Ecuador is a small country, but one where there’s always quite a lot to do. Its small size is a big advantage when it comes to finding things to do in Ecuador, because it’s easy to travel across the country in a short amount of time and see a variety of attractions.
If you’re seeking adventure, you’ll most definitely find it, with an abundance of places to go hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking. If you want a more leisurely experience, you can take a guided tour through the Galápagos Islands, or go shopping at some of the very best markets in all of South America.
To that point, here’s a list of some of the coolest things to do in Ecuador:
1. Galápagos Islands Cruise
The Galápagos Islands are a must-see destination for anyone interested in the amazing diversity of nature. Charles Darwin spent time here developing his theory of evolution, and so you can see there many of the animals that inspired him.
You’ll have the opportunity to swim with sea lions, as well as learn about a variety of wildlife, including Blue Footed Boobies and the famous Galápagos Tortoises. The Galápagos is a volcanic island chain and you can learn how it was formed and why its ecology is so unique.
If your schedule isn’t already fully booked, you can sign up for a cruise to the Galápagos once you’ve arrived in Guayaquil or Quito. A last-minute booking could save you hundreds of dollars.
Where to Stay in the Galápagos Islands
The town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island:
- Cheap – El Descanso del Petrel offers single bunks for $15 per night and double bunks for $34 per night. It’s located close to restaurants and cafes in downtown Puerto Ayora.
- Average – Hostal Gardener Galápagos offers single bunks for $22 and double bunks for about $48. A breakfast made-to-order is included.
- Splurge – Hotel Galápagos Suites B&B is highly rated and located near many restaurants and bars. A hot American-style breakfast is included and a large cozy room is $115.
The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island:
- Cheap – La Casa de mi Sub is very close to the airport and has shuttle service. A single room is $25 and a double room is $50.
- Average – Casa de Jeimy is a well-liked property with a shared kitchen and terrace with beautiful views. A single room is $36 and a double is $72.
- Splurge – La Zayapa has very comfortable rooms that go for around $140, and a breakfast is included and a large cozy room is $115.
2. Stand on the Equator in Quito
Ecuador’s capital is near the equator dividing the northern and southern hemispheres. In Ecuador, it’s known as the “Museo Ciudad Mitad del Mundo Museo” (Middle of the World City Museum). You can get there very cheaply with a few bus rides from La Mariscal, a neighborhood in Quito that’s popular with backpackers. You can also take a taxi, which is faster but will cost a bit more.
The giant monument marking the equator is about a hundred meters away from the actual equator, and the real spot also has some interesting things to see, so be sure to visit both spots. You can stand in both hemispheres at once in this unique place!
Where to Stay in Quito
- The Secret Garden features delicious rooftop dining, beautiful views, and comfortable rooms. It’s in a great location if you want to explore the city and the surrounding areas.
- Color House Petitte Hostal has a great central location and is easily accessible by public transportation. There’s a bar on site and breakfast is included.
3. Downhill Mountain Biking on Cotopaxi Volcano
If you’re an experienced hiker, you probably already know that there are some great hikes to be had in Ecuador, including Cotopaxi, which is the second-tallest volcano in Ecuador at 5,897 meters high. If you’re not ready for that kind of hike, you can experience Cotopaxi with a downhill mountain bike ride.
This activity is suitable for people of all ages and is a great day trip activity if you’re staying in Quito. You can drive up the mountain and then ride a mountain bike back down the trail. It’s a wonderful way to experience the beautiful nature in northern Ecuador.
4. Shop at Otavalo Market
If you love shopping, you won’t want to miss Otavalo Market. It’s about three hours north of Quito by bus, and it’s the largest marketplace in South America. On Saturdays, vendors from all around the region come to sell their products.
While it’s a bit of a ride from Quito, it’s well worth it for the chance to find the perfect souvenirs for your friends and family. If you book an Otavalo Market tour from Quito, you won’t have to deal with bus schedules.
Where to Stay in Otavalo
- El Andariego Otavalo is only two blocks from the market and the Plaza de Ponchos. The rooms are comfortable and there is a shared kitchen for guests.
- Hospedaje Los Ponchos is very affordable, at just $20 a night for a double room, and half that for a single. It’s also located right near the marketplace.
5. Explore the Amazon
If you’d like to visit the Amazon Rainforest, there’s no better place to do it than in Ecuador. Amazonian tours here are some of the cheapest in South America.
You’ll be able to see the exotic rainforest flora and fauna up close, and you’ll learn about the indigenous people who have been living in the Amazon for thousands of years. A 14-day tour by G Adventures includes a trip into the Amazon, as well as Quito, Baños, and Otavalo.
Where to Stay in the Amazon
- As the Amazon area of Ecuador is an absolutely immense zone with a gargantuan amount of real estate to cover (note that it literally encompasses approximately 50% of the total land area in Ecuador), and per its boasting so many different and varied options based on the cities/towns or unincorporated areas that you might wish to venture (or adventure) to while visiting there, this is one that you’ll definitely need to research at self based on your own specific travel plans there and the type of accommodations that you’re looking for while touring any of the literally hundreds of destination spots which abound all throughout the Amazon.
6. Quilotoa Loop Hiking
If you’re looking for high-altitude adventure, check out the Quilotoa Loop. With a combination of local bus rides and guided hikes, you’ll spend three or four days exploring this beautiful region. You can also book a day tour of the region from Quito.
Altitudes reach 4,000 meters, so it’s a good idea to spend some time acclimatizing before setting out on any hikes. A highlight of the region is Laguna Quilotoa, a beautiful crater lake where you can see the nearby volcanoes when the weather is clear.
Where to Stay in the Quilotoa Loop
- Hostal Chukirawa is a lakefront guest house that provides breakfast and dinner. It’s near the bus station. It is fairly rustic and heated only by wood fires, so be sure to dress warmly.
- Hostal Princesa Toa is a bit more expensive than Hostal Chukirawa, and more modernized. It has coffee-making facilities and toiletries provided in the rooms, and it’s also right on the lake, close to the bus station.
7. Baños de Ambato: Adventure Central
If outdoor adventures of all kinds are what you’re looking for, then you’ll want to visit Baños de Ambato (a few hours outside of Quito), being well renowned as the adventure capital of Ecuador. It’s a small mountain town that offers a range of outdoor activities, including:
- mountain biking
- hiking on Tungurahua Volcano
- bridge swings
- hot springs
- whitewater rafting
- waterfall tours
Where to Stay in Baños de Ambato
- Hostal El Recreo is a very popular place. There’s a shared kitchen, games room, and laundry facility.
- Hostal Transilvania is a great option for those on a budget. It’s close to the center of town and bus station. They also have a restaurant, recreational room, and shared kitchen.
8. Surfing in Montañita
Montañita is one of the most popular surfing spots in Ecuador for both locals and tourists.
It’s recently had a construction boom as more Ecuadorians and expats both are naturally cashing in on the increased tourism. Montañita has a great nightlife scene, and drug laws are loosely enforced there, so it’s common to see and smell marijuana.
This relaxed atmosphere there is great for people looking to relax at the beach or to do some surfing, whether they’re new to the sport or seasoned veterans.
Where to Stay in Montañita
- Hostal Mamacucha is right on the beach and also close to the center of town. You’ll find plenty of hammocks for relaxing in, as well as a shared kitchen, a coffee shop, and a pool table.
- Hurvinek is a budget hotel that’s close to the beach. The rooms have private bathrooms with purified water, and the view from the balconies can’t be beat.
9. Stroll Through Cuenca’s Historic City Center
Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador, and has a beautiful city center, with dozens of historic churches, including an impressive cathedral. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and its historic buildings are generally well-preserved.
The southern city sits at 2,500 meters above sea level, so the weather can vary quite a bit during the day. Mornings can be quite chilly, and the afternoons get hot and sunny, so pack layers!
Cuy (guinea pig) is a delicacy in much of South America, and Cuenca is the best place to sample it in all of Ecuador. There are lots of restaurants and museums to explore in this city that are popular with expats and visitors.
Where to Stay in Cuenca
- Bauhouse is a popular hostel that is very bright and cheery, with comfortable beds. They have an American style breakfast every day, and weekly activities on the schedule.
- Hostal Restaurant La Cigale has both dormitory housing and private rooms. They offer a daily breakfast and also have a bar. It’s located just a few minutes from the city center and the river.
10. Visit Vilcabamba and the Valley of Longevity
Vilcabamba is a pueblo (small town) in southern Ecuador. It’s about 45 minutes south of Loja, the nearest large city. The town is famous because the locals are said to live quite a bit longer-than-average, as many people regularly reach 100 years old, which they often credit to the naturally occurring microscopic silver and gold particles which are found in relatively high quantity in their local water reservoir.
It’s a great place to stay if you’re interested in some mountain hiking, and it’s also a good base for crossing the border into Peru.
Where to Stay in Vilcabamba
- Hosteria Izhcayluma is a well-liked hostel/hotel option that has both private rooms as well as shared accommodations. They have a daily breakfast along with an excellent menu for lunch and dinner, plus provide a free pool & low cost yoga classes, and it’s just a quick taxi ride down to the town center.
- Jardin Escondido Vilcabamba is another popular spot. They’re right in the center of town, with plenty of nearby restaurants and cafes, and it also has a restaurant and pool on site.
Hopefully this outline as to the very best things to do in Ecuador has and will assist you to plan your trip to our beautiful country!
Credit for Accommodation Information: Go Backpacking, www.gobackpacking.com
Sara Chaca (Attorney - Abogada) is a seasoned Ecuadorian Lawyer, who principally serves Expats in making their moves to Ecuador, as well as for any legal issues that arise or become actionable for her Expat clients to undertake in their new lives here in her beautiful country. Sara resides in Cuenca with her family, which consists of her American husband and 2 daughters (as well as her parents and siblings), and when not working, she enjoys spending time with her family in Cuenca’s majestic Cajas Mountains and local parks & fairs of Cuenca, plus visiting the coast as well as the many gem towns of Ecuador. Sara’s personal email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and her law office's fully informative website is www.ecuadorvisas.com for you to visit at any time of day or night - plus, her personal Ecuadorian cell phone number is 099-296-2065 and her Toll Free "800" phone number for US & Canadian callers is 1-(800)-655-1581. Sara has a less than 24 hour first response policy, in that if you email or call her, she WILL return your first email or first phone call in less than 24 hours (more typically in closer to 24 minutes). Most importantly, all first time consultations with Expats for any type Visa or Legal matter(s) are always FREE OF CHARGE.