Long-time Ecuador resident and Wanderbus team member, Dominic Hamilton, shares his take on the Top 20 Things to Do in Ecuador!
When planning a trip to Ecuador, it’s sometimes hard to decide how and what to fit in to your holiday: there are so many options and so many amazing things to experience, for all ages, tastes and wallets.
Of course, much depends on what your idea of an ideal holiday actually is. Do you like checking out museums and chowing down on street food? Or is your idea of fun jumping off a bridge with only an elasticated rope between you and the never-after?
Things to do in Ecuador
The good news is that Ecuador has just about every type of experience you could possibly wish for, and the means to combine them easily. This is really true in the Andes, where you can mix historical cities, gourmet dining, locals’ markets, and adventures like mountain biking or climbing over just a few days. If you’re travelling with friends or family, Ecuador’s diversity of attractions and activities also means there’s something for everyone – and everyone can have a chance to enjoy their preferred experience.
1. Wander the streets of Quito Old Town
Discover churches lined with gold, convents of cloistered nuns, colonial plazas and markets where you can buy anything from exotic fruit to love potions.
2. Check out the city from above in the TeleferiQo
One of the greatest things to do in Ecuador. Take the cable car 4,100 metres above sea level to view the entire city in miniature plus the guard of surrounding volcanoes, sharing the view with the peaks of Pichincha and a llama or two. Check hours & pricing.
3. Buy beautiful, handwoven textiles in Otavalo marketplace
Plaza de los Ponchos is the mother of all Indian markets in South America, where you can find exquisite textiles made with traditional backstrap looms.
4. Watch condors soar
An airborne Andean condor is a breath-taking sight; at the Parque Condor foundation these incredible birds of prey, plus eagles, owls, falcons and hawks, are protected from the dangers threatening their populations.
5. Discover the incredible creatures of the Amazon
Want to see an anaconda, a jaguar, a howler monkey and a giant otter in one day? You’ll be amazed by how much wildlife you can easily spot in the Amazon.
6. Learn about the rainforest way of life from Amazon tribes
There are three main indigenous tribes in the Ecuadorian Amazon: the Huaorani, Shuar, and Kichwa. Through community tourism, they share their lifestyle, hunting and shamanic practices with visitors.
7. Hike in El Cajas National Park
Are you looking for ecoturism things to do in Ecuador? Take a walk on the wild side in this high altitude park west of Cuenca where enchanted forests, glimmering lakes and craggy peaks await discovery as giant hummingbirds and the mysterious Virgin Mary rock look on.
8. Stroll along the riverfront in Cuenca
Lined with centuries’ old mansions towering up the hillside from the water’s edge, the walk by Tomebamba River is a walk through colonial history, reminiscent of European towns.
9. Loop the loop in Quilotoa
Follow in the footsteps of indigenous communities and hike the Quilotoa loop routes, circuiting a breath-taking volcanic crater filled with turquoise, sulphuric water. Instead of walking the periphery, you can also descend to water level to camp or kayak around the surreal lake.
10. Go bird-watching in Mindo
With more than 400 exotic bird species, these cloud forests are a haven for bird-watchers. Look out for the yellow-throated toucan and the collared Inca among the exuberant flowers and greenery.
11. Lounge on the beautiful Los Frailes beach
White sands, turquoise waters, a national park and laid-back vibe make this one of the best Ecuador beaches and one of the most coveted in South America. Take time out here before heading out to party in Montañita.
12. Learn to surf in Montañita
Reliable good weather and waves make this coastal town the perfect spot to learn to surf. A haven for both pros and beginners, nightlife in Montañita is something to behold.
13. Catch the Devil’s Nose Train
Hop off the WanderBus and onto a luxury, vintage-style train to transit across the Devil’s Nose, a mountain with almost sheer cliff faces. Watch this feat of engineering in awe as the railroad zigzags up the mountain’s walls.
14. Climb an active volcano in Cotopaxi mountain
Grab your woolly hat and crampons to scale the 5,897 m (19,347 ft) snowy peak of Ecuador’s second highest summit, whose periodic splutters are a stark reminder of the raw power found in the core of our planet.
15. Promenade the Malecón in Guayaquil
It might be rather warm in Ecuador’s largest city, but it doesn’t stop locals from taking a stroll along the riverside walkway, taking in the boats and the buzz along the way. Finish up in the colourful Las Peñas neighbourhood with its imperious lighthouse.
16. Sample the freshest seafood on the coast
Get your fill of freshly caught shrimp, squid, crab, octopus, clams, lobster and fish prepared any which way: grilled, fried, ceviche, coconut stew or with rice. Serve with lime and beer.
17. Swing into infinity in Baños
Take a leap of faith at the Casa del Arbol, riding the swing towards the towering, sometimes spluttering, 5,023m-tall crater of Tungurahua volcano. If you needed to change your Facebook profile picture, now would be the time.
18. Feel the spray of a diabolic waterfall at the Devil’s Cauldron
It’s the roar of water on water that gets you first at the Devil’s Cauldron, an awesome waterfall surrounded by lush vegetation and beautiful orchids. The spray of the water is strong – everyone gets a good soaking.
19. Hang out with sea lions and iguanas in Galápagos
You’ll probably trip over the sea lions and marine iguanas of the Galápagos before you see them – animals here don’t exactly move out of your way. The two characterful species are icons of the islands where the glorious wildlife is the raison d’être. Create your perfect 5 day itinerary for the Galapagos Islands.
20. Mountain bike along the coastline of Isabela Island
One of the best ways to get a feel of one of the archipelago’s most action-packed islands is to rent a bike and ride along the coastal track, watching out for giant tortoises, blood red crabs, eerie lagoons and flamingos along the way.
Have we convinced you there’s a lot to do in Ecuador? The country really punches way above its size when it comes to cultural and natural attractions and activities. We trust the Wanderbus will help you experience at least a handful of them.