Ecuador and Peru Trip Suggestions
Last updated: Máncora, 29 Nov 2008 Back to my Ecuador/Peru trip
Regarding safety:
  1. Lonely Planet warns about the bus between Pucallpa and Tingo Maria.  I've never had a problem traveling on a bus (although my friend had his passport and credit cards stolen out his bag when we were on the bus between Antigua and Guatemala City).  But still, I'd been wondering about taking their advise to fly between Pucallpa and Lima.  I asked a couple locals in Pucallpa about the safety on the bus and didn't get a strong reaction so decided to try it. 
    It would be somewhat higher risk, but I had to see what it was all about.  Anyway, I can see why it could be a dicey area.  The road in that stretch is a very rough dirt road.  Some of the trucks were barely inching along in the steep sections and I could see how it would be very easy for the bad guys to simply step out of the thick woods next to the road and stop any of the vehicles.  As we were coming up to a small bridge I noticed 3 guys in khakis with guns sitting in front of a small building on one side of the road.  They didn't look exactly like they were soldiers but pretty close.  The bus slowed down a bit before going over the bridge, and in an instant a guy dressed like that got on the bus with what looked to be a shotgun.  Nobody seemed alarmed (like he was there to rob the bus).  He rode with us for quite a while.  Then he gave a little speech about how it used to be a dangerous area and so on.  Then he started taking a collection.  He seemed to be directing his requests to the male passengers.  The guy in the seat in front of me (who was latino) declined his request and the para-military guy seemed a little miffed.  I was wondering what happens if they don't get enough money.  In any case, I was glad to contribute a small amount - I think around a dollar I had in loose change.  But if you're thinking about taking this bus to or from Pucallpa, you should ask around about safety (it may be worse than when I was there) and you might want to take the plane.
  2. Read as much as you can about the typical scams - the ketchup/mustard scam (somebody I talked to said they had it attempted on them twice in one day in Quito - she knew what was happening and moved quickly away from the bad guys before losing anything), unmarked taxis, money transactions, etc.  If you are going to be traveling for any length of time, you should expect to have somebody try to pickpocket or snatch your bag, camera, etc.  You can try to avoid it or minimize the amount they get.  Expect the bad guys to be very good at what they do.  DO NOT stroll into isolated areas, no matter how picturesque.  I speak from experience (having been mugged in Valparaiso).  Try to keep a low profile, move purposefully, stay on the alert.

Regarding comfort:
You can “dial in” the timeliness and comfort level to suit your needs (where timeliness and comfort generally come at a cost, of course):
  1. If you are limited in your time in Ecuador, do see Quito and probably Cuenca.  Quito is good for the sightseeing.  Maybe I’m partial to Cuenca because I could see living there someday.  It doesn’t have the attractions like Quito and Cusco/Machu Picchu though.  If you are on a tight schedule and haven’t been to Machu Picchu, I’d suggest going there next.  Besides the trip to Machu Pichu, the various day trips around Cusco are also well worth it.  If you are short on time, using a tour company is probably well worth it.
  2. With regard to comfort, it largely depends on what you want to spend.  I’d characterize it as follows:
    1. The heavily touristed areas (Quito, Cusco/Machu Picchu) will offer the widest range on the comfort/cost scale.  You can find some very nice accomodations, nice restaurants, and well organized tours - all at a cost, of course.  But in the less touristy areas, you might find your experiences to be more spontaneous and genuine - just a bit "rougher around the edges" (and generally cheaper).
    2. If you are backpacking it, I think it’s generally better to arrive in a new town early enough to look for a decent place (I prefer to stay near the town’s plaza so I usually start there and “spiral out” from it following the descriptions and map in the guide book).  If you arrive late in the day, and especially if on the weekend at a popular destination for the weekend crowd then it might be a little hard to find a spot and you have to be flexible in where you stay that one night.
    3. There are some legs of this trip that would be, let’s say, better suited for the more “seasoned” traveller:
      • The Eduardo and Henry cargo riverboats were the main attraction for me on this trip.  I’d like to do them again – this time with a good camera.  They were very memorable.  But probably “not for everyone”.
Regarding prices:
  1. The prices for lodging and meals vary quite a bit from those shown in Lonely Planet (anywhere from 0 to 100% higher).  I can usually find a decent room (clean, secure, good bed, private bath, close to the plaza, often with WiFi) for $10-15 a night.  You can find a good breakfast for $3 or so, a "menu" lunch for $1.50-$2.00, and dinner for $3-10 (roasted chicken, salad and a drink on the $3 end; say lasagna, a salad and a pitcher of fruit juice on the $10 end).  You can spend a lot more, of course.  As well as somewhat less.