South American region retains its status as a unique region for the budget travellers. In South America, Ecuador can be considered as one of the perfect place to travel. Apart from its colonial heritage, Ecuador offers the opportunity to travel to various natural wonders including volcanoes, mountains or Andean highlands and of course Galapagos Islands.
Ecuador is a safe and beautiful destination which allows a Visa Free Travel to all the nationalities barring 13. Interestingly, there is a long history of the political movement that resulted in the Visa free system that rests on treating every nationality on equal terms. Even restrictions on 13 nationalities were imposed later owing to various concerns. Indian passports holders are also included in those who do not require a Visa to travel for the purpose of tourism limiting the period upto 90 days.
From India most airlines travelling to South America like KLM and Air France have regular connections to Quito and Guayaquil, and has been so, for last several decades. Those with US Visa can choose to travel via United States. Alternately, one can choose to visit Peru and Colombia and use the surface transport to reach Ecuador. I travelled to Ecuador via Peru in November, 2015. I have in a blog shared my experience how I saved my scholarship money and travelled all the way from Delhi to Ecuador for an academic conference. That was my first trip outside of Asia and first trip to the South American region.
Distance from Lima to Quito, Ecuador’s Capital is around 1800 Kms. One would require to clear the immigration procedures at the Peru-Ecuador border. I have travelled on this route by an international bus of Ormeño Internacional Company that was actually coming from Argentina to Peru via Chile. I boarded the bus at Lima, on the way to Quito, however, final destination of the bus was Bogota, Colombia. I could find that many Chileans were travelling to Cali or Bogota in Colombia. I met a Colombian student in the bus, who was enrolled in an Argentine University and was returning to his home country during the vacation. He knew perfect English and was the one who formed a link with other travellers. Complete bus journey was a fun, travellers offered to exchange currencies of their countries with mine. My only regret was that I did not possess enough currencies to exchange with everyone.
If one is travelling by a bus on the Peru-Ecuador route, one could find significant topographical differences between Ecuador and Peru. While Peru is more or less a desert in terms of topography, everything changes once you cross the border to Ecuador. As compared to Peru, Ecuador is pretty lush green. Route from Guayaquil (where people arrive for flying to Galapagos Islands) to Quito is mountainous and green with aquatic life along the bus route.
It must be stated that for Indian nationals, one must hold a US, UK, EU Visa or other important visas to avail Visa Free Entry into Colombia or Peru. Else apply for Visa to either of those countries. When I travelled to Peru and Ecuador in 2015, neither I had a US visa on my passport nor Peruvian Government had introduced a visa waivers for Indian nationals. Hence, I had to get my Peruvian Visa at the Embassy in New Delhi that are as a standard rule approved in 5 working days. If you only intend to travel to Ecuador, you can do so without a Visa for tourism purposes.
As with every other South American country, you must have the capability to understand basic Spanish, if you are willing to travel independently. Or else, everyone understands using a tourist package or limited utilities with English speaking personnel can only be open to them. But I still have a feeling that even with a very limited Spanish, one with the help of highly detailed city maps that are available for free everywhere can be used for independent travel.
Distinctness of Quito lies in the way the city has been developed on an altitude of 2850 metres. There is an old part of the city where the colonial Quito lies and there exists a modern and a pretty developed city like other South American capitals. Quito tourism provides a Hop on Hop Off bus service quite regular in its timing to all the touristic points in the city. Interestingly, I managed to get the pass at a discounted price for the same with my Student ID. I have had cases, when few other entrances like Museums and Churches had denied me the Student rates, that being only available to Ecuadorians or Students enrolled in the educational institutions in Ecuador. I have also used public transport including buses and trams, which can be used to travel to any of the tourist sites. One such a tourist site is Mitad del Mundo a point from where Equator passes.
For travelling inside Ecuador, buses are the best option in terms of comfort and pricing. As opposed to its neighbouring country Peru, Government of Ecuador has invested heavily in the tourism infrastructure. Bus Stations and Bus facilities are of first world standards. Bus stations perhaps were developed with an intention to look like airports.
Currency in Ecuador is US dollar which was introduced in 2000, hence, you can travel with your dollars, if you already have it. Small denominations of dollars are minted in Ecuador and it is easy to get the change to access the cheap public transportation system. I would recommend the travellers as always to use your Debit Card to withdraw dollars. International Debit Cards issued by banks in India can be used anywhere in Ecuador. I have used my SBI and Federal Bank Debit Cards for cash withdrawals, and I could find the rates to be quite reasonable. Any unspent money after the trip can well be used anywhere in the world for your future trips. I used my unspent dollars when I visited New York in May, 2016. In Ecuador, cash is the king, as opposed to what I later found in Brazil. In Brazil, I found that almost everywhere it is possible to pay by your debit or credit cards.
Indians may have their concerns regarding the eating options. Ecuador like other Latin American countries comprises a large meat-loving population, but there are plenty of options for others too. Vegetarians travelling to Ecuador must remember that Ecuador is one of the largest producer of bananas and the same can be bought almost at the Indian prices, provided it is bought at a place where locals buy. Banana and milk can be had anywhere and anytime of the day. Or else, there are various options including Vegetarian/ Vegan restaurants. Just to mention an interesting point, when I travelled to Quito, I had no plans to eat at the Vegetarian restaurants, but I almost accidently found a Vegetarian restaurants and had a plenty of food in just 2.5 USD.
Once you have made up your mind to travel, you would need information for accommodation. For those looking to what a budget accommodation would cost, I must clear your doubts – that too is cheap. I had referred to the online sites, but eventually had no reservations, as I was not sure when I would eventually reach Quito, since I was travelling by bus. I just appeared in the Historical Centre of Quito, only to find that I had lot of cheap options for a dormitory bed. Times must have changed by now, it is recommended that best options can be booked online. I feel what I did was too adventurous and risky being left with the option of searching for a room late at night.
As the end note, I wish to make it clear that Ecuador is a good option for travellers of any nationality. Especially, Indians would be comfortable here. I have a feeling that massive presence of Indians in the developed parts of the world, and anti-immigrant sentiments can make Indian travellers a group that is unwelcomed. Well, behaviour of Indians are equally responsible for the same. Of late, I understand that it is hard to take India out of Indians.