People who like to be outside will never run out of things to do in Ecuador, from surfing on beautiful beaches to hiking in the Amazon jungle. The fourth-smallest country in South America has things to do that are just as good as those in Brazil, Argentina, or Chile. All of these things are packed into a small area that is easy to get around by bus, boat, or plane.
With natural wonders like the Galápagos Islands, the Andes, and the Amazon Basin, Ecuador is a great place to see wildlife and do things on your bucket list. This small South American country also has a lot of cultural attractions, like Unesco-listed architecture and meetings with Indigenous people.
When you need to stop to get used to the altitude or rest after an expedition, Ecuador’s cities and villages offer live music, delicious local food, lively markets, historic architecture, and unique festivals to enjoy. The best things to do in Ecuador are listed below.
Galápagos Islands is full of wildlife.
When it comes to must-dos in Ecuador, going to the Galápagos Islands to watch wildlife is at the top of the list. A trip to these remote islands, which are 906 km (563 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, is like a land and sea safari in South America.
The islands are home to many interesting animals, including seagoing iguanas, blue-footed boobies, giant Galápagos tortoises, tiny penguins, and a huge variety of birds and sea life.
Isla de la Plata where humpback whales are seen
It is also called “The Poor Man’s Galápagos” or “The Little Galápagos.” If you can’t afford to go to the Galápagos, you could visit the small island of Isla de la Plata instead. From Puerto López or Salinas, you can take a day trip to the island, where you can see blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, albatrosses, tortoises, lizards, and crabs.
The best time to go, though, is from June to September, when humpback whales pass through these waters on their way to warmer climates. If you go at the right time, you’ll almost certainly see one of these magnificent animals. It’s not a bad way to make up for missing the Galápagos.
From Cuenca, you can hit the highlands.
Historic Cuenca is one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and has colonial buildings from the 16th century.
It’s a beautiful place to stay for local treks and day trips to places like the Ingapirca archaeological site, Volcán Chimborazo, Parque Nacional Cajas, and local villages with busy markets where Indigenous people shop.
Take the time to see Cuenca’s cathedrals, museums, handicrafts markets, lively café culture, and nice restaurants and microbreweries.
Along the Ro Napo, go deep into the rainforest.
Put on some knee-high rubber boots, get in a motorised canoe in Coca, and head deep into Ecuador’s Oriente, where the Ro Napo meets the Amazon River, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Even “budget” river lodges are all-inclusive, and all food, water, supplies, and staff must be brought in by boat. But you have to stay in a lodge, both to protect the Indigenous tribes from people who don’t belong there and to keep tourists safe from the dangers of the jungle.
Explore the Parque Nacional Yasuní
At 10,227 square kilometres, Parque Nacional Yasun is the largest national park on the mainland and the most beautiful and remote part of Ecuador (3949 sq miles). This Unesco Biosphere Reserve is home to many rare animals, such as jaguars, nocturnal curassows, and giant armadillos. It is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
Do the Quilotoa Loop hike.
The popular Quilotoa Loop trek takes several days and goes through green hills and valleys to connect the scattered villages of Cotopaxi province. Along the way, you can visit art galleries, Kichwa markets (if you go at the right time), and the beautiful green Laguna Quilotoa crater lake.
The Quilotoa Loop is a beautiful way to learn about culture and get a good workout. To get the most out of the experience, trek with a local guide.
Hop on a bike in Quito
The ciclopaseo is Quito’s version of the ciclova, which is a series of official bike routes that close 30 km (18.5 miles) of the city’s streets to cars every Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm. The city’s cycling culture promotes sustainability by supporting human-centered events, café culture, and pop-up markets.
Riding a bike is a great way to see the Unesco World Heritage-listed Old Town, with its beautiful colonial architecture and soaring rooftop views.
Around Tena, you can go whitewater rafting.
In the humid lowlands of the Oriente, the rivers around Tena offer everything from easy rafting trips to thrilling whitewater on Class III to Class IV+ rapids. There are booking offices all over town where licenced operators can help you sign up for the best rafting trip for your skills.
If thrills aren’t your thing, Tena is also a nice little lowland town with a cute malecón, a lively bar scene, and a happy mix of local and expat energy.
Montaita has great waves for surfing.
South-central Ecuador’s beaches are known for their beach breaks, and Montaita has become the go-to place for both new and experienced surfers in the country. Backpackers, surfers, and solo travellers come to Montaita because of its bohemian vibe.
They enjoy the party scene and beaches. Instead of taking a nine-hour bus ride from Quito, you can fly into Guayaquil and take a two-hour bus ride.
At Otavalo market, you can buy snacks and gifts.
The colourful Otavalo market is the largest and most well-known Indigenous market in Ecuador. It is open every day of the year. The vendors sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to handicrafts made of wood and leather, jewellery, and sweaters made of alpaca wool.
Find interesting things to eat at food stands in and around the market, like llapingachos, which are fried potato cakes from Ecuador.
Climb all the Summit of Cotopaxi.
The cone-shaped peak of Volcán Cotopaxi, which is 5897m (19,347ft) high, can be seen from several provinces away. On a day trip from Quito or Latacunga, you can hike, mountain bike, or ride a horse on the rough slopes of Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, which are protected by the government.
Keep an eye out for wildlife like condors and deer as you explore. Climbing to the top of Cotopaxi takes some planning and practise with a licenced guide. However, the experience of reaching the top at dawn is well worth getting up at midnight.