I'll be honest - Ecuador was never on the top of my bucket list. It wasn't even on my radar until I received an email from Scott's Cheap Flights notifying me that round trip flights to Quito was $280! When I saw that, I instantly pulled the trigger and told myself I'd figure out the rest later. That's when I stumbled upon Contiki's 7 day "Lava Line" trip through Ecuador. I'm so glad I found that trip because it ended up being one of my favorite international experiences! Continue reading to find out why I fell in love with Ecuador!
What is "Contiki"
First things first, Contiki is a travel tour company that provides trips for 18-35 year olds. This was my second trip with Contiki and I always have a good time. On the fence about going on a group tour? Read my Pros & Cons of Contiki guide for more info. For me, the pros heavily outweigh the cons!
Lava Line Overview
The Lava Line is the beginning of a longer trip that includes the Galapagos as well (I didn't opt to add this because the cost was exponentially higher and I couldn't take that many days off work).
Tour Manager: Our tour manager, Estaban, was AMAZING! He is local to Ecuador and knows so much about the history and culture of the country. He really elevated the trip by making us feel like a family and showing us the authentic side to his country. Even when we had dinners "on our own" he found great restaurants for us to eat together!
Adventurous: If you're looking for a trip that will push your boundaries, this is perfect for you! Within 7 days, I went ziplining, rock climbing, waterfall repelling, horse back riding, white water rafting, and so much more!
Small Group Size: The Ecuador trips are limited to 25 people. This makes the trip far more intimate.
Cheap Price: This is such a good deal for a 7 day trip. Just keep in mind, there are a lot of add ons which will bring up the price!
No Alternatives to Add Ons: Every Contiki trip has a few add ons that you can purchase in addition to the tour. I definitely loved all of the Add Ons that were offered but was surprised that there really was no alternative option if you didn't want to do the add ons. For instance, when I traveled with Contiki in Thailand, there was an Add On in Chiang Mai. I didn't opt to do this but still had plenty of things to explore in the city. Here, if you didn't opt to do an add on, you were basically stuck at the hotel with really nothing to do.
Long Drives: We visited 4 different cities on our tour. To get to each city, we took a bus. The drives were 4-8 hours and the bus didn't have a bathroom!
The Trip Continues On: Unfortunately, the Lava Line is the beginning to a longer trip that includes the Galapagos. The majority of our tour did the longer option which means you'll have extreme FOMO when all your friends continue on to the islands and you're on the plane back home.
Hostels: The hotels were "mehh". Nothing special by any means. I don't normally stay in Hostels so it's not my go to choice as I prefer nicer accommodations. But don't let this turn you away from the trip - it's a small con.
Read below for the Day by Day journal of activities we did each day on the trip. For reference, I went on the tour in August 2019 so some things may have changed since then.
Day 1: Quito
This Contiki trips starts early on Day 1 in Quito. This means you must fly in a day early and you are responsible for your own hotel room the night before. Contiki offers the option to add an extra night to the hostel that we stay in on the first night, which most people opted to do. We opted to stay in a different part of town for our first night on our own. Note: If you opt to stay somewhere else, breakfast is on your own this day.
Once the tour group met up in the morning after breakfast, we did a quick trip introduction and learned about our itinerary for the week. Then, we were off to our first destination! We drove about 45 minutes to the center of the earth, La Mitad Del Mundo, to see the Equator! There are technically 2 landmarks for the Equator - one that is iconic but actually in the wrong location by a few meters and another that is geographically correct. We visited the geographically correct location called Intinan Solar Museum and skipped the iconic picture (as someone who loves pictures - this was a con). The Intiñan Solar Museum is home to the true equator line and features some educational experiments that are only possible on the equator.
Next up, we had lunch nearby. It wasn't technically included in our tour price, but the entire group ate together. This was a great spot to try the local delicacy in Ecuador: coi (otherwise known as guinea pig). A few guys opted to try it but I stuck to chicken. :)
After lunch, we boarded the bus and drove to the center of Quito (near our Hostel). Here we did a walking tour of the city and learned about some iconic landmarks. Estaban, our tour guide, took us to a chocolate making shop and a straw hat shop. We also visited the outside of Basilica del Vota (we didn't get to go inside). Finally, we visited Compania de Jesus - a beautiful church decorated almost entirely in gold.
We had an included dinner this evening that featured 3 courses. I love included dinners on Contiki because they are always authentic cuisine and typically multi-courses/buffet to allow you to try various things. The appetizer was a Seafood Ceviche with Popcorn (another local delicacy).
To end the day, we had the option to partake in a Local Beer Tour (Free Time Add On: $40 per person). Note: it's more than just beer - there were shots and wine too! This was one of my favorite add ons of the trip because it really allowed everyone to bond on night one and get to know each other. We went to 3 or 4 different breweries and by the end, we were toasted. It definitely made the early wake up call a little tough.
My Thoughts On Day 1: It was a good overall day in Quito but definitely not enough time to see and do everything! I was so glad I visited Quito the day before and explored inside the Basilica del Vota, went to a local market, and to the top of the Telequiro (full guide post on What To Do in Quito HERE). I was also bummed that we didn't see the iconic landmark for the equator. Other than that, loved the day and the add-on beer tour at night!
Day 2: Quito --> Tena
Buckle up, you're in for a long drive (my least favorite day). After an included breakfast at the hostel, you'll load the bus for a 6-8 hour trip (depending on traffic). Breakfast was relatively basic and our guide told us we wouldn't have time to stop for lunch so I loaded up on snacks before the bus ride began. Our guide did a great job of stopping the bus when someone needed to use the restroom but other than that, it was rather dull. On the plus side, anyone that was hungover from the beer tour could take a nap and rest up for the next activity!
We did make one stop while on the way to Tena at a Hummingbird Sanctuary. There was a $5 entry fee which we all paid but honestly, I kinda wish I hadn't. It was raining when we were there and it's almost entirely outside so it was just a wet experience overall. BUT, you'll definitely see humming birds so there's that!
Upon arrival in Tena, we checked into the hotel and changed clothes to go White Water Rafting (Free Time Add On: $50 per person). Let me tell you - this was terrifying. Out of all the adventurous things we did on this trip, this was by far the scariest. Tena is located in the rain forest so there is tons of rain water keeping the river quick with lots of waves. Out of the 4 rafts in our tour, ours was the only one that didn't flip over completely (thank god). The rafting experience was about an hour and required so much upper body strength. Unfortunately, if you opted not to do the White Water Rafting, there really wasn't anything else for you to do except for maybe sit by the hotel pool (which was meh). The hotel wasn't in walking distance to much so you'd just have some free time to yourself if you skip it.
For dinner, our guide asked the bus driver to take us into the center of Tena to a pizza joint. Then we walked around for a little bit to explore.
My Thoughts on Day 2: Pretty long day... riding a bus while hungover only to get tossed around while white water rafting isn't my idea of FUN. But, we made the most of it and played games on the bus and enjoyed walking around Tena in the evening.
Day 3: Tena
This was probably my favorite day on the trip! We had breakfast (included) at the hotel at 7:30AM and departed by 8:30AM for a Community Visit (Free Time Add On: $40 per person). There was so much more to the Community Visit than what you would think. We started by hiking through the rain forest and learning about different plants that grow in the area. Next up, we swam in a waterfall (boots were provided)! Afterwards, we hiked back to have a lunch prepared by the community (lunch was included in the price of the Free Time Add On). Then, we made chocolates together and watched the locals as they performed a few dances and rituals for us! Last but not least, our group played soccer with the local kids. Our guide had asked us for donations so he could purchase small gifts for the children which we got to personally deliver to them! Such a fun and rewarding experience!
Next up was Caving (Free Time Add On: $45 per person). Boots were provided for this as the Cave had a river running through it. At one point, we were almost swimming through the water to get to the next point. If you're easily claustrophobic, this might not be the best thing for you as some of the passage ways were very narrow. For the most part though, the cave was fairly open and only shin-deep in water.
Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and showered before our Included Dinner. Dinner was at a beautiful outdoor location that had a pool for nighttime swimming! We brought our bathing suits so we could swim after dinner which was such a fun end to the day. Not to mention, the food was delicious. Our appetizer was a fried mushroom from the top of one of the nearby volcanoes. I don't even like mushrooms and I was asking for seconds.
My Thoughts On Day 3: I LOVED Day 3. I was contemplating skipping the Community Visit to save money, but it ended up being such a fun and unique experience. Things like this make me love traveling with Contiki because I never would have found a local community like this on my own and played soccer with the kids.
Day 4: Tena --> Banos
Rise and shine.. Day 4 starts at 5AM for those interested in the Bird Watching Excursion (Free Time Add On: $28 per person). We boarded a canoe and floated down the quiet river to look for unique birds. I didn't so much care for the bird watching part BUT we did see adorable monkeys along the way which made it worth while! We couldn't talk on the canoe in order to not scare away the birds so this was a relatively tranquil activity.
After bird watching, we returned to the hotel to pack up and have breakfast (included) before departing by 8AM for Banos. Along the way, we stopped at Devil's Cauldron. Entry was $2 per person and well worth it. This gorgeous waterfall will have you in awe as you walk along the staircases next to it.
Once we arrived in Banos, we had lunch at the hotel (pizza, not included) and then headed to Caynoneering (Free Time Add On: $28 per person)! They suited us up in wet suits and tennis shoes before taking us to a waterfall to repell down. The first one was the scariest as it required the most technique, the second one was technically a waterfall slide, and the third one was a big jump off the edge of a waterfall down to the bottom. I LOVED this activity. I really pushed myself here and let go of any fear I might have in order to make the most it. I loved every second of it.
Next up, is Adventurous Ziplining - Advanced Course (Free Time Add On). This trip technically offers 2 different zip lining add ons in Banos... one is your generic ziplining experience while the other is adventurous and requires rock climbing and walking across a metal ladder. I picked the adventurous one because I've ziplined in other places before - most people opted to do both). You start by ziplining across a long valley at a very quick speed. Next, you'll walk across a metal bridge over the river. After that, you'll hook up to the rock climbing gear and start your trek upwards. No turning back now (JK - kinda. We had 1 person on our tour that just couldn't do the rock climbing part so they got air lifted out). The rock climbing was crazy challenging and a little scary but so exhilarating. Finally, once you reached the very top, you could zipline back to the bottom of the valley where you began!
To wrap up Day 4, we had our included BBQ Dinner and Salsa Dancing Lesson! This was so fun and allowed everyone to let loose. It would be wrong to go to South America and not try Salsa Dancing, am I right?! The BBQ dinner was outside under the stars and had a good variety of food options. Afterwards, most of us opted to go to Leprahans, a fun bar that our guide Estaban recommended. Here you could show off your salsa dancing skills or just enjoy the fun atmosphere.
My Thoughts on Day 4: This day was jam-packed with activities starting at 5PM all the way to 11PM. I also loved the location of our hotel because we could easily walk to the "downtown" area of Banos for a fun night out on the town.
Day 5: Banos
Start the day with an included breakfast at the hotel. There are two Free Time Add Ons offered on Day 5: another Ziplining course (standard ziplining) and horse back riding. I opted to skip the standard ziplining course and sleep in (which was much needed after last nights festivities).
Horseback riding was super fun. We rode in a mountainous area up to a small creek and back. The horses would trot and sometimes run at fast speeds which was the first time I've ever gone that fast on a horse.
We were on our own for lunch & the first half of the afternoon. We spent the time walking around Banos and exploring the small town.
Next, our guide arranged a local trolley to pick us up and take us to the Swing at The Edge of The World. This was such a fun photo opp.
My thoughts on Day 5: Day 5 was another fun day with unique activities. Banos is a great town to explore and try new things! Plus I loved experiencing the Swing At The End of The World!
Day 6: Banos --> Guayaquil
Note: This trip will stop going to Guayaquil beginning February 2021. Don't worry - you're not missing much. Instead, you'll go back to Quito.
After our included breakfast at the hotel, we boarded buses once again to get to our final destination: Guayaquil. It was another long drive and we didn't have time to stop for lunch so our hotel made us boxed lunches.
Once we arrived, we went to a Soccer Game ($20 per ticket). Then, we had dinner on our own. Some tours opted to book a Pirate Boat Drinking Evening (Free Time Add On: $25 per person) but it doesn't run on Sundays when we were there. Instead, the group headed back for a good nights rest because most of the tour was going on to the Galapagos the next day.
My thoughts on Day 6: The soccer game was a unique experience! I'm sure we would've enjoyed the Pirate Boat so that was a bummer. I'm just happy the long drives are over. :)
Day 7: Guayaquil
This is hardly a "day" since the rest of the tour group that is going to the Galapagos departs at 5AM. We didn't see our tour group on Day 7 at all (very sad) and only had included breakfast at the hotel. Then, we explored Guayaquil on our own (Farris Wheel, Downtown Area, Local Market, etc). Then we flew back to Quito and back to the states!
My Thoughts on Day 7: This was essentially just a travel day for those ending the trip here. Nothing but breakfast was included and there isn't a whole lot to do in Guayaquil.
So, there you have it! My entire reivew of the Contiki Lava Line Trip! Overall, I truly loved the experience. It was a quick trip (7 days) that packed in so many adventures and experiences! The guide was amazing and the activities were fun so in my mind the trip was a success! My only regret: not booking the Galapagos part of the tour as well!
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