My best friend Anne and I had been craving a real international vacation for a while. Our last one had been Ireland in 2009, and we were feeling the itch. After holding out for Spain for a while, and watching European flights stay out of our price range, we stumbled upon a deal for an eight-day tour through Ecuador. Neither of us had been to South America, and after getting a thumbs-up from a co-worker who’s from Quito, we decided to go for it.
After paying for the tour and flight in June, I hoped to spend, and subsequently save, around $700 on the trip in September, including cabs, luggage, souvenirs and any extra meals and drinks.
Being a part of a tour group was a new experience for both Anne and me. We were with a group of 31, plus our bus driver Ivan and our tour guide Alfredo. The group was made up mostly of people age 50 or older, including several generations of a huge family from California who wanted to take pictures, and strike a pose in said pictures, of everything. Seriously. Everything. There were two cousins in their late 20s who only talked to each other, three hardcore outdoorsy Wisconsinites, and a couple from Chicago who quickly became our tour friends.
We stayed in five different cities and stopped in a couple more during the week. It was really cool to see more of the country that way. I, unluckily, have my mom’s motion-sickness gene and while I was mostly fine on the bus, a very winding road and Alfredo’s story about tasting a unique indigenous drink for the first time nearly put me over the edge. Let’s just say that Alicia Silverstone isn’t the only one who chews up food and gives it to someone else.
But, for our purposes here, one of the great things about a tour is that a lot is included in your original cost. We only paid for a handful of meals, mostly because we got into Quito a day early. And we didn’t actually drink as much as we thought we would. The altitude and early mornings kept us sober. But I was on a budget and kept track of what I spent. Everything was cash or my debit card, except where noted. So here it goes:
Pre-trip Expenses: $1,933.73
$768.30 – 8-Day Classic Ecuador and Amazon Adventure with Gate 1 Travel ($200 deposit on credit card; rest on debit); Optional items we added to the tour: an extra night in Quito before the trip and a $45 spa package.
$720.69 – Round-trip flight from NYC to Quito, Ecuador (credit card)
$350 – Pre-trip vaccinations: Hep A, Yellow Fever, Tetanus (credit card); an unforeseen expense, but now I can step on a rusty nail and not need a tetanus shot, so maybe that will save me money down the line?
$94.74 – Malaria pills, just-in-case antibiotics, and other pharmacy things
September 1, 2012, NYC to Quito, Ecuador: $60
$24 – Splitting a car from Brooklyn to LaGuardia.
$6 – Coffee and a granola bar at the airport.
$16 – Burger, fries and a coke (aka my last “American meal”) at the “Corona Beach House” in Miami.
$6 – Swedish Fish and gum for the flight to Quito. Naturally.
$6+$2 – Shuttle to our hotel and tip.
September 2, 2012, in Quito: $116.88
$0 – Free continental breakfast at the hotel, woo!
$3 – Two bottles of water. The hotels usually provided us with one bottle each every day, but we drank most of ours the night before and had to use it to brush our teeth.
$9 – Ticket to El Teleferiqo, a cable car that takes you up to the top of a mountain for beautiful views.
$10 – One hour of horseback riding around the mountain
$3 – Tip for the woman who walked with us and kept the horses moving. Tipping in Ecuador was interesting. We were told to tip around 10% on meals and the tour company suggested tips like $2-$3 a day for any local guides who helped out our official guide. When it came to people like this woman, we really had no idea what was right, and hoped what we gave was fair.
$7 – My portion of the cabs to and from El Teleferiqo.
$10 – Lunch at an authentic Ecuadorian restaurant close to our hotel. I had Arroz Mixto, or rice with shrimp and other seafood, a beer and a bottle of water.
$9 – My portion of the cab rides to and from dinner.
$65.88 – A five-course tasting menu and glass of wine at the Theatrum Restaurant, recommended by the New York Times’ 36 Hours in Quito.
September 3, 2012, Quito to Otavalo: $38.25
$0 – Continental Breakfast!
$1 – Donation to a Basilica where we visited and took pictures.
$1 – A poorly made café mocha. Lesson #1 of the day, after several awkward moments of pantomiming: “para llevar” means “to go.”
$7 – Lunch at the Middle of the World Monument; Anne and I split two empanadas and I ordered what I thought would be a corn and cheese dish, but it reality was an actual ear of corn and a hunk of cheese. We split a pitcher of Sangria. Lesson #2 of the day: if you ask for a pitcher of Sangria with no ice, you get more Sangria.
$25.25 – Two new pairs of earrings for me! The jewelry store at the Middle of the World Monument looked expensive, but it was reasonable and I love earrings!
$0 – Dinner was included in the trip, and we also got to try a traditional Ecuadorian drink, which was sweet and tasted like a mojito.
$4 – Beer. We drank Pilsener Grande the whole trip because its sales benefit the national soccer team!
September 4, 2012, also known as the shopping day: $136
$56 – Souvenirs for friends and family, including a wallet, a clutch, a pair of earrings, a scarf, a flask, two handkerchiefs, and knick-knacks, which will mostly be handed out at Christmas. Dear family reading this: Try to figure out who gets what.
$41 – A new leather purse and a necklace for me!
$3 – Cappuccino at a café that was waaaay better than the coffee we had the day before.
$15 – Lunch at a weird, kind of fancy place, after shopping. Anne and I each had a bowl of soup and split a chicken crepe, which was more like chicken salad in a burrito. Also, another Pilsener Grande!
$5 – Tip for a massage. As part of the spa package, we got time in the natural hot springs, a Turkish bath and 30-minute massage. Lovely!
$16 – Ravioli for dinner. What? We were craving pasta!
September 5, 2012, Hot Springs to the Amazon: $37.46
$1 – Tip on the included breakfast. My tipping on the included meals was kind of irregular and mostly depended on if I had my wallet with me, if I had any Sacajawea coins (which they prefer instead of $1 bills) and if I remembered.
$10 – Our awesome tour guide, Alfredo, collected money for the tour guides who helped us out while we were in the jungle.
$0 – Lunch and dinner were included, BUT…
$51.46 – The muchos Pilsener Grandes we drank were extra. And then we needed a lot of bottled water to stay hydrated the next day, while hiking the Amazon jungle. However, we “got to know” a lot of our tour group that night because, for some reason, we were friendlier!
($25) – Anne chipped in for that and managed to not fall in as we enjoyed beers by the pool.
September 6, 2012, in the Amazon: $19, and winner of cheapest day!
$0 – Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner were all included.
$5 – Tip for all the boozing the night before and for putting up with us as we drunkenly tried to speak Spanish with the bartenders.
$4 – Donation to an animal rehabilitation center called AmaZOOnico, where we were able to see monkeys, birds, lizards and more.
$10 – T-Shirt from AmaZOOnico. My family will totally guess who gets this one.
September 7, 2012, heading back to the mountains: $28
$0 – Breakfast and lunch were included.
$1.50 – Donation to hike up close to a waterfall
$1.50 – Delicious chicken and cheese empanada made right in front of us by an amazing woman.
$25 – More souvenirs, including earrings, a pan flute for my friend who was watching my cats, wooden knives for my uncles, and toy snakes for my little cousin. Also, I found a silly shot glass for my boyfriend, and chocolates, snacks and little Ecuador bracelets for my work peeps.
$0 – Dinner was included and our tour friend Sam from Chicago kept the wine flowing all night, refusing to take any money for the fun.
September 8, 2012, making our way back to Quito: $118
$0 – Breakfast was included.
$7 – A sandwich and drink for lunch, prior to a hike around a cool lake with volcanoes in the background.
$16 – Dinner at a very Americanized restaurant across the street from our hotel.
$25 – Tip for our awesome driver Ivan, for the entire week.
$70 – Tip for our amazing tour guide, Alfredo, for the entire week. A word about Alfredo: the man was amazing. He was knowledgeable about the country, was patient and friendly with everyone in our group, and had a great camaraderie with the people we interacted with at the restaurants, shops and hotels along the way. This $70 was totally worth it.
September 9, 2012, Quito to NYC: $84
$7 – Coffee and water in the airport.
$0 – Para llevar breakfast included.
$27 – My last souvenir purchase: chocolates from the airport.
$9 – Pizza Hut in the Miami Airport. I should have just had someone yell “WELCOME BACK TO AMERICA!!” Same thing.
$12.50 – NJ Transit from the Newark Airport to Penn Station. Exhausting.
$28.50 – Cab from Penn Station to my home.
$Priceless – Sleeping in my own bed.
Total Expenses: $2,571.32
Total on Credit Card: $1,270.69
Total in Cash/Debit: $1,300.63
Total in purchases actually during the trip: $637.59
I’m still paying down my credit card overall, and will be for a few more months, but it was nice to enjoy a real vacation and we had an amazing time in Ecuador!
Kimberly Maul is a Brooklyn-based social media writer and budding cat lady. She draws the line at 100 Facebook pictures of Ecuador.