Top activities to do in Ecuador
Welcome to Ecuador, a country known for its diverse landscapes, rich culture, and vibrant cities. Whether you're an adventurous traveler seeking thrilling outdoor activities or a history buff eager to delve into the country's fascinating past, Ecuador's cities have something for everyone. From the bustling capital of Quito, nestled high in the Andes, to the coastal gem of Guayaquil, Ecuador's urban centres offer a myriad of exciting experiences. Explore the historic city centres, immerse yourself in the local culture, indulge in delicious cuisine, and embark on thrilling adventures.
In this guide, we will highlight the top activities to do in Ecuador's cities, helping you make the most of your visit and create unforgettable memories in this enchanting South American destination.
The Galapagos Islands offer a wide range of activities that allow visitors to experience the unique wildlife, landscapes, and natural wonders of this iconic archipelago. Here are some of the top activities to do in the Galapagos Islands:
- Snorkelling and Scuba Diving: Explore the diverse marine life and vibrant underwater ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands through snorkelling or scuba diving. Encounter sea turtles, sharks, rays, colourful fish, and playful sea lions in crystal-clear waters.
- Wildlife Watching: Observe the incredible wildlife that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Spot iconic species such as giant tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins, and Galapagos sea lions. Each island has its own unique fauna and flora, providing endless opportunities for wildlife encounters.
- Island Hopping: Embark on island-hopping tours to explore different islands within the archipelago. Each island offers its own distinct landscapes, wildlife, and geological features. Visit popular islands like Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana, and San Cristobal to discover their unique charms.
- Visit Tortoise Breeding Centers: Learn about the conservation efforts to protect the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. Visit breeding centres like the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center on Isabela Island to see these ancient reptiles up close.
- Visit Volcanic Craters and Lava Formations: Explore the volcanic landscapes and fascinating geological formations that define the Galapagos Islands. Visit volcanic craters like Sierra Negra on Isabela Island or hike to lava tunnels and formations for a glimpse into the islands' volcanic origins.
- Kayaking and Stand-Up Paddleboarding: Discover the pristine coastlines and tranquil bays of the Galapagos Islands by kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. Paddle through mangrove forests, along rocky shores, and explore secluded coves while enjoying breathtaking views.
- Nature Walks and Hiking: Take guided nature walks and hikes to explore the islands' diverse ecosystems and spot unique wildlife. Follow marked trails and discover endemic plant species, lava formations, and panoramic viewpoints.
- Visit Charles Darwin's Research Sites: Gain insight into the Galapagos Islands' scientific significance by visiting sites associated with Charles Darwin's research. Explore sites like Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island or the Galapagos National Park Visitor Center to learn about the islands' natural history and ongoing conservation efforts.
- Snorkel with Marine Iguanas: Get the extraordinary opportunity to snorkel alongside marine iguanas, the only lizards in the world that forage underwater. Watch these unique reptiles as they swim gracefully and feed on algae beneath the waves.
- Photography and Wildlife Cruises: Join photography tours or wildlife cruises to capture the stunning landscapes and wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Professional guides can provide expert tips on capturing the best shots while ensuring minimal disturbance to the natural environment.
- Remember that visiting the Galapagos Islands requires adherence to strict conservation regulations to protect the delicate ecosystem. It is advisable to book guided tours with licensed operators who prioritise sustainability and responsible tourism practices.
Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is a vibrant and historic destination that offers a variety of activities and attractions. Here are some top activities to do in Quito:
- Explore the Historic Centre: Discover the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Historic Center of Quito, known for its well-preserved colonial architecture. Visit iconic sites such as Plaza de la Independencia, Basilica del Voto Nacional, and the beautifully adorned churches of San Francisco and La Compañía.
- Ride the TelefériQo: Take a cable car ride on the TelefériQo to reach the top of Cruz Loma on Pichincha Volcano. Enjoy panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains, go hiking, or indulge in some traditional food and crafts at the summit.
- Visit the Middle of the World: Head to the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) complex, where you can straddle the equator line and visit the Intiñan Museum to learn about the unique phenomena that occur at this geographic point.
- Explore the Museums: Quito boasts a variety of museums that showcase the country's rich history and culture. Visit the Museo del Banco Central to see an impressive collection of pre-Columbian art, or explore the Museo de la Ciudad for a comprehensive view of Quito's past.
- Shop at the Otavalo Market: Take a day trip to the famous Otavalo Market, known for its vibrant indigenous crafts, textiles, and artwork. Browse the stalls, haggle for souvenirs, and immerse yourself in the local culture.
- Taste Ecuadorian Cuisine: Sample the diverse flavours of Ecuadorian cuisine in Quito. Try traditional dishes such as ceviche, llapingachos (potato patties), empanadas, and locro de papas (potato soup). Don't forget to indulge in delicious Ecuadorian chocolate and freshly brewed coffee.
- Visit La Carolina Park: Enjoy some outdoor recreation in La Carolina Park, a large urban park in the heart of Quito. Take a stroll around the lake, go jogging or biking on the trails, or have a picnic surrounded by beautiful green spaces.
- Take a Panoramic City Tour: Explore Quito's highlights on a panoramic city tour, where you can admire the city's stunning views from various vantage points. Visit the viewpoint of El Panecillo, known for its iconic statue of the Virgen de Quito, and capture memorable photos of the cityscape.
- Experience Quito's Nightlife: Discover the vibrant nightlife scene in Quito, particularly in neighbourhoods like La Mariscal and La Floresta. Enjoy live music, dance clubs, bars, and restaurants offering a mix of traditional and international cuisine.
- Take a Day Trip to Cotopaxi National Park: Venture outside of Quito and visit Cotopaxi National Park, home to the impressive Cotopaxi Volcano. Enjoy hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking in the park while surrounded by stunning volcanic landscapes.
- Remember to take necessary precautions for safety and consult with local guides or tour operators for the best recommendations and advice while exploring Quito.
Otavalo, located approximately two hours north of Quito, is a town known for its vibrant indigenous culture and famous handicraft market. Here are some top activities to do in Otavalo:
- Visit the Otavalo Market: Explore the renowned Otavalo Market, one of the largest indigenous markets in South America. The market takes place in the Plaza de los Ponchos and offers a wide range of traditional crafts, textiles, clothing, jewellery, and more. Bargaining is common, so be prepared to haggle for the best prices.
- Explore Peguche Waterfall: Take a short hike to Peguche Waterfall, located just outside of Otavalo. Enjoy the lush surroundings and the serene beauty of the waterfall. This is also a sacred site for the local community, and you may witness traditional rituals or ceremonies taking place.
- Visit Cotacachi: Just a short distance from Otavalo, Cotacachi is known for its leather craftsmanship. Explore the town's leather shops and find high-quality leather goods such as jackets, bags, belts, and shoes.
- Experience Indigenous Culture: Immerse yourself in the local indigenous culture by visiting nearby villages and communities. Learn about traditional weaving techniques, music, and customs. You can also arrange homestays or cultural tours to get a deeper understanding of the local way of life.
- Take a Boat Ride on Cuicocha Lake: Located in the caldera of an ancient volcano, Cuicocha Lake offers a scenic setting for a boat ride. Admire the stunning views of the lake and its surrounding landscape, and learn about the geological history of the area.
- Visit the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve: Explore the diverse ecosystem of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. Enjoy hiking through cloud forests, spot unique bird species, and marvel at the natural beauty of the area. Guided tours are available to ensure a safe and informative experience.
- Taste Local Cuisine: Sample traditional Ecuadorian dishes in local restaurants and food stalls in Otavalo. Don't miss trying dishes like llapingachos (potato patties), empanadas, roasted cuy (guinea pig), and quimbolitos (steamed corn desserts). You can also try the famous traditional drink called "canelazo," a hot alcoholic beverage made from aguardiente (sugar cane alcohol), water, sugar, and spices.
- Visit San Pablo Lake: Enjoy the tranquillity of San Pablo Lake, located near Otavalo. Take a leisurely walk along the lakeshore, go fishing, or simply relax and soak in the beautiful surroundings.
- Attend Traditional Festivals: If you're lucky to be in Otavalo during a traditional festival, such as Inti Raymi or the Yamor Festival, make sure to participate and witness the vibrant celebrations, traditional music, dances, and colourful parades.
- Take in the Scenic Views: Otavalo is surrounded by picturesque landscapes, including mountains, valleys, and lakes. Take the time to appreciate the stunning views and snap some memorable photos of the natural beauty that surrounds the area.
- Remember to respect the local culture and customs while visiting Otavalo, and support the local artisans by purchasing their handmade crafts and products.
Exploring the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador is a remarkable adventure that offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth. Here are some top activities to do in the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest:
- Jungle Trekking: Embark on guided hikes through the rainforest, led by experienced local guides who will share their knowledge about the flora, fauna, and indigenous cultures. Explore different trails and observe the incredible diversity of plant and animal species.
- Canoeing and Kayaking: Navigate through the rivers and tributaries of the Amazon Rainforest by canoe or kayak. This allows you to discover hidden corners of the jungle, observe wildlife up close, and experience the tranquillity of the waterways.
- Wildlife Spotting: The Amazon Rainforest is home to an incredible array of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of monkeys, sloths, colourful birds, snakes, frogs, and more. Guided tours often include visits to parrot clay licks, where you can witness the spectacle of hundreds of parrots and macaws gathering to feed.
- Night Walks: Take part in nocturnal excursions to experience the rainforest's nighttime ambiance. Guided by flashlight, you'll have the opportunity to spot unique creatures that emerge after dark, such as nocturnal monkeys, insects, amphibians, and maybe even some elusive big cats.
- Visit Indigenous Communities: Encounter local indigenous communities and learn about their traditional way of life, cultural practices, and ancestral knowledge. Engage in activities such as handicraft demonstrations, traditional cooking, and storytelling sessions. This provides a deeper understanding of the connection between indigenous people and the rainforest.
- Canopy Walkways: Experience the thrill of walking on elevated canopy walkways suspended between tall trees. These walkways offer a bird's-eye view of the rainforest canopy, allowing you to observe the diversity of plant and animal life that thrives in the treetops.
- Birdwatching: The Amazon Rainforest is a paradise for bird enthusiasts, with an abundance of colourful and exotic bird species. Join birdwatching tours led by knowledgeable guides who can help you spot toucans, parrots, hummingbirds, and a variety of other feathered inhabitants.
- River Cruises: Embark on river cruises along the Amazon's waterways, exploring remote areas and observing the wildlife from the comfort of a boat. It's an excellent way to cover larger distances and experience the vastness of the rainforest.
- Fishing: Engage in catch-and-release fishing excursions, where you can try your hand at catching piranhas or other Amazonian fish species. Learn about traditional fishing techniques from local guides and enjoy the serene beauty of the river.
- Nature Photography: The Amazon Rainforest offers incredible opportunities for nature photography. Capture the mesmerising landscapes, unique wildlife, and vibrant flora in their natural habitat. Make sure to respect the environment and the animals while taking photographs.
- When visiting the Amazon Rainforest, it's essential to choose reputable tour operators or lodges that prioritise sustainability, conservation, and support for local communities. Remember to follow guidelines to minimise your impact on the delicate ecosystem and respect the cultural traditions of the indigenous communities you encounter.
Cuenca, located in the southern highlands of Ecuador, is a charming city known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, rich cultural heritage, and stunning natural surroundings. Here are some top activities to do in Cuenca:
- Explore the Historic Centre: Wander through the historic centre of Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Admire the beautiful colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, and picturesque plazas. Don't miss the iconic Cuenca Cathedral, the New Cathedral, and the charming Calle Larga.
- Visit Museums and Art Galleries: Immerse yourself in the cultural scene of Cuenca by visiting its numerous museums and art galleries. The Pumapungo Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Conceptas Museum are worth exploring to learn about the city's history, art, and indigenous heritage.
- Take a Panama Hat Factory Tour: Cuenca is famous for its Panama hats, which are actually woven straw hats. Take a tour of a Panama hat factory to learn about the traditional hat-making process and witness skilled artisans creating these iconic accessories.
- Enjoy the Flower Market: Visit the vibrant Flower Market in Cuenca, where you can find a dazzling array of colourful flowers and plants. The market is a feast for the senses and offers a glimpse into the local culture and traditions.
- Explore the Tomebamba Riverwalk: Take a leisurely stroll along the Tomebamba Riverwalk, a beautiful pathway that runs alongside the Tomebamba River. Enjoy the scenic views, lush greenery, and relax in the peaceful atmosphere.
- Visit the Mirador de Turi: Head to the Mirador de Turi, a viewpoint located just outside of Cuenca, offering panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountains. It's a great spot for capturing stunning photos of Cuenca's landscape.
- Taste Traditional Cuisine: Sample the delicious traditional cuisine of Cuenca. Try dishes like cuy (guinea pig), mote pillo (hominy corn with scrambled eggs), and yaguarlocro (potato and beef soup). Visit local markets and restaurants to savour the authentic flavours of the region.
- Relax in Thermal Baths: Just outside of Cuenca, you'll find several thermal baths where you can relax and rejuvenate in natural hot springs. The hot springs are known for their therapeutic properties and offer a soothing experience amidst beautiful natural surroundings.
- Take a Day Trip to Cajas National Park: Located about an hour from Cuenca, Cajas National Park is a stunning highland area known for its picturesque lakes, rolling hills, and unique Andean ecosystem. Explore the park's hiking trails, spot wildlife, and marvel at the breathtaking landscapes.
- Attend Cultural Events and Festivals: Check the calendar for cultural events and festivals happening in Cuenca during your visit. The city hosts various celebrations throughout the year, including the Corpus Christi Festival, Inti Raymi (Sun Festival), and the Cuenca Independence Day festivities, which offer a vibrant display of music, dance, and traditional costumes.
- Cuenca is a city that invites you to immerse yourself in its history, culture, and natural beauty. Take your time to explore its treasures, interact with the friendly locals, and embrace the relaxed atmosphere of this enchanting destination.
Baños, officially known as Baños de Agua Santa, is a small town nestled in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. It's a popular tourist destination due to its stunning natural landscapes, adventure activities, and relaxing thermal baths. Here are some top activities to do in Baños:
- Visit the Basilica of the Virgin of the Holy Water: Explore the iconic basilica located in the heart of Baños. Admire its beautiful architecture and climb to the top for panoramic views of the town and surrounding mountains.
- Enjoy the Thermal Baths: Relax and rejuvenate in the soothing thermal baths of Baños. The town is famous for its hot springs, and there are several spas and bathhouses where you can unwind in the warm mineral-rich waters.
- Go Hiking in the Tungurahua Volcano: Embark on a hiking adventure to the Tungurahua Volcano, an active volcano located near Baños. While hiking is only permitted up to the refuge point, you can still witness the impressive volcanic activity and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes.
- Take a Swing at the End of the World: Visit the famous "Swing at the End of the World" located at Casa del Árbol. Swing over the edge of a steep hillside and enjoy spectacular views of the town and the Tungurahua Volcano.
- Experience Waterfall Adventures: Baños is surrounded by numerous waterfalls, offering exciting opportunities for adventure. Take a thrilling canopy zip-line tour across the stunning landscapes or go canyoning and rappelling down waterfalls for an adrenaline-pumping experience.
- Mountain Biking: Explore the scenic routes around Baños on a mountain bike. The town offers various biking trails that lead you through lush forests, past waterfalls, and alongside the Pastaza River.
- Whitewater Rafting: The Pastaza River is a popular destination for whitewater rafting enthusiasts. Join a guided rafting tour and navigate the rapids while enjoying the stunning natural beauty of the area.
- Visit the Pailón del Diablo Waterfall: Discover the magnificent Pailón del Diablo Waterfall, one of the most impressive waterfalls in Ecuador. Take a short hike to reach the viewpoint and witness the power and beauty of the cascading water.
- Taste Local Delicacies: Indulge in local cuisine and try traditional dishes in the restaurants and eateries of Baños. Don't miss the chance to taste "melcocha," a delicious sweet treat made from sugarcane syrup.
- Explore the Cloud Forest: Take a day trip from Baños to explore the nearby cloud forest. Immerse yourself in the lush vegetation, encounter unique plant and animal species, and enjoy nature hikes in this biodiverse ecosystem.
- Baños offers a perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, and natural beauty. Whether you seek adrenaline-pumping activities or a serene escape, Baños has something to offer for everyone. Enjoy the breathtaking landscapes, embrace the local culture, and create unforgettable memories in this captivating town.
Mindo Cloud Forest:
Mindo Cloud Forest is a biodiverse and picturesque area located in the Andean foothills of Ecuador, just a few hours away from Quito. It is renowned for its lush forests, abundant wildlife, and adventurous activities. Here are some top activities to do in Mindo Cloud Forest:
- Birdwatching: Mindo is a paradise for bird enthusiasts, with over 500 species of birds residing in the area. Take a guided birdwatching tour and spot colourful toucans, hummingbirds, tanagers, and many other unique bird species.
- Canopy Tours and Zip-lining: Experience the thrill of flying through the treetops on a canopy tour. Zip-line across the forest canopy, glide through the air, and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding nature.
- Waterfall Hikes: Explore the enchanting waterfalls of Mindo on scenic hikes. Visit popular waterfalls like Nambillo, Cascada de las Tres Caídas, and Cascada Reina to witness their beauty up close and even take a refreshing swim in their crystal-clear pools.
- Butterfly Gardens: Visit one of the butterfly gardens in Mindo to observe and learn about the diverse butterfly species found in the region. Get up close to these beautiful insects and witness their fascinating life cycles.
- Tubing and River Rafting: Enjoy the adrenaline rush of tubing or river rafting down the Mindo River. Navigate through rapids, splash through the water, and immerse yourself in the natural surroundings.
- Orchid Gardens: Discover the incredible variety of orchids in the region by visiting one of the orchid gardens in Mindo. Learn about the different species and their unique characteristics.
- Chocolate Tours: Experience a chocolate tour and learn about the chocolate-making process from bean to bar. Visit cocoa plantations, observe the harvesting and processing of cocoa beans, and indulge in tasting sessions.
- Nature Walks and Hiking: Explore the trails and paths that wind through the cloud forest. Take a leisurely nature walk to observe the diverse flora and fauna, spot colourful birds, and immerse yourself in the peaceful ambiance of the forest.
- Night Walks: Embark on a guided night walk to discover the nocturnal creatures of the cloud forest. Witness bioluminescent insects, frogs, and other fascinating creatures that come to life after sunset.
- Chocolate Tasting: Don't miss the opportunity to savour delicious and locally-made chocolate products. Visit chocolate shops and cafes in Mindo to try a variety of chocolate treats, including truffles, hot chocolate, and chocolate-covered fruits.
- Mindo Cloud Forest offers a remarkable blend of adventure, nature, and relaxation. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the cloud forest, engage in thrilling activities, and appreciate the rich biodiversity of the region. Whether you're a nature lover, adventure seeker, or simply looking for a tranquil escape, Mindo Cloud Forest is sure to captivate you with its natural wonders.