous Shuar who were the ones that originated the practice of shrinking the heads of their conquered enemies. Tours now available with local guides through Macas or Zamora. Prices vary.

32. Learn to kayak in the lazy to fierce Andean rivers around the city of Ibarra with Natural Adventures. Prices vary.

33. Devour delicious seafood at the locally-famous “Parque de Mariscos” along the beach in Manta heading towards the airport. Specifically I want to eat a ‘Cazuela’ Soup, an amazing nut-based fish soup truly unique to Ecuador. Cost: $6.

34. Have a 10 minute long conversation in Spanish with a local after a month long Spanish crash course at the highly recommended Galapagos Spanish School in Quito. Cost: one-on-one classes with real teachers start around $6/hr.

35. Dance salsa to afro-latino beats on the white-sand beaches at moonlight in a beach bar near Esmeraldas after eating the local delicacy of Shrimp cooked in spiced coconut milk (encocado de camaron). I’m sure I’ll feel like I’m in the Caribbean. Cost: $5-6.

36. Visit the perplexing, friendly afro-ecuadorian community of Chota in the middle of the Andes near Otavalo and have a local Shaman (witch doctor) cleanse away my worries. Cost: $5 bus fare from Quito.

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides, Expat Lifestyle

How to Fly to Ecuador Dirt Cheap in 2013

fly cheap to ecuador

People often complain about how expensive it is to fly to Ecuador.

But it’s true when compared to closer destinations like Costa Rica or Mexico.

Flights from the US/Canada to Ecuador can often cost $1000 or more.

For some it’s a deal-breaker.

But it doesn’t have to be.

I’m spoiled.

I often get to Ecuador from the US for under $180 and now you can too.

Here’s how… But first, remember I said “cheap” not necessarily “comfortable”.

To start, you have to get from where you live in the US to Miami or New York City.

I buy two separate flights. One to Miami/NYC and another to South America.

Or I do it even cheaper and hitchhike, AMTRAK or take the Greyhound bus to Miami.

Then once you’re in Miami (or New York) buy a one way flight from Miami to Armenia, Colombia on my favorite budget airline (that doesn’t yet fly to Ecuador) Spirit Airlines.

Armenia in western Colombia is the closest city to Ecuador they fly.

If you buy at least a month in advance you can get a flight often less than $150, for instance, now I’m seeing flights in late January and early February on the Spirit website for around $135 to Armenia from Miami with taxes and everything included.

In fact, you’ll find Colombia to actually be a nice place to visit.

Plus, Colombia is a place that doesn’t require a roundtrip ticket to enter. Whereas Ecuador officially does require the return although most the time they don’t enforce it yet sometimes the airlines will not let you on the plane to Ecuador without the return passage.

I know, it’s confusing but it is what it is.

Colombia is far removed from the bloody 80’s, 90’s and Escobar years. I should know, I lived there for a year recently and learned of this strategy because I wanted to visit some old friends and get from the US to Ecuador cheap.

A really nice area to visit near Armenia is the “Coffee Triangle” or “Eje Cafetero”.

Once in Armenia take the 2 ½ hour bus ($4-5) to Cali, another interesting town and a famous salsa dance Mecca.

Once in Cali hop a little crop-duster-type plane to Tulcan on the Ecuadorian border with one of the several tiny Colombian airlines that aren’t well advertised on the net like Satena. I’ve caught flights as low as $65.

Or to it even cheaper hop one of the frequent daily buses (15 hours, $20-30) from Cali to Tulcan.

It’s a scenic ride and one beautiful stop along the way is Popayan, a pearly-white colonial town in the southern hills of Colombia.

Then from Ipiales, Colombia cross the border to Tulcan (Ecuador), get your passport stamped and hop one last bus 4-5 hours ($5) to Quito.

That’s it! You made it!

If you’ve been keeping track, if you fly to Colombia and bus it the rest of the way you can get from Miami, USA to Ecuador one way for around $175 in 2013.

Especially great for people who are coming to Ecuador one way!

OR if you are over 65 and have an Ecuadorian Cedula meaning you are an Ecuador resident OR Ecuadorian citizen, you can buy national or international flights for HALF PRICE, any time of the year with the Ecuadorian airlines of Aerogal, LAN or TAME. Preferably buy in person at the airports or by over phone to get the senior discount.

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Q&A, Investor News/Analysis

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Playas: The sunniest beach in Ecuador

playas ecuador

Playas won’t impress you on first sight, but stick around long enough and it could grow on you. With a very expansive beach almost New England style, delicious seafood, and Dolphin watching excursions, it’s got just enough to keep you occupied during a short stay. It’s also known as the sunniest beach in Ecuador.

Where to stay?

– My pick is the Hotel Nevada with rooms from $20 per person per night, mainly because of the proximity to both the beach and center of town, also you’re right across the street form some delicious restaurants.

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Montanita: Where the party never stops

montanita ecuador

Montanita is coastal Ecuador’s undisputed top party town. With a hippy vibe and Bob Marley music in the air (among other things) for anyone who likes to surf, drink and dance this is your place.

For many older folk the noise here is only bearable for short stints, but even if you don’t sleep here, be sure to stop by to enjoy the incredibly varied cuisine.

What to do?

– Sex, drugs and rock and roll Ecuador-style.

– Rent a surf board or boogie board.

– Take a horse back tour in nearby Olon.

– Study Spanish in the Montanita Spanish School.

– Go para-sailing.

Where to stay?

– My top value pick in the town is OCEANVIEW HOTEL on the outskirts of the main town right on the beach with recently finished rooms with WIFI starting around $10/person per night.

Rent a house in nearby Manglaralto and sleep far away from the noise.

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides

Salinas: Weekend resort turned expat hot-spot

salinas ecuador

Ahhh, Salinas.

At first I didn’t like the place, but now, I really like it. The older you get the more it grows on you. Eerily empty for 9 months a year, this place is like an empty Miami Beach except for on weekends when the local affluent with second homes here come to play on the beach.

The ocean is flat and great for swimming, the food along the Malecon/Boardwalk is great, and the dry climate is ideal for people who want to escape humidity.

Whale watching in the July, August and September months beats Puerto Lopez.

Where to stay?

Hostal Aqui is the most popular expat bar/guesthouse in town with rooms starting around $20 per person its a clean, safe, friendly option.

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Ayampe: A surfers paradise yet to be discovered

ayampe ecuador

ayampe ecuador

I first visited Ayampe in 2009 when a friend told me, ‘hey, you gotta see this place, it’s going to be the next Montanita’.

Well, it hasn’t quite turned into the next Montanita but it has soared with development since then.

Known for its under the radar, uncrowded waves, surfing is good here. For those who are adventurous bird watching, although not formally offered in tours is also good in the highlands.

Where to stay?

My value pick is LA BUENA VIDA Hosteria… American owned, they also offer surf classes upon request, the rooms are elegant and feel ike they should cost more than they do. Rooms start around $15 per person.

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Puerto Lopez: Is it more than just whales?

puerto lopez ecuador

Puerto Lopez can grow on you. At first I didn’t like it but now I’m coming around, renowned for its whale watching during the July-October months, Puerto Lopez actually has a bit more than that.

The food is excellent and the trips to the ‘poor mans Galapagos’, Isla de la Plata leave from here. Another highlight for me is the nearby Machalilla Park where you can sleep with the natives and frolic on one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador, Los Frailes, all within about .

Where to stay?

My value pick is the Machalilla Hostal on Juan Montalvo, the central courtyard is borderline nice and the location near the beach is hard to beat. Rooms start around $8 per person.

Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides

Same: Where the ‘stars’ go

Same Ecuador

Same has arguably one of the most beautiful palm laden beaches in all of Ecuador, and its pricey too with resorts and expensive guesthouses for the local rich.

Where to stay?

My pick is La Terraza complete with a restaurant and rooms with sea-views, its hard to beat the value here with prices starting at $15 per person.

Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides

Manglaralto: Montanita without the noise

manglaralto ecuador

Manglaralto is the town just south of Montanita, in fact you can walk there along the beach in about 25 minutes.

No noise, about 3 roads parallel to the ocean, just like a coastal Ecuadorian town should be. The roosters in the morning are the biggest annoyance.

Theres not much surf here or other things to do besides lounge on the beach, but for most that will suffice.

Where to stay?

For a bare-bones good enough place you could try the Hotel Manglaralto with rates starting at $12 per person per night.

Or you could rent a tiki hut or house at Casa Blanca.

Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides

Is Sua worth a visit?

sua ecuador

Sua ia the way a laid back fishing village should be, or at least exactly how you picture it I’m sure. I’d stop if relaxation is your main goal.

Where to stay?

Hostal Chagra Rama is my pick with weathered yet safe rooms starting at $9 per person.

Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides

Atacames: The ‘whitest’ beach in Ecuador

Atacames Ecuador

Atacames is rumored to have the ‘whitest’ sand in all of Ecuador, but I’d say it also has one of the widest, biggest beaches in Ecuador as well.

A party town with an Afro-caribbean flavor in Ecuador, this is where the folks from Quito come to party from June through September.

Things to do?

– Party along the boardwalk with the rowdy young locals.
– Work on your tan in the daytime.

Where to stay?

My value pick is the Le Castel right on the beach with a swimming pool on site. You’ll think you need to pay more for the room you’re put in with rates starting around $20 pr person varying on season.

Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides

Where to stay in Porto Viejo?

porto viejo

Not much to see or do in PortoViejo but it is a main connection hub between the north and south coast so chances are you may find yourself stuck there sooner or later.

My value pick is the Hotel New York on the cnr of Olmedo y Francisco de Moreira with simple, clean rooms and most importantly in this town, AC, rooms start at $20 per person.

Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides

Gualaquiza, a neat, hidden outpost no one knows about

gualaquilza ecuador

Gualaquiza is a small town of around 15,000 people in the Southern Amazon region of Ecuador. The people are friendly and the backdrop is beautiful as the area is surrounded by lush rainforest.

What to do?

Visit the bike shop Ciclos on Orellana 4-35 and rent a bike and enjoy the excellent 3 hour bike ride to La FLorida.

Bath in one of the numerous rivers at one of the several sandy beaches.

Where to stay?

My pick is the Hotel Internacional on Cuenca Ave. with simple, clean rooms starting around $10 per person.

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Pedernales: Ecuador’s version of Florianapolis, Brazil

pedernales-ecuador

Every time I come to this city I’m awed by the character and bravado of this small coastal city. The hilly streets leading down to the ocean are always full of something interesting to see, the locals are friendly, and the foreigners are scarce. The beach isn’t so nice but the food along the boardwalk is to die for. I’m sorry but this place reminds me of Florianapolis, Brazil.

Where to stay?

My value pick is Hotel Arenas, a few blocks from the beach with cable TV and well kept rooms starting around $10 per person.

Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides

Ecuador government refunds foreigners the VAT tax

ecuador vat refund

It’s nice to be treated special just for being a foreigner in Ecuador.

In fact, for those that know about the program, foreigners don’t even have to pay the sales tax on items made in Ecuador.

It’s true, the Ecuador government is now refunding foreign “tourists” the sales tax they paid on items made-in-Ecuador and on hotel stays when the invoice amounts over $50.

The sales or VAT tax in Ecuador is 12% and that is the amount that is refunded.

All you have to do to receive your refund is save your receipts (facturas) and fill out the brief form you can pick up on a little stand just outside of the check in lines for international flights in Guayaquil and Quito.

Also, you’ll want to bring an envelope and a copy of your passport.

Then present your goods at the SRI-CAE counter in the check in luggage lounge in Quito or Guayaquil or if no one is attending deposit the envelope with your invoices, copy of passport and form in the mailbox located in the pre-boarding (departure) lounges in the international airports in Quito and Guayaquil.

The refund accreditation is carried out only through a credit card that must be under the name of the applicant.

There are no limits to the refunded amount, so if you’re not sure if an item you bought qualifies for the refund, just deposit the invoice anyway and see what happens.

Afterward, you can check the status of your refund using your passport number through the official Ecuador SRI website sri.gob.ec.

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Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Investor News/Analysis

Macas, worth a visit?

Macas Ecuador

Macas is an interesting mix of old and new with new buildings jutting up from crumbling streets. Most choose to go to northern jungle towns like Tena, but for those who like off the beaten track destinations Macas wont disappoint.

-Kayak the Upano River with class III rapids through one of the local outfitters.

– Take a waterfall tour with Planeta Tours on Comin at Soasti.

– Visit a nearby Shuar community thourgh a guided tour only.

Where to stay?

My value pick is Hotel Level 5 on the corner of Sucre y Soasti, a big glass hotel thats clean and cheap with rooms starting at $10 per person.

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Esmeraldas, is it worth its bad rep?

When you say “Esmeraldas” most people think “dangerous”, maybe due to the proximity of Colombia, maybe some other racially-charged reason. But in my opinion, Esmeraldas doesn’t deserve the bad hype and is an excellent place to visit. The locals are VERY friendly to the few foreign outsiders that visit and the food is to die for. Unlike the rest of Ecuador, the beaches to the north and south are also of a Caribbean-type white sand quality.

What to do?

-GO drinking with the locals on the MALECON or boardwalk of the city, just don’t go alone.

– Be sure to try the local delicacy of ENCOCADO seafood dishes, seafood cooked with a spicy coconut sauce, good!

Where to stay?

My pick is the Hotel El Trebol on Canizares 1-18 a modern hotel with spacious rooms starting around $13 per person.

Esmeraldas Ecuador

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Puyo: What to do?

Puyo Ecuador

Puyo is one of those towns people go to to get a taste of the Amazon without really going neck deep in it. The backdrop is interesting with the Napo River on one side and towering volcanos in the distance while the Amazon flattens out on the other side.

What to do?

-Bike the 65 km downhill from Banos and descend from the Andes down to the Amazon. (Trip takes 6 hours)

– Visit the ethnobotanical park PARQUE OMAERE and get an up close look at a wide array of rainforest plants and animals.

– See dozens of unique Orchid species in the Jardin Botanico las Orquideas located 15 minutes south of Puyo.

– Bath like the locals do in one of the clear waters of the tributary streams feeding into the main Napo River.

Where to stay?

My pick is the Hotel Las Palmas on the corner of 20 de julio y 4 de enero, a big yellow colonial house converted hotel complete with Parrots walking on the floor with rooms starting aroud $12 per person.

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Cojimies: Coconut Palm Forests Await You

cojimies

In Cojimies, you may feel like you are the only foreigner around, in fact, you probably will be. But The beach is pearly white and one of Ecuador’s widest, tours to the nearby Island of Love (Isla del Amor) can also be arranged and this is the only place in Ecuador I’ve seen forests of coconut palms swaying in the breeze.

Where to stay?

My pick is the Sueno de Teo, a collection of bamboo beach huts in the typical Ecuadorian style… fun, and the mosquito nets will pretect your skin. Prices start at around $9 per person.

Posted in Ecuador for Investors, Ecuador Travel Guides

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