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Ecuador

Ecuador Travel Guide

Ecuador is a small country that packs a lot of punch. Despite her small size, Ecuador has diverse landscapes. You can eat breakfast in the Amazon, have lunch in the Andes, and enjoy an evening stroll along the coast. Getting around Ecuador is easy and fast thanks to its compact size.

A diverse mix of tourists travel to Ecuador to explore the country's landscape, outstanding biodiversity, and impressive colonial architecture. The people of Ecuador are also some of the friendliest bunch you'll encounter on your travels. Below is a list of the best places to visit in the small but mighty country of Ecuador.

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Ecuador Map Base (copy)
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Ecuador Map Overlay

Quick Info

Capital city: Quito

Currency: United States Dollar (USD). Currency conversion is super easy!

Electricity: Power voltage is 120 Volts. Power sockets type A and B.

Languages: Spanish is the official and widely spoken language. Kichwa, Shuar, and other indigenous languages are also spoken.

10 Handpicked Highlights of Ecuador

Your trip to Ecuador is incomplete if you don’t visit the places below:

Quito’s Historical Center

Ecuador’s capital is a colorful, beautiful, and energetic city. The altitude of Quito (it’s the second-highest capital city in the world after La Paz, Bolivia) means you may need some time to adjust, especially if you fly in. But as soon as you are settled, it’s time to visit one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the capital – The Quito Historic Center.

The old town is aptly named as it’s a living history of the country. You’ll see fascinating museums, colonial churches, and stone walkways. You get to walk through time and enjoy spectacular views.

Quito
Plaza de San Francisco, Quito

Climb Cotopaxi Volcano

The allure of seeing an active volcano is too much for many nature and outdoor lovers to resist. This is why many tourists flock to the Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador’s town of Latacunga. Its majestic, perfect cone shape also contributes to the popularity of this volcano.

There are opportunities for climbing and hiking the mountain. Whichever you choose, the reward of reaching the summit of the active volcano is out of this world.

Las Peñas Hill in Guayaquil

The Las Peñas hill in Guayaquil is definitely worth the exploration. You’ll have to go up 444 stairs (they are numbered) to reach the top of the hill and every step is worth it. Art galleries can be found en route and there’s a lighthouse at the tip of the hill.

However, the highlight of this trip is the fantastic views of the city and the Guayas River. It’s one of the best sights you’ll ever see.

Guayaquil
Guayaquil and the Guayas River from Las Peñas

Yasuni National Park

The Yasuni National Park is the most biologically diverse place in the world. Hundreds of tree species, amphibians, mammals, birds, plants and microorganisms can be found at this park. Jaguars, harpy eagles, puma, ocelot, giant anteater, and yellow-bellied spider monkey are some of the animals you’ll find at this park. Lovers of nature have to see this precious park.

Quilotoa Lagoon

You should find a way to sneak a detour to Quilotoa to see the dazzling crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa into your itinerary. If you are short on time, head straight to the lagoon, take in its beauty, and kayak across the beautiful water while taking some great pictures.

If you have more time on your hands, you can hike part of all of the Quilotoa Loop which is a ring-shaped trail that connects remote villages in the Andes mountain range of Ecuador.

Ruta de las Cacadas between Baños and Puyo

One thing you shouldn’t miss on any trip to Ecuador is the opportunity to explore the Ruta de las Cascadas also called the Waterfall Highway. Tourists rent bikes to travel down the highway for the chance to see between 7 to 12 waterfalls. You read that right. The road is well-paved and seamless to bike on.

Some travelers may even argue that the waterfalls, some of which are very impressive, aren’t the main highlights. The lush and vibrant vegetation in the mountain area (down the road), sounds of birds chirping, non-stop mountain vistas, and the roar of the river below make up a fantastic scenery that will make you praise Mother Nature endlessly. And oh, remember to take pictures!

Ruta de las Cascadas
Pailon del Diablo, one of the major waterfalls along the Ruta de las Cascadas

Otavalo Market

In the middle of the hills north of Quito is a tiny but energetic town called Otavalo. If you want to experience something different from the city life in Quito, head to Otavalo on a market day which is on Saturdays. The tiny town transforms into a massive market with colourful and mostly handcrafted goods on display.

Explore the market, take stunning pictures, and haggle with a vendor over the prices of traditional wide-trimmed hats, socks, bracelets, purses, any other thing that catches your fancy.

Cuenca Historical City

Culture, art, class, and sophistication. These are some of the things the historic city of Cuenca promises. Four rivers run through and around the city and there are fantastic architecture all around.

The cuisine is delicious and you’ll have lots of fun exploring the central market, visiting the museums, and the El Cajas National Park.

Machalilla National Park

The Machalilla National Park should have a place in your Ecuador itinerary for the abundance of fun activities it offers. Beach lovers would be delighted with the Los Frailles Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches Ecuador has to offer. There is also the Isla de la Plata which offers the opportunity to see rare bird species like the Blue-Footed Booby, Nazca Booby and even an Albatross if you’re really lucky! You can also snorkel to see beautiful corals, manta rays, and giant sea turtles.

If you are visiting between June and September, you’ll have the opportunity to see humpback whales. These whales mate and reproduce in the waters along the Ecuador coasts so you are guaranteed to see them. Bring a binocular to have a better look at these gorgeous creatures.

Machalilla
Playa Los Frailes, Machalilla National Park

Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands has a well-deserved reputation of being one of the most magical places in the world. Sea lions, Iguanas, Darwin Finch, Giant Tortoise, Pelicans, Penguins, Flamingos, and Sharks – Welcome to the Galapagos.

The underwater world of the Galapagos is even more impressive. Divers and snorkelers will have fun exploring the paradise hidden beneath the waters. Despite the appeal of the Islands, the price of a visit, which is expensive, tends to discourage travelers.

Good news is that backpackers and tourists can enjoy the visit to the island on a tight budget by avoiding the expensive cruises, and haggling for tours. There are also some free activities on the island you can take advantage of.

Ecuador's Geography & Landscapes

Ecuador can be divided into three geographical regions:

  • La Costa (coast) along the Pacific Coast.
  • La Sierra, a highland plateau, high mountains and volcanoes (part of the Andes), in the center.
  • El Oriente shock is the jungle lowlands east of the Andes, part of the Amazon basin

There is also the Galapagos Islands (Archipelago de Colon) which lies 640 miles off the coast. The landscape of Ecuador is diverse, from the dense Amazonian jungles to the azure coastline, alpine hills, and the Galapagos Islands. The small size of the country means travelers can easily visit the different regions during their time in Ecuador.

Best Time To Go To Ecuador

Ecuador has two seasons – the wet and dry seasons. However, the varying attitudes in the country means conditions vary across the regions.

However, June to September is usually the best time to visit Ecuador as conditions are good across the country during this period. It is easier to hike in the Sierra, where Cotopaxi is, and explore the rainforest between June and September.

January to March is the wettest part of the year and not the best time to visit the Amazon. The Galapagos Islands enjoy fair weather throughout the year so you can visit there anytime although October to the end of December is the peak period.

Rucu Pichincha
The trail up the Rucu Pichincha Volcano, near Quito

Traveling in Ecuador

Staying Safe

Ecuador is a generally pretty safe country. However, there is a risk of petty crime in the big cities just like in other major cities in the world. The key is to be cautious and observe safety trips such as:

  • Don’t go anywhere alone at night.
  • Ask hotel or hostel management for areas to avoid. Places like the old town in Quito are best avoided at night.
  • Ecuador has a special tourist division designed to help travelers. Install the safety app while you are in the country.
  • Taxi crimes are common in Quito, Manta, Guayaquil, and Playas. Don’t use taxis at night. If possible, use an Uber at all times.
  • Make copies of all important information and secure the original in your hotel room, preferably in a safe.
  • Don’t flaunt or display your valuables to avoid making yourself a target.
  • Purchase good travel insurance.
  • Don’t do things you won’t normally do at home in Ecuador.
  • Say no to drugs.
  • Don’t accept food or drink from strangers.
  • Don’t fight back if you get robbed. Your life is more important than any valuables you may have with you.
  • Carry just enough cash you need for the day.
  • The local water quality isn’t very good. Consider buying a filter water bottle if you want to save cash on single-use water bottles.

Getting to & Around Ecuador

The major entry into the country by air is the Mariscal Sucre Quito International Airport in Quito and Aeropuerto Internacional José Joaquín De Olmedo in Guayaquil. If you live in Europe, flying to Madrid and then flying directly to Quito or Guayaquil or first making a stopover in the US or Bogota (Colombia) may be affordable. Do some research and compare prices.

Domestic airlines in Ecuador include Avianca, Emetebe (Galápagos-based airline), LATAM, and TAME. Local flights are affordable although they are not popular with travelers except for some of those traveling to the Galapagos Islands.

Bus network is extensive, affordable, and the most efficient way to get around.

The Train network in Ecuador is currently not working. It was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic and is yet to resume operations due to funding issues.

Car rentals are available but not recommended for tourists except those that are familiar with South American roads or have experience driving on the continent.

Accommodation

You are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation in Ecuador. Hostels are popular in tourist locations like Quito and Banos. They are difficult to come by in the smaller cities.

Hotels are available in every town. The quality of your room and the amenities you will enjoy depends on your budget.

Lodges are available in the Andes and Oriente regions. They are expensive but are a great way to see wildlife. Lodges may be included as part of the packages of some tours.

You can camp for free in most parks but you’ll need professional camping gear for your convenience. You’ll have to prepare for the cold temperatures of the Andes if you are camping there.

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