Arriving in the dead of night at Mariscal Sucre, Quito’s’ international airport, I hopped off the plane with a sinking feeling gnawing at the pit of my stomach. Was this really a good idea, solo backpacking in Latin America?
Luckily, my jet lag and fatigued fuelled trepidations were premature: Ecuador is the perfect place to test out the solo travel waters and here are a few reasons why…
It is just the right size
As the continents fourth smallest country, you can travel within Ecuador ridiculously easy and less lengthy night buses means you have more hours for exploring. 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 on my first trip, I felt that 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, Montañaita, to the sprawling metropolis of Guayaquil, alongside mountainous must-sees like Cuenca and Baños.
Encounter Latin hospitality like never before
An unending barrage of friendly encounters followed me around Ecuador. For instance, as I waited in the line for the cable cart, surrounded by families, loved up couples, boisterous school kids and Ecuadorians enjoying a trip to the capital, I felt a pang of loneliness wishing that I had someone to gossip with. Yet, my solitude as I quickly learnt during solo backpacking in Ecuador was a rarity. Bustled into a cable cart with an Ecuadorian family of 6. The grandmother perplexed at the incongruous gringa beamed at me “why are you here” she fired at me in a lilted regional Spanish. During any exchange with latinos 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 being an apparently famous Ecuadorian trap artist, while the other became my unsuspecting photographer at the summit. Within 20 minutes I had been invited to stay in their family home. This warmth was not unique: from uber drivers to bartenders I was welcomed with an openness not always easy to find when travelling
There is something for everyone
Ok it sounds slightly generic, but Ecuador makes it hard for you to leave disappointed, or leave at all. Take the well preserved colonial cities like Cuenca, a personal favourite of mine, with craft shops, trendy vegan cafes, making it a welcome home away from home with its distinct European feel. Get lost in the cobbled streets, drink in bars thronged with local students or spend a rainy afternoon in one of its many museums. The ideal place to recuperate when you tire from being on the road.
Or if you are in search of a little more adrenaline, try adventure junkie towns like Baños, where I tried canyoning for the first time. Who knew throwing myself of waterfalls surrounded by dense jungle could be so fun! (But always use a reputable local tour operator). 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.
Friends are easy to find
Ecuador is a little less popular than its southern neighbour, Peru - but this makes for a warm, close-knot backpacker community, with 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 tours being fair game for acquiring some new travel acquaintances. Solo travel doesn’t always mean being alone, I was rarely travelling by myself and beside - it is always more fun, cheaper and safer to go out in a group when getting acquainted with a new city.
Its 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 the confusion and concerned looks of my friends and friends. To the shock of my older relatives, South America is not like it was during the 80s. Yet, as long as you remain vigilant travelling around Ecuador can be fairly safe, and in comparison to its 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 2.30am doesn’t show any city in its best light!). My taxi was quickly swarmed with homeless drunkards. But luckily, my taxi driver swiftly called the security at the hostel where I was staying, and they helped me to enter the building.