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Top 10 Things to Do in Ecuador

Ecuador is a wildly diverse country. And thanks to its compact size, there are a ton of things to do in Ecuador.

Best of all, they can be experienced in a short period. Adventurers will enjoy opportunities to mountain bike and climb snow-capped volcanoes.

At the same time, 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.

Frigate Bird at sunset in the Galapagos Islands
Frigate bird at sunset in the Galapagos Islands

Top 10 Things to Do in Ecuador

1. Cruise the Galapagos Islands

Tour the historic islands where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution.

Go swimming with sea lions, discover the mating habits of Blue Footed Boobies, and learn the geology behind how this volcanic island chain was formed.

If you've got time to spare, you can book a last-minute cruise to the Galápagos once you reach Quito or Guayaquil and save hundreds of dollars in the process.

Where to Stay in the Galápagos: Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island

  • On the cheap – El Descanso del Petrel has bunks from $15 per night and doubles from $34 per night. Downtown Puerto Ayora, close to cafes and restaurants.
  • Budget – Hostal Gardener Galápagos has bunks for $22 and doubles for about $48, made-to-order breakfast included.
  • Splurge a bit – Hotel Galápagos Suites B&B is highly rated and close to many bars and restaurants. Large cozy rooms can be had for $115 and (obs) includes a hot American-style breakfast.

Where to Stay in the Galápagos: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island

  • On the cheap – La Casa de mi Sub has double rooms for $50 or $25 for a single traveler. Very close to the airport, shuttle service available.
  • Budget – Casa de Jeimy is a popular and well-liked property. Shared kitchen, terrace with great views. Single $36, or doubles $72.
  • Splurge a bit – La Zayapa is a favorite spot, and you’ll find rooms that are very comfortable and going for about $140. Breakfast is included.

Want to book a Galapagos cruise in advance? Compare these two fantastic trips from G Adventures!

The author at the true Equator, one of the top 10 things to do in Ecuador
The author at the actual Equator

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 exciting experiments, as well as the more massive monument built in the wrong place about 100 meters away.

Where to Stay in Quito

The Secret Garden (Editor's Choice) – great views and great meals on the rooftop, comfortable rooms, and an excellent location for exploring.

Color House Petitte Hostal – great location, lots around, including public transportation and nightlife. Bar on site, breakfast included.

Cotopaxi Volcano
Cotopaxi Volcano

3. Downhill Mountain Biking on Cotopaxi Volcano

If you're not ready to climb 5,897-meter Cotopaxi, Ecuador's second-tallest volcano and one of the world's tallest active ones, go downhill mountain biking 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.

Tours typically include lunch at the bottom, where you can continue to take in the beautiful scenery before pedaling over flat terrain to your departure point.

Riding down an active volcano is one of the most adventurous things to do in Ecuador. 

Otavalo market
Otavalo Market (photo: Warren Talbot)

4. Shop at Otavalo Market

Otavalo Market, located about a three-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.

Where to Stay in Otavalo

El Andariego Otavalo is just two blocks from the famous Plaza de Ponchos and the market. Communal kitchen, clean and comfortable.

Hospidaje Los Ponchos – A double room is about $20 a night, half for a solo traveler. The location can’t be beaten as you’re right on top of the famous market.

Amazon Rain Forrest, Sacha Lodge, Equador
Amazon Rainforest, Sacha Lodge (photo E.K.111)

5. Explore the Amazon Jungle

Ecuador is one of the cheapest places in South America to visit the Amazon rainforest.

Get up close and personal with the exotic wildlife found in the rainforest, and learn about the indigenous people who call the region home.

Guided Tour

The 14-day Inland & Amazon tour by G Adventures includes Quito, the Amazon, Banos, and Otavalo.

Quilotoa
Laguna Quilotoa (photo: White Rabbit)

6. Trek the Quilotoa Loop

The Quilotoa Loop is a three to four-day, high-altitude adventure mixing local buses with mountain treks.

Altitudes can reach up to 4,000 meters, so be sure to acclimate for a few days nearby or Quito before getting started.

The highlight for many is a view of the picturesque Laguna Quilotoa, a crater lake that also offers stunning views of nearby volcanoes on clear days.

Where to Stay on the Quilotoa Loop

Hostal Chukirawa – a cozy little guest house on the lake; breakfast and dinner included. Just a few minutes walk to the bus station. Heated by wood fires, dress warmly!

Hostal PrincesaToa – more expensive than Hostal Chukirawa but a bit more modern, too. On the lake, close to the bus, breakfast included and toiletries and coffee-making facilities in the rooms.

Banos, Ecuador
Banos

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
  • canyoning
  • whitewater rafting
  • paragliding
  • mountain biking
  • bridge swings
  • hot springs
  • waterfall tours

When the volcano is actively erupting, it's possible to see red lava at the top.

Where to Stay in Banos

Hostal El Recreo is a well-reviewed spot with a friendly vibe, games room, terrace, and free laundry facilities. 

Hostal Transilvania – a good budget option, close to the center and a short walk to the buses. There is an on-site restaurant, game room, and kitchen facilities.

See also: The Best Hostels in Banos

Surfing in Montanita is one of the top things to do in Ecuador for the adventurous traveler
Beach in Montanita

8. Learn to Surf in Montanita

Montanita has long been a favorite surf spot.

It has undergone a construction boom in recent years as Ecuadorians and expats 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.

Where to Stay in Montanita

Hostal Mamacucha is a stone’s throw from the beach and just a few minutes walk to the town center. Kitchen, pool table, coffee shop, tours, and lots of hammocks!

Hurvinek is a nice little budget hotel super close to the beach and provides a daily buffet breakfast. Private bathrooms with purified, drinkable water and great views from the balconies.

One of the top things to do in Cuenca is visit the Cathedral
Cathedral in Cuenca

9. Walk Cuenca's Historic City Center

Ecuador's third-largest city also boasts its prettiest 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.

The largest and most impressive of these is La Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción (pictured above). 

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).

To escape the city for glacier-formed valleys, go for an independent or guided hike in nearby El Cajas National Park (3,300-4,200 meters).

Where to Stay in Cuenca

Bauhouse is a centrally-located, bright, and cheery hostel with comfortable beds. A daily American-style breakfast is included, a kitchen is available, and there are weekly activities.

Hostal Restaurant La Cigale has dorms and private rooms, offers breakfast, has a bar on-site, and is just a few minutes walk to the center and river.

The pueblo of Vilcabamba in a highlight of southern Ecuador
The pueblo of Vilcabamba

10. Visit Vilcabamba in the Valley of Longevity

Vilcabamba is a pueblo 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.

Where to Stay in Vilcabamba

La Casa de Matilda is a very well-reviewed hostel offering both dorms, privates, and breakfast. A perfect location, just a short walk to the town center.

Jardin Escondido Vilcabamba is another well-liked spot, breakfast is optional, but it’s right in the center with loads of cafes and restaurants nearby. There is a restaurant on-site and an outdoor pool.

***

We hope this guide to the top things to do in Ecuador helped inspire you to plan a trip.

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 Galapagos 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 Galapagos.

Last Updated on October 21, 2021 by Dave Lee

Katja Hellebaut

Wednesday 11th of April 2018

Just made a booking at The Secret Garden in Quito thanks to this site .... counting down! Should I book any flights to the Galapagos in advance ( beginning of May) ?

Dave

Thursday 19th of April 2018

It's been a long time since I went to the Galapagos (2011) however I booked my cruise last minute once I was in Ecuador, and because I had to stay flexible on the dates for that, I didn't book my airfare until after the cruise was booked. It wasn't an issue.

Viktoria Altman

Wednesday 10th of January 2018

I was recently in Equador. It is beautiful place and I feel incredibly privileged that I got a chance to get familiar with this place. Yeah its little expensive but trust me it worth it.

Caroline

Monday 12th of February 2018

Hi Viktoria!

Would it be possible for you to give some price examples? I am currently planning a trip tp Ecuador!

Thanks!

Alex Daniel Chang

Monday 2nd of January 2017

Hello folks, as you know Ecuador nowadays is one of the most amazing places to visit and I'm about to place a business, an agency travel, somebody could tell me if you hire the services of an agency or prefer to venture looking for places to visit. If somebody would tell me some experience my mail is: [email protected] greatings of a enterprising

Johnny

Monday 12th of December 2016

I did not know Quito was in the middle of the Earth

Morteng

Saturday 2nd of July 2016

Is it possible to rent small motorbikes in Ecuador? And how Common is it compared to South east asia? Its often The Best Way to explore cities and their surroundings.

Sam

Friday 2nd of September 2016

many people ride motorbikes in Ecuador. I live in Quito, and it is pretty expensive to get a touring bike (500ish a week) and super dangerous to drive in the big cities, but I imagine once you are out of the city it isn't so bad.