Ecuador is a small South American country situated between the countries of Columbia and Peru. The location is famous for its rich history, delicious cuisine, and the incredible ecological biodiversity found within its many landscapes. I’ve spent nearly two months exploring the country and even rented a flat for a month in Quito!
I’ve compiled a list for you guys as a resource for “when” you will visit Ecuador yourselves. It’s one of the better places to check in South America if you’re a first-time traveler.
Most people can speak English compared to other parts of South America! Yes, I can speak Spanish (broken) but I found it easier to communicate with people in Ecuador.
Also, another bonus. They use the America dollar as currency! No need to go on exchanges (Cambios) to split a dollar bill to pesos. Just use your plain old dollars bills and you’re good to go. Best of all, it’s cheap. Getting a decent meal for $4 at restaurants is ordinary and $2 street foods are common.
Ok, so there’s a little bit of political unrest (not too bad) at the moment but don’t let that dissuade you! Quito and other parts of Ecuador is a relatively safe place to travel. Exercise common sense and you should be able to avoid trouble or any scams you might come across.
Seriously though, if South America is on your horizon, I highly recommend you check out Ecuador!
Ecuador – A Brief History
One of the reasons Ecuador is such a fascinating place to explore is due to its hybridization of Spanish and local indigenous history. This rich history has provided the country with a diverse culture and plenty of intriguing sites.
Moreover, the mosaic of landscapes of the beach, the Amazon, and mountain range create a destination full of different picturesque scenes. On top of its natural beauty, the cities in Ecuador are equally beautiful.
Before diving into the 20 things to do in Ecuador, let’s learn a little bit about the origin of these destinations.
Pre Inca Civilization
Before the Spaniards claimed Ecuador under its dominion, numerous indigenous cultures flourished for 4,500 years until the rise of the Incan Empire. These pre-Incan groups subsisted in clans.
Later, they eventually developed into great tribes. These tribes left evidence of their existence in incredible archeological sites and artifacts that tourists can still witness to this day.
Incan Dominance of Ecuador
In 1436, the conquest of Ecuador began under the authority of the ninth Inca, a great warrior named Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. It was a short reign of fewer than 100 years, full of brutal conflicts.
During this period, the Incan Emporer favored Ecuador so much he established the site of Quito as the second Incan capital city. Unfortunately for the Incans, the reign soon ended with the Spanish Conquest.
An Incan civil was ongoing when the Spanish arrived with Francisco Pizarra. The Incans become severely weakened due to this war. This allowed the Spanish empire to easily conquer the area with a superior weapon. Additionally, for the very first time, the Incans saw Horses.
It wouldn’t be until August 10, 1809, that Quito gained its independence from Spain. Many of the things to do on this list, you can thank the Spaniards! Later, in 1830, Ecuador separated from Gran Colombia becoming an independent republic.
Best Things to Do in Ecuador
With so much to see and so much to do in the country I’ve compiled the best, that is to say, the most fun and crazy things to do in Ecuador below.
Stand in two Hemispheres at the Equator “Mitad Del Mundo”
Some things you just have to do at least once in your life. Flying out into space might out of reach but standing between two hemispheres of the planet is quite possible.
We certainly have. Taking a cheesy picture standing between the Northern and Southern hemispheres will be an Instagram hit.
There are a few sites relating to the Equator. The major site is called the “Mitad del Mundo” or middle of the world. Here you will find a giant 90-foot monument that doesn’t exactly (it’s off by a few feet) stand in the middle of the world.
Nearby is the Intiñan museum with neat presentations and experiments including the changing of the Coriolis effect in the different hemispheres. Also, you’ll try balancing an egg on a nail, and witness a museum with models of shrunken heads – A practice with an indigenous culture of Ecuador.
Backpack the Quilatoa Crater
Quilatoa is a gorgeous water-filled 2-mile wide crater is a gorgeous formed from the collapse of a volcano approximately 600 years ago. The lake is 820 feet deep and has a bold blue hue that makes it a picturesque destination when the sun is shining.
Note: This destination sits at 3,914 m (12,841 ft). The elevation is no joke. Lots of places in Ecuador can give Everest a run for its money. Do your research on altitude sickness, and make sure you spend a few days acclimating before trying this.
How You Can Do It Yourself
Book a day trip or if you are a backpacker take a bus. There are various ways to explore this site. If you want to just have a nice view, it is free to enter the park and look over at the crater.
Feeling a little adventurous? Hike down 30 minutes, a 280-meter descent, where you can explore the water and hike back up 1-2 hours or camp for the night (It’s cold)
There is also a four to five-hour hike around the caldera (whose diameter is just over 3 km). If you are an adventurous backpacker, you can do the 4-5 day backpacking loop where you will sleep in cabins along the way.
Most travelers follow the route from Latacunga > Sigchos > Isinlivi > Chugchilan > Quilotoa > Latacunga. The hike has a total of 2152 meters/7,060 feet of ascent and 1,184 meters/3,884 feet total of descent, across approximately 30 kilometers/18.6 miles.
For full details look at this guide @ Practical Wanderlust
- Laguna Quilotoa Trek
- Open your eyes to the amazing cultural and natural environments as you trek towards Quilatoa Crater.
- Ecuador: Hike, Bike & Raft
- Ten days of fun-filled adventure that includes hiking the Quilatoa Crater!
- Quilotoa Lagoon & Baños Villag
- Three Days of jam-packed exploration that includes ascending to the Quilatoa Volcano.
Stroll Into the Past with a Tour of the Spanish Influenced Historic Districts of Quito & Cuenca
With Spanish occupation came Spanish culture, architecture, and religion. This has led to the designation of the historic districts in Quito and Cuenca as UNESCO world heritage sites.
As you tour these districts, you find a plethora of large ornate churches. Additionally, the buildings are constructed with various styles. Some of the sites you have to see include:
- The magnificent Gothic Basilica of Quito
- The San Francisco Monastery
- The Iglesia de El Sagrario
- Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción.
Peruse through cobblestone roads leading to large squares. All contain beautified green spaces. Generally, you’ll find statues of historic figures who shaped history in the country.
You can travel through these centers on your own time. However, take a guided tour if you desire lessons of what you are viewing.
Pro Tip: Some walking tours are available for free within the larger cities. Do a quick google search to find them.
- Quito Day Tour
- This is an afternoon tour that is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the lively culture and good foods of Quito.
- Panoramic Cuenca
- You’ll stay in a nice hotel while you explore Cuenca and its environs – the Calderon Park, the Flower Market, the New and the Old Cathedral, and Modern Arts Museum!
- Ecuador Beaches & Coastal Adventure
- From Cuenca to Quito, beaches, cities, and more beaches!
Stroll through Cajas National Park
On the outskirts of Cuenca lies a massive national park. It’s notable for gorgeous trails crisscrossing evergreen cloud forests and lagoons. Witness wildlife like the Ecuadorian sigil Andean condor, giant hummingbirds, and raccoon-like coatis. This spot will be a pretty cold and possibly windy, so make sure to bring a nice coat!
Get misted in a Massive Waterfall – El Pailon de Diablo
Ecuador is full of waterfalls, but the Pailon De Diablo takes the cake. It translates to Devil’s Cauldron, derived from the ultra-powerful waterfall plunging into the bowl-shaped basin of the Rio Verde. (Green River).
Climb Ecuador’s Snow-capped Mountains
Ecuador is a country sprinkled with breathtaking snow-capped volcanoes. You can take day trips to these volcanoes where you’ll trek to the base camps.
Here you will see climbers preparing for a journey to the summit. (You can too!) Grab a hot chocolate or cocoa tea, and then a bicycle down to the bottom!
One of Ecuador’s “claims to fame” is the Chimborazo Volcano, the highest volcano in the world. I know you are thinking Everest, but this mountain is higher measuring from the center of Earth. Because of the bulge of Earth at the Equator, Chimborazo is the closest point to the stars!
Other impressive Volcanoes include Cotapaxi, Antisana, and Chimborazo. All are climbable but pretty tough, you’ll be better off with experienced tour guides to tackle most of them!
- Chimborazo Prince Challenge
- This 10-day acclimatization program is intended to train and teach people in high elevation mountains in excess of 4,000 – 6,000 meters. With the support of a qualified and English speaking guide, this program acclimatizes and enhances the health of climbers so it is feasible to make a triumphant ascent of some of the most eminent volcanoes in South America.
- Cotopaxi & Chimborazo
- Three days of sparkling green mountaintops that are capped by white snow in winter, outline the astonishing 185-mile extent of Ecuador’s countryside. If you have little time, this is the most suitable choice to discover the Andes on a personalized private tour.
- Trekking The Avenue of Volcanoes
- You will trek in the Ecuadorian Andes while you find an unbelievable world of charming landscapes, secluded communities, indigenous societies, and large volcanoes. These points and more grow together to form the legendary Avenue of Volcanoes Ecuador.
Shop in the Otavalo Market
The Otavalo market is known for its large indigenous markets.
Within a farmer’s market, you will find customers farmers purchasing animals and vegetables. This will give you great insight into the world of the agricultural sector.
The Otovalo craft and clothing market has a treasure trove of items. You’ll find a wide variety of affordable products.
These include hand made leather items, world-famous Alpaca sweaters and carpets soft as cashmere. Other famous products include stylish ponchos and Panama hats. A little known secret, Panama hats originate from Ecuador!
Pro tip: Don’t purchase the first stall. Many of the stalls have the same items. Visiting them all, you can get a good idea of the worth of the product. If you buy more than one, that should shave a dollar or two off of every product. Make sure you bargain!
Take Pictures at the Panecillo in Quito
This is a statue of the Virgen of Quito sitting on a high hill in the Southern sector of Quito. In 1976, the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán Matorras was appointed to construct a 45-meter-tall stone monument of a madonna. Called “Virgin of El Panecillo”, it is composed of seven thousand pieces of aluminum.
This is a picture worth site, but make sure you take a uber or taxi to the top. The word is that walking to the spot can be dangerous, especially if alone!
See all of Quito from the Teleferiqo
Take a ski lift for $8.50 ($6.50 children) that climbs towards the mountain of Ruca Pichincha. From here, take beautiful pictures on the swing overlooking the Quito skyline. Enjoy a hot chocolate and a snack at the restaurant. Bring a coat, as it gets cold!
Stroll the Malecón 2000 boardwalk
One of the most famous sites of Guayaquil. Scroll along the boardwalk overlooking the Guayas River. Along the pathway, enjoy the elaborate parks and plazas, lagoons, museums and malls.
The highlight on the boardwalk is the Rotonda. this is found on the street 9 de Octubre Avenue. It holds a monument dedicated to the secret meeting encounter between José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar. These liberators discussed tactics to liberate the area of Spain’s rulership.
Climb the Steps of Cerro Santa Ana and Check Out the Colorful Houses
Speaking of Guayaquil, you will find the most colorful and vibrant neighborhood of Las Peñas. This historic neighborhood over 400 years old. The crayon-colored hillside of Cerro Santa Ana has still had the same allure as it was ages ago.
Lots of family-owned restaurants and bars line the 444 steps as it winds all the way up to a breathtaking viewpoint on top of Santa Ana Hill. Yeah, this place is awesome and your travel camera (and you) will be very happy with the climb. It’s well worth it!
Take a Dip in Frailes Beach
The beaches in this free park are a local favorite. It contains the most beautiful in Ecuador, Los Frailes. It is an easy day trip from Puerto Lopez. You can take a moto-taxi or hike to get to this location. To get to the beach, you will cross two other beautiful beaches.
The first is Playa Prieta, where you’ll see dozens of crabs creating sand balls. Keep walking the path taking you to the little turtle beach. Continue onwards onto Los Frailes.
From here, relax for the day, ready a book, and dive into the amazing waters. Don’t forget your sunscreen, the sun is powerful and unforgiving in Ecuador!
Soak in the Thermal Pools of Papallacta
These range from lukewarm to scalding hot. You can do this on your own by taking buses and taxis and pay less than 15.00 per person. For the deluxe Spa and extra privacy, pay 39.00. To avoid the hassle, book a day tour to Papallacta from Quito. This will cost a little more but arrive much quicker than a bus.
Adrenaline-Fueled Adventures in Baños
Donde es el Baños? No, it’s NOT that kind of Baño. It’s a place, specifically in Ecuador. Baños is famous for two things. Bountiful nature and adrenaline-fueled adventure. It is a small quaint town three hours from Quito. You can take a bus, or book a day tour from Quito.
Because Mindo seems to be a little richer, I prefer to do the action in Baños and nature in Mindo! You can go mountain biking, zip-lining, rafting, waterfall rafting, and repelling. There’s also a swing at the end of the world that’s worth checking out!
- 3 Day Adventure in Baños
- This voyage will bring you to the numerous fascinating points of “Baños de Agua Santa”, within which you will engage in different extreme sports ventures and witness the attractions that dominate this magical land.
- 5 Day Adventure in Baños
- Find Baños, a genuine explorer’s paradise, on this action-packed 5-day excursion with mountain biking and ziplining in the natural environment.
- Quito, Amazon, Baños Highland Rides
- On this Ecuador Amazon adventure, be sharp and have your eyes wide open scanning for wildlife because a beautiful rainforest expects you. By touring the Ecuadorian Amazon you will have a once in a lifetime unique adventure.
Explore Nature in Mindo
Mindo is about two hours from Quito and is brilliant for exploring nature. A tourist favorite is the butterfly sanctuaries. Are you interested in tropical birds?
Wake up early and take a tour, and walk through the cloud forest with binoculars. You’ll see hundreds of them. You can also do adrenaline activities in this town. This is often preferable if you don’t have the time to visit both!
Tour Deep into the Amazon Rainforest in a Lodge
By bus or plane, you will fly to Coca. From there, you will take a motorized canoe deep into the Ecuadorian rainforest. This will lead to an Amazon lodge, where you get a real taste of life in the jungle.
Experience the culture of the local tribes, and go on nocturnal tours to see various reptiles and bats. During the day, go on excursions to see pink river dolphins, otters, leaf cutter ants, monkeys. The brightly colored tropical birds and parakeets are incredible.
- Ecuador Amazon Jungle Tour
- Catch a 4-Day adventure deep toward the Ecuadorian Amazon in Tapir Lodge. The Luxury Class jungle lodge operates in collaboration with the members of the Siona inhabitants in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.
- La Selva Lodge
- Go deep into the Amazon Basin towards La Selva Lodge on Garzacocha Lake, a serene body of water correlated to the extensive Amazon River system.
- Sustainable Communities Encounter in Ecuador
- A unique adventure to have the full experience of Ecuador Amazonia! You will love it!
Surfing in Ayampe
If you want a relaxed environment to learn surfing, this is the place you need to be. The conditions for surfing are great all year round. With the warm weather in Ecuador, you can be in the water anytime. There are many other places for surfing listed here.
Eat Your Way Through a Foodie Paradise
Ecuador has any options for food. Because of its climate and location, it is a hotspot for trying new fruits and fruit juice. Likely, you won’t find back home.
The ones you need to try?
- Tomate de Arbol
As for food, there are hundreds of restaurants and open markets to sample new fruits and foods. I found myself trying out the street food as much as I can! There are many famous dishes. Take a look at these to check off your foodie list!
Ecuadorian Ceviche – Like Peruvian ceviche, but Ecuadorian fish is cooked beforehand.
Maito de Tilapia – A filet of tilapia cooked in the Incan method of wrapping a fish in a Banana leaf.
Couy – Guinea pig cooked rotisserie style. The best are in Ambato and Cuenca
Patacones – Slices of plantain mashed and cooked in oil like French fries.
Encebollado – Composed of tuna, red onion, yuca, cilantro. Then all topped with plantain chips and toasted corn
Hornado – Roasted pig, cooked whole. Don’t worry, you don’t have to order the whole thing.
Lastly, you have to try high-quality Ecuadorian coffee. Columbia is one of the kings in the coffee industry, overshadowing the lesser-known Ecuadorian coffee. There are many farms where coffee is grown in permaculture settings. They produce high-quality coffee strains. Try them at several places in Quito like Isveglio coffee.
Visit Cacao Plantations and Try a Chocolate workshop
Ecuador contains various regions with Cocoa trees of strains with the highest purity of cacao beans. These beans transform into delicious chocolate bars and candies. Visit these farms, watch how chocolate is made, and participate in creating it yourself!
Check out the Ingapirca
If you want to see Incan ruins, this is the place for you. Ingapirca is a town in Ecuador’s Cañar province. Here you will discover an archaeological complex north of town containing ancient ruins and Incan masonry.
The ruins include the Temple of the Sun. This is a large oval construction formerly used for ceremonial and astronomical purposes. Close to this area, explore the Museum site of Ingapirca, which contains an ancient skeleton, tools and other artifacts recovered from the area.
- The Andes to Amazon
- Astounding Andean scenery, colonial construction, captivating Indian markets, and flourishing cloud forests are only the start. Explore the Avenue of the Volcanoes with magnificent panoramas of snow-capped volcanoes like Cayambe and Chimborazo, before embarking the ‘Devil’s Nose’ train towards Ingapirca and Cuenca.
- Cuenca & South Towns
- This 4-day Cuenca & South Towns voyage of Ecuador is ideal for families wishing to explore one of South America’s best-preserved colonial towns.
- Ecuador Highlights
- Find the magic of Ecuador by train and trekking into the Avenue of Volcanoes, above in the Andes mountains, navigating the tropical Amazon waterways and traversing the cultural towns of indigenous Otavalo, Quito, Baños and Cuenca where you will explore Ingapirca.
Follow in Darwin’s Footsteps to Galapagos National Park
The Galapagos national park is famous for the wide array of animals you will only find on these islands. The highlights are the snorkeling and trekking excursions, where you can get up close in personal with the animals for great pictures.
Some of the famous species include the goliath Galapagos Tortoise, blue-footed boobies, whales, hammerhead sharks, Galapagos penguins, fur seals, and magnificent frigates.
There are a lot of islands, with many itineraries that you will need to research. You can choose between land-based options if you don’t like boats, or spent some time on a liveaboard yacht or cruise ship of various classes. These trips can often be expensive but are well worth the money.
- Best of Galapagos
Marvelous wildlife, both on land and water, is the draw of the isolated Galapagos Islands. Explore the Galapagos’ outstanding physical beauty and fascinating history by foot and ship on this dynamic adventure.
- Family Land Galápagos
Wanting to provide your kids with a crash course in fascinating wildlife? What more desirable spot to tour than “Darwin’s test lab,” the Galápagos Islands? During this multi-activity tour, you’ll possess the opportunity to snorkel, trek, kayak, and swim around the islands, as well as see a giant tortoise breeding center and of course the Charles Darwin Research Station.
- Galapagos: In Darwin’s Footsteps
Outspread hiking on the island of Isabela in the isolated Galapagos archipelago is a unique privilege and these tour guides are one of the only scant operators allotted here. As part of this tour, you experience a three-day hike to the 11km wide crater edge of the Sierra Negra Volcano, a trek that’s blessed with outstanding vistas of the lava-strewn panorama and its smoldering fumaroles.
Ecuador’s one of the best places to explore in South America! It’s home to the highest landmasses on Earth and a bunch of awesome volcanoes. The cities and the culture are equally stunning as well.
I’ve spent a couple of months exploring the country and I hope you get the opportunity to do so as well. If you don’t have the time, check out one or a couple of the tours mentioned in this article. You’ll certainly have a blast!
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