Ecuador is a wildly diverse country, and thanks to its compact size, a lot can be seen and experienced in a very short period.
Adventurers will enjoy opportunities to mountain bike and climb snow-capped volcanoes, while those seeking a more relaxing experience can cruise around the Galapagos Islands, or go shopping in Otavalo Market, South America’s largest.
As you’ll see below, there’s no shortage of amazing things to do in Ecuador.
Planning a trip to Ecuador? Book your hostels here
Top 10 Things to Do in Ecuador
1. Cruise the Galapagos Islands
Tour the historic islands where Charles Darwin developed his theories of evolution.
If you’ve got time to spare, you can book a last minute cruise to the Galapagos once you reach Quito or Guayaquil, and save hundreds of dollars in the process.
Want to book a Galapagos cruise in advance? Check out this affordable land and sea trip!
2. Straddle the Equator in Quito
Visiting the Equator, known in Ecuador as the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), is as easy as a few bus rides, or a faster but costlier taxi ride, from the backpacker neighborhood of La Mariscal.
Be sure to visit both the real Equator, which is marked with a series of interesting experiments, as well as the larger monument built in the wrong place about 100 meters away.
3. Downhill Mountain Biking on Cotopaxi Volcano
If you’re not ready to climb 5,897-meter Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s 2nd tallest volcano, and one of the world’s tallest active ones, go downhill mountain biking down it instead!
Mountain Biking Cotopaxi Volcano is an adventure activity fit for most people, regardless of age. And it’s an easy day trip from Quito.
You’ll drive up to the parking lot at an elevation of 4,500 meters above sea level and jump on mountain bikes for a fun and fast ride back down to 3,300 meters.
4. Shop at Otavalo Market
Otavalo Market, located about a 3-hour bus ride north of Quito, is South America’s largest marketplace.
It’s the perfect place to practice your haggling skills while picking up a few authentic souvenirs for your family and friends at home.
The best day to go is Saturday when the market swells to its largest with vendors from the surrounding region.
5. Explore the Amazon Jungle
Ecuador is perhaps the cheapest place in South America to visit the Amazon.
Get up close and personal with the exotic wildlife only found in the rainforest, and learn about the indigenous people who call the region home.
3-day trips departing from Quito start around just $100.
Want to visit the Amazon through a local homestay? Book this 8-day G Adventures trip!
6. Trek the Quilotoa Loop
The Quilotoa Loop is a 3-4 day, high-altitude adventure mixing the use of local buses with mountain treks.
Altitudes can reach up to 4,000 meters, so be sure to acclimatize for a few days nearby, or in Quito, before getting started.
The highlight for many is a view of the picturesque Laguna Quilotoa, a crater lake which also offers stunning views of nearby volcanoes on clear days.
Can’t miss Quilotoa while visiting Ecuador? Then book this 6-day volcanoes trip from Quito!
7. Get Wet and Wild in Banos
Banos is the self-proclaimed adventure capital of Ecuador.
This small mountain pueblo is home to a broad range of activities, including:
- climbing nearby Tungurahua Volcano
- whitewater rafting
- mountain biking
- bridge swings
- hot springs
- waterfall tours
When the volcano is actively erupting, it’s possible to see red lava at the top.
8. Learn to Surf in Montanita
Montanita has long been a favorite surf spot.
In recent years, it has undergone a construction boom as Ecuadorians and expats hope to get in on the increasing number of tourists visiting this small Pacific pueblo.
Every weekend, vacationing Ecuadorians (especially those from nearby Guayaquil), flood town to visit the beach, surf, and enjoy the raucous nightlife.
Drug laws are loosely enforced, and it’s common to see or smell marijuana being smoked (or consumed in the form of “happy” brownies) on the streets.
9. Walk Cuenca’s Historic City Center
Ecuador’s third largest city also boasts it’s most beautiful city center.
Filled with dozens of churches, and one impressive cathedral, Cuenca is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the preservation of its historic buildings.
At 2,500 meters in elevation, the weather can vary considerably throughout the day, from cold mornings to hot, sunny afternoons.
Cuenca is the best place in Ecuador to sample cuy (guinea pig).
10. Visit Vilcabamba in the Valley of Longevity
Vilcabamba is a pueblo located in a valley about 45 minutes south of Loja.
The town’s claim to fame is the assertion that locals live longer than average lives, with many regularly reaching the 100-year mark.
The pueblo is an excellent jumping off point to do some hiking in the surrounding mountains and acts as a gateway for travelers planning to use the inland border crossing with Peru.