Ecuador is one of the best countries in South America to travel around. Aside from offering incredible diversity in both flora and fauna, it is small which makes getting from A to B, a doddle!
Planning your Ecuador itinerary can be challenging because there is just so much to see! I spent three months in the country and saw most of the top attractions but I could have easily stayed so much longer. With everything from the famous Galapagos Islands, to Quito and of course, the Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador has plenty for your bucket list!
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the choice of destinations in the country, make sure you check out the recommended Ecuador itineraries below. Whether your trip covers 7 days, 2 weeks or an incredible 1 month, these Ecuador itineraries are sure to help you plan your visit!
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Ecuador Itinerary 1 Month
Quito – 5 days
Begin your journey in Quito by flying directly into the airport. There is heaps to do in Quito but you should first prioritise allowing yourself to acclimatise. Quito is the highest capital in the world, located at a staggering 2850 metres above sea level. Although Diamox is often prescribed for travellers heading to South America, the best way to avoid altitude sickness naturally is to allow your body time to get used to the change.
Best Things to do in Quito:
Ecuador’s capital has plenty for an adventurer. Lose yourself for hours wandering around the city and don’t forget to embark on a free walking tour to help you get your bearings. Foodies should definitely schedule in a stop at one of La Ronda’s many restaurants, the cheesy empanadas are to die for!
La Mitad del Mundo
Ecuador gets its name from its location along the equator. A trip out to La Mitad del Mundo is well worth it but remember to ignore the big monument as this doesn’t actually mark the equator line. In actual fact, the real equator line is located just a few hundred metres away at the Inti Nan Museum. Have fun taking photos here and trying to balance an egg on a nail. The science might not be as legitimate as it is presented to be but it is still a good trip out!
La Basilica del Voto Nacional
Whilst you’re in Quito, make time to see the La Basilica del Voto Nacional. Arrive before 4 pm and you are able to climb the towers which offer some incredible views of the city. Beware though, those with a fear of heights may find this a challenge! (I did but the views were well worth it!)
La Virgen del Panecillo
La Virgen del Panecillo stands at an incredible 134 feet, making it even taller than Christ the Redeemer in Rio. It is possible to climb the statue which gives way to some incredible views over the city. The Virgin is said to watch over the city’s people but in reality this is not quite true. She has her back to a large part of Quito which people claim is representative of the wealth inequality that plagues the city. Visitors are advised to use Uber to get here as muggings occur frequently on the steps up to the monument.
Hike Pichincha Volcano
Intrepid hikers will adore this hike up to Pichincha Volcano. Begin by catching the Teleferico, South America’s highest gondola to the starting point of the hike. The hike can be completed in a day without a guide in good weather. However, heed my advice (learned from my very own mistakes) and allow yourself some time to acclimatise. Two days is recommended but isn’t a hard and fast rule. It took me nearly a week before I felt comfortable at the altitude so always listen to your body.
Recommended day trips from Quito:
Home to one of the largest indigenous markets in South America, Otavalo is a bustling nucleus of colour, bargaining and activity. The market offers travellers an interesting insight into the lives of the indigenous community there and also gives you a chance to buy plenty of good souvenirs. Just remember to pull out your haggling skills! The journey to Otavalo takes around two hours from Quito.
Located around 2 hours from Quito, the cloud forest of Mindo is the perfect retreat from the chaos of the city. Enjoy a day immersed in nature and get up close to butterflies and birds. It is easy to spot different kinds of hummingbird here as there are actually 152 species throughout Ecuador!
Where to stay in Quito:
Selina Quito: Located in the swanky Mariscal district, Selina Quito can offer you everything you want from a city stay. A firm favourite with digital nomads because of their excellent co-working spaces and also popular with backpackers thanks to their great bars, Selina will not disappoint!
Community Hostel: A safe haven in the historic centre, Community Hostel has everything a traveller needs. They offer their own tours both in and around the city, including a highly recommended walking tour which really helps you get your bearings in this huge city. Beds are comfortable and the social vibe is great.
Latacunga – 1 day
Latacunga is a popular base for backpackers looking to hike the Quilotoa Loop or head to Cotopaxi National Park. Despite the neighbouring features that draw many people into the city, it is an interesting place to explore for a day. To get there from Quito, simply jump on one of the buses that leave the city regularly.
If you like a party and can time your visit with the Mama Negra festival, definitely do. This is one celebration you won’t want to miss!
Where to stay in Latacunga:
Hostel Tiana: Close to the centre is the popular backpacker choice, Hostel Tiana. The rooftop terrace offers stunning views over the city and the free breakfast which is included is good quality. It is cheap and cheerful, offering everything you need. There is also the opportunity to book tours from here.
Cotopaxi National Park – 1 day
The reason for visiting Cotopaxi National Park is clear and you have probably already seen it looming over Latacunga! Many tour agencies are located all around the city and offer trips up Cotopaxi Volcano. Most of these tours will allow travellers to hike up to the glacier and then cycle back down.
Although I never braved the Cotopaxi trek myself, everyone I talked to who had, spoke really highly of their experience and it would definitely be on my list for my return to Ecuador. Those wanting to reach the summit of the volcano will need to find a specialist agency and be prepared to use ice axes and crampons. It is certainly not an expedition for the faint of heart!
Where to stay in Cotopaxi:
The Secret Garden: Potentially one of the most popular budget accommodation options in the whole of the country is the Secret Garden, Cotopaxi. Located in the thick of spectacular mountain scenery, this place will quickly become your home away from home!
Quilotoa Loop – 3 days
Ecuador’s most popular hiking trail has undergone a bit of a facelift in the last few years. It is now well signposted and marked on maps.me. It will take you around 3 days to walk the whole thing, depending on your fitness level and how you deal with the altitude. Travellers looking to find out more about the Quilotoa Loop should check out this article by Roaming Around the World.
The highlight of the trail is the stunningly beautiful Quilotoa crater lake. Although the whole hike comes with glowing reviews, travellers who don’t fancy hiking the entire thing can always opt to visit a lake on a day trip. There are plenty of these running from both Latacunga and Quito.
Where to stay on the Quilotoa Loop:
Hostal Cloud Forest: Treat yourself and book into the most popular hostel in Chugchilán! Hostal Cloud Forest offers clean and reasonably priced lodging as well as hammocks for relaxing in. They provide a big breakfast which promises to set you up for a day of hiking.
Hostal Taita Cristobal: Located in Isinliví, this is a great option for solo backpackers doing the loop as they can meet other travellers here. Breakfast and dinner are included in the price and served communally so you really have the chance to get to know the others staying at the hostel.
Tena – 2 days
Still relatively up and coming on the travel scene is the jungle city of Tena. If you are craving some R&R, then Tena is the perfect place to come to recharge your batteries.
Best things to do in Tena:
Whitewater rafting or kayaking
Tena is the whitewater capital of Ecuador so no trip is complete without a kayaking or rafting session. During my trip, I headed out with Kayak Ecuador who were fantastic and really calmed my nerves. Despite my initial reservations, the adrenaline pumped day actually ended up being one of my fondest memories from my time in Ecuador.
The jungle town of Misahuallí is located just a stone’s throw from Tena and is easily accessible by local bus. It is a great place to organise trips to the Amazon or alternatively, visitors can just while away the day with a beer whilst they watch the playful resident monkeys in the main square.
Always book with ethical tour providers who operate a policy of no feeding or touching. Too much human interaction can mean wild animals lose their independence and are more easily hunted.
Where to Stay in Tena:
Jungle Roots Camping: Offering beautiful glamping lodges, Jungle Roots promises an unforgettable stay. The whole place is run with an eco-friendly ethos and even has a composting toilet. Don’t come expecting WiFi or other modern facilities, the owner has a very back to basics approach.
Baños – 3 days
In my opinion, there is nothing to hate about Baños. It draws a good traveller crowd with buzzing nightlife, western comfort food, hiking trails and adventure sports. You are guaranteed a good time if you come to Baños!
Best Things to do in Baños:
Swing at the End of the World
By now, I’m pretty sure we have all seen the Instagram pictures of brave adventurers swinging over the jungle below. It will surprise and impress some of you to know, even I, the wimpiest wimp of them all actually include myself in this category! Just see the photo for proof!
Located at Casa del Arbol, there are guides to help you strap you in the swing and of course, take photos. Be warned though, the seatbelts are flimsy and sometimes the guides will really challenge your fear of heights!
Relax in the Spas
As well as being a thrill-seekers playground, Baños is also a great place to relax. The streets are dotted with massage parlours and there are even a few spas around. My personal favourite is that of Luna Volcan, located up in the hills. Although technically a hotel resort, you can get access to the pools for just $20USD per person. When you see the views from up there, not to mention the different pools available, I’m sure you will agree that this is an absolute bargain!
With everything from zip-lining to canyoning, Baños is guaranteed to get your heart pumping. Rafting is also popular here but the rivers offer less challenge than in Tena so I would definitely recommend prioritising that activity there and skipping it in Baños.
Where to stay in Baños:
Community Hostel: Potentially my favourite hostel in the world, no stay in Baños is complete without a visit to Community. Offering immaculately clean privates and dorms, this hostel suits both budget backpackers and couples. There are evening activities and delicious meals on offer at the in house restaurant.
Cuenca – 3 days
This beautiful colonial city is located in Ecuador’s southern Andes. Sadly, during my visit, I had the flu so I didn’t get to explore as much of it as I wanted but there is plenty to do there. Cuenca, I will be back!
Best Things to do in Cuenca:
Explore the City on Foot
Perhaps the best thing to do in this UNESCO World Heritage site is to wander the streets on foot. The city is truly idyllic and plays host to a number of beautiful bars and restaurants. Make the most of the views by heading to one of the riverfront restaurants and watching the sunset. Cuenca is also a great place to try Ecuador’s most famous delicacy: cuy.
Check out the Museums
Cuenca is a history lovers dream and they have plenty of museums to enhance your knowledge and spark your curiosity. The hat museum Homero Ortega is an unusual stop but also one very popular with visitors.
Recommended day trips from Cuenca:
Cajas National Park
The otherworldly landscape of Cajas National Park is a must for nature enthusiasts. Come explore the Polylepis forest and take in the mountain views. Cajas reminded me a lot of the Highlands of Scotland, just with more breathlessness as I was ascending the hills! This is a great place to spot llamas and alpacas.
This Incan ruin so often overshadowed by its more popular brother Machu Picchu, is a surprisingly off the beaten track attraction. Easily visited on a day trip from Cuenca, Ingapirca features the only Incan elliptical temple in the whole of South America.
Where to stay in Cuenca:
Casa Macondo Bed & Breakfast: Despite being centrally located, this bed and breakfast offers a quiet escape from the bustle of the city. The staff speak English and are very helpful when recommending attractions in and around Cuenca.
Montañita – 2 days
Say hello to the party town of Montañita! By this time, you’ll probably fancy a Canelazo and a little bit of sun.
Realistically, Montañita offers little else apart from a buzzing party scene with a laid back surf vibe. However, solo travellers will love the social nature of the town and the sun is always shining.
Recommended Day Trips from Montañita:
Isla de la Plata
Known as the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’, Isla de la Plata showcases some of Ecuador’s most notable wildlife. Keep your eye out for albatross, boobys, sea turtles and cormorants, all of which call the island home. Day trips can easily be arranged from the town and offer a refreshing break from the bars.
If your hangover is too severe to cope with the thumping music in Montañita, then head out to nearby Ayampe for a day of beach lounging. This small seaside town is way more chilled than Montañita and offers the chance to truly relax (and recover from those beers!)
Where to stay in Montañita:
Esperanto Hostel: A sociable hostel without a crazy party vibe, Esperanto was my favourite of the places I stayed in Montañita. Manager Rocky will do everything he can to make your stay pleasant and the staff quickly become your friends. This is a great option for solo backpackers looking to have a laugh but not at the expense of a good nights sleep!
Guayaquil – 1 day
For a long time, Guayaquil was a place in Ecuador which travellers were actively encouraged to avoid. It had a bad reputation and was touted as the most dangerous city in the country. Despite its checkered past, Guayaquil is has seen massive investment and a drop in crime rate. It is still somewhere you want to keep your wits about you but definitely don’t be deterred from visiting.
Best Things to do in Guayaquil:
This large, open green space in the middle of the city is known for its resident iguanas. They freely roam the park, sneaking up on visitors and unleashing their urine onto unsuspecting people’s heads. The park is a cool place to spend a couple of hours but do make sure you keep looking up…just in case!
This colourful neighbourhood is the best place in Guayaquil to grab a drink. The whole place is built up around a central staircase which ascends right to the blue and white lighthouse atop the hill. The 444 steps can be hard going especially when it is hot (that is pretty much the whole time) but the views from the top are gorgeous.
Where to Stay in Guayaquil:
Manso Boutique Guesthouse: Overlooking the Malecón 2000, you will be hard-pressed to find a better location for a guesthouse than here. Manso Boutique Guesthouse offers spacious and clean rooms, both privates and dorms. It is in the perfect area for exploring the city and there are plenty of places to eat nearby.
Galapagos – 9 days
Let’s end on a high! The Galapagos Islands are an absolute bucket list destination that any traveller would be devastated to miss. Don’t get me a wrong, a trip here isn’t going to be cheap but it may well be the best one you ever take!
Best Things to do the Galapagos Islands:
Cheap cruises are sometimes available last minute so it is worth searching around both Quito and Guayaquil to see what you can find. If you decide to land hop the Galapagos, I would recommend splitting your time amongst the following three islands, with day trips to places you are unable to reach independently.
Kayaking in Tortuga Bay is a must-do and relatively cheap at $20pp. Here you can see turtles and reef sharks just metres below you!
El Chato tortoise reserve is another favourite which allows these gentle giants to roam free. Another place where it is possible to see them is at the Darwin Research Centre, which is free to enter.
A day trip to Los Tuneles is for many, the highlight of their Galapagos trip. This snorkelling outing will offer the chance to see turtles, sharks, seahorses and a whole manner of other wildlife up close. In low season, it is possible to bargain for a place on this tour.
Don’t miss the chance to hike Sierra Negra and Volcán Chico. This area cannot be accessed without a guide but allows you to see the second largest caldera in the world. Don’t forget to bring your walking shoes because the day will see you cover 16km!
Home to some of the best beaches in the archipelago, make sure you head to Playa Mann and La Loberia. The latter is a great place to spot baby sea lions.
Kicker Rock is commonly agreed to be the best day trip from San Cristobal. This snorkelling trip is usually split with a visit to a beach and the snorkelling around the rock itself offers the opportunity to see Hammerhead sharks!
Where to stay on Galapagos:
La K Leta Guesthouse: A trip to the Galapagos Islands is a special trip so why not splash out on a special place to stay? La K Leta, located in Santa Cruz offers beautiful apartments which are as comfortable as they are cute.
Hotel Neptuno: Located in Isabela, close to the restaurants and the beach, is Hotel Neptuno. Although it is one of the cheapest accommodation options on the island (starting at $40USD for a room), the beds are comfortable and towels are included. They have air conditioning and provide drinking water at reception.
Casa de Jeimy: Easy to walk to from San Cristobal airport, this budget guesthouse gets rave reviews. The drinking water is filtered and there are balconies for guests to relax on. The staff are rated particularly highly and are able to advise about the must-do things on the islands.
Top tip: If you are land hopping the Galapagos, it is well worth flying into one airport and out of the other, this will save you the cost of at least one ferry. All Galapagos flights head to Guayaquil and Quito, where it is possible to pick up one of the hundreds of international flights.
Less Time in Ecuador?
For those of you with less time, you can pick out the highlights and adapt the above Ecuador itinerary to suit shorter trips. Alternatively, check out my other suggested Ecuador itineraries below:
Ecuador Itinerary 2 weeks
- Quito – 3 days: Soak up the city atmosphere and go sightseeing! If you are a keen hiker, don’t miss Pichincha volcano but do allow yourself the time to acclimatise first!
- Latacunga – 1 day: Use the city as a base for exploring either Quilotoa crater lake or Cotopaxi National Park. Tours leave daily from agencies all over the city.
- Tena – 2 days: Get your blood pumping with a rafting adventure through the jungle! Spent the remaining day in Mishauallí, getting to know the cheeky monkeys and eating some of the delicacies sold on the beach.
- Banos – 2 days: Try your hand at everything adventure. Challenge yourself with a canyoning trip or grab a bicycle to head out and see the waterfalls.
- Cuenca – 3 days: Sample guinea pig (if you’re brave enough) and explore the city. Don’t miss day trips to both Cajas National Park and Ingapirca.
- Montañita – 2 days: Get your party hat on and hit the bars! You can while away the hangover lazing on the beach. If you can drag yourself away from the strip long enough, a day trip to Isla de la Plata is well worth it.
- Guayaquil – 1 day: Embark on a free walking tour to see the city’s sights and find out where Guayaquil’s rescued giant land tortoises live!
Ecuador Itinerary 1 week
- Quito – 2 days: Use day one to explore the city on foot and spend the second day on a day trip to one of the nearby popular locations. Mindo, Otavalo, Quilotoa and Cotopaxi are all good options depending on your interests.
- Baños – 1 day: Head up to Casa de Arbol to swing at the end of the world. Finish the day off with a zip-lining adventure before hitting the bars!
- Cuenca – 2 days: Get your sightseeing in on day one and take in the city views. Head to Cajas National Park on day two for a taste of the mountains.
- Montañita – 1 day: Have a tipple down cocktail street and try your hand at surfing!
- Guayaquil – 1 day: Stroll around the Malecón 2000 and visit Parque Seminario. Finish your trip with some great seafood at Restaurante El Malecón.
How to get to Ecuador
Both Quito and Guayaquil airports receive international travellers, however, generally, it will only be bigger airports that will fly to the country direct.
In the UK, there are no direct flights, although plenty of indirect routes head to Ecuador, usually stopping in Europe or the US. Be aware of visa rules because some changeovers require documentation.
US citizens will be able to make the most of direct routes leaving from many cities but even indirect routes usually only involve one change, either in the US or South America. There are no direct flights from Canada, and passengers leaving from there will have to change at another location.
Australia and New Zealand also don’t offer direct flights so usually passengers will need to change elsewhere in South America.
Ecuador can be reached by land from neighbouring countries Peru and Colombia. If done with a reputable bus company, these border crossings can be easy but be aware that crime is commonplace in these areas. Scams regarding closed roads or protests are commonly used to confuse travellers and make them easier to rob. Travellers are advised to avoid crossing borders at night if possible.
All flights to the Galapagos Islands go to both Quito and Guayaquil. LATAM and Tame are the only serving airlines.
How to get Around Ecuador
Owing to the size of Ecuador, it is one of the easiest countries in South America to travel around. Competition on the most well-travelled routes is fierce and as a result, backpackers usually don’t have to splash much cash to get around. Following the itineraries listed above generally means your average journey time will be short.
There are different classes of bus so opt for the luxury or tourist version if you want the most comfort. As you would expect, local buses are the cheapest options and will differ hugely in quality to tourist transport.
The roads in Ecuador are pretty good compared to many places in South America. The Pan American Highway runs through most of the country and is frequently used to get to many of the most popular destinations.
Uber is also available in some areas. It is worth using it in big cities such as Quito where you have to be conscious of safety. Uber is recommended over taxis, especially during nighttime hours.
Average Costs of Travelling in Ecuador
Although not the cheapest country to travel in South America, Ecuador is generally very cheap (excluding the Galapagos Islands).
After a severe financial crisis which saw the collapse of Ecuador’s own currency (the Sucre), they underwent dollarisation. As a result, the currency used all around Ecuador currently is the US dollar.
Top tip: It is worth noting that although Ecuador uses the US dollar, the coins are specific to the country so you cannot spend them elsewhere. Remember to try and get rid of them before you leave!
Accommodation and local food are generally inexpensive. Dorm rooms begin around $8 but have the potential to be even cheaper if you are in a backpacker area with plenty of competition. In Montañita, there are dorms as cheap as $5 a night! Private rooms are more expensive, costing around $18.
Street food clocks in at a couple of dollars a time but as you would expect, you will pay more for western food. A meal out in a local restaurant (mid-range) will set you back around $25.
Transport is cheap and day trips are also priced fairly reasonably. Most day trips leaving from cities or tourist areas usually cost around $50 per person, including lunch, return transport, English speaking guide and any necessary entrance fees.
Have you ever been to Ecuador? Which of the three Ecuador itineraries is your favourite?
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