Some places deserve to be in the spotlight, others should rather be kept a secret. Ecuador is one of those unsung beauties that raise the dilemma. It’s easy to skip this small country on a travel in South America, like we ignore a vegetable we don’t know at a buffet table. And yet, have a bite and let the flavour invade you; unique landscapes of exceptional beauty, and a modern society where the Indigenous traditions come through. If you decide to give Ecuador a go, you can use this itinerary for 2 or 3 weeks of breathtaking hikes; two or three weeks to dive into an unparalleled nature; 14 or 21 days to fall in love with Ecuador.
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Best time to visit Ecuador
There are only 2 seasons in Ecuador, so the choice is easily made; the dry season runs from June to September, the wet season (rainy season) between the months of October and May.
The temperatures don’t fluctuate much though, the country being as it is in the very middle of the world. It’s probably the mildest country in South America, the weather staying more or less the same all year round. In fact, it might rain even during the wet season. So you’d better pack a rain jacket, whatever the time of year you plan your Ecuador vacation.
This small country is divided into 3 geographical regions: the coast to the west, which is slightly warmer; the Amazon jungle to the east, which is crazy humid; and in between, the cold plateaus of the Andes, where most towns and Ecuador highlights are.
Is Ecuador safe to travel?
The country is generally safe for travellers, so you should be alright anywhere you go. Of course, you keep your eyes open and your mind sound, right? Don’t go out there and prove us wrong when we say that Ecuador is safe.
We will never share our usual recommendations too often, the trinity of travel safety:
- Don’t flash your valuables;
- keep an eye on your belongings;
- wander off the crowded parts only as long as you feel confident
If we want to be specific, we’ll say that we heard rumours of muggings on Quito’s Panecillo hill; and in some neighbourhoods of Guayaquil.
How to travel in Ecuador?
Ecuador is not a big country so nothing justifies taking the plane while you’re on the mainland; of course you’ll have to if you want to visit the Galápagos Islands.
You’ll find oodles of Ecuador tours offering to bring you anywhere for a substantial price. Most of the time, they’re completely superfluous. Finding the right bus to get somewhere is really easy, especially with the friendly Ecuadorians ready to help you. Go self-guided!
The itineraries in this article are calculated with land travel: you can always take the bus between each destinations. In most cases, a travel by night will save you time and a night in a hotel. Renting a car in Quito can also be a great option.
Ecuador itinerary 2 weeks
This route keeps you mainly in the central region, where the best of Ecuador travel spots can be found; with only a short incursion into the rainforest on days 4 and 5. It’s an ambitious itinerary with frequent journeys, so feel free to adapt it to your pace; it’s important you don’t rush and spoil your fun.
We truly hope that these places will give you a good image of what Ecuador can offer in fancy and colonial towns and stunning landscapes. May it tickle your interest to come back for more!
|Days 4-5||El Coca/Amazon:|
2 weeks in Ecuador itinerary
We take for granted that you fly to and from Quito’s international airport, so we built this Ecuador route as a loop. But if you’re crossing the country, you can easily keep the same destinations and work them from Peru to Colombia; or the other way round.
3 days in Quito
The capital of Ecuador is a large metropolis that stretches in between mountains. That implies a congested traffic and long transportation in town. Luckily, the top ten things to do in Quito are gathered in the same area, between the Panecillo hill and the large La Carolina park.
The colonial city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and we understand why. Have a look at the main square, the Basilica del Voto Nacional and the Church of the Company of Jesus. A short walk away, the La Floresta district is modern and offers enough going-out places for you and your whole crew. There’s also a $1 Uruguayan pizza somewhere that we wholeheartedly recommend.
There are also many spots for the culture enthusiasts: Check them here.
Whatever happens, don’t miss a day trip to the middle of the world (Mitad del mundo). It might not be quite a Jules Verne novel, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. You can choose among no less than 3 spots to see only 1 middle of the earth, so choose it well. We explain that here. Nearby, the village built in the active Pululahua volcano is also a sight to behold.
2 days in the Amazon jungle
When we think of the Amazon, we think of
an awful capitalist company Brazil and Peru mainly. Yet it’s present in a great part of several other countries – Ecuador is one of them. It covers about the whole eastern half of the country even.
The largest and most intense national parks in the Amazon are Cuyabeno and Yasuní. They’re definitely worth the visit, but they’re a bit far and you wouldn’t have enough time on a 2-week trip.
For a couple of days in the cloud forest, we recommend a stay in El Coca, only a night bus trip to Quito. (The town is also called “Puerto Francisco de Orellana” on some maps.) You can have there a beautifully wild time, hiking in the jungle, visiting waterfalls and cruising on the Napo river. We promise the wildlife will leave you more breathless than all the Corrs put together.
Explore more natural wonders with our selection of National Parks in Ecuador.
2 days in Baños
This little mountain town is a real outdoor adventure paradise. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll enjoy zip lining, bungee jumping, white water rafting, canyoning, rock climbing, mountain biking, horse riding… We (just) went hiking and were very happy.
That’s not true; we also went to the Casa del Arbol, a magical garden that offers great views on the Tungurahua volcano. And a deadly swing, literally “at the end of the world”.
The best part of an active day in Baños is to relax in the hot pools of the town’s many thermal baths. That’s real healing water there, some of them exceedingly hot – good for your travelling bones. It’s also dirt cheap so no reason to skip it.
Read here about our trip to Baños
3 days in Cuenca
We really fell in love with Cuenca when we were backpacking in Ecuador! It’s not only a very pretty old town full of colonial buildings – we have seen our share of those. It’s also very lively (as a university town), cheap and very liveable. We found people to be particularly respectful, of each other, of their city, of pedestrians. (If you come from Peru, you know what we mean.)
Have a stroll in its historic centre, visit the Pumapungo archaeological museum, relax in its many parks.
When you’re done –if that’s possible– don’t run away just as yet. The best day trips in Ecuador are at Cuenca’s doorstep.
Parque Nacional Cajas is an understated and yet gorgeous national park in the highlands of Ecuador. It’s a misty landscape of rugged hills, tundra and deep blue lagoons. It offers several hikes with different levels, but all will be equally cold. For us, it simply ranks in the top things to see in Ecuador.
The main archaeological site in the country is just there where the Incas left it, and it’s called Ingapirca. If you’ve visited the Pumapungo museum, you’ve already heard of it. There’s even a 3-day “Inca trail” to reach it for those who want to live the dream.
Last, and probably least if we’re honest, there’s a couple of attractive villages nearby, all reachable by bus. They’re famous for their markets on Sundays but we saw nil when we visited in the low season. Check out Gualaceo, Chordeleg and Sigsig.
2 days at Mount Chimborazo
On the way back towards Quito and the end of your two weeks in Ecuador, there are still 2 worthwhile stops. The first one brings you to Chimborazo mountain, which is actually a volcano. It’s the highest summit in Ecuador; and if you want to impress your in-laws at your next dinner party, tell them it’s the furthest point from the Earth’s centre.
They’ll surely be impressed, but even more so by your pictures of it. It’s an ice-topped double volcano covered in glaciers. It’s so photogenic, it’s the mountain that is represented on the flag of Ecuador.
That’s for the trivia. Now just get a night bus to Riobamba and change for Guaranda, an hour away. It’s the closest town to the Chimborazo Reserve. Count 1 day for the hike and 1 day to rest.
2 days at the Quilotoa lake
The last natural highlight on our way is the precious Lake Quilotoa, which shines in its volcano crater like a turquoise. There are words to describe how beautiful that place is, but I haven’t learnt them yet. It’s definitely one of the most stunning lakes in Ecuador – maybe in the world.
You need to get to Latacunga, a 2-hour drive north of Riobamba, and then to Zumbahua. From there, one more bus will get you to the entrance to Laguna Quilotoa, which is free of charge.
We recommend to walk all around the lake, as each angle offers different colour variations, and vegetation too. It counts among our favourite places in Ecuador. Many travellers like the area so much, they do a 3-4 day hike in the countryside: the mesmerising Quilotoa Loop.
Read here how to hike around the Quilotoa lake
But it’s almost time to take the short bus ride back to Quito…
Ecuador itinerary 3 weeks
This travel itinerary for three weeks follows mainly the one we just showcased for 2 weeks in Ecuador. This time, we’re skipping the Amazon forest and venture onto the coast.
Again, if you consider these are too many destinations for your personal travel rhythm, feel free to break it down. Some travellers like the feeling of being often on the road; others prefer to soak in the atmosphere of a place.
3 weeks in Ecuador itinerary
4 days in Quito
In addition to what we said in the 2-week itinerary for Ecuador, we recommend a day trip to the Indigenous town of Otavalo. It attracts national and international attention for being the largest outdoor market in South America. It’s full of crafts, clothes, fabrics and jewellery.
Learn hot to haggle prices in our Otavalo market guide
If you can, choose to visit on a Saturday, when the market is the biggest; but get to Quito’s bus station with enough anticipation. It’s situated less than 2 hours away in the north.
4 days around Latacunga
The centre of Ecuador really is a mine of natural treasures. Latacunga serves as a central base for 2 important outdoor areas: the Quilotoa Loop and the Cotopaxi National Park.
We’ve already mentioned Quilotoa, the turquoise lake in the crater of a volcano. If you were sleeping, go back up to read about it. And make sure you include it in your backpacking itinerary!
Cotopaxi is yet another volcano (there are many in Ecuador), but an active one. In fact, it last erupted in 2016 – so you should be safe for a bit. A common day hike brings you at over 4,800 m, past a refuge and to the Cotopaxi glacier.
2 days in Baños
See the 2 weeks in Ecuador itinerary.
2 days at Mount Chimborazo
See the 2 weeks in Ecuador itinerary.
3 days in Cuenca
See the 2 weeks in Ecuador itinerary.
2 days in Guayaquil
Guayaquil is the 1st largest city in Ecuador, even larger than Quito. It’s not as pretty as Cuenca nor as interesting as the capital, so we recommend it only if you’re spending at least 3 weeks in Ecuador. But it’s a good stopover on your way to the coast, and a nice urban break in a nature-focused itinerary. Its airport is also a point of departure to the Galápagos, so now’s your chance to fly.
The main attraction in Guayaquil is the riverside walk, the Malecón 2000. It might sound like an old Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but it’s a cosy promenade with shops, cafes and a Ferris wheel. (I’m thinking we might be the only Ecuador travel blog mentioning Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
Another pretty walk is up the bohemian Las Peñas neighbourhood, a cluster of colourful houses built on a hill topped with a church and a lighthouse. Stairs, cobblestone alleyways and street art sellers: it’s probably a tad touristy but the cutest part of town.
If you haven’t had enough of nature tripping yet, several day trips are possible from Guayaquil. Manglares Churute is a mangrove landscape, with all its dense and fascinating fauna and flora. Cerro Blanco is a dry tropical forest that’s even closer to town; you can observe many animals, including birds, capybaras and mosquitoes.
4 days on the coast of Ecuador
Stuck in the central corridor that is the Andes, we didn’t explore Ecuador coastal cities at all. But when we stopped in Vilcabamba and Cuenca, coming from Peru, we were still hesitating, so we asked much around.
Both locals and travellers told us to avoid Montañita, the famous and crowded party beach surf town. Why would you amass there when there are dozens of other places boasting the same waves and sand?
If you’re looking for something peaceful, choose Puerto López, Canoa or Ayampe. Those who want to surf the waves, travel more north to Mompiche or Súa. If you need something fancier, Bahía de Caráquez is made for you.
For a taste of the island life, try Isla Portete or the more famed Isla de la Plata; with some exciting wildlife, it’s a great budget alternative to the Galápagos, accessible only with a tour. For this very reason, the Machalilla National Park, close to Puerto López, is another very attractive destination.
And what about the Galápagos Islands?
“What do you mean – I come all the way to Ecuador and you won’t let me visit the Galapagos?”
Of course you should discover that unique landscape, home to some of the most fantastic (read: weird) animals. Penguins, iguanas, tortoises, sea lions, rays, frigatebirds, and those cute blue-footed boobies are all awaiting you on their distant archipelago.
But (there is always a ‘but’ with the boobies), the Galápagos are a faraway and expensive destination. We recommend –in fact, everybody recommends– spending at least 5 full days on the islands. That’s right, that means 7 days including the flights.
The most visited islands are Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Española, Floreana, Fernandina, Genovesa and Isabela, the largest one. Note that only 14 of the 21 Galapagos islands can be visited; and that some of them can only be visited with a cruise. Others you can tour self-guided, making out your own day trips. If you are planning to pay a visit, we recommend reading this detailed guide to Galápagos Islands.
More best places to visit in Ecuador
We certainly couldn’t fit everything we wanted in those short Ecuador itineraries. If, like us, you fell in love with the country and decided to stay longer, here’s a list of ideas of where to go in Ecuador for vacation.
There’s a lot of National Parks, as diverse as they are numerous, an enchantment to all nature enthusiasts out there.
- El Angel National Park
- Lagunas de Mojanda
- Devil’s Nose train from Ayausí
- Villages near Cuenca
- Parque Nacional Sangay
- Petrified forest near Puyango
- Lagunas de Atillo
- Parque Nacional Podocarpus
- Yasuní National Park
- Reserva Cuyabeno
- San Rafael Falls
- Volcano Reventador
2 or 3 weeks in Ecuador budget
As of January 2020, most Ecuador landmarks, even National Parks, are completely free of charge. Despite using the US dollars as official currency, transportation, accommodation, and especially food, are very cheap. As a matter of example, a night in a hostel dorm costs between $5 and $10.
You can find tours to everywhere but most of the time they’re completely unnecessary.
For example, seeing the Mitad del Mundo is as simple as taking a bus from Quito ($1 return) and visiting the place ($5, guide included). Some companies will sell you a one day tour for $28!
Therefore, for 2 weeks backpacking in Ecuador, including cheap accommodation (hostel, hotel or camping), bus transportation between destinations, a Middle of the World tour, and the entrance ticket to Ingapirca, count with a budget of:
$ 200 (180 €)
For the 3 weeks in Ecuador itinerary, including all of the above plus a tour to Isla de la Plata in high season ($40), count with an estimate budget of:
$ 280 (250 €)
These amounts don’t include food, drinks, city transportation or any souvenir that might tickle your fancy.
Prices for the Galápagos will vary greatly depending on the way you visit, the cruise company and the services included. Better check that online, but we recommend to wait and book once you’re in the country – it’ll be cheaper.
What to pack for Ecuador?
As we said before, the weather tends to be mild all year round. At the time of packing for your 2 or 3 weeks in Ecuador, keep in mind that many places are in altitude, and are therefore windy and cold; there’s also a medium chance of rain at almost any time of year.
Another thing to think about, especially if you intend to visit the Otavalo market: you will very likely fall in love with all the stuff you see there. Don’t fight it! It’s cheap, locally produced and looks beautiful on you. You could get jumpers there that you won’t need to bring with you on an Ecuador backpacking trip.
- hiking clothes (technical t-shirt, trousers, boots, fleece)
- normal clothes for the city
- rain jacket
- flip flops/sandals, for the beach or indoors
- swimming suit if you go to the coast
- a hat or something to protect your head; sunglasses
- your usual responsible traveller’s kit: foldaway bag, reuse cup, water bottle, water filter, lunch box, cutlery
- sunscreen: it might be cloudy but you’re very close to the sun
- useful phrases and words in Spanish
- a sleeping bag – handy if you want to do Couchsurfing
Your hiking boots reach the top of the volcanic rock for a final look around. Breathless and awestruck, you grin like a newborn at the beauty of the place. It seems like you could never tire of it; what about sitting right here and get lost in the horizon until eternity calls? Some places deserve to be in the spotlight, but others should rather be kept a secret. You’ll have to think about it on the plane tomorrow – how could they ever understand you, back home?
Are you planning a trip to Ecuador? Are you looking for other types of destinations?
Contact us for a personalised Ecuador itinerary!
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