When it comes to adventure travel, Ecuador is one neat little package. With remote coastline, a string of active volcanoes and the Amazon rainforest all tucked into the size of Arizona, this South American gem is the type of place that makes your bucket list three times longer. It's capital city, Quito, is in the heart of it all, a cultural center overshadowed by a pair of volcanoes and well-situated for any type of land adventure.
Ecuador is also the only other country in the world that uses the American dollar, a welcome convenience for American travelers, but also a potential hang-up for traveling on the cheap. Because of the dollar's stability, Ecuador is often one of the more expensive stops on any South American sojourn.
But fear not, budget backpackers. For anyone looking to pinch pennies in Ecuador's capital city, here are a few ways to get it all without giving it all away. This is Quito – cheap, and deep.
Make Minka Home
Quito is full of hostel options, but for those skirting the line between budget travel and reliability, Minka Hostel checks all of the boxes. Located on the edge of the city's UNESCO recognized Old Town, but away from the noise, a bed in a four bed dorm costs just $13 a night. Add a hearty $3 breakfast of granola, fruit and yogurt, and get your day started on a good banknote.
Taxi? Beware, the Gringo Tax
Taxis in the city are meant to be cheap, but beware of the gringo tax. Most everywhere in the city center will cost between $2 to $3, so avoid letting taxi drivers set the price and ask them to run the meter. There may be some grumbling from their end, but it's the law, and they do respect it.
For bus and airport connections, practice the opposite. Lock in your price at the get-go and take traffic costs out of the equation. Expect to $10 to 15 for the bus station and $25 to $30 for the airport.
Plan Around the Menu
No doubt adopted during the times of the Spanish conquistadors, Ecuador loves a good set lunch. Known as the menu, it is served as a three-course meal that includes a starter, main dish, dessert and beverage. Better yet, it'll typically set you back a cool $3 to $4. Viva el menu!
Make the Free Music Rounds
A fresh influx of international students and young professionals has helped Quito's live music scene, and free shows are available all around the city—if you know where to look. Wash down a local draft with free acoustic music at Bandido Brewing on Tuesdays, and check out jazz en vivo at Ananké Cocina Guapuleña in the hip Guápulo neighborhood on Wednesdays.
Late Eats at Parque de las Tripas
For the adventurous foodie, Quito's Parque de las Tripas is a street food paradise built for the local budget. While tripa (grilled-up intestines to you and me) might be a little tough to stomach, there are a handful of traditional Ecuadorian dishes that will fill the belly for under $3. Supposedly this area is patrolled by health officials, making it a little safer bet than the typical street food excursion.
Tram It On Up
Get on top of the city with a quick ride up the TeleferiQo, Quito's own mountain gondola on the edge of town. Rising up to over 12,000 feet, this is one serious view for a paltry price of $8.50. With sweeping views of the whole city valley and several of the area's surrounding volcanoes, this is not your typical tall-building vista. A must-hit for any clear day in Quito, the TeleferiQo even has a food court at the top for those interested in a lunch up high.
Urban Volcano Hike, Anyone?
It's not every day you get to hike an active volcano right above Happy Hour, but Quito has the unique distinction of having not one, but two, steaming peaks on the edge of city limits. The hike up Rucu Pichincha, the highest of the two peaks, starts from the top of the TeleferiQo, and takes about four hours round trip. Maps are available at the bottom and top of the TeleferiQo, but take it slow, this hike rises to over 15,000 feet. Like all good hikes, this jaunt will cost you a whopping "Free-99" (after purchasing your TeleferiQo ticket).
Get Your Incan Introduction
Learn the roots of Ecuador's vivid culture at the Museo Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, a free museum in the heart of Quito specializing in Incan artifacts that include pottery, sculpture and gold. In addition to Incan history, the museum explores several of Ecuador's early tribes and provides just enough context to keep the budget history buff satisfied.
More Cheap and Deep Travel Content from ASN