While traveling through South America we were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of Ecuador. This rather tiny country nestled between Colombia in the North and Peru in the South has it all!
This Ecuador itinerary takes you to all the top places you don’t want to miss!
With this itinerary, you visit the Capital of Ecuador, the Pacific Ocean, and the Galapagos Islands. You have the opportunity to do amazing hikes in the Andes, explore the Amazon and enjoy some of the most beautiful UNESCO world heritage sites in Ecuador.
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Quito old town – Photo by Only Once Today
Why not kick off your Ecuador adventure high up in the Andes, at its bustling capital city Quito? It’s probably where the plane drops you off anyway. 🙂
We recommend staying a couple of days here to recover from your jet lag and to get used to the altitude. It’s around 2850 meters above sea level and you will feel it. Just walking up stairs can be a challenge the first days.
But besides giving your body the time to adjust, Quito is the capital of Ecuador and there are a lot of cool things to do here! The old town is a gem so take your time to explore it.
Best things to do in Quito
- Free walking tour (Discover Quito’s old town, it is one of the best-preserved historical cities and one of the first UNESCO heritage sites)
- Teleférico (Embark on this gondola ride up the side of Volcano Pichincha which offers spectacular views of Quito)
- Visit Mitad del Mundo (This is where the Equatorial line indicates the middle of the Earth)
- Explore Plaza Foch which is an artisanal market during the day and a party scene at night
- Stroll around Carolina Park (the “Central Park” of Quito)
- Take a tour to Cotopaxi National Park (perhaps hike Cotopaxi Volcano if you are up for it)
- Hike the Quilotoa loop
- Go on a trip to the cloud forest Mindo
Travel tips for visiting Quito
- Arriving at the airport of capital city Quito can be a bit overwhelming. It might be a good idea to arrange accommodation for the first nights here and let someone from the hostel or hotel pick you up at the airport.
- Quito has an altitude of 2850 meters above sea level. In order to not get altitude sickness, it is best to stay a couple of days to let your body adjust. Don’t plan too many high-intensity activities during your acclimatization.
- Use your common sense while exploring the capital of Ecuador.
- Don’t wander around alone and/or drunk at night
- Don’t flash around your valuables
- Only take a copy of your passport (and if possible also a copy of your entry stamp) with you
- Be aware of pickpockets (don’t carry too much money or valuables)
- Only use registered taxis with a green square sticker on the side (or let your hotel/ hostel call one) or use Uber
- If you want to explore a certain area but are concerned for your safety, aks locals or inquire at your hotel/hostel if it is safe
- Don’t get paranoid and enjoy your visit
- Weather is fickle in Quito so take a jacket with you when you go out cause weather conditions can change quickly.
- Always carry coins with you like a lot of stuff is paid with coins. This will make exploring Quito much easier.
- Learn some basic Spanish so you can ask directions or order food. A lot of people don’t speak English and it is highly appreciated when you show some effort to communicate in Spanish.
- Plan enough extra time if you want to do hikes like the Quilotoa loop or at Cotopaxi National Park
As a second stop, we chose the tiny village of Papallacta (3300 meters high) It’s just a short bus ride away from Quito. Don’t be surprised when you get off the bus that the only thing you see is just a street with a bus stop. You are in the right place!
We included Papallacta because of the awesome thermal baths. It’s a very nice stop-over to simply let your muscles relax after all the sightseeing and running around Quito old town. Just include a relaxing evening here or a full day of doing nothing and enjoying the hot water baths.
Best things to do in Papallacta
- Hot springs – Las Termas de Papallacta
Travel tips for visiting Papallacta
- To get from Quito to Papallacta take a bus at the Quitumbe bus station. There are no buses that have the destination Papallacta. You can take a bus to Tena or Baeza and tell the bus driver to stop at Papallacta.
- Weather conditions at Papallacta are mostly cold and rainy. Bring suitable clothes.
- Take some slippers with you to walk around comfortably at the pools.
Papallacta Thermal Baths – Photo by OOT
Tena and Misahualli
Tena – Ecuador – Photo by OOT
Let’s continue our descent from the Andes to the Amazon Basin. The next stop on this Ecuador itinerary is Tena.
Tena itself is a typical jungle town that is gaining popularity over the years. With backpackers more frequently visiting Tena in search of an Amazon adventure, the bar-, restaurant- and hostel scene is growing.
Even so, the town and its inhabitants have kept very close to their original way of living.
Tena is the perfect gateway to the Amazon and you can do multiple fun activities here. We highly recommend a day trip to Misahualli. Here you can hire a local guide to take you with his canoe to visit indigenous people who live up the river.
Best things to do in Tena
- Make a day trip to Misahualli and explore the rivers and local indigenous villages with a guide on a canoe.
- Get your adrenaline level high with a white water rafting or kayak adventure
- Discover the caverns and waterfalls of Yanayacu
- Discover the Amazon jungle with a Selva Verde tour
Travel tips for visiting Tena
- Tena is a rainforest town so bring a rain jacket
- The driest month is February
Misahualli canoe ride – Photo by OOT
Misahualli Monkey – Photo by OOT
Banos (Banos de Agua Santa)
Banos – Ecuador – Photo by OOT
You better count in some extra days for this stop!
Banos is such a cute and colorful town and there is so much to see and do that you might not want to leave. That’s why it’s a backpackers favorite.
Get ready to meet a lot of people on some unforgettable adventures!
Our absolute favorite thing to do in Banos was to mountain bike the waterfall route despite the crazy car- and truck drivers.
Best things to do in Banos
- Waterfall route by mountain bike
- Try the swings at Casa de Arbol
- Visit the thermal baths (best in the evening)
- Enjoy a canyoning tour
- Go Zip lining
- White water rafting
- Explore the town with its many handicraft shops, restaurants, massage places,…
Travel tips for Banos
- Try the local speciality candy Melcocha (sugar cane taffy)
- In the weekend a lot of Ecuadorians choose Banos as the place to be and it can get crowded
- If you want to party go to the Zona Rosa. Just follow the sign on the main street Ambato (or follow the music)
- The bus station in Banos is located just 3 blocks from the main square
Montanita or Ayampe
After the mountains and the Amazon, it is time to head to the beach!
If you like to surf and party hard than Montanita is the place for you!
The beach is less crowded on weekdays but on the weekends a lot of locals come here to swim, surf, party and have a good time.
It is good to know upfront that Montanita can get pretty crowded and loud.
Best things to do in Montanita
- Sunbath and relax on the beach
- Party all night
- Go Diving
When you just want some peace and quiet time on the beach then go to Ayampe instead.
Learn how to surf and watch the waves roll in!
Ayampe is getting more popular so it might not stay quiet for long
Best things to do in Ayampe
- Learn to surf
- Take a day trip to Isla de la Plata (Poor man’s Galapagos)
- Visit Los Frailes beach in Machalilla National Park
Travel to Guayaquil next and take your time to explore the largest city of Ecuador.
Guayaquil is mostly seen as a hub to go to the Galapagos Islands. Nevertheless, the city has its own charm and it is often overlooked by travelers.
It has the stigma of not being safe. Use your common sense when exploring Guayaquil, just like you do when you go out in other big cities around the world.
Best things to do in Guayaquil
- Stroll around the Malecon 2000
- Visit neighborhood Las Penas with its famous 444 steps and the Cerro de Santa Ana
- Explore Isla Santay
- Visit Parque Historico
- Take a look at Parque Seminario or the “Iguana Park”
- Go watch the Monumental Fountain of Dancing Waters
Travel tips for visiting Guayaquil
- The altitude of Guayaquil is close to sea level so you will not be bothered by it
- There are reports of taxi drivers“kidnapping” their victims and taking them to ATM machines around town, to force them to withdraw money. Avoid taxis or let the hostel or hotel arrange a cab for you
- As for other safety precautions take a look at the safety precautions for Quito
The next awesome stop on this itinerary is the Galapagos Islands.
The only way to reach the Islands is to fly there from Quito or Guayaquil. Guayaquil is closer by the Islands.
It is important to realize that a couple of days on the Islands will take a big bite out of your travel budget. Despite the cost, it would be a shame to miss it.
First, you have to decide if you want to visit it on your own or with a tour group. It is possible to go without a tour group. You can choose between 4 Islands to stay on: Santa Cruz, Floreana, Isabela or San Cristobal and then book your excursions yourself.
Or you can choose to book your holiday on these mesmerizing Islands with a tour operator and just let them take care of everything.
Travel tips for the Galapagos Islands
- Make preparing this leg of the trip a priority
- It tends to get very crowded and spots on cruises fill up quickly. So make sure to check out the offered tours way in advance of your stay
- Going for an organized tour is the best way to secure your spot on the cruises you want to take
- Visiting Galapagos is expensive so set aside enough money for this part of the trip
Cuenca square – Ecuador – Photo by OOT
Cuenca is one of the most attractive cities in Ecuador and also made the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. It is located in the highlands of Ecuador at an altitude of 2500 meters.
This city is an expat favorite and it has a very relaxed vibe. It is so easy to spend more time here than originally planned.
Best things to do in Cuenca
- Saunter around the old town
- Visit the New Cathedral and the flower market
- Follow the walking path along the Tomebamba river
- Visit the Inca ruins of Ingapirca
- Go hiking at El Cajas National Park
Travel tips for Cuenca
- Cuenca is considered much safer than Quito and Guayaquil but petty crime can occur anywhere so be smart
- After visiting Guayaquil and Galapagos give your body time to adjust again to the elevation
- There is a direct bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca that takes about 3 to 4 hours
We think this is the ideal Ecuador itinerary to make the most out of your time there. Of course, there are more places that you could include but most of us are running or low on time or low on budget sooner or later.
We loved our time in this amazing country and hope you will too.
Let us know how you liked your trip to Ecuador!
Lama at Ingapirca – Ecuador – Photo by OOT
Ingapirca – Ecuador – Photo by OOT
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