From wildlife, jungles and mountains to beaches and island hopping, Ecuador has our vote for being the most diverse country we have ever visited.
Truth be told when we were first planning our trip around South America, we hadn’t really given Ecuador much thought. With bucket list items such as Peru’s Machu Picchu and Huacachina Desert Oasis, Bolivias Salt Flats and Patagonias Mountain Ranges, Ecuador quietly fell under the radar and we planned for only a quick 10 day pass through on our way to Peru.
That quick 10 day passing through quickly turned into four weeks and still to this day we are wishing we had stayed longer.
BEST WAY TO TRAVEL
EcuadorHop is a hop on-hop off private bus service that runs from Quito all the way to Guayaquil. This service not only gets you from point A to point B where you want to go, but has a knowledgable guide on board 24/7 taking you to all the popular destinations as well as those less known about off the beaten track.
The beauty of Ecuadorhop as opposed to other public bus services is that it picks you up and drops you off to wherever you are staying as opposed to the hassle of making your way to the bus station to wait for a bus that (lets face it) may never come. When you purchase a Ecuadorhop bus ticket, it is valued for 12 months so you can go as fast or as slow as your want travelling through the country.
We travelled with EcuadorHop and recommend it to anyone travelling through the country for the first time. If you are interested in EcuadorHop head to their website for more information.
Things to do
Ruca Pichincha Hike
Ruca Pichincha is one of three “pichincha’s” (peaks) located just out of Quito. Out of the three peaks, Ruca Pichincha is the second highest climb being 15,413 ft above ground giving each hiker a (literally) breathtaking view from the top. The hike takes around 3-4 and is of moderate difficulty.
Read more about the Ruca Pichincha hike: https://lifebeforekids.blog/self-guided-hike-to-ruca-pichincha-quito/
Climb the Basilico Del Voto Nacional and have a beer in the Church!
Even if old churches aren’t really your thing, the Basilico Del Voto must be an exception. You can not only admirer the incredible interior and exterior neo-Gothic architecture, but can also climb to the top being rewarded with stunning views of the town of Quito. If you brave the climb, be sure to stop into the cafe inside for a beer on the way down… you would have certainly deserved it!
Explore around Old Town Quito
You can easily spend a day strolling around the Old Town in Quito. For those mesmerised by archeticture, churches and history, this place has a lot to offer. We suggest starting in the heart of the town at Plaza Grande and visiting the main sites from there as well as stopping frequently at cute coffee shops and $3 pints during happy hour (4:00-7:00) at Bandido Brewing.
Be in two places at one time at the Equator
A tourist attraction none the less, but the perfect place to get your travel selfies and stories to tell when you are home. Located on the outskirts of the city, there are two locations where you can be on the Equator: Mitad del Mundo and Museo Solar Intiñan, the first being the most popular.
Craft Beer Pub Crawl
The craft beer pub crawl not only takes you to the best craft breweries in town, but also provides you a safe and fun environment to explore Quito. Included in the tour is 3 beer tastings at each place, complementary liquor samples, few snacks and a driver and knowledgable guide.
You can book this tour through most hotels/hostels in Quito or online here: https://www.viator.com/en-GB/tours/Quito/Quito-Craft-Beer-Tour/d735-45491P1
Nightlife in Plaza Fotch
If you are looking for nightlife in Quito, head to the central Plaza in New Town Plaza Fotch. There are many bars, clubs and restaurants in the area where you will soon by joined by locals and other travellers looking for a good night out.
Street art in La Floresta
Spend an afternoon admiring incredible street art from international artists and stopping at great cafes and restaurants on the way. You can do this yourself or go on a free (tips not included) 3 hour tour guided by knowledgable and passionate english speaking tour guides.
You can book this tour through most hotels/hostels in Quito or online here: https://www.quitostreettours.com/street-art-and-local-life
Places to Stay
Budget/Backpacker: Selina Quitio: Selina Quito was one of our all time favourite hostels. The rooms were super comfortable and all the staff were very friendly and welcoming. Selina Quito organises music/comedy shows every night as well as morning yoga and fitness classes to get you ready for the day ahead.
Luxury: Casa Gangotena:Located in the heart of Quito Old Town, Casa Gangotena gives each guest a taste of culture, history and luxury all in one.
Unique: Samay Glamping: Probably one of the coolest glamping sites around, Samay Glamping not only offers the typical glamping tents, but also open sky bubbles, campervans and tipi’s. Although this place book up fast so I would definitely recommend booking in advance if you can.
Things to do
Cotopaxi Volcano Summit Trek
Although Climbing the Cotopaxi Summit is one of the biggest accomplishments in Ecuador, it is certainly not an activity for the faint hearted. If planning on taking on the climb, you will need to set aside two days as well as ensure your tour company provides you with the right mountain equipment if you don’t already have your own. All climbers are required to spend one night at the refuge and start the climb at midnight resulting in arriving at the summit right in time for sunrise.
Cotopaxi Glacier and Mountain Biking
An easier one day tour to still say you have “done it”. Your guide will take you through the beautiful Cotopaxi National Park where you will see rocks left from the eruption in 2015. From the parking lot, you will get the chance to hike to the refuge where you can enjoy a warm tea, coffee or hot chocolate, before the second part of your journey up to the glacier. From here you can decide to catch a car or for the more adventurous, mountain bike down down.
Rumiñahui Summit Trek
Rumiñahui is an extinct volcano located 4,721 meters above sea level. The climb begins near Lake Limpiopungo and takes around 3-4 hours to reach the summit. This is definitely one of the more difficult climbs in Cotopaxi as you are required to pull yourself up and rock climb your way to the top point, but certainly worth the view and sense of achievement once you have made it.
Pasochoa Summit Trek
Pasochoa is another extinct volcano located 4,200 meters above sea level. This hike is a lot longer than Rumiñahui and still requires a moderate fitness level, however is a lot easier climb. From the top of Pasochoa you will be rewarded with beautiful 360 degree views of the valley surrounding you as well as being able to see Cotopaxi in the distance.
Horse riding trails
There are many companies scattered in the Cotopaxi province that offer fantastic horse riding trails. If this is something you are interested in doing, I highly recommend booking through Mira Andes at Hosteria PapayGayo. They offer trail rides for beginners and experienced riders and is one of the only companies I know that make it their mission to involve you in the whole process of bonding with
the horse and getting it ready to be ridden as opposed to throwing you on and learning yourself.
Places to Stay
Budget/Backpacker: Cuscungo Cotopaxi Hostel & Lodge: Super cosy hostel costing only $13 for a single dorm bed or $38 for a private. The staff here cook a delicious American breakfast for you every morning as well as help to organise any tours or day activities you want to do in that area.
Luxury: Hosteria PapaGayo: Hosteria PapaGayo is the perfect luxurious escape when visiting Cotopaxi. The hosteria offers comfortable rooms, a hot Jacuzzi and incredible views of the countryside as well as being home to many animals such as horses, cows, rabbits, roosters and of course, Lama’s. All the staff at PapaGayo are very welcoming and helpful with anything you need.
Unique: Secret Garden: The Secret Garden is located in the middle of the countryside and offer multiple accomodation types from cheap dorm beds, to luxurious bird houses and even unique hobbit homes. If you decide to stay here we definitely recommend booking their 3 day, 2 night package deal which includes all meals as well as added activities such as a waterfall trek and the Pasochoa hike.
Things to do
The Laguna Quilotoa is a turquoise lake situated in the middle of an ancient inactive volcano. There are three ways to experience the loop for all types of hikers. For those just passing through, you can walk a few hundred meters from the parking lot and have a great view of the lake. For the adventures who have more time, you can choose to hike the famous 3 day Quilotoa loop where you hike through nearby towns ending up at the lake. And for those who still want to say they have “done it” but may not have time for a full 3 days hiking, you can chose to hike the crater loop in a day trip.
Read more about the Quilotoa Crater Hike: https://lifebeforekids.blog/hiking-the-laguna-quilotoa-crater/
Places to Stay
Budget/Backpacker: Hostel PrincesaToa: This hostel is one of two places that accepts card in the whole of Quilotoa (explaining why we stayed there). It is very cosy and for $20 per person it includes a generous breakfast and dinner to fill you from a big day of hiking.
Unique: Camp at the Bottom of the Crater: For those wanting an extra experience of Laguna Quilotoa, you can hike down to the bottom of the crater (which takes about 30-40 minutes) where you can camp by the waters edge. This is such an amazing and unique experience but bring your warm clothes as it can get very cold at night.
Things to do
Casa De Arbol End of the World Swing
If you have got an instagram account I can guarantee you’ve all seen it: the swing that takes you flying into the mountains and over the deep canyon below. This is one of the most popular spots in Baños and great for a quirky tourist photo however don’t make your expectations to high. At the end of the day, it is just a really big swing.
Rent a Buggy and Explore the Ruda de las Cascadas Waterfalls
The famous Ruda de las Cascadas passes through 7 breathtaking waterfalls. You can complete the route by a bus, bike ride ($6 rental) or go all out like us and hire a jeep. It was a little on the expensive side costing around $70 but certainly worth it for the experience.
Puenting/ Bungee Jump
And if Casa De Arbol isn’t enough, then you should definitely give puenting a try. A jump from a 150m high bridge falling a massive 80m. I can’t truthfully recommend this as we were both too chicken to try it, but I heard from other travellers its a must if you are looking for an extra buzz.
White Water Rafting on Rio Pastaza
White water rafting down Rio Pastaza is another popular adrenaline filled activity in Baños. For around $30, you will get transport, safety gear, a wetsuit, lunch and a wet and bumpy 5 hour ride.
Why just look at a waterfall when you can (ever so graciously) slide down it? There are many canyoning tours in Baños that take you rappelling and zipping down and through multiple waterfalls. You can book the tour online or organise it the day before from any tour agency close by.
Given the name (Baños meaning bathroom in English), it would be a shame not to visit the thermal baths. They are located next to a jaw dropping waterfall and a very popular place for locals to hang out (especially on a Friday night). We were told that the baths can get quite uncomfortable during the day sitting in the sun so if you are planning on going, we strongly suggest going mid-afternoon or night when the temperature is a lot cooler.
Try the Melcocha/ Sugar Cane Candy
Wherever you go in Banos, Melcocha seems to follow. Almost every second store front has a man or women out the front pulling it on a hook attached to the door frame giving out free samples. Don’t feel like buying lunch? Walk 200m and fill up on free Melcocha samples!
Places to Stay
Budget/Backpacker: Community Hostel: Hands down one of the best hostels we have ever stayed at. Great rooms, great food, great wifi and even better people. This hostel has something on every night from lazy movie nights to music trivia and pub crawls. Perfect for groups or solo travellers.Luxury: Luna Volcan: If your wanting a night of luxury and an upgrade from the local thermal baths, this is the place to be. Each room is individually and uniquely decorated to its own theme and if asked, covered with rose petals for a romantic finishing touch. The heated thermal baths and infinity pool are a great place to watch the sunset and give arguably one of the best views in Baños.
Things to do
Some of Ecuadors best waves are found off the shores of Montañita. There are waves for all levels of surfers and options to hire (or buy) a board from one of the many local surf shops.
Isla de la Plata
Known as the “poor mans Galapagos”, it certainly isn’t the same as the real thing but not bad for $40-$50. Here you will be able to find some of the wildlife also seen in the Galapagos but for a tenth of the price. You can book tours online however we strongly suggest waiting until you arrive as they usually don’t book up and are a lot cheaper.
Explore the town
When its not filled with reggae music and people lining up for cocktail hour, the town of Montañita by day has a great vibe. There are many great surf shops, cafes and restaurants where you could easily spend half a day just walking around.
As well as being known for its crazy surf and laid back hippie vibes, Montañita is also known for its crazy party scene. Once the sun goes down and the street lights turn on there is a happy hour on every corner and no doubt someone trying to sell you “special brownies”. There is no quiet night in Montañita as even on Sundays you will be able to find some sort of entertainment.
Places to Stay
Budget/Backpacker: Kamala Hostel: One of the most popular hostels in town, Kamala offers everything from cheap to dorm rooms, great food, beer pong tournaments and donkeys.
Luxury: Punta Hills: Bamboo styled apartments with a stunning view of the waterfront from your balcony along with a swimming pool, spa services and restaurant available to all guests. I wouldn’t pair Montañita with “luxury” however this is the closest it comes.
Unique: Hotsal Kundalini: Hostal Kundalini is a 21 room resort known for its beautiful garden that runs all the way to the beach. The rooms are always kept clean and one of the only hostels (that we know of) that offer an early morning yoga class beachfront along the grass.