Best Places to Visit in Ecuador for Outdoorsy Souls
From the second you touch down, Ecuador will be stealing your heart. It’s like Nat Geo but IRL! Climb your butt off hiking in the Andean highlands way up above crater lakes, then head to the hot springs with your head in the literal clouds.
Yeah, even the downtime feels straight outta a movie. So grab your backpack, and let’s head to South America, babe!
What Is In Ecuador?
Extraordinary wildlife? Check. Horse riding through cloud forests? Check. Andes, equator, Inca ruins? Check, check, check!
One of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, Ecuador is a magical ecosystem of well-protected nature reserves and vibrant, deeply diverse cultural scenes. And all of this is tied to the nation’s rich revolutionary history. Every corner of this region has a story to tell!
Best Places To Visit In Ecuador
Ready to head out on the trip of a lifetime? There’s SO much to see and do in this country and endless reasons to visit Ecuador — especially if you’re an explorer at heart.
From scuba diving in the Galápagos Islands to exploring the glacial Cotopaxi volcano, these are some of the best things to do and places to visit in Ecuador.
Visiting Ecuador often starts in the capital city of Quito. Welcome to the high-altitude equator! Start your trip in this beautiful country by exploring Old Town’s cobbled streets, a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Soak up some rich culture à la gorge colonial architecture, historical buildings, and Plaza San Francisco, home to the renowned San Francisco Church. And what’s that in the distance? Pichincha Volcano? Hell yeah, it is!
You could prob spend your whole trip here, wandering traditional markets or taking a guided night walk, but Cotopaxi National Park is soooo close by. Make a day trip (or longer) and spot two natural wonders: the Cotopaxi glacier volcano. Let that sink in for a minute. Did we mention it’s the second highest active volcano in this small country?
Ready to tackle one of the BEST hiking routes in South America? Enter: the Quilotoa Loop. Make your way to central Ecuador and take on this mindblowing multi-day hut-to-hut trail. It’s an Explorer Chick’s dream!
Right in the middle of the Andes mountain range, this route (that’s actually not a loop at all) sets you off on a three-day journey down stunning valleys through remote villages and along the crater lake. Yep, you’re gonna get some SPECTACULAR views of the Quilotoa crater on your last day. Think of it like a reward for your hard climb up. But don’t forget to take in the other sights of the gorgeous cloud forests along the way.
Dress for cool weather! The ever-changing winds of the high-altitude peaks mean you gotta prep for rain or shine. And don’t forget your sunscreen.
There’s no doubt about it: the Galapagos Islands are one of the most interesting places to visit in Ecuador. And maybe in all of South America…and the world. It’s hard to do this national park justice. SO much of modern science traces back to these remote islands off mainland Ecuador, and it’s home to some of the planet’s most unique wildlife.
Ever heard of Charles Darwin? These volcanic islands were his muse! Giant tortoises, blue footed boobies, sea lions, and lava lizards will greet you. It’s like frickin’ Planet Earth up in here!
Explore the Galapagos Islands however you want. Grab a paddle and go sea kayaking or hitch a ride on luxury cruise ships. Snorkel the waters or learn to scuba dive. From wildlife spotting to unforgettable adventure excursions, there’s never a dull moment on this untouched archipelago.
Say hello to Guayaquil: Ecuador’s largest city and a popular tourist destination. Located on the west bank of the Guayas River, this low-elevation port city is the gateway to Ecuador. But it’s also so much more.
After breaking free from the nation’s original Spanish rule, Guayaquil was literally rebuilt from the ground up. Now, a rainbow of favelas lines the hilly landscape while a handful of highrises streak the horizon. And thanks to revitalization efforts, now lies a dreamy riverside boardwalk!
Malecón 2000 traces the waterfront and is a prime spot for local grub and scenic strolls. Break from Guayaquil’s heat and humidity by sipping some Ecuadorian Pilsener right here in the city it originated. It’s the country’s national Cerveza! Then get sky high on La Perla: the can’t-miss coastal ferris wheel.
Nicknamed the “city of the large river,” Guayaquil is a crucial trading hub responsible for much of the country’s economy. Any coffee, banana, or cacao lovers here? They’re the three biggest exports of the region!
But all that commerce talk doesn’t overshine this vibrant cultural scene. It’s microtheater, museums, and urban wildlife spaces galore!
This ain’t your typical tourist hot spot! Take a break from the hustle and bustle of resort destinations in the laid back surfer town of Ayampe. Hunker down in this quiet spot on the Manabi Coast, tucked at the end of the Cinco Cerros mountain, and enjoy pure tranquility. It’s a vacation from your vacation!
But peaceful doesn’t equal boring. With tons of adventure activities like hiking, surfing, kayaking, and whale watching (eek!), it’s the ideal getaway for all you outdoor lovers. Plus, sunset beach yoga? Yes, please.
And don’t get us started on the FOOD. You’ll dine on authentic (and delicious) Ecuadorian cuisine, including fresh seafood caught right there in the Pacific Ocean. Then grab some dreamily ripe fruits and veggies from the colorful markets and produce stands. Yum!
Heat and humidity are guaranteed in this tropical location, but visiting between July and November grants you some reprieve from the hot temps and rainy days.
Attention all outdoorsy gals! We’re off to a small town in southern Ecuador’s Loja province: Vilcabamba. Located in the Andes mountains, this pristine valley, dubbed the “Valley of Longevity,” is a haven for all nature lovers.
Expats and travelers flock to this little slice of heaven. Why? The valley’s unique ecosystem supposedly holds life-prolonging benefits, from the mineral-rich soil to the crystal clear water flowing from the Podocarpus National Forest. Oh, and that protected watershed is said to house pre-Ice Age microorganisms. Just take that in for a second.
But we’re also here for those jaw-dropping national park views. Vilcabamba is THE spot for everything from horseback riding to mountain biking to making the iconic hike up Cerro Mandango. From the peak at 6,527 feet above sea level, you’ll catch legendary 360-degree views of the valley below. And don’t forget bird watching! Over 500 species call this place home.
After grinding it out in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, give those sore muscles a break. Indulge in self-care by treating yourself to some of the village’s famous spa services, including mud baths, massages, and toasty hot springs.
How to Spend 2 Weeks in Ecuador
Is there a wrong way to explore Ecuador? Not really! There are so many places to visit in this South American gem of a country. You can never do it all in two weeks! But here’s a sample of all the amazing adventures you can have in this equatorial region.
If you’re still itching for more, join our Explorer Chick Galapagos Islands tour for the time of your life (and an extra nine days in this stunning paradise).
- Day 1-2. Quito. Hop off the plane at Mariscal Sucre International Airport, just an hour from the historic Old Town district. The airport shuttle bus at Rio Coca takes ya to North Quito, and the Quitumbe terminal takes you south.
- Day 2-6. Quilotoa Loop (Sigchos to Quilotoa). From Quito’s south terminal, Quitumbe, take the two-hour bus ride to Latacunga. Stay the night to relax before your trek, then head back to the terminal to catch the two-hour ride to Sigchos. Begin your hike here, then finish in Quilotoa.
- Days 6-8. Galapagos Islands. Head back to Quito (from Quilotoa), then fly out to the Galapagos, baby! It’s just a few short hours on this plane over the Pacific, and you’ll land on either Baltra Island, near Santa Cruz Island, or San Cristobal Island.
- Days 8-10. Guayaquil. Head to the island airport and board the 2-hour flight to Guayaquil. There’s lots to do around the airport, but if you need to catch a bus, it’s just a 20-minute walk to Terminal Terrestre.
- Day 10-12. Ayampe. It costs under $10 and takes about 3 hours to get from Guayaquil to Ayampe. Hop on the CLP Libertad Peninsular bus from the Guayaquil Terminal to Olon, then grab the Manglaralto from Olon to Ayampe. You’ll wake up with sun salutations or a sunrise surf, explore local flora and fauna, and clock some quality R&R.
- Day 12-14. Vilcabamba. This gorgeous town may be a bit out of the way, but it’s well worth the flight here. To get here from Ayampe, head back to Guayaquil and fly to Loja, then take the one-hour bus ride from Loja station.
- Day 14. Cuenca. To leave Vilcabamba, take the bus back through Loja to Cuenca. From here, you’ll fly home from the Mariscal Lamar International Airport, and it’s bye-bye, Ecuador!
Ecuador, According to Explorer Chicks
We can’t help but agree that Explorer Chick Margaret got it right when gushing about everything that makes EC trips so special. Dancing in the Andes with (soon to not be) strangers? Pushing yourself past mental limits while literally climbing frickin’ mountains? It’s a one-of-a-kind experience — that’s for sure.
Ready to Explore Ecuador?
Alright, Explorers. Let’s get Galapa-going on our island-hopping adventure in this Pacific paradise. Nine days of snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and “awww” worthy moments with the coolest animals around? Yes, please! We’ll meet ya there.
Meet the Writer
Megan Wray is a queer, mixed-race Japanese-Canadian freelance writer based on Treaty 1 Territory. Passionate about pleasure, identity, and anti-oppression, Megan’s fuelled by meaningful chats about topics that aren’t “appropriate” for dinner table conversation. When she’s not writing, you can find Megan cooking vegan food, singing to live music, and trying to understand astrology.
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