Travel Tips for Ecuador
When to Go: Ecuador goes off year round. Typically non-local paddlers aim for the dry season which is in December / January / February. Dry is relative in Ecuador, it is still very wet. During the wet summer months things will usually be too high to run.
Entry into Ecuador: Flying into Quito is standard.
Flying a Boat: Very hit or miss. There is a holiday embargo in Ecuador that prevents large packages from entering. However in 2013 AeroMexico still was flying them in (50% success rate for folks we ran into, though for $40 it was worth the try for sure). Also, airlines that do carry boats like United, only fly 737s into Quito and their policy is to not fly kayaks on 737s. So investigate thoroughly and be prepared to move to a plan B at the airport.
Getting to Baeza: The new Quito airport is now outside of town. There is however a hostel near the hotel (google "Hosteria San Carlos Ecuador" and you will find it). Depending on when you arrive you can catch a cab there for a few dollars. Others will choose to take a cab to Pifo which is the nearest town on the bus route to Baeza (~$6 in 2013). From there wait on the side of the road for a bus to stop and pick you up and take you to Baeza ($3 per person in 2013). Warning, if you are traveling between Christmas Eve and New Years the buses can be full and it can take a few hours to get one to stop. If you have boats it will be harder. A good plan in those casses would be to get in contact with Rodrigo at Casa de Rodrigo in Baeza (Facebook "Rodrigo Morales Vega") and he can arrange a taxi to get you... somewhere between $45-80. The bus takes ~2.5 hours, the drive takes ~1.5 hours from Pifo to Baeza. If you take the bus, the stop is between Colonial and New Baeza, most know where "Gina's" or "Casa de Rodrigo" is if you tell them those names.
Getting to Tena: Take a bus. There is a stop directly in front of the kayaker part of Baeza. If it is a holiday, take a taxi for ~$45-55.
Passport: If you are American, you need a passport but not a Visa. In Baeza I felt safe leaving items in the Hostal, in Tena less so... I always boated with my passport on my person.
Driving: Pickups run ~$80/day. Most people just use taxies and buses to get around. Typically in Baeza, the taxi runs $5-7/leg. A leg would be from Baeza to Borja, or Borja to Chaco. So doing the Oyacachi (below Chaco) runs ~$6+$6 = $12 one way, and about the same back. This is per taxi. You can sometimes cram 5 people in a taxi. The modern buses are harder to use as they do not have racks like the old school buses had. The boats have to fit in the under carriage. Usually only 2-3 fit, and they sometimes charge more for them.
Water: Do not drink the water. Only bottled water.
Vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Yellow Fever, Typhoid are all good ones to have. Depending on if you plan to go further into the jungle, Malaria can also be needed.
Money: They use US Dollars. However, change is hard to come by. I would bring anything in addition to hostal or gear rentals in $1s, $5s, and $10s. The ATMs kick out $10s. I swear, breaking a $20 is impossible at times. Also, there is no ATM in Baeza that Gringos can use. There is one in El Chaco downriver 20 minutes. Tena has plenty of ATMs you can use.
Food: In Baeza the typical spot is Gina's which is next to Casa de Rodrigo. Good food, especially the trout. There is another great breakfast spot up 2 blocks and over to the right one from Gina's. In Tena, a typical breakfast spot is Tortuga which is on the river front near the bridge just downstream from the Hostals.
Boats: Several options to rent boats. Rodrigo (Facebook "Rodrigo Morales Vega") rents for $25/day. Chris and Andrea of Endless Adventure International (Facebook "Miller Mermaid") for $25/day under 7 days and $18/over 7 days. Both had a good selection. Reserve ahead of time.
Accommodations: In Baeza there are two main places, "Casa de Rodrigo" (Facebook "Rodrigo Morales Vega") which in 2013 was $12 a night per person. Some rooms are doubles, others are up to 5 people. Gina's (also the restaurant) is also decent and runs $10/person. Facebook "Bar Restaurant "GINA"". In Tena there are 3 main options, "A Welcome Break" (google it w/ Ecuador Tena) for $8. No AC, not sure about fans. La Posada has some nice rooms over the water with fans for $10/person and the rooms all have fans I believe. I was disappointed in our room though as we did not reserve and were on the courtyard, window on the road, and they did not empty our trash (AKA toilet paper) for the 3 days we were there. Hostal Los Yutzos is the nicest and runs $20/person for a very small room with a fan and $26/person for a room with AC. We stayed one night in a fan room and moved out due to the price and size of the room. Just google the hostal names and you can find the information.
Weather: Baeza was usually cool 70 degrees. Dry-top, shorts, and one layer... long sleeve or short sleeve depending on the day. It rained often, but was never cold. In Tena it is hot and humid. Shorties for most days even the rainy ones.
Random Thing to do: Go to the Hot Springs. Upstream of Baeza at the town of Papallata. In 2013 the rate was $7.50 per person for a nice resort style hot springs. Further up on the pass there are $3 ones that are more rustic. We enjoyed the resort style ones. Also, spend new years eve in Baeza! So so fun. And if you are a guy, bring some women's clothes to dress in drag and stop traffic in and hit the drivers up for spare change. Trust me, it is the Ecuadorian tradition.
Commercial Trips: Several options exist for commedial trips... I know friends who have used the DeReimers as well as Endless Adventure International and have both loved their experience. I am sure the others are good as well.
Guidebook: Small World Adventures updated the guidebook a year or two ago (~2011). The book is comprehensive with the runs that were accessible at the time of publish. The Piatua is not included as the road is new... I am sure other runs will join that list in the coming years. It is no longer on the Small World website since they have since changed owners, but you can find it on Amazon here, The Kayaker's Guide to Ecuador.
River Conservation: Many of the Ecuadorian rivers are under threat from dams being put in to harness the year round river power. This year the Papallacta is under construction and the lower will be no more. Also, in Banos, the Topos has lost its 10 year battle and is getting damed and may not be around still in 2014/2015. Among other sections currently being considered for dams are the Quijos at Cheese House as well as above San Rafeal Falls and of course the crown jewel, the Upper Jondachi. To learn more about the river conservation effort going on in Ecuador, visit the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute website.
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