Located in South America and sitting right on the equator, Ecuador is a beautiful country painted with vast landscapes, Spanish colonial architecture, and wild waves along the Pacific coast. The weather is ideal, the prices are affordable, and the culture is vibrant. There is no shortage of things to do when visiting Ecuador, and almost every traveler will find opportunities they will enjoy.
In addition to well-preserved sites of Spanish colonial influence, Ecuador is known for destinations like the Galapagos Islands, Amazon Jungle, and Andes Mountains. With 16-17th century architecture, beachside relaxation, wildlife, and traditional markets throughout the country, there truly is something for everyone visiting Ecuador.
When planning your trip to Ecuador, consider the itinerary, timeline, and budget for your trip. Use this guide to help you prepare!
With a trail of peaks through the Andes mountains, trekking through Ecuador is an ideal adventure activity. From hiking to volcano craters, descending into lagoons, and visiting Andean communities, you can spend quite some time traversing the vast landscape. Visit one of Ecuador’s most beautiful sites, Quilotoa, to experience a water-filled volcano in Ecuador’s western Andes Mountains. Treks to Cotopaxi, Cayambe, and Chimborazo (Ecuador's tallest mountains) are also extremely popular, but not for the faint of heart.
If you are looking for a destination that offers plenty of adventure, visit Baños. You can find tours for bungee jumping, paragliding, white water rafting, canyoning, and more. Other exciting adventure sports include biking down Cotopaxi -- perfect for thrill-seekers.
Beach & Sea Tours
Advanced surfers head to Ecuador to take advantage of its consistent weather and challenging surf breaks. Beach towns like Montañita are known to share the waves, host international surfing competitions, and allow patrons to forgo wearing shoes in restaurants.
In most of Ecuador's beach towns you can find year-round surfing opportunities, a thriving yoga scene, Spanish and surfing schools, and an abundance of jewelry makers. While on the coast, take advantage of whale watching opportunities and fishing trips.
Ecuador's foundation is rooted in indigenous communities, and African and Spanish influences. Expect to have unique market experiences, explore important historical sites, and absorb the Ecuadorian way of life. To start, you can use your passport to visit the Presidential Palace in Quito for a free tour, or explore the historic city center of Cuenca.
Be sure to go beyond the city and experience markets like Otavalo (where you can find Ecuador's famous high quality leather products) or Saquisilí: where you can observe locals dressed in traditional clothing (and it's not for show!). Located along the famous Quilotoa loop, they exchange and sell livestock in these markets -- including woven ponchos, and freshly cooked meals. Try learning a few Quechua words while there!
Breathtaking flora and fauna populate Ecuador in abundance. First, there's Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands: a set of volcanic islands located off the coast and home to a number of reptiles and mammals like land and sea tortoises, iguanas, and snakes; sea lions, whales, and dolphins; and countless air and sea birds. With over 200 recorded species, it is a top location to explore around the world and puts Ecuador on the map for biological diversity.
There is also the Amazon jungle, where you can see jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, large birds, and more. You can head to the basin to trek through trails conducive to wildlife spotting, and travel rivers for a true jungle experience. Watch out for the caymans though, these crocodiles call the Amazon their home.
Best Time to Visit Ecuador
Due to Ecuador's dramatically varying altitude, ideal times for visiting the country will depend on the activity and region.
- The Jungle: Being near the equator, the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon does not change as drastically per season. Dry season is July to November, however sporadic rain is always a possibility (and might actually feel nice).
- The Highlands: The best time to visit this northern area is during the dry season, from June until September. That said, being in the mountains during the dry season doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to be dry, as high Andes weather can be unpredictable.
- The Galapagos Islands: The islands are wonderful year-round. June to September and December to January are the most popular times to visit (likely because of the holiday season) but January to May will bring warmer weather fit for snorkeling.
- The Coast: December to May is the best time to visit the coast. The humid months seem to be best for Ecuadorian beaches, although afternoon showers also accompany these warm days. If you came for whale watching, visit in July and August.
What to Look For in a Tour to Ecuador
Ecuador’s terrain is quite special. It offers Pacific sand beaches, cities and small towns, a piece of the Amazon Jungle, and many volcanoes. Before booking a tour consider what you'd like to see most and check if those activities are best enjoyed during the same season.
When researching tours, think about the entire package, and make sure to ask questions that pertain to your individual needs. For trips that will include a lot of athletic activity, make sure to ask questions about the fitness level required, level of expertise necessary, and equipment included. Double check which accommodation and additional costs you may be responsible for.
Typical Tour Costs
Ecuador is considered one of the most affordable countries in South America. Its Amazon Jungle treks, for example, can be booked for as low as $100 - $200 dollars. Hotels and transportation are affordable, and even visitors are entitled to free healthcare (although the quality of the care can vary greatly). For more extensive multi-day experiences, expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $3,000.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Depending on the season and altitude, Ecuador can be extremely hot or extremely chilly. If you want to explore all of the aforementioned activities, I recommend wearing layered clothing, with a rain jacket or windbreaker always handy, hiking shoes (especially if you are exploring the Andean region), and a hat to protect you from the equatorial sun. Some trekkers find bringing extra gear like walking sticks and binoculars are essential to their experience.
On the coast, you won’t have to worry about your clothing as much. Be sure to pack a flashlight or headlamp, though: the streets in beach towns aren’t well lit and the power often goes out. For the Galapagos, be sure to check if you'll need diving or snorkeling gear, or if it is all included with your tour.
Other Tips for Travel in Ecuador
- Budgeting & currency: Americans rejoice: Ecuador uses the US dollar despite having their own currency. While this is an affordable destination, buying street food (note: this may not always be easy on the stomach), eating local, and traveling by public bus, are ways to stick to a tight budget.
- Transportation: Transportation is fairly accessible and very affordable in Ecuador. For long distances most places can be reached by bus, and a few by plane, while others are completely walkable. Within the cities there are also streetcar-style buses and metered taxis. For booked tours, While you may need to arrange the flight, your tour operator should arrange all ground transportation for you and it is customarily already included in the price.
- Accommodations: As a popular backpacking country, you'll find affordable hostels and hotels everywhere and may notice an increase in luxury Airbnb home rentals (in cities like Quito). For destinations like the Galapagos and Amazon Jungle, be sure to have your tour provider arrange lodging.
Make sure your immunizations are all up to date before you visit Ecuador. It is recommended that most travelers get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and Typhoid.
Female tourists should be careful traveling alone in some parts of Ecuador, as there have been assaults in the past. Drug solicitation is also a problem in Ecuador and it is rumored that the drugs being sold to tourists are often not what they claim to be. Just avoid it altogether.
As always in high traffic tourist areas, beware of pickpockets and watch your bag at all times. It is recommended to carry just one bag so that you do not become distracted. Explore these tips on how to stay safe during your vacation:
- Make a copy of all of your important documents and notify the embassy of your arrival
- Have someone at home know your itinerary
- Be aware of your surroundings: watch out in crowded transportation, lines, and waiting areas
- Cross streets with caution
- Choose safe modes of transportation -- do not join a stranger for a free ride
- Make sure your taxi driver has a meter and double check that the meter is running
- Prearrange itineraries and transportation with your hotel or tour group
- Only ride in vehicles that have seat belts
- Double-check the license and reviews of a tour company
- Use caution when using your cell phone or pulling out your wallet in public
- Try your best to travel during daylight hours
- Leave jewelry and other flashy accessories at home