25 Things You Probably Didn’t Know You Could Do in Ecuador

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Bucket List Worthy   Hot off the Press  

exotic hut

From the Amazon rainforest to the Galapagos Islands, Andes Mountains, Inca ruins and historic city centres, there’s no place in the world like Ecuador. It’s a country that travelers will have to visit time and time again to catch a glimpse of all there is to see and do. The following are some of Ecuador’s most unique sights, activities and adventures, but there’s no doubt you’ll come home with some epic experiences all your own.

#1. Take a Last Minute Cruise in the Galapagos

Bartolomé Island, Galapagos

There’s no doubt you have to visit the legendary islands that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution when you travel to Ecuador. Whether you’re interested in the history, the mesmerizing scenery, or the world-famous wildlife (like Blue-Footed Boobies) that inhabit the islands in droves, the Galapagos are simply a must-see. If you’re not into taking traditional tours, book a last-minute cruise from Guayaquil, Quito or Punta Ayora, and you can save big bucks on an unmatchable experience.

#2. Haggle at South America’s Largest Marketplace

Woven belts

The Otavalo Marketplace is three hours north of Quito if you’re traveling by bus, but the souvenirs you’ll find there are worth the journey. It’s South America’s largest marketplace, and it’s packed with authentic items for dirt-cheap prices, so you can grab something for everyone back home.

#3. Take a Ride on the Devil’s Nose Train

Photo credit: Frank_am_Main
Photo credit: Frank_am_Main

It’s as hair-raising as it sounds. The Devil’s Nose train ride has become a must-do Ecuador experience for anyone planning to visit the central part of the country. The zig-zaging train ride descends from Alausi to Silambe through picturesque mountains littered with rivers and waterfalls. The journey down only takes about 45 minutes and involves what feels like a straight vertical descent, but it’s worth the sightseeing and photo-ops for those who don’t mind a bit of vertigo.

#4. Stand in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres

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Think you can’t be in two places at once? Think again. You can stand in the northern and southern hemispheres at the exact same time at La Mitad del Mundo outside of Quito. It’s the exact spot where the equatorial line was calculated in 1736. The sight has become popular among tourists, so head there early or late in the day to avoid the crowds.

#5. Explore the Amazon on a Budget

Photo credit: Dallas Krentzel
Photo credit: Dallas Krentzel

Several South American countries have access to the Amazon, but Ecuador is one of the cheapest places to get a thrilling Amazon experience. Taking a guided tour is the best way to get up close and personal with animal and plant species of the Amazon as well as learn about the indigenous people who still call it home. Amazingly, travelers can enjoy three-day Amazon excursions leaving from Quito for around $100 per person.

#6. Sea Kayak in Machalilla National Park

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One of the best ways to experience Ecuador’s rare plant and animal species is from a sea kayak. The 55,000 hectare Machalilla National Park is located in Ecuador’s Manabi province. It’s home to hundreds of unique bird species, pristine beaches, numerous islands, rivers, trails, and an underwater wonderland full of corals, vibrantly-coloured fish, and even humpback whales. The Mantaraya Lodge offers three options for thrilling guided sea kayak journeys in Machalilla National Park.

#7. Mountain Bike Down a Volcano

Sunrise at Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s second tallest volcano. Instead of taking the strenuous climb up the mountain, you can embark on an adventurous mountain bike journey down. The biking descent of Cotopaxi is suitable for most ages, and it’s a convenient day trip from your accommodations back in Quito. You’ll park at an elevation of 4,500 metres and make the descent down to 3,300 metres with a tour guide, admiring the unbeatable scenery along the way.

#8. Hike Among Waterfalls in Mindo

Photo credit: Pete
Photo credit: Pete

Mindo is one of the most picturesque towns in all of Ecuador. It’s located in the country’s famed cloud forest, and is an ideal place to spend numerous days relaxing at the spa, hiking to waterfalls, admiring nature, and soaking in the fresh air outside of the city. Bee tours, birding tours, canopy adventures, forest day tours, butterfly gardens and countless other nature-driven adventures await.

#9. Take a Taste of Cuy in Cuenca (If You Dare)

Photo credit: Nestor Lacle
Photo credit: Nestor Lacle

Even the meals are adventurous in Ecuador. Cuy, or roasted guinea pig, is a popular street food in many parts of the country, and it’s a must-try for adventurous eaters. Follow it up with a local Ecuadorian beer, and you’ll quickly forget that you tasted an animal many North Americans keep as pets.

#10. Spend a Day in the Valley of Longevity

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Vilcabamba is a small town located about an hour south of Loja. The area is home to more of Ecuador’s endless list of natural wonders, including the Mandango mountain and Podocarpus National Forest. The town is located in what is known as the “Valley of Longevity,” where the locals are said to longer than average. The quaint town is an ideal home base for hiking, mountain biking and exploring the surrounding mountains.

#11. Snorkel at the Secret Turtle Cove

Photo credit: Sheep"R"Us
Photo credit: Sheep”R”Us

The Secret Turtle Cove is a majestic place in the Galapagos Islands where sea turtles seek shelter. Reaching the cove involves an adventurous snorkel into a lava inlet, passing through a few coves, then walking a short distance. The journey offers its own gorgeous Galapagos sights, but snorkeling through the Secret Turtle Cove offers an unbeatable look into the lives of wild sea turtles.

#12. Take a Surf Lesson (and Let Loose) in Montanita

Photo credit: Yassef Briceño García
Photo credit: Yassef Briceño García

Ecuador’s natural beauty never ends, and even if you traveled to the country for Amazon adventures, you must pay a visit to some of the beaches. Montanita is a popular surfing beach with a trendy town, affordable prices, and a happening nightlife.

#13. Get a Bird’s Eye View from the Teleférico

Photo credit: Belica
Photo credit: Belica

Quito’s teleférico, or sky tram, is the best place to get a bird’s eye view of Ecuador’s capital city and its breathtaking surroundings. The teleférico will take you 4,270 metres up to Cruz Loma. Get a little exercise and an even better vantage point by hiking to the summit of Rucu Pichincha once you exit the tram. The trek takes about five hours round trip, but you can relax at the restaurants at the teleférico’s base when you return.

#14. Go Canyoning in Banos

Waterfall descent

Banos de Agua Santa is the “Gateway to the Amazon”, and it’s easy to spend days in the city and its surroundings without venturing all the way to the jungle. The city’s picturesque location, surrounded by dense forest and near the Tungurahua volcano, makes for an unbelievable list of things to do. Numerous tour companies are available to take you on an unforgettable horseback riding, rafting or canyoning excursion.

#15. Lay Under the Tents at Canoa

Photo credit: Meredith Cook
Photo credit: Meredith Cook

Canoa is a diverse beach town offering a relaxed atmosphere, delicious eats, exciting nightlife and mellow waves for swimming or surfing. Take some time to relax under the colourful canopies and simply soak in the gorgeous ocean view.

#16. Taste Your Way Through Guayaquil

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Guayaquil is Ecuador’s biggest city, but the historic neighborhoods and famous 9 de Octubre pedestrian shopping district make it feel much smaller to visitors. Spend your days exploring the Malecon, the historic neighborhoods, and the city’s gorgeous green spaces while stopping to dine in the many innovative restaurants along the way.

#17. Explore Cuicocha Lake by Boat

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Just two hours north of Quito is arguably Ecuador’s most picturesque body of water — Cuicocha Lake. The more than 3-kilometre-wide crater lake is located in the caldera of the famed Cotacachi Volcano. The waters are a stunning bright blue colour that lures tourists into snapping countless photos. Take a boat ride into the caldera for a more up-close-and-personal look.

#18. Hit a Hot Spring in Banos de Agua Santa

Photo credit: Pete
Photo credit: Pete

After a day of jungle or mountain excursions outside of “Banos,” there’s no better way to relax than in one of the area’s many geothermal pools or hot springs. Balneario Las Penas or Piscina El Salado are recommended places to soak in the mineral-rich waters heated by the volcano.

#19. Eat Your Fill of Menestra

Photo credit: Javier Lastras
Photo credit: Javier Lastras

Ecuador is known for its mouthwatering soups and stews. Menestra, a lentil-based vegetable stew, is a favorite among locals. It’s typically made with whichever vegetables are in season, and the recipes vary greatly from restaurant to restaurant, so be certain to taste a few.

#20. Step Back in Time in Historic Las Peñas

Photo credit: Carlos Adampol Galindo
Photo credit: Carlos Adampol Galindo

Las Peñas is one of Guayaquil’s most famous historic neighborhoods. The colourful houses, narrow streets, boutique hotels, charming shops and trendy restaurants offer a unique mix of old and new that is unlike anywhere else in the country.

#21. Admire the Wildlife at Ecuador’s Largest Mainland Park

Photo credit: Matt Hewitt
Photo credit: Matt Hewitt

Yasuni National Park — Ecuador’s largest mainland park — is located within the Amazon rainforest. The park is home to more than 20 threatened mammal species as well as a record number of bird, bat, frog, fish, and insect species. In only 2.5 acres of the national preserve, there are almost as many tree species as Canada and the United States combined. Yasuni National Park is also home to some of the last remaining indigenous people of the Amazon.

#22. Swim Near the Sharks in Puerto Villamil

Photo credit: Phase Locked Loop
Photo credit: Phase Locked Loop

Travelers who like to go off the beaten path will love Puerto Villamil, where you can explore the town, sunbathe on gorgeous beaches, snorkel and sightsee in the Galapagos without droves of tourists around. Head to Las Tintoreras by boat for the best wildlife watching in the area, where your guide will point out an abundance of white-tipped reef sharks. You can swim and snorkel in the lagoon nearby, but steer clear of the shark-frequented lava channel.

#23. Venture to the Largest Inca Ruins in Ecuador

Photo credit: Natalia Cartolini
Photo credit: Natalia Cartolini

Because Ecuador is home to so many world famous sites like the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest, many travelers don’t know about Ingapirca — the largest Inca ruins in the country. Located in the Canar Province, the remains of the 15th century community give visitors a look inside the history of the Inca and native Canari people. The site is one that rivals Ecuador’s more famous attractions.

#24. Try a Taste of Tamarillo

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The tamarillo, regarded by many Ecuadorians as tomate de arbol, is native to the Andes Mountains of Chile, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador. They’re popular in Ecuador fore their refreshing, tangy flavor, and you can’t leave without having a fresh glass of their juice.

#25. Find Serenity on San Cristobal

Photo credit: Steven Bedard
Photo credit: Steven Bedard

San Cristobal is said to be the oldest island (geologically) in the Galapagos. The island’s Puerto Baquerizo Moreno town is the capital of the Galapagos province, and its roughly 5,400 residents make it home to the Galapagos Islands’ second largest human population. The city serves as a place for tourists to stay, shop, eat, drink and relax right inside the famous archipelago.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and surfing new waves.

Comments:

  • La Boca is a special place where the Rio Portoviejo spills into the Pacific ocean, located in San Jacinto, Manabi, 45 minutes North of Manta a port city. The beach is one of the best on the coast and the local seafood restaurants serve catch of the day. For more information or to plan a visit: http://www.williamsandfranks.com

  • Hola Courtney McCaffrey, So glad you enjoyed Ecuador so much, but you missed one of the best places especially if you’re a surfer….Mompiche. I am building my dream house here. It’s a 5 story Bamboo house built like a wedding cake. If you like to come check out Mompiche, I’d like to offer you a free night in the top floor. Check me out on airbnb.com Casa de Sirena.
    Best wishes, Sirena

  • Mi lindo Ecuador,
    diferente… maravilloso
    encanta y se queda en el corazón

    Vamos a explorarte a conocerte
    a disfrutarte !!!!

  • Wow, you make me want to visit Ecuador! I hope to go when I retire in a few years, but I’d love to go now!!

  • If you wanna try tamarillo you should probably ask for tomate de árbol, that’s the name we use for that fruit

  • thank your for promoting Ecuador’s great beauty. The pictures are awesome!

  • I think its better to explain that “tamarillo” is called “tomate de arbol” because if some one ask for tamarillos juice nobody will understand in Ecuador.

    🙂

  • Neiva Huila 5 de Mayo de 2015

    Los felicito por la publicación de esos paisajes naturales tan hermosos

  • So proud to know there are people who appreciate the beauty of my country, believe it, you wont regret it

  • We also call it tomatillo. Great for refreshing juices and as main ingredient of a yum spicy sauce, found specially in the sierra region.

  • Felicidades a quién tomó esas fotografías recorrió todo un paraíso , y todo eso en un mismo país “ECUADOR”

  • I lived in Ecuador for 12 years and found it one of the most beautiful cou tries I have ever been. Your pictures and comments are very true. People are missing the opportunity of learning also from the different native groups.
    Thanks

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