Straddling the Equator, tucked in between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador is one of the smallest countries on the continent and the smallest Andean country. However, this is merely a label; rest assured, this country packs a punch. Often described as a microcosm of South America, Ecuador jams everything that’s fascinating about this continent into its compact borders.
Not despite, but because of its size, Ecuador has thrived. Nowhere else in the world can you spend a morning in the Amazon rainforest, an afternoon ascending the slopes of an active volcano and hit the beach in time for dinner with your toes in the sand. It’s no wonder that Ecuador served as inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution; it is anything but boring.
Ecuador’s startling contrasts of scenery, outstanding biodiversity and fascinating historical legacy are divided amongst its three mainland regions: Costa, Sierra and Oriente. Costa, as you would expect, is where you’ll find the Pacific Coast’s hot, sandy beaches and the vibrant Afro-Ecuadorian towns. Sierra covers Ecuador’s mountainous heart and brings you charming Andean villages, colonial towns and abundant adventures. Finally, Oriente is where you’ll find Ecuador’s treasured piece of the Amazon, where wildlife thrives in innumerable species.
Ecuador’s pride and joy are the famous Galapagos Islands; the wildlife-rich archipelago of otherworldly landscapes, magnificent volcanic views and unusual species. Often described as an open zoo, here you can get up close and personal with huge tortoises, marine iguanas, sea lions, blue foot-footed boobies and more. The best way to experience all there is to offer is a Galapagos cruise. With cruises varying in length, you can split your time between this must-visit destination and Ecuador’s other jewels.
At the heart of the country is Ecuador’s capital, Quito, with its well-preserved Spanish colonial historical centre, 16th-century palaces and beautifully ornate churches. You’ll likely begin and end your Ecuador tour wandering Quito’s cobblestone streets, admiring architectural treasures and getting a taste for the country’s cultural diversity and penchant for social eating.
They say good things come in small packages and that is certainly true of Ecuador. Read on to find out more about Galapagos Islands cruises, meeting shamans in the Amazon and so much more;
The Best Time to Visit Ecuador
Due to its contrasting landscapes, Ecuador’s climate varies from region to region. The best time to take an Ecuador trip depends on which parts of the country you plan to visit. Here, temperatures are determined by the season or the latitude.
For the Sierra, where you’ll find the Andean mountains, the best months to visit are from June to September when the weather is warm, and the rain stays away. Outside of these months, you’ll still find monthly clear days with wet afternoons. The Oriente, on the other hand, is warm, humid and wet throughout the year although you might be lucky with a break from daily downpours from August to September and December to February.
The coast is defined by a wet and dry season; the best time to visit is December to April when showers are short and frequent with warm temperatures and clear blue skies at all times.
If you’re planning a Galapagos trip, the best time to visit is from December to May. Generally, the Galapagos Islands are beautiful year-round but these months make conditions for hiking and wildlife-spotting particularly pleasant.
The last few months of the year and January are Ecuador’s busiest months of the year. These months are when the country sees some of its biggest festivals celebrated, such as the Day of the Dead, and the school holidays. You’ll want to book everything in advance if visiting at this time of year.
Top Places to Go in Ecuador
Startling contrasts in scenery from the tropical lowlands of the Amazon to the palm-fringed beaches and the snow-peaked Andes, Ecuador is abuzz with life. This compact country is home to more mammal and bird species than Europe and North America combined, meaning you’re never far from an intriguing discovery in the most beautiful places in Ecuador.
Read on for a breakdown of the best places to visit in Ecuador;
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Starting with the big one, we’ll go straight into Galapagos Islands tours – one of the main reasons travellers flock to Ecuador.
A five-million-year history, some of the world’s most endangered species and 18 incredible islands with fascinating ecological heritage; tours to the Galapagos Islands are truly magical for nature lovers abound. Since Darwin arrived and discovered that species here vary from island to island, allowing him to build on his natural selection theory, these islands have enchanted. In 2001, they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most popular way to explore this archipelago; Galapagos cruise ships whisk adventurous travellers off to parts of the world that few travellers get to encounter in their lifetime. Come face to face with a giant lumbering tortoise, marvel at the world’s only sea-going lizard, perch on a beach next to adorable sea lions and watch the blue-footed boobies prance along; Galapagos boat tours allow you to explore one of the most compelling nature spots in the world.
Beyond gawking at these mystical creatures, an 8-day Galapagos tour takes you to all of the best locations whilst presenting great opportunities like swimming with turtles, whale watching, scuba diving and more!
Ecuador Amazon Tour
If a Galapagos cruise is the main course, then a trip to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador is the dessert you’ve been waiting for.
Over half of Ecuador is covered by the Amazon rainforest; it is one of nine nations that the world’s largest rainforest spans across. The entire place, from the forests to the lagoons, teems with wildlife, incredible plants and unique creatures from tapirs to monkeys and ocelots.
On a 6-day trip to the Amazon in Ecuador, you’ll head deep into the Amazon for a total immersion into this bio-diverse environment. Staying at an award-winning lodge on the border of the Yasuni National Park, you’ll head out on nocturnal wildlife walks, marvel at the rainforest from observation towers and even have the chance to meet indigenous communities.
If you’re lucky, on an Ecuador Amazon tour, you may even come face to face with a shaman and delve into the world of herbal plant medicine.
Cotopaxi & Central Sierra
Sitting south of the capital city of Quito, the Central Sierra is home to a spectacular array of landscapes including the centrepiece of the country’s most popular national park, Cotopaxi volcano. Standing all at 5,000 metres, the snow-capped, cone-shaped Cotopaxi is the world’s largest active volcano, with a rare glacier at its summit.
A poster child for Ecuador; Cotopaxi presents an array of outstanding hiking trails and wildlife encounters such as the Andean foxes, llamas and the elusive spectacled bear, as well as a handful of charming local villages and old haciendas.
Lace-up your hiking boots, jump in your 4WD and embark on this Ecuador vacation covering not only the incredible Cotopaxi National Park but also the Amazon and the Galapagos.
Dramatically perched between soaring mountain peaks high in the Andes, Ecuador’s capital is an amalgamation of striking architectural splendour, cobblestone plazas and an eclectic cultural scene.
Most visitors will head straight to Quito’s 16th-century Old Town and rightly so; its historical, colonial past oozes from every corner, from exquisite churches to old buildings. This, combined with the overflowing market stalls and the vibrant culinary and nightlife scene, provoke a sense of traditional Ecuadorian culture thriving in the 21st century.
Almost every Ecuador trip will begin with a Quito tour; it is a wonderful introduction to what lies ahead. Day trips from Quito present an array of options and will have you hiking in Cotopaxi National Park, standing in the middle of the world (Mitad del Mundo) and much much more.
Charming visitors for centuries, a strong bohemian spirit, laid-back locals and well-preserved, fairytale colonial heritage; you’ll doe-eyed from the start in Cuenca.
Dubbed the ‘Athens of the Andes’, Cuenca oozes a European vibe. Alongside its mountainous Andean culture, this beautiful city is incredibly photogenic and a hub for artisans. Get up high and admire the rooftop views of this charming city and dine out on its budding culinary scene all on this 16-day Ecuador vacation.
The perfect high-altitude adventure; the Quilotoa Loop takes you on a journey at 3,800 metres along the azure lagoon known as Laguna Quilotoa formed almost 800 years ago, to indigenous villages and right into the heart of Ecuador’s central highlands.
The beauty of this part of Ecuador is that hiking trails lace all over the rugged countryside and Andean mountains enabling you to customise your trek however you wish. For those that wish to get up close and personal, you can take the 7.5-kilometre trail which encircles the rim of the crater lake offering incredible views into the turquoise blue waters.
It’s less than a three-hour drive from Quito to Quilotoa so if you enjoy getting off the beaten track, staying in cosy lodges and meeting indigenous communities, then look no further than this 16-day ultimate Ecuador travel itinerary.
Devil’s Nose Train
Whilst the town of Alausi in the Andes mountains doesn’t offer much, it’s home to the Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose Train), said to be one of the most hair-raising train journeys in the world.
Trundling through an incredibly scenic part of the Andean mountains, the train zigzags across near-vertical slopes with the steepest descent of any rail track in the world. The views are incomparable; the gorge of the Chanchan river presents itself to your right, and at one of the stops, the Puruhuas people perform a traditional dance.
This train ride is an integral part of the Ecuador experience; book yourself in on the right-hand side and get ready to clutch your seat on this 11-day Ecuador tour.
When it comes to Ecuador’s must-see sights, Otavalo takes one of the top spots.
Ecuador’s most famous indigenous market and one of the largest in all of South America, Otavalo is a bright, wonderful and unique market selling all-things crafts and textiles as well as instruments, jewellery and more.
Surrounded by a beautiful valley and overlooked by the dominating Imbabura volcano and Fuya Fuya mountain, Otavalo city has made a name for itself with this artisan market. The people indigenous to Otavalo are famous for weaving textiles and creating an array of products such as wool blankets, tablecloths and clothing.
Typically held on a Saturday, the market takes over a third of the city with overflowing stalls. Be captivated by this market on this 10-day holiday to Ecuador.
How to Get Around & Travel Ecuador
Being a small country means getting around Ecuador will rarely cause a headache. Great roads and good transport links make everything relatively easy.
When in Ecuadorian cities and towns, public buses will be your go-to efficient way to get around. The best places to visit on a Quito tour are usually all on one bus route. Bus tickets rarely cost more than $0.25 USD.
Tip: Bus stops only exist in Quito; everywhere else in Ecuador, you just have to flag down the bus for it to stop and pick you up.
Metered taxis in Quito are a very affordable way to get around the city a little more independently. If the taxis aren’t metered, which is often the case outside of Quito, you’ll have to haggle a price with the driver before you jump in.
Trains & Buses
Ecuador’s bus network is extensive, reliable and one of the easiest ways to get around the country and cover ‘long’ distances. There are hundreds of bus companies, all of which cover the main destinations and popular routes. Expect to pay no more than $1-2 USD per hour on long-distance buses.
Unlike buses, Ecuador’s rail system is not the most reliable. However, there are certain train journeys that are absolutely worth the effort, such as the route that takes you from Alausi along La Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose). Thanks to its terrifyingly steep descent, this train journey is one of the most popular on the continent.
Ecuador has four major domestic airlines (Avianca, Emetebe, LATAM and TAME); all of which are affordable and regularly service major destinations.
For Galapagos Islands holidays, flying is the most practical way to reach the archipelago, but it is certainly not the cheapest. You’ll expect to pay over $200 USD for a one-way flight from Quito. Galapagos tours from Quito by bus are much more affordable but will take considerably longer.
Of course, there is another option which enables you more freedom and comfort. A private tour of Ecuador with a local guide affords you a deeper insight into this culturally-diverse nation whilst travelling at your own pace. Maximum comfort guaranteed.
Our Local Experts in Ecuador are masters at designing, not only private tours, but any tour to Ecuador, guided or not. With your budget, travel style and interests at the centre, our Local Experts can design your perfect trip to Ecuador tailored to your desires.
Where to Stay in Ecuador
Ecuador offers great value for money across a wide spectrum of accommodation. Outside of holidays and major fiestas, accommodation is in good supply, so there’s little need to book too far in advance. In Ecuador, accommodation comes in a variety of forms and hotels masquerade under a number of names. Read on for more on Ecuador accommodation;
Usually a humble, family home, pensiones are your simplest type of accommodation in Ecuador. The facilities are basic but comfortable. A slight upgrade from this are residenciales which are larger versions of pensions. Both often feature a small courtyard and shared bathrooms.
Hostals & Hotels
This type of accommodation can vary from charming 19th-century family-run guesthouses to luxury international hotel chains to a general basic hotel. Most often, the facilities are an upgrade from pensiones and residenciales with running hot water, TVs and clean towels. Increase the price a little, and you’ll find some have their own restaurant and bar.
Of course, the luxury hotel chains you know from around the world have everything and more than you would expect.
Haciendas & Hosterias
In the colonial highlands is where you’ll most commonly find haciendas, situated on lavish farming estates which have been converted into magnificent hotels. Complete with period details, open fires and plush carpets, these are your luxury country hotels.
However, be warned, this category also incorporates the less-desirable tourist complexes which sit in tourist areas of the highlands.
Found in the forest regions of Ecuador, lodges often serve as a good base from which to explore your natural surroundings. Whilst some offer modern comforts, most are without electricity with simple mattresses and mosquito nets to make you feel like the adventurer you are. Lodges are also popular on the coast of Ecuador.
Must-Try Food & Drink in Ecuador
From the beach hut ceviche on the coast to the cosmopolitan dining scenes of Quito and Cuenca, Ecuador is a classic foodie destination. Ecuadorians are social eaters which means sharing food, stories, and friendly smiles are all part of the dining deal here. Here are the dishes on;
Roasted Guinea Pig
At any traditional Andean market, you’ll find that guinea pig is one of the main products being sold. Instead of being pets as they are in other parts of the world; here, a roasted guinea pig is an Andean delicacy. Known as ‘conejillo de indias’, ‘cobaya’ or simply ‘cuy’, this roasted dish is an essential part of Ecuadorian cuisine, particularly so for special occasions. Served with potatoes or corn, salsa and chilli, roasted cuy is a must-try.
You’ll find fried plantains everywhere in Ecuador; they are the perfect accompaniment to numerous dishes. Much like a banana, plantains must be cooked before being eaten. They are abundantly grown in this tropical country which means you’ll find them on almost every menu or sold by street vendors as a popular snack.
Whilst you’ll find ceviche in almost all South American countries, nowhere does ceviche quite like Ecuadorians. The base of this dish is comprised of white fish or seafood such as shrimp, lobster, octopus or crab. Once soaked in lime for a few hours and mixed with finely chopped tomatoes, peppers and red onions, it is a mouthwatering tangy yet smooth delight. Often served with a side of crunchy plantain chips, it’s a ‘scoop and munch’ situation.
Empanada de Viento
Get your hands (and mouth) around this giant fluffy pie. Empanadas are famous throughout the continent, especially so in Argentina. In Ecuador, they put a twist on this classic dish by making it supersized, filling it with cheese and serving it with sugar sprinkled on top of the warm doughy pie. Are you drooling yet?
Maximise your Quito travel experience by heading to one of the small bars in the Old Town to share this dish with travel companions.
A signature Ecuadorian drink that originated in the Andean mountains; you’ll find canelazo all over the country in restaurants and cafes. Made with cinnamon, a tar orange fruit called naranjilla, a potent Spanish schnapps called aguardiente, sugar and water, canelazo is served hot and is perfect for warming up on rainy nights.
Unmissable Festivals & Events in Ecuador
Ecuador’s history of celebrations goes back many centuries, prior to the arrival of the Spanish and their fiestas. In Ecuador, indigenous festivals celebrate harvests and the sun and have gradually become incorporated into wider religious-based festivals. One thing is for sure; they are colourful, bright and culture-filled events!
Here are the major festivals that you won’t want to miss off your Ecuador itinerary;
La Diablada de Pillaro – January
Translating to ‘the devils in Pillaro’, this strange celebration takes place near Banod city in Pillaro every January. Thousands of costumed and masked performers take to the streets to dance and take part in the ceremony. The festival’s origin lies in the Ecuadorian indigenous population and their rebellion against the Catholic religion of the colonial era.
Carnival – February or March
Carnival is Ecuador’s version of Mardi Gras. It takes place exactly 40 days before Easter each year on a Monday or a Tuesday. Carnival is a period of celebration before a Catholic fasting period of 40 days. Carnival is celebrated across the country, but for the most action, you should head to Guaranda or Ambato.
Semana Santa – April
A deeply religious theatrical performance, Semana Santa (or Holy Week) in Ecuador involves a procession in the capital city of Quito recreating Jesus Christ’s journey to the cross. The week begins on the second Sunday of April every year; if you happen to be in the city, you’ll catch a number of processions and get a true feel for the religious traditions here.
Inti Raymi – June & July
Inti Raymi, or the Sun Festival as it’s also known, is an Andean traditional festival which begins on the longest night of the year, 21st June. It marks the beginning of the Andean summer,celebrating the sun and its contributions to the harvest season and the Andean agricultural cycle. This colourful, joyous event consists of traditional dances and drinks, all symbolising new beginnings.
Quick Tips For Your Ecuador Tour
Language: Ecuador’s official language is Spanish, with over 93% of its population speaking it. It is worth learning a bit of Spanish before travelling to the country. Some key phrases and a phrasebook will help considerably.
Currency: Ecuador uses the United States Dollar (USD).
Safety: Sadly, Ecuador is plagued by crime from drugs to theft and more. When visiting, you can exercise caution, be on alert and use your common sense in order to safely enjoy everything this country has to offer.
Police App: Ecuador has a special police division to help tourists. Make sure to install the travel safety app before you arrive. It can be used by the police to track your location in an emergency.
Ecuadorian Time: Always remember the laws of la hora ecuatoriana (Ecuadorian time). If inviting a local out or arranging to meet them, they can be up to an hour late, and it is not considered rude. Bear this in mind.
Visa: UK, Australian and US citizens can visit Ecuador for up to 90 days without a visa. For other countries, you should check before you travel.
Ready to Design Your Trip to Ecuador?
Every part of Ecuador hums with life, from the Amazon lowlands to the Andean highlands. Being here is an adventure in itself, everywhere you turn there’s something new to discover, a friendly local to meet or a tasty dish to try. Adventure and wildlife lovers will be in their element here; history buffs will marvel at all their is to discover; beach bums and water babies will adore the versatility of the country.
If you’re looking to plan a trip to Ecuador, then you should look no further than Tripfuser. Our Local Experts in Ecuador are exactly what you should be looking for: local people who are experts at designing trips to incredible countries like Ecuador. Who else could design a trip so perfectly?
To get started, you can browse our gallery of fully-customisable Ecuador trips and customise it to your exact budget, tastes and desires with a Local Expert. Alternatively, you can design your own Ecuador trip from scratch, starting with the basics and working with a Local Expert to build your dream trip. Don’t delay, Ecuador awaits!