10+ Best Things to See and Do in Ecuador
1. Baños de Agua Santa (also known as “Baños de Ambato”)
Want to experience the curative power of hot spring water? Baños is a great spot for those who wish to unwind in a gentle setting. A major point of visiting Baños is the prospect of outdoor adventure. If you like the idea of swinging over the edge of the world, Baños is the perfect place to explore. From hiking through the waterfalls, canyoning, paragliding, biking or boating, and bathing in hot springs, Baños provides it all. Baños has unique geography, as it’s located in the Tungurahua province of the Andean region of Ecuador. When the Tungurahua volcano actively erupts, you can even view the red lava at the top. Prices are quite reasonable in Baños – for instance, bungee jumping is only $20.
2. Otavalo Valley and Market
The Otavalo Valley itself is worth a visit. The city of Otavalo is located approximately one and a half hours north of Quito, surrounded by three volcanoes. Otavalo has South America’s largest street market, where you can buy handmade alpaca sweaters, hand- embroidered apparel, wool fedoras and ceramics. Some of the other interesting items are jewelry, necklaces, and musical instruments.
3. Cuenca & “Baños de Cuenca”
While Ecuador as a whole is famous for its friendly people, natural beauty, great medical facilities and reasonable cost of living, Cuenca features the best of Ecuador, with charming colonial buildings, including churches and cathedrals, 70 degree year-round temperature (that being Fahrenheit), and Wi-Fi available throughout the city. Located in the Andes Mountains and renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site, Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city, and is also said to be Ecuador’s intellectual capital. It attracts people from all over the world, and is a favorite place for retirees and expats to relocate to. Plus, Baños is right next door to Cuenca (so close that it’s often considered part of Cuenca at that), boasting multiple spas and outdoor pools, indoor steam room rooms and saunas, thermal contrast baths (very hot and very cold), in addition to low cost professional massages and mud treatments, along with American style restaurants/food options too.
Located in the Cañar Province, Ingapirca is a prime Ecuadorian town. It is famous for the Ingapirca ruins on the ancient Incan civilization; the most significant architectural piece is the “Temple of the Sun”, which is a large oval building once used for astronomical and ritual purposes. This town is an example of two cultures coexisting in one place, all but a less than 40 kilometer drive from Cuenca. A guided tour may cost you around $40.
Montañita is a surfing town in Ecuador. It is known for its waves, hotels, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. With a number of attractions, Montañita has been luring retirees and tourists for decades. If you want to party until the wee hours of the morning, Montañita is the place for you. As soon as you enter the town, you will see everyone at ease, smiling, having fun, and eager to make friends. In addition, Montañita’s weather varies from hot and humid to being exactly like a sauna. Apart from world-class surfing, there are a lot of things to do in Montañita that are cheap or free. You can expect to spend no more than $600 for a week-long surf camp including accommodations, lessons and food.
6. Go whale watching in Puerto Lopez
Like most communities in Ecuador, Puerto Lopez offers reasonable living. Rentals are inexpensive, and since both labor and land are cheap, building your coastal home is absolutely possible on a budget. Unlike Montañita, Puerto Lopez is a fishing town and well- known destination for whale watching. Among other interesting animals, you can see blue footed boobies at La Plata Island. When it comes to weather, Puerto Lopez provides plenty of sunshine and onshore breezes from January to August. The local temperature ranges from warm to hot all year around. You can go whale watching together with an island tour visit for only $35. Tourists can also visit nearby national parks for free or just a few dollars.
7. Visit or volunteer at an animal refuge
Puyo is located at the entrance of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Often, the weather is overcast and the local climate is wet. Puyo is well-known for its numerous animal rescue and rehabilitation centers. This is a perfect destination for someone who seeks an interesting and informative visit. Other than that, if you expect to get involved with the local community, there are many volunteering options available too.
8. Cotacachi & Ibarra
Cotacachi and Ibarra are both less than 2 hours away from Quito, and close to get to from each other. They’re both perfect destinations to undertake delightful walking tours in, plus enjoy low cost foods from street vendors and restaurants, as well as buy authentic leather goods of all types (i.e. belts, jackets, pants and purses), in addition to admiring natural views and lakes, interacting with indigenous peoples, and having excursions. Adventure wise there, you can expect climbing, rafting, swing jumping, trekking, kayaking, and more.
9. Bahía de Caráquez & Manta
These 2 delightful coastal cities located within an hour of each other have become quite high on the list of foreigners, as they each offer gorgeous beach going venues, in addition to having delectable coastal cuisine, boating, as well as American style Shopping Malls – in fact, the brand new “Mall del Pacifico” that’s located in the center of Manta is on a par with any US Shopping Mall built in the last 5 years, boasting every type store, restaurant and product/service one could wish to buy. All this, whilst enjoying one’s days by the beach and one’s nights under the stars, listening to the sound of the gentle waves as they roll up on the soft and sandy shore.
10. Learn Spanish
Since Spanish is the national language of Ecuador, you might want to learn it so as to facilitate new and unique experiences, especially if you wish to visit some of the other places on the above list, notwithstanding that it is also suggested you get to the coastal town of Salinas for jet skiing and parasailing, the mountain adventure town of Mindo for zip lines and waterfalls, as well as numerous other cities and locales that simply because of a lack of space and time couldn’t prominently fit into the above list of spectacular places and sites to take in. The country is full of resources which will help you learn Spanish, and will also allow you to immerse in the local cultures of Ecuador’s best destinations as well as charming people.
Ecuador Travel Costs
Accommodations are not very expensive. You can get good value for your money, all across Ecuador. While the starting price of most hostels is around $10 per night, a formal hotel room tends to cost between $20-40 per night. In case you want to book a hotel with a pool and more luxurious amenities, which will typically cost around $50-75 per night. You can also easily find cheap accommodations across Ecuador on Airbnb. Prices of shared rooms usually start at $15 a night.
If you want to retire on a budget, Ecuador is one of the best places. It offers very reasonably priced meals. For instance, local food products or lunches/dinners usually cost $3-5. For around $1-3, you can grab street food easily, plus even breakfast at many places. A lot of western food items may cost you around $5-10. If you plan to buy food items from grocery stores, you would spend around $15-20 a week on basic items like milk, bread, eggs, chicken, cheese, fruit and vegetables. While Ecuadorian beers may cost you as little as $1 each, you can expect to pay more in restaurants and bars for alcohol, particularly in the cities.
There’s no limit to the activities you can dive into, and most of them are quite affordable. For instance, if you want a ride on the “Devil’s Nose” train, it will cost you no more than $25 round-trip. Similarly, you can buy an entrance ticket to Ingapirca and take trips to museums at an estimated cost of $6. While day trips to mountain hikes and volcanoes typically cost around $30, an organized visit to Galapagos Islands seems a bit pricey. The basic package of 10-day trip would cost you between $1,000 – 2,000, along with a $100 or so park fee.
Backpacking Ecuador Suggested Budgets
- Being a budget-friendly country, Ecuador allows expats and tourists to experience extreme diversity with a budget of only $30-35 a day on average. Sounds cheap? Well, it’s only possible if you’re buying cheap street food, or cooking some of your meals at home, staying in hostel dorm rooms rather than hostel private rooms, and using local transportation services.
- If you have a mid-range budget to spend about $100 per day, then you can do a lot. Here, you can afford staying in private hostel rooms, eating out for everything, taking taxis, doing tours and so on.
- Those who have a luxury budget to spend $200+ per day can generally choose to do whatever they wish to each day. Included is a tour of the Galapagos Island, fancy meals, top-notch hotels, etc.
Ecuador Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
How can you save money in Ecuador? Well, there are a few tips and tricks to save some bucks while traveling around Ecuador. Have a look at them in the following:
These are family-run guesthouses that are located all over the country. They’re well equipped, with rooms that expats and tourists can book for merely dollars a night.
Eat at the local markets
This is the go-to destination for food shopping. The markets’ best feature is their affordability: you would pay no more than $3 for buying 20 bananas and a kilo of apples. Similarly, you can purchase meals there for just a few dollars.
Many restaurants include “almuerzo” (lunch), in their menus. These lunches usually only cost a couple of dollars and include a natural fruit drink, so they’re a good option to save cash.
Carry small change
Avoid carrying bills over $20, as it can be difficult to get change in small towns.
Book last minute tours
Often, you can get discounted deals at the very last minute. So wait around and maybe you’ll find a cheap tour.
Where to Stay in Ecuador
Listed below are some of the sought-after places to stay in Ecuador:
- AlterNative Hostel (Cuenca)
- Hogar Cuencano Hostel (Cuenca)
- Community Hostel (Quito)
- Vibes Hostel (Quito)
- Hostal Lumaga Rural (Montañita)
- Esperanto B&B Surf Backpacker Hostel (Montañita)
- Hostel Nucapacha (Guayaquil)
- Dreamkapture Hostel (Guayaquil)
How to Get Around Ecuador
Buses are the most convenient and frequently-used mode of transportation to get around Ecuador. If you want to visit Ecuador’s various cities, local buses are the most appropriate option. They are easy to access, efficient, and affordable. A local bus ticket costs around $0.25 – 0.50. There are also many bus companies that will lead you to remote areas as well as common backpacking routes. Usually, long-distance buses cost $2-4 an hour. For distant trips, you may expect to pay around $10-20 for a one-way ticket. The cost to travel from Quito, Ecuador to Bogota, Colombia is estimated to be $50-60. Likewise, to travel from Quito to Lima, Peru can cost you around $30-50. You can also visit www.latinbus.com to find routes and prices.
Taxis and Uber
Both taxis and Uber are quite affordable, yet they are only generally metered in Cuenca and Quito. A short taxi ride within Cuenca (for example) will usually cost between $1.50 – 3.00.
Some of the major airlines of Ecuador are:
They are very affordable and usually fly from Cuenca, Quito or Guayaquil. The flights may cost as little as $50 or less per way. Using TAME airline, you can often travel from Quito to Loja for under $100 round-trip.
Ecuador’s rail system is designed to appeal to tourists, by showing them diverse, stunning scenery. It’s less about reaching the end spot and more about what you experienced to reach it. The most popular of all day trips is called the “Devil’s Nose” train, which costs around $30. You can use www.trenecuador.com to track down routes and ticket prices.
When to Go to Ecuador
In general, there are two distinct seasons in Ecuador: wet and dry. Since Ecuador is a country with diverse altitudes, there’s no one best time to travel – it all depends on which city expats want to be in, and during what month.
Most parts of Ecuador are the coolest and/or wettest from January to May. However, you shouldn’t try to enter the Amazon during that time, because flooding can block the local roads there. If you’re planning to visit the Galapagos during that time, make sure to book ahead in advance, because those are the warmest months in the Galapagos. The weather will become quite pleasant as temperatures along the coast moderate, which, in turn, makes the ocean’s water both calmer and warmer.
The peak season across Ecuador is in early October to late December.
From early June to late September, expats may experience some of the warmest months in Ecuador. When summer hits Puerto Lopez, you can see the acrobatics of 30-ton humpback whales migrating from the cold Antarctic to warmer equatorial waters in the local vicinity.
How to Stay Safe in Ecuador
Ecuador is generally a safe place to live and travel, provided some intelligent precautions are taken. Whether you’re heading to the capital of Quito, Cuenca, or other areas, there are a few things you should look out for.
- In Ecuador, bag snatching and burglary are relatively common. These types of crimes usually occur on transport terminals.
- Never allow any unknown person to join your taxi, or informal taxi to pick you up.
- Most places are safe during the daytime, but there are some places where you shouldn’t walk alone at night. For instance, Quito’s old town can be quite unsafe to visit after dark.
- In case you need to use public transport to travel, make sure you remain extra careful as per your belongings.
- Ecuador maintains a unique Tourism Police Unit (i.e. in Quito), so to ensure the safety of travelers. All you need to do is install the travel safety app on your smartphone. Whenever you find yourself in an emergency situation, the app can assist police to locate you through GPS.
In summation, traveling to Ecuador can be (and usually is) a most enjoyable trip for expats and foreigners alike, so long as proper planning, reasonable budgeting and general safety precautions are taken, such that one’s trip (or move) to the country is/will be one to write home about, and done so without having any regrets.