Ecuador was the first South American country I ever visited, and I absolutely loved it! It is an extremely beautiful and vibrant country, but there are a few things I wish I knew before backpacking Ecuador alone.
I definitely didn’t make backpacking in Ecuador any easier on myself.
Before backpacking Ecuador alone, the only place I’d backpacked alone was Europe.
Let me tell you that backpacking in Ecuador and backpacking in Europe are two very different experiences.
They’re both amazing experiences, but I wish I were a little more prepared and less naive when I went to Ecuador.
Thankfully for you, I’m sharing everything I learned about backpacking Ecuador alone, so you don’t make the same mistakes I did!
Follow the tips in this article, and you’re guaranteed to have an amazing (and stress free) time backpacking in Ecuador!
Know Basic Spanish
I know this sounds a bit obvious, but not knowing much (really any) Spanish before backpacking Ecuador was the biggest mistake I made.
As I mentioned, I’d only travelled alone through Europe before that trip, and I was used to basically everybody speaking English.
Or at least being able to get by for the most part without knowing much of the local language.
While you can certainly travel alone in Ecuador with little to no Spanish, knowing some Spanish goes a long way.
I was at the bus station just outside Quito on my way to Baños and was parched. I went to the stall selling beverages and asked for a water in English.
The lady didn’t have any idea what I was trying to ask for, and I ended up pointing to a random clear drink hoping it was water.
It wasn’t. It was some super sugary soda-like beverage that was the furthest thing from refreshing in that moment.
What I’m trying to say, is if you’re backpacking Ecuador alone, you can’t expect anybody to speak English even in major cities.
If you want to communicate with people, you need to have a little bit of Spanish and be able to stumble your way through a sentence.
Or at a minimum have access to a translation device.
Don’t be Afraid to Explore Baños Alone
Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador. There are countless fun things to do, and you can easily push yourself out of your comfort zone.
I went zip lining, paragliding, and biked to the nearby waterfalls.
You can also go white water rafting, hiking in the jungle, and pretty much any other extreme activity you can think of!
Baños is a stop for almost everybody backpacking Ecuador, but a lot of solo travellers are nervous to get out there and try some of the activities the town has to offer.
They feel awkward showing up to a group activity alone, are scared to get lost biking, or need someone by their side to push them to do the fun, exhilarating activities.
I’m here to tell you there is nothing to be nervous about!
The people who organize and run the activities are used to solo travellers, and nobody bats an eye that you’re alone.
In fact, all three people who were in the same paragliding group as me were solo travellers!
Plus, you can often get private tours. I was the only person on the zip lining course I did, and it was an incredible experience!
If you’re hesitant at all about visiting Baños while backpacking Ecuador alone, don’t be!
It is super easy to enjoy all the fun activities in Baños alone without feeling awkward.
If you’re really concerned about it and are staying in a hostel, ask one of your roommates if they want to join you for an activity or two.
PS- most of the activities are affordable, and you can enjoy them without breaking the budget!
You Shouldn’t be Afraid of the Buses
Before backpacking Ecuador, I did a lot of research out where I wanted to go and what to expect on my trip.
Time and time again I can across bloggers saying the buses in Ecuador were dangerous, and travellers needed to be extremely cautious when using the bus to travel between cities.
They said to keep all your belongings on your lap. Not to put anything in the overhead bin or under the seat.
Blog after blog told me to sit at the front of the bus on the right-hand side, so the driver could see me.
I was super nervous about the buses in Ecuador, and all the bloggers talking about how unsafe the buses were made me second guess whether Ecuador was safe or not.
Well, I can tell you that the buses are no more or less safe than any other bus I’ve been on during my many years of travels.
If you take the same reasonable precautions you take anywhere else in the world, and you’ll be fine.
I never felt unsafe on a bus in Ecuador, and the bus rides were actually some of my favourite moments while I was backpacking Ecuador.
The scenery was breathtaking.
But be Prepared for Bus Rides that Feel Longer than They Actually Are
When preparing to write this article, I thought back to the bus ride from Cuenca to Guayaquil.
That bus ride was amazing. We drove through the mountains, and it was by far the best bus ride of my entire trip backpacking in Ecuador.
I Googled the bus trip between the two cities and was shocked to learn the bus ride was only three hours!
It felt like I was on that bus for at least five hours if not more.
The buses in Ecuador are the best way for backpackers to get around, but they aren’t always the most comfortable.
They often have squished seats, and you’re packed in tight beside your neighbour. This definitely makes the trip seem longer than it actually is.
So, if you’re using the buses to get around while backpacking Ecuador alone, be sure you have something to entertain yourself because the bus rides are going to feel a lot longer than they actually are.
Bring a book, download a podcast, or plan to sleep on the bus.
Don’t Shy Away from Day Group Tours
I don’t normally recommend group tours when I talk about solo travel.
There isn’t anything wrong with group tours, but they aren’t my travel style. I don’t take organized group day tours unless it is extremely difficult to travel somewhere by myself.
That being said, Ecuador is one of the places I think it is beneficial to take organized day tours.
I took two organized day tours during my trip to Ecuador, and it allowed me to experience parts of the country I wasn’t able to experience alone.
If you’re in Cuenca (which you should definitely visit while in Ecuador), it is essential you take a day tour to Carajás National Forest. It is one of the most beautiful places in the entire country.
Group day tours are inexpensive in Ecuador, and you get a lot of value out of them.
I’m not saying you should do everything on a group tour, but it is worth the extra money to take a tour to visit a part of the country you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.
I found that the hotels and hotels I stayed at often offered group day tours at a fair price.
You don’t have to book more than a day or so in advance, and you support a local business rather than a major multi-national tour company.
It is a win win!
Be Internet Safe
Anywhere you travel it is essential that you’re internet safe.
Most people talk about physical safety when travelling, and not enough people talk about the importance of being internet safe.
You rely on public wifi networks while travelling. This puts you at an increased risk of having your online data compromised.
If you’re not internet safe, anybody can access your online data through your phone and laptop.
They can steal your banking information and completely ruin your trip.
The only way you can protect yourself when using public wifi is to install a VPN on all your devices.
A VPN makes using public wifi networks just as safe as using your home wifi where you’re the only person who knows the password.
And, yes, hotel and café wifi networks that are password protected are still public wifi networks because anybody and everybody can get access to the password.
Essentially, a VPN puts a forcefield around your phone that makes it impossible for anybody else to access your online information.
Not protecting your online data is one of the biggest risks you can take while travelling, and it isn’t a risk that is worth taking!
My Favourite VPN
I’ve used a lot of different VPNs during my many years of travel and hated all of them. VPNs are notorious for slowing down your phone or laptop to a crawl and making them extremely frustrating to use.
I oftentimes would turn off my VPN and put my online data at risk of being stolen just because the VPN I was using was so darn slow.
That all changed when I discovered NordVPN.
I’ve been using NordVPN since 2018 and absolutely love it. I have zero plans to ever switch from them and wholeheartedly stand behind my recommendation of them.
The reason I love NordVPN so much (and why I recommend them to my fellow travel lovers) is they are the fastest VPN on the market.
They barely slow down your devices, and, in fact, they are the only VPN I’ve used where I’ve not noticed a slow down of my phone or laptop at all.
Plus it is super affordable!
One NordVPN subscription covers up to 6 devices, and a two-year plan costs less than the price of a single Starbucks latte per month!
My philosophy is that if you can afford to travel, you can afford to protect your online data, privacy, and information.
Have Small Bills
Ecuador uses the USD, so it is very convenient for travellers.
However, you can’t show up with a bunch of $50 bills and think your trip will be a success. Especially if you want to shop at local street vendors.
You need to have small bills to pay for most things in Ecuador.
I personally wouldn’t bring anything bigger than a $20 bill. That gives you the best chance of being able to use it everywhere you go and not have to worry about breaking the change bank of small vendors or restaurants.
You can also rely on credit cards in Ecuador.
Many stores, restaurants, and hotels accept credit cards, but you still need cash on hand for places that don’t.
You don’t want to miss out on buying the most beautiful scarf you’ve ever seen because you don’t have cash to pay for it!
Don’t Skip Guayaquil
Every single blog post I read before my solo trip to Ecuador said skip Guayaquil.
There is nothing to see and do in Guayaquil.
Guayaquil is the worst city in Ecuador.
And on and on and on about how Guayaquil is nothing special, and you’ll regret spending part of your precious time in Ecuador in Guayaquil.
So, I only planned 1/2 in Guayaquil during my backpacking trip to Ecuador.
And I only visited Guayaquil because I needed to fly from southern Ecuador back to Quito to catch my flight home.
If I didn’t need to do that, I wouldn’t have visited Guayaquil at all.
Let me tell you that I’m so happy I visited Guayaquil!
I absolutely loved it and wish I spent more time in the city. It is vibrant, has unique attractions, and is a laid-back city.
By no means is it the most exciting city in Ecuador, but if given the chance, I would visit Guayaquil again before Quito.
Don’t discount Guayaquil when planning your solo trip to Ecuador.
I recommend spending a day or two in Guayaquil if you’re visiting southern Ecuador on your trip.
You won’t regret it.
Ecuador is Safe (even for solo female travellers)
A lot of people think Ecuador isn’t safe for solo travellers and especially isn’t safe for solo female travellers.
This isn’t the case at all!
Ecuador is very safe, and you can confidently travel alone in Ecuador without feeling the need to watch your bag or be extremely cautious.
You do need to take normal safety precautions though!
Ecuador (and any country) is as safe as you make it. As long as you behave properly and don’t do anything stupid, you’ll be fine.
It is important that you take the safety advice of locals seriously though. There are places that even the locals don’t go alone, and if they tell you that, listen to them.
It isn’t worth putting yourself at risk.
For example, when I was in Quito, many locals told me not to go to El Panecillo alone. There were a number of people who hid out on the hiking trail up to the monument and would rob tourists.
They said if you wanted to visit El Panecillo to take a guided tour for safety.
Now, that may not be the case now because it has been a number of years since I’ve been in Quito, but the point of the story remains.
If a local tells you it is unsafe or a bad idea to do something or go somewhere alone, listen to them!
But, other than that piece of advise, Ecuador is extremely safe.
So, go out and explore!
Backpacking Ecuador alone was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I was nervous at first because of everything I read online. I wasn’t sure if Ecuador was safe, and I thought I would have a lot of trouble easily getting around the country.
I’m so glad I didn’t let my nerves stop me and went backpacking in Ecuador.
It is a stunning country and is the perfect introduction to South America. The people are incredibly kind, the sights are fantastic, and the food leaves you wanting more.
If you’re on the fence about taking a solo trip to Ecuador, let this be your sign that you should take the leap of faith and book that trip!