hacienda hotel

Pardon the delay. I was feeding the llamas.

I’ve spent the past week in Quito and areas north and south of there, doing research for some articles, reviewing hotels, and updating the upcoming 4th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. While I mentioned in the last post that most prices haven’t changed much since the last time I was here, imported goods are being taxed at a rate of 100% or more. It’s gotten much more expensive here to spend a night at a bar or replace your dead camera/laptop/phone.

Otherwise, there’s more positive news than negative, so here’s a quick rundown on official developments and word on the street for travelers in Ecuador.

New Airport for Quito

There’s a lot of bureaucracy in this country, so often things take far longer than they should have to get moving. Quito’s new airport is by most accounts finished, but it won’t open until February 2013 (at least) because, um, the roads to it aren’t finished. You can fly in, but you can’t get out in a car. Once it’s done, you’ll pay far more for a taxi to the city than now, but there’s going to be a shuttle bus service from the get-go that should be reasonable.

Get Used to This President

Rafael Correa may be pegged as a power-grabbing socialist by some international press outlets and diplomats, but he’s extremely popular these days at home, with a 70% approval rating. He could be in office until 2017. As in Nicaragua, people seem to put up with a bit of screwing the constitution to run more than the allowed number of terms if life is getting better—especially the roads. Everyone here is talking about new highways and bypasses, rural roads getting paved, and potholes getting fixed. Note to politicians: help people get to where they need to go easier and many other problems can slide.

For travelers, expect more cheap subsidized gas, better highways, and…

Devil's Nose train

The Rebirth of Ecuador’s Train System

Tren Ecuador conductorThe history of Ecuador’s trains is one of fits and starts, joy and disappointment. Building train tracks through the Andes Mountains and then keeping them from being covered by landslides takes a lot of resources. In the late 19th century, some 2,500 workers died just building the Devil’s Nose section that uses two switchbacks to get down the mountain. This government is pushing hard to get the longest part—from Quito to Guayaquil—going again. It is scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2013. The first priority is a luxury service that will stop for the night several places along the way. But a tourist class one will follow and will be worth the splurge I’m sure. I went on two sections of it this week and was really impressed with the operation, both the restored and brand new coaches, and the scenery. I saw track improvements going on all over the place. Watch the Tren Ecuador site (in both languages) for updates.

Ecuadorian gastronomy

Ecuadoran Food Getting Its Due

I’m amazed at the number of gastronomy, coffee, and chocolate tours now being offered in this country. As with Peru a decade ago, the cuisine of Ecuador seems to be finally getting its due. It’s not all that photogenic unless a chef does some magical reconstruction, but they grow just about everything here, all year long, so the profusion of fruits, vegetables, and herbs is astounding. Much of the street food and cheap market stall fare here is nothing to write home about, so splurge a few dollars more now and then and see what the fuss is about.