Ecuador is a wildly diverse yet small country. And thanks to its compact size, there are many things you can do in Ecuador in a relatively short period.
Adventure seekers will have opportunities for whitewater rafting in class IV rapids, mountain biking through Cotopaxi National Park, and climbing snow-capped volcanoes.
Travelers seeking a more relaxing experience can visit one or more of the five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cruise around the Galápagos Islands or go shopping in Otavalo at the largest market in South America.
There's no shortage of amazing things to do in Ecuador, whatever your style.
Top Ecuador Attractions
1. Cruise the Galápagos Islands
Tour the historic islands where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution.
Here are just a few of the wildlife experiences awaiting you in the Galápagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site:
- Swimming with sea lions in Gardner Bay.
- Observing blue-footed boobies on Espanola Island.
- Visiting giant tortoises on Santa Cruz Island.
- Getting up close and personal with marine iguanas on Isabela Island.
Plus, you'll learn the geology behind how this volcanic island chain was formed.
A pro travel tip that could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Book a last-minute cruise to the Galápagos once you reach Quito or Guayaquil if you've got the time. Be flexible with your departure dates; it's worth it.
Want to book a Galapágos cruise in advance? Compare these two fantastic trips from G Adventures:
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 the actual Equator, marked by a series of exciting experiments and the more massive monument built in the wrong place about 300 feet (100 meters) away.
3. Downhill Mountain Biking on Cotopaxi Volcano
Riding a mountain bike down an active volcano is one of the most adventurous things to do in Ecuador.
Cotopaxi is a 19,347-foot (5,897-meter) tall stratovolcano. It's Ecuador's second-tallest volcano and one of the world's highest active volcanos.
On your tour, you'll be driven up to the parking lot at an elevation of 14,764 feet (4,500 meters), where you'll jump on mountain bikes for a fun and fast ride down to 10,827 feet (3,300 meters).
Tours typically include a picnic lunch at the bottom, where you can continue to take in the beautiful scenery of the Andes Mountains before pedaling over flat terrain to your departure point.
It's not every day you can say that you rode a mountain bike down an active volcano.
4. Shop at Otavalo Market
Otavalo Market, about a three-hour bus ride north of Quito, is the largest marketplace in South America. It's known to locals as “Plaza de Los Ponchos” and “Centenario Market.”
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 time to go to Otavalo Market is Saturday, when it swells to its largest size thanks to vendors from the surrounding region coming to sell their products.
5. Explore the Amazon Jungle
Ecuador is one of the cheapest places in South America to visit the Amazon rainforest. It's also one of the most amazing things to do in Ecuador.
Visitors can get up close and personal with the exotic wildlife like pink river dolphins found in the rainforest and learn about the indigenous people who call the region home.
The Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest is massive, so I highly recommend booking a guided tour to get the whole experience.
The 14-day Inland & Amazon tour by G Adventures includes Quito, the Amazon, Banos, and Otavalo.
6. Trek the Quilotoa Loop
The Quilotoa Loop is a three to four-day, high-altitude adventure mixing local buses with mountain treks. It's one of the most popular hikes in South America and things to do in Ecuador.
Altitudes can reach up to 13,123 feet (4,000 meters), so be sure to acclimate 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 that offers stunning views of nearby volcanoes on clear days.
7. Thrill-Seeking in Banos
Banos is the self-proclaimed adventure capital of Ecuador and one of the most scenic locations in South America.
The popular mainland Ecuador mountain town is aptly named after the mineral-rich hot springs produced by the neighboring volcano.
The pueblo is home to a broad range of activities suitable for nature lovers and adventure travelers, including:
- Climbing Tungurahua Volcano
- Whitewater rafting
- Mountain biking
- Bridge swings
- Hot springs
- Waterfall tours
When the nearby Tungurahua volcano is actively erupting, it's possible to see the ash plume and even red lava spewing from the crater. Visiting this mountain town is one of the best things to do in Ecuador.
Related: Best Hostels in Banos
8. Learn to Surf in Montanita
Montanita has long been a favorite surf spot. Learning to surf here is one of the most popular things to do in Ecuador for both visitors and locals.
Every weekend, vacationing Ecuadorians (especially those from nearby Guayaquil) flood town to visit the beach, surf, and enjoy the raucous nightlife.
It has undergone a construction boom in recent years as Ecuadorians, and expats get in on the increasing number of tourists visiting this small town by the Pacific Ocean.
9. Walk Cuenca's Historic City Center
Ecuador's third-largest city also boasts its prettiest historic city center, the main attraction.
Filled with dozens of churches and one impressive cathedral, Cuenca is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the preservation of its colonial buildings and architecture.
The largest and most impressive church in the Old Town is La Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción (pictured above).
At 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) above sea level, the weather can vary considerably throughout the day, from cold mornings to hot, sunny afternoons.
For the brave culinary traveler, Cuenca is one of the best places in Ecuador to sample cuy (guinea pig). Guinea pig is considered a local delicacy and is unique to the Highlands.
Cuenca is also a great jumping-off point for visits to El Cajas National Park (elevation: 10,826 feet / 3,300 meters). Here visitors will find glacier-formed valleys and have the chance to go on an independent or guided hike.
10. Visit Vilcabamba in the Valley of Longevity
Vilcabamba is a great place in Ecuador to visit. The pueblo is in a valley about 45 minutes south of Loja.
The town's claim to fame is that locals live longer than average lives, with many regularly reaching the 100-year mark.
The pueblo is an excellent jumping-off point for hiking in the surrounding mountains and acts as a gateway for travelers planning to use the inland border crossing with Peru.
We hope this guide to the best things to do in Ecuador helped inspire you to plan a trip to Latin America.
If you're not comfortable going on your own, consider a small-group tour from G Adventures:
Ecuador Encompassed is a 17-day trip that departs from and returns to Quito. It includes seven of the ten places mentioned in this story, including Banos, Tena (the Amazon), Otavalo, Cotopaxi, Cuenca, and Montanita.
Inland and Amazon is a 14-day trip with a similar itinerary, minus the beaches.
Ecuador Mainland & The Galápagos Islands is a 14-day trip combining the best of both worlds. The tour includes Quito, Banos, Tena (the Amazon), and five days in the Galápagos.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022 by Dave Lee