Overshadowed by neighboring Colombia, Peru, and Brazil, Ecuador is a small country packed with travel potential. While many visitors are drawn here by the Galapagos Islands and stay for only a day or two in Quito or Guayaquil, mainland Ecuador packed with natural beauty, history, and adventurous travel opportunities. Don’t miss out on this hidden gem of travel!
After living in Quito, Ecuador for 2+ years as expats, we learned so much about this country, and had the opportunity to travel to the best places Ecuador has to offer. Now we’re sharing all we’ve learned with our readers to help you have the best travel experience in Ecuador.
In this ultimate guide to travel to Ecuador, we’re sharing all about the must-visit destinations in Ecuador, plus when to visit and how to see it all best. Check out our packing list and recommendations for the best travel experiences in Ecuador, plus tips to save money as you travel.
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Ecuador at a Glance
Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar – making it an easy destination to visit for U.S. travelers. In addition, Ecuador also has its own coins of the same value as those from the U.S.
Spanish is the official language, with Quichua sometimes used in indigenous communities in the central Sierra region.
English is spoken in the tourism sector, not as widely as you may hope for. Learning even just a few key phrases of Spanish will make navigating much easier for you. As always, make sure you have downloaded the Google Translate app as well!
The electrical current used in Ecuador is 110V 60 Hz, and uses the standard two prong sockets used in the United States. For travelers with devices with other prong designs, check out our reviews of the best travel adapters and converters for our recommendations for the best we’ve used.
Most international flights will arrive in the country’s two largest airports – Quito and Guayaquil – and from there on to smaller airports. Ecuador has an extensive network of buses that will take you just about anywhere you’d like to go, both regionally and locally. Taxis are also plentiful, and ride share services are quickly growing in popularity the country.
I never experienced anything unsafe during my two years living in Ecuador, even as a female solo traveler. However petty crime like pickpocketing can happen if you don’t stay alert. Make sure you keep your purse or backpack in front of you when in crowded areas.
I always keep zippers clipped together with an s-biner micro lock, an inexpensive but successful safety hack I’ve used for years while traveling in Latin America.
I recommend dressing as low-key as possible and taking care of displaying electronics in public – don’t walk around with your phone or camera in your hand when not using them, but put them away and secure them when not in use.
When to Visit Ecuador
High tourist season in Ecuador runs from June through September, generally corresponding with dry season in much of the country. Galapagos cruises, on the other hand, are generally more popular December-June due to calmer waters and warmer weather in the region.
While I generally recommend traveling to Ecuador in the dry season of June through September, you can also consider the shoulder season of October and November. You’ll get some fantastic weather and warm days in most of the country during these seasons, with some summer travelers clearing out in time for October and November.
Since Ecuador is not generally too over-touristed, you likely won’t feel overwhelmed at major attractions even if you choose to travel in high season. Prices may be higher for high-ticket experiences like Galapagos cruises and some hotels, but things shouldn’t be more expensive across the board.
Given its location on the Ecuador, Ecuador has only two seasons – rainy season and dry season – with temperatures and precipitation varying between the country’s four main regions.
The Highlands – The Andes
Dry season in the mountains and highlands is from June – September, with the wettest months of rainy season from December – March. However, even in rainy season, you’re likely to see just about an hour of afternoon rainy, and a pleasant, even warm, day in the morning. The weather is springlike year round but can get hot when the sun comes out and cold in the evening.
The coast experiences a tropical climate year round with less of the seasonality that you’ll find at higher altitudes like in the highlands. Average temperatures sit around of 78°F / 26°C with the hottest months being from February through April.
The eastern part of the country tends to be hot and humid year round, and sporadically rainy with an average temperature around 78°F / 26°C. While it can be hard to predict the rainy, August through September and December through March tend to have periods of drier weather.
The Galapagos are warmer and wetter from December through June, but experience the best sailing conditions, making this peak tourist season for Galapagos cruisers. The islands mimic the dry season of the highlands, and it tends to be cooler – though still springlike – and drier from July through November.
Must-Visit Destinations in Ecuador
Quito is an incredible capital city, with so much to see and do. Too many visitors skip over Quito for the capitals in Colombia or Peru, or only spend a day there on their way to the Galapagos – big mistake! Quito has the largest and best-preserved colonial center in all of Latin America, and you feel that history everywhere. There are countless colonial churches and ornate buildings to see, including the breathtaking Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus covered from floor to ceiling in gold.
The views from every corner of this city, nestled in a valley among mountains and volcanoes, are unrivaled. Climb up to the top of the basilica spire for a view of the entire city. Make sure you take the TeleferiQo cable car up the side of the dormant volcano over the city for most incredible views of the valleys below – on a clear day, you can see at least 5 other snow-capped volcanos in the distance.
Ecuador’s number one attraction and a main draw for many visitors to this country, the Galapagos are absolutely worth the trip. Whether you have time for one of these long Galapagos itineraries or just a quick visit to one of the main islands, there are all kinds of ways to visit this unforgettable destination.
While you can visit the islands directly, taking a multi-day cruise is the best way to see as much wildlife as possible and get from island to island as easily as possible. You’ll see wildlife you can’t find anywhere else on Earth, and the opportunities for snorkeling and diving are second to none. While Galapagos cruises, and even overland tours, can be pricey, it is an unforgettable destination and definitely a bucket list-worthy trip.
The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon is one of the jewels of Ecuador, and not to be missed on any traveler’s itinerary. Even on just a day-long trek in the jungle you’ll see incredible flora and fauna beyond what you could even imagine – multi-day excursions will bring you face to face with the deep Amazon and make for an unforgettable adventure.
There are plenty of options for visitors looking for a fantastic experience at any price point, from visiting Tena and staying in a hostel on the edge of the jungle, to those looking for an immersive experience at one of Ecuador’s most luxurious jungle lodges in Yasuní or Cuyabeno.
One of Ecuador’s most active volcanos, Cotopaxi is a breathtaking site to behold. If you time your visit for the dry season, in the summer months from May- September, you’ll have the best chance of seeing this perfect snow-capped cone peaking from behind the clouds.
Guided tours offering the opportunity to summit this peak, a true feat – not for the weary or those without at least a week to adjust to Ecuador’s altitude first. For those looking for a more relaxed getaway, hiking trails around the volcano and to the glacier line, as well as horseback riding and biking.
Cotopaxi National Park is also home to one of the best placed I stayed while in Ecuador – the Secret Garden. This is a special place to stay (and very budget friendly), so make sure you add it to your itinerary.
After traveling throughout the entire country, Mindo is the place I dream of returning to the most. Located halfway between the high Andes mountains and the Pacific coast, Mindo is small town located in the cloud forest, making it a dream destination for birdwatchers and adventure sports fans, and an ideal jungle escape just a two hours from Quito.
This chilled-out town is small but has so much to do, including tubing on the river (RECOMMENDED!) canyoning, trekking to countless waterfalls in the cloud forest, and trying your hand at making fresh chocolate at a local, small-batch shop. Book a hotel or hostel with hammocks overlooking the jungle and get ready to disconnect and relax.
The Quilotoa Crater Lake is one of the true natural wonders of Ecuador, but its remote location means it doesn’t get as much attention as it rightfully deserves – add this to your list if you’re visiting Ecuador, you won’t want to miss it!
When the volcano here exploded hundred of years ago, the collapse of its top formed a massive, perfectly-blue crater lake. When you arrive at the rim of the crater, your jaw will drop at the immense beauty of the crater and steep cliffs rimming it.
The crater is quite remote – about a two hour drive from Latacunga or four hours from Quito – but what you’ll find when you get here is worth the time. There are several options for hiking routes in the area, including the full Quilotoa Loop – a 3 day trek to several indigenous towns starting or ending at the crater lake. This trek is one of South America’s best, and Ecuador’s most popular.
Best Things to Do in Ecuador
Climb a Mountain – or, Volcano
Situated in the Andes mountains, and home to over 80 volcanos, Ecuador is a fantastic place for hiking trekking and climbing, and has incredible options for everyone from beginners to experts.
While the country’s most famous summit is Cotopaxi, there are plenty of easier mountains to summit or hike – check out Pasochoa about an hour south of Quito, or Rucu Pichincha towering over Quito. This moderate but strenuous hike starts from the top of the TeleferiQo cable car.
While not a mountain hike, Cajas National Park outside of Cuenca offers an incredible, almost martian landscape with a variety of beautiful hiking trails.
Take A Rainforest Tour
Whether you choose to visit the cloud forest, located between the mountains and the coastline, or the Amazon Rainforest in the far east, experiencing Ecuador’s incredible forests and unrivaled biodiversity is an experience you don’t want to miss. An easy starting points for visiting the cloud forest is Mindo, while Tena is an easy option for visiting the Amazon – from here, you can arrange tours and find accommodations at all price points.
For more in-depth, multi-day and exclusive visits and tours, that a look at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge outside of Mindo or the ultra-luxurious Mashpi Lodge, and the Cuyabeno River Lodge in the heart of the Amazon. Visiting the cloud forest will likely be less expensive than a visit to a lodge deep in the Amazon, but if you’re looking for wildlife, a trip to the Amazon can’t be beat.
Visit Indigenous Markets
In Ecuador’s central Andean region, visiting the indigenous markets filled with incredible treasures like handwoven textiles with traditional patterns and much more is an unforgettable experience.
The stand-out place to visit is Otavalo, just two hours north of Quito, and the largest market of its kind in all of South America. While portions of the market remain open throughout the week, on Saturdays it extends outward from the central square and weaves through side streets, making for a day of exploring.
Complete a trip to Otavalo by visiting a nearby volcanic crater lake, Cuicocha. The rim hike, which takes about four or five hours, is a fantastic one but there are easier vistas for quick visits as well.
Adventure Sports in Baños
The small town of Baños is a favorite destination in Ecuador for its adventure sports and activities. Nestled just underneath the active Tungurahua volcano, Baños boasts incredible opportunities for white water rafting, canyoning, bungee jumping, hiking and mountain biking routes among waterfalls, and much more.
Excursions with local tour companies are relatively inexpensive and there are endless options. The scenery here is magical and the small, walkable town has plenty to do for travelers, including fantastic restaurants and accommodation options. Don’t skip out on the thermal baths that give the town its name.
Go to the Beach
Often overshadowed by the Galapagos and breathtaking views of the mountains in the center of the country, Ecuador boasts some unforgettable beaches worth exploring up and down the coast.
While resort towns like Salinas and backpacker party beach Montañita get a lot of the attention, the beaches in smaller towns in the Manabí and Esmeraldas provinces are the true gems. We love Canoa, a perfect small town with a massive, protected beachfront and known as being a great place to learn to surf.
One of the best beaches in the country is Playa de los Frailes, located within Machalilla National Park, meaning it stays pristine. Nearby Puerto Lopez has a stand-out beach as well, and the small fishing town is the perfect place to unwind.
What to Pack for Ecuador
Ecuador can be a tough place to pack for – especially given the frequent weather changes you’re likely to experience throughout the year.
We created an ultimate packing list for Ecuador – so make sure to click through to this list to see all of our recommendations for packing (for men and women), plus important travel essentials!
These are the essentials you should plan to bring to Ecuador:
SteriPen – you shouldn’t plan on drinking tap water in Ecuador, so the SteriPen is a must – use it to purify water from any source almost instantly so you won’t get sick!
Water Bottle (with water filter!)
Comfortable and lightweight basics – I love Los Angeles Apparel clothing for travel, especially to Ecuador, with all its different climates. These high-quality basics are perfect for layering, and mixing and matching for traveling light (PLUS they’re ethically produced in the United States).
Don’t forget a warm jacket for evenings in the mountains – Quito can get quite cold at night!
A rain jacket is a MUST
S-Biner locks for backpacks and purses while out and about
Comfortable shoes – get ready for a lot of cobblestones and uneven sidewalks. These are the shoes that I used the most day-to-day while living in Ecuador and traveling here:
Toiletries – brands you’re used to from home that are imported in Ecuador can be quite expensive, so Ecuador might not be a place you’ll want to just plan on purchasing extra shampoo when you arrive if you’re faithful to your brands.
Go Toobs are the BEST for bringing toiletries.
Make a mini first-aid kit with a few bandaids, aspirin, triple antibiotic, and alka seltzer just in case!
Reef-safe sunscreen – you’re closer to the Equator here, and a lot of the country is at high elevation.
A spare memory card for your camera.
NordVPN or another Virtual Private Network service. Not a physical product, but something you shouldn’t travel without! Check out our guide to using a VPN for international travel for more on why this is crucial for travel.