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Top 10 Things to Do in Ecuador

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

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

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:

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.

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 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.

Cotopaxi Volcano
Cotopaxi Volcano

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.

Mountain biking Cotopaxi Volcano is an adventure activity accessible to most people, regardless of age. And it's an easy day trip from Quito.

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.

Otavalo market
Otavalo Market (photo: Warren Talbot)

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.

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. 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.

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. 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.

Banos, Ecuador
Banos

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
  • Canyoning
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Paragliding
  • 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

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. 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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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

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.