Ecuador is nestled between Colombia and Peru on the Pacific side of South America. The country’s capital, Quito, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a fun and worthwhile city. The Galapagos Islands are the main attraction in the country with most people just jumping from Quito to the islands to revel in the amazing wildlife-spotting opportunities. But there is much more to Ecuador than the Galapagos. Adventure lovers will be keen to explore the Ecuadorian Amazon or to climb one of the country’s many volcanoes, including the world famous Cotopaxi Mountain. This tiny country packs a lot of punch and this travel guide can help you make the most of your trip.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Ecuador
2. Cotopaxi Mountain
3. Galapagos Islands
4. Ride The Devil’s Nose train
5. See the Amazon rainforest
Other Things to See and Do
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This small town lies high in the Andes and on the hillside of Ecuador’s most active volcano, Tungurahua. Besides the fantastic volcano treks, visitors also flock to Baños to experience the healing powers of its hot springs and to give thanks for miracles performed at the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water. It’s also the country’s adventure capital, with lots of biking, bungee jumping, ATV rentals, and a circuit of beautiful waterfalls to visit. Prices will vary, but they are not expensive. Bungee jumping, for example, is only 20 USD!
2. Otavalo Market
Otavalo is Ecuador’s most famous indigenous market. Handicrafts, jewelry, necklaces, musical instruments, and clothing are just a few of the things you can buy at this expansive market.
Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cuenca has colonial buildings, churches, and cathedrals that are beautiful — and extremely photogenic. The city is also thought to be Ecuador’s intellectual capital and has been dubbed the “Athens of the Andes.”
Ingapirca is Ecuador’s premier Inca site and is located in the Canar Province, near the country’s Pacific coast. The crowning glory of the site is the Temple of the Sun, which is a circular building made of intricately carved stones so as to fit together without mortar. There is also a burial site and a series of low walls which are ruins from various other buildings on the site. A guided tour will cost around 40 USD.
This surfer’s paradise is a relatively new addition to Ecuador’s list of attractions, although its reputation for pristine beaches and perfect waves has been growing steadily over the years. This is a proper backpacker’s paradise with laid back beach parties, live bands, and inexpensive accommodation. A week-long surf camp (including lessons, accommodation, and food) will cost around 600 USD.
6. Go whale watching in Puerto Lopez
One of the many tourist towns that lay along the coast is Puerto Lopez. Not so much of a surfing spot, it’s known instead for its great whale watching season. Come and witness the humpback whales in action, and then check out the blue footed boobies (a very rare bird species) at La Plata island. Combined tours (whale watching and island visit) cost 35 USD, plus the 15 USD national park fee. This ends up being a full day activity.
7. Visit or volunteer at an animal refuge
Puyo, the gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon, has a number of animal rescue and rehabilitation centers. These make for an interesting and educational visit. Some offer volunteer opportunities if you’re interested in getting involved on a different level.
About 90 minutes outside of Quito, is Ibarra. There is a lot of community tourism here as well as adventure travel and indigenous visits. Consider rafting, swing jumping, trekking, climbing, kayaking, and more.
9. Learn Spanish
As the national language here, Spanish is everywhere you go. There are hundreds of places to take a language course in this country. If you are going to visit for a prolonged period of time, it might be a good idea to take a couple lessons.
10. Explore the lava tubes
North of Puerto Ayora, there are tons of underground tunnels that have been formed from molten-lava. For 1 USD, you can take a self-guided tour or pay more to go with a guide. It’s pretty freaky being in these huge lava tops but pretty amazing too.
Food – Meals typically cost between 3-5 USD for local food. You can find food stalls on the street for around 1-2 USD. Western style meals will cost around 10-12 USD. For a meal at a mid-range restaurant, expect to spend around 25 USD per person. If you’re planning on shopping in the markets and grocery stores, you can expect to spend around 15-20 USD per week on basic groceries like bread, milk, eggs, cheese, chicken, fruit, and veggies. Ecuadorian beers can cost as little as 1 USD each. Expect to pay a premium in bars and restaurants for alcohol, especially in the cities.
Transportation – Long-distance buses typically cost from 1-2 USD per hour. Inside the city, a local bus ticket is usually around 0.25 USD. Taxis in Quito have meters and short trips generally don’t cost more than 5 USD. For longer trips, like the 10-hour ride from Quito to Guayaquil, expect to pay around 10 USD for a one-way ticket. Car rentals are available, usually costing around 60 USD per day. A bus from Quito to Bogata, Colombia will cost around 40 USD. From Quito to Lima, Peru will cost around 30 USD.
Activities – Aside from a trip to the Galapagos Islands, activities are pretty cheap in Ecuador. A ride on the Devil’s Nose train will cost 25 USD roundtrip, while entrance to Ingapirca and most museums costs around 6 USD. Day trips to volcanoes and mountain hikes are typically around 30 USD. A trip to the Galapagos Islands is pricey — about 1,500-2,500 USD for 10 days, plus the 100 USD park fee — but if you have room in your budget, it’s incredible!
Suggested daily budget
30-35 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Hospedajes – These family-run guesthouses are all over the country and have rooms for just a few dollars per night. They are very affordable accommodation options.
- Eat at the markets – This is the place to do your food shopping. Buying 20 bananas and a kilo of apples works out to under 3 USD! You can find meals for just a few dollars, making this the best way to eat cheaply in the country!
- Almuerzos – Many restaurants have almuerzos, cheap lunches from a set menu. These are usually just a couple of dollars and even include a drink!
- Carry small change – Forget about carrying any bills over 20 USD as you’ll have trouble changing them — even $20s can be difficult to break in small towns.
- Book last minute tours – Galapagos Island cruises are can expensive. By booking your tour in Quito last minute, you can save up to 40% off the cost of the trip. You can also just fly there and see what is around too! If you’re flexible in when you go and can wait around for a spot to open, this is the cheapest option.
- Couchsurf – If you want to make your trip even cheaper and find a local friend, couchsurf! There are a number of hosts in the country that will let you stay with them! It’s free accommodation and a chance to make a local friend!
- Stay at a Hola Hostel – Hola Hostels is a network of hostels predominantly in South and Central America, as well as Europe. They offer 10% off to their members, as well as other discounts for food and activities. Joining is free, and their hostels are also committed to environmentally sustainable practices.
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