Astonishing landscapes, vast biological diversity, and incredible sky-high experiences are waiting for you in Ecuador. There are a lot of things to do in Ecuador that you’ll definitely want to try. The country is located on the equator (hence the name) near South America’s west coast. Because of its preservation efforts, it’s the best place to understand how to live simply. Most of the things to do in Ecuador require you to live on the moment and feel the luxury of experience. Without delay, let’s tackle the important details in our backpacking Ecuador guide.
Ecuador is a small country and we recommend you to visit 2-3 weeks if you have time for it. We wrote this backpacking Ecuador travel guide and we hope it’s useful.
Read here Ecuadorian food, best restaurants in Quito, Ecuadorian drinks, Ecuador travel tips, what to wear in Ecuador, how to get from Quito airport to city center, Ecuador sim card for tourist and daily budget to travel in Ecuador.
Ecuador Travel Guide
Before backpacking Ecuador
Ecuador has changed it currency from Sucre to U.S Dollar. This move was decided because of the increasing inflation in Equador back 1997-2000.The government has decided to adopt the U.S Dollar to stabilize their falling economy. Fortunately, it had helped pull Ecuador’s economy back.
We suggest bringing mosquito repellent lotions to prevent you from catching mosquito-borne diseases such as Malaria, Dengue fever and Zika virus. Don’t panic because most of the things to do in Ecuador involves reaching high altitudes and mosquitoes aren’t suited at that height (2200 meters).
Tourists are required to have a health insurance to visit Ecuador. More info about that here. Oh, if you are visiting Quito and you’re coming from sea-level, you’ll most likely feel nauseated or dizzy because of the abrupt change in altitude.
Is Ecuador Safe For Traveling?
Quito, the capital of Ecuador has a high rate of petty theft such as pickpocketing, bag and purse snatching. Unfortunately, mugging is also a concern in Quito (also Guayaquil actually) especially for tourists. Most crimes happen at night so always remain vigilant. It’s safer to come back home with more people instead of doing alone. Don’t flaunt jewelry anywhere. Despite of this information I have read, I found Ecuador totally safe and I didn´t have any problem backpacking Ecuador.
How to get to Ecuador
Ecuador has lots of airport throughout the country. However, only two international airports had always been more popular with the tourists because of their location, Mariscal Sucre International Airport (Quito) and Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport (Guayaquil ). With the humble space Ecuador has, land traveling to other places in Ecuador would be more appropriate.
If you’re coming from Europe, let’s say London, maybe you will have to do a stopover to get a better price. If you’re coming from United States, there are direct flights for $100-200 USD coming from Front Lauderdale in Florida to Guayaquil. We always use Skyscanner to find the best deals and 90% of the time we find the best price!
Overland from Colombia? If you are coming from backpacking Colombia, it’s easier to get to Ecuador by bus. First, you need to go to Ipiales and ride a bus going to Rumichaca. Rumichaca is a passage between Colombia and Ecuador. You will then be dropped at Colombian Immigration Offices to get your exit stamp. Then, you will cross the bridge and go to the Equadorian Immigration offices. The queue is sometimes long. After exiting the office, You will ride a mini-van going to Tulcan terminal. Lastly upon arriving at the terminal, ride a bus going to Quito. I did exactly this by myself in 2012 coming from Colombia to continue my trip to Ecuador.
Overland from/to Peru? I took a night bus from Cuenca to Huaquillas. They stopped and waited for us to get our stamp. It was so fast! It was an international bus, a little bit expensive but I didn´t see many options for a long distance bus at night! You can go for local buses and hire shared taxis close to the border in Peru and Ecuador until the bus station.
Most countries do not need Visa for traveling to Equador. Passport holders of United States, Canada, and Most European countries do not require a visa for traveling for less than 90 days. You get a stamp for 90 days on arrival. However, there are countries that do require a visa. Click Here for more Info
Weather/Best Time to Visit Ecuador
Ecuador has subtropical highland climate, which means they experience cool summers. Generally, it is colder on higher places and warmer along the coast and also in Galapagos. The temperature varies in each region because of the geographical diversity of Ecuador.
However, it’s thought that they have two seasons, wet and dry. Rainy season is from December to April being May the best time to visit Ecuador. Still, the weather doesn’t change drastically and is stable so it’s fine to visit in other months too. Places like Quito will be warm during the day and at night gets cold.
How to get Wi-Fi in Ecuador
Most hostels offer free Wi-Fi to its residents/visitors so make sure to get a hostel offering one. Also, it’s important to have a SIM card. There are three major Telco providers namely, Claro, Movistar , and CNT. All of them have amazing signal strength around cities especially Quinto. To be honest, the Wi-Fi has improved a lot since I went here back in 2012.
How much budget per day: Backpacking Ecuador Guide
Estimated Daily Cost = 20-30 USD (This does not include any entrance fees to tourists spots). If you want to go down to this daily budget $20-30 USD per day in Ecuador you can go hitchhiking, getting local buses in the cities and long distance. Also you can pitch the tent to save costs and eating in local places in Ecuador. If you do tours, activities and visit tourist spots in Ecuador you will have to add extra to this budget!
Food in Ecuador
There are local restaurants where you can get meals $2-3 USD. Street food is also very cheap in Ecuador. You can get fried potatoes and patacones for $1 USD. It is also common in Colombia. You can get beers for $1-2 USD in most of the places in Ecuador.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ecuador
There are many places to stay at in Ecuador. Ecuador has hostels offering fair comfort for cheap prices. You could get a dorm for $8-10 USD. Also, if you’re traveling cheap, assembling a tent near a hostel will only cost you $1-3 USD. That’s a deal that won’t break your bank. It’s fair this way since you’ll need more budget for the fun things to do in Ecuador.
In 2012 I was able to pitch my tent in Montañita for $1 USD. If you go on a budget and you are traveling with your tent you can always ask hostels. Maybe they will allow you to pitch the tent for a smaller fee than the room.
Also, there is an active community of couch-surfing where you can sleep for free with locals on your travels. You will have an amazing experience blending in and learning about the culture in Ecuador. Might as well learn a few words in Spanish.
Buses are very cheap and very abundant in major areas. You won’t have a hard time getting into one. Bus rides are very affordable (less than USD) inside the city. And if you are in a hurry or you want more comfort you can get a taxi or even Uber in big cities like Quito. Long distance buses are very affordable in Ecuador.
Is hitchhiking working in Ecuador? Yes. It works well for short distance trips. I was hitchhiking between beaches around Montañita, Cuenca and Guayaquil and it was working great! Ecuadorian people are nice and very friendly. If you never tried hitchhiking, read our hitchhiking full guide to be ready to hitchhike in your next trip.
Ecuador Travel Itinerary
I spent almost a month in Ecuador. I started backpacking Ecuador to Quito coming from Colombia. On the way to Quito, it’s also nice to visit Otavalo, a famous place for the local market and Ibarra Laguna which also very beautiful. I spent a week in Quito since I loved the architecture there. Also, Cotopaxi volcano would be an amazing experience.
After Quito, I went down to Guayaquil, largest city in Ecuador. Guayaquil connects well with the beach. There are 3-4 hour-ride bus trips. Montañita is a nice place to visit in Ecuador. You can do surfing and partying if you want, and accommodation is affordable. My last stop in Ecuador was colonial Cuenca where you can spend 3-4 days walking around before going to Peru and continuing your adventure backpacking South America.
Places to Visit in Ecuador
Bump your head into clouds in Quito and feel the difference on the air as this city sits on 2850 meters above sea level. In fact, it is the second highest capital in the world next to La Paz, Bolivia. Because of this, the scenery from the top is breathtaking. Also, the splendid church structures in Quito are so beautiful that it must be preserved, and so it was.
Quito was the first city to be declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1978. The culture is also well-preserved and you could see it just by roaming the streets. A thing to remember if you have altitude sickness is you’ll probably feel the sickness trigger around the city but fear not, eat light meals and have plenty of rest until your body adapts to the altitude.
Check out La Compania de Jesus, a Jesuit church covered with shimmering gold built in the 17th century. Another church that is needed to be mentioned is Basilica del Voto Nacional , a chilling but full of adventure kind of gothic church.
Climb on the top of one of Basilica’s tower and notice Quito’s beauty from above. Told you, lots of things to do in Equador requires climbing. Take the heights higher at the Pichinha Volcano, a dormant volcano of the city. There is a cable car lift leading to the upper slope of Pichinha, and from there you could hike to the peak of the volcano. The views of the valleys and the city below are spectacular.
The architecture in Quito and the Miradors, point of views of the city are so beautiful. Also, transportation is easy in Quito. And of course, nightlife is great like every place in South America. There are a lot of hostels and hotels near Quito and you’ll love them.
Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, is the economic heart of the country. It is a really modern place and many businesses stand here, especially at Guayaquil’s Malecon 2000, a unique and modern urban park in Ecuador. There are a few places to try local food and prices are so cheap. My favorite one was ceviche and empanadas in Guayaqui!
You could wander its boardwalk, choose restaurants, and relax at playgrounds/parks. However, if you want a park that is different from any other, then you might want to visit the Parque Seminario, a park that has Iguanas scattered all around. You need to remain vigilant with pickpockets targeting tourists in the city, just like every big city in the world.
To be honest, Guayaquil is a good location to visit before going to the beaches or heading to the North. If you go as a tourist, two days is enough to walk around and visit the most touristic areas.
You can do a lot of activities here- rafting, hiking, rock-climbing and many more. Save up energy and other resources for Banos de Agua Santa’s activities. One of the best tourist attractions is the Swing at La Casa del Arbol, a swing at the edge of the mountain 2600m above sea level is definitely a must try for thrill seekers. The trick to get that adrenaline pumping more is to swing higher so it feels like you’re being thrown off to the “end of the world”. To add more to the list, Rio Pastaza has rapids of class III and IV excited to push you away safely, these rapids are surely exciting to shoot.
Most of the backpackers visit Baños, it will be a good opportunity to make new friends. There is cheap accommodation $8-10 USD for a dorm. Also, there are many tours companies offering activities around Baños. It´s a great place for relaxing in Ecuador, visit waterfalls and enjoy nature.
This nature and humble town in Andean highlands is known for the largest outdoor market in South America, Otavalo Market. You’ll find lots of artisan crafts, live animals, and other handmade products in this big market. Speaking of animals, you might want to see birds of prey live at Parque del Condor.
If you want a scenic view then have a 17-minute car ride to Cotacachi then to Cuicocha, a wide crater lake great for trekking. The trek trail would take up to 3-5 hours including rests for taking shots.
Otavalo is a small town in the mountains, prices are cheap and the weather is cold. It´s great to spend 2-3 days walking around the town, market, meeting new friends, practicing your Spanish and trying local food in Ecuador.
Cotopaxi province has two “must go” places that locals and tourists love, Quilotoa and Cotopaxi. The former is a stunning crater that presents wonderful views. The lake is turquoise colored and is surrounded by mountains from afar. It has been observed that the trek isn’t easy but it is worth it.
On the flip, Cotopaxi, an active volcano is also a trekking adventure for thrill seekers. The trek would take up to 6-7 hours ascent and 3-4 hours descent. Cotopaxi looks like it has snowed on its peak from afar but this is because it is a stratovolcano, a volcano formed with layers of lava and ashes from its eruptions.
If you love hiking you can have an amazing experience in Ecuador. There are places to stay in Cotopaxi for around $10 USD. And you can also pitch your tent if you love adventure and trekking. The entrance to the National Park is free of charge. If you are planning to go to the summit better joining a tour!
Discover the diversity of wildlife in the Amazon of Ecuador. The rainforest has lots of birds, cayman, piranhas, different species of monkeys, and many more. It is required to have a guide before visiting here. It is beneficial and more rewarding if you’ll invest in a lodge in the middle of the jungle because they would be your guide on the rainforest. You can roam the jungle to see some amazing insects at night. There are also bird watching observation towers.
If you are visiting the Amazon in Ecuador, be ready for hard conditions as humidity and insects are everywhere. Make sure you know where are you going with a guide or locals who can show you around!
This would probably be your place before going to Peru but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the visit. The main attraction of colonial Cuenca is its atmosphere and everyday simple life. Sure there are beautiful architectures like churches here and there but everyday life is very relaxing. That is why most expats chose this place as a resignation place. Local places to eat are great! It has city resemblance from Quito but without that much activity and noise.
I found Cuenca very quiet and peaceful. It’s almost the same as Quito (I love them both!) but it´s smaller and easier to explore. I would recommend a stay of 3-4 days if it´s your first or last stop in Ecuador going to Peru!
Wondering how Charles Darwin came up with the idea of Theory of Natural Selection? It is because he was inspired by the several species of finches that varied from island to island in Galapagos. Up to this date, Galapagos Island attracts a lot of tourists because of its biodiversity on four of its ecological zones. There are also lots of endemic animals in Galapagos like the famous Galapagos sea lions, Galapagos Giant Tortoise, Flightless cormorants, and many more. Most of the flights from Quito to Galapagos only take up to 3-4 hours. Get some memory card back-up because you’ll fill up your storage fast!
You will have to spend money for this adventure. Flights to Galapagos Island costs $300-500 USD return ticket and there is an entrance fee $120 to enter to Galapagos Island. Prices for accommodation, food and everything are 2-3 times prices that you will find in Ecuador. But the place is so worth it to visit!
Montañita is a relaxing place but is very tourist friendly because of the waves and partying involved. Most of the tourists go to Montañita because of the surfer-friendly waves. There are surfing coaches available everywhere in the place ready to teach you ride those waves, surely Montañita is a place to learn after all. Want to learn basic Spanish for reasonable prices? You’re on the right place, heck you could even get certified for yoga. Most importantly, you won’t be bored at night because nightlife rules here.
If you go on a budget, there are a few campings where you can pitch the tent for a few dollars per night. There are many day trips to do around Montañita. Apart from nightlife and surfing, sunset is really beautiful in Montañita. I enjoyed hitchhiking around the area and it was working great for short distance trips during the day and even to go to Guayaquil!
More Things to do in Ecuador
Aside from the previously mentioned things to do in Equador, these things aren’t tried by most tourists but are only tried by challenge seekers. Yes, there might be challenging things on the above list but these few things coming will surely test your courage.
Eating Guinea pig food
Cuy is a large breed of guinea pigs raised for its meat. Not for the fainthearted, this meal is considered a delicacy in Ecuador. It is paired by other relatively normal foods but the taste is very similar to a duck but greasier. If this isn’t your cup of tea, do not rudely reject your friends or families offering it to you. Remember that what’s normal for Ecuadorians may not be normal for you but if you have the courage to try eating guinea pig food Cuy, eat from respectable places with assumed good hygiene.
Prices of guinea pig food are little bit pricey comparing to the other meals in Ecuador. But if you want to have the challenge and try one of the most popular dishes in Ecuador. A meal can cost around $10 USD per person in a local restaurant! It´s not very expensive but there are local restaurants in Ecuador where you can get a menu for $2 USD!
Climb Everest’s Rival (Chimborazo)
This is definitely not for all travelers because of the requirements for climbing this mountain (glacier courses, proper acclimatization, and advance hiking experience). Chimborazo is supposedly “higher” than Mt. Everest because it reaches out to space more than Everest. Completing the challenge is truly something to remember.
The Ciudad Mitad Del Mundo
You can go to Ciudad Mital del Mundo while visiting Quito. It´s 26 kilometers North direction, you can get the bus at Ofelia Bus Station in Quito and It will just cost you around 50 cents of USD and 45 minutes to get there. Once you are there, you can visit the town. Actually, there is an entrance fee of $3 USD. The town has restaurants, church, museums, souvenir shops, and a main landmark marking the middle of the world where you can go take pictures. However, the measurement was actually flawed but It´s still a very touristic place!
Eat Street Food in Ecuador
What I love about street food in Ecuador, is that you can get it anytime during the day and night. My favorite one was Patacones or fried potatoes (called papa rellena in Colombia). I also love Empanadas and Salchipapas, they are so tasty. The prices start from $1 USD and they are perfect after drinking few beers before sleeping after partying in Ecuador!
Volunteering in Ecuador
In South America there are many opportunities for volunteering , it will allow you to help people and be part of a community. You can also take a break of spending in your trip and take a rest if you are traveling long time. And also learn Spanish at the same time. I would recommend volunteering in Ecuador in a small town and it will be a heartwarming experience.
Chiva Buses in Quito
Have you ever heard about Chiva buses? They are so common in Colombia. And actually, you can find them in Quito. It’s a party bus where everyone is allowed to drink and party with loud music. The bus is roaming around the city while people party inside it. I rode this party bus in Colombia but I only saw in Quito. As experienced and asked, they usually drink Canelazo, a local drink. Trust me ,it´s so much fun and it will serve you a perfect introduction to local culture!
Festivals in Ecuador
Foundation of Quito Day (Quito)
From November 28th to 6th of December you can enjoy the foundation of Quito. There are typical dances in the streets, bullfights and of course Canelazo (sweet local drink). Party is in the streets in old town.
The Day of the Dead
It´s celebrated in 2nd of November. They make Colada morada, a sweet purple drink and guaguas sweet bread shaped. They sell it in the streets and it´s a typical food to celebrate El Día de los Muertos. It’s so popular in South and North America.
Semana Santa (Holy Week)
It´s not a holiday like the other countries around South America and the whole world have but because of Spanish tradition and Catholic inclinations, Ecuador celebrates Holy week too.
Ecuador is a relatively a small country but it offers a lot of unique and fun experiences. What would you do if you’re on Ecuador? Have you gone to any of these places yet? Share with us your experiences in the comments below!
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For more backpacking guides in South America read our favorite things to do in Bolivia.