Special thanks to Whitney Lohr and Mackenzie Dolan for recommendations
Ecuador is deceivingly small for the myriad of travel opportunities it offers. What it lacks in size it makes up for with laid-back coastal towns, volcano-sprinkled national parks, access to the Amazon jungle, and world-class wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. If you're looking for a combination of adventure, relaxation, and a healthy dose of the unexpected, this is the country for you.
Things to Do
Chivas Tour: Open air bus tour (similar to tuk tuks) that's an easy way to see hot spots and waterfalls along the famous Ruta de Las Cascadas.
Ride Bikes Along La Ruta de Las Cascadas: If you are up for an active day, rent bikes in town and head to Pailón del Diablo. The route is breathtaking and not too challenging. Unlike the Chivas tour, you are able to go at your own pace. This was a favorite day of our whole trip -- highly recommend.
Pailón del Diablo: Climb the winding steps and crawl up the "Crack to Heaven" to get close to this massive waterfall.
Casa del Arbol: Swing over the valley at this famous tree house. The photo-op alone is well worth it.
Termas de la Virgen: Local thermal baths. Extremely relaxing and theraputic.
El Refugio Spa: Affordable, revitalizing spa treatments with a beautiful view.
Bungee jumping: Or, “puenting,” on the bridge for $15. Find it nestled along the waterfall route.
Canyoning trip with MTS Adventure on the Rio Blanco.
Rent Go-Karts: Rent in town then ride to the top of the mountain.
Whitewater Rafting: Not for the faint of heart, these rapids can be pretty intense.
Places to Eat
Arte Cafe y Te: Best crepes in Ecuador, plus a cool, artsy vibe.
Casa Hood: A solid dinner spot. Serves flavorful, familiar food. The Carbonara was simply delicious.
Cafe del Cielo: Amazing view. The food itself is so-so, but the location more than makes up for it.
Arome Cafe: Intimately-sized cafe that serves fluffy pancakes! Get them with chocolate or honey if you are a lover of sweets. The toppings are generous.
Places to Stay
Airbnb in Lligñay: Fairly priced and safe option, do your research on well-reviewed hosts.
Hostel Erupción: Backpacker hostel in the heart of town and the restaurant upstairs serves pretty good food.
La Posada del Arte: Cheap, colorful hostel. It sits in a great location with a view of the waterfall. The restaurant serves decent food as well. Home to a funny, calm bulldog.
Casa del Arbol, Baños
Things to Do
Relax on the Beach: Can rent beach chairs/umbrellas for$5 -- no need to bring or buy your own.
Enjoy a Cocktail (or 4): There are plenty of Coctelerias and bars around, so take your pick. Beware of the sugar intake though, or you'll be headed for a gnarly hangover.
Learn to Surf: One of the best places in Ecuador to surf and it's easy to get lessons. Runs about $15 an hour.
Places to Eat
Crepe Stands: Nothing better for late-night drunk food. Will soak everything up and leave you full for sure.
Ceviche Stands: Easy, quick meal. All of the fish is extremely fresh.
Jaja Pizzeria: Casual pizza spot on beach with happy hour everyday.
Places to Drink
Coctelerias: This chain of bar carts line the streets. A few favorite stands were Pedrito and Gisse!
Lost Beach Club: High-energy electronic club on the beach. Doesn't get popping until 12 a.m.
Tiki Limbo: Relaxed bar with an easygoing vibe.
Places to Stay
Hostal Esperanto: Cheap, clean, and close to town without being in the midst of the crazy party street.
BEST PARTYING IN ECUADOR: This venue is tiny and rowdy. It’s a hippie place, so extra-circulars are not far away, plus the nightlife is crazy. Go on a weekend if possible.
No cars are allowed on the streets, so you walk to get around.
Street vendors are everywhere and the food is always gratifying. Definitely eat a fruit salad for breakfast while you’re here.
You may see people going skinny dipping at night and may want to join. Beware. People steal things off the beach and you can get a hefty fine from police.
Secret Garden Hostel
Things to Do
Tena is on the outskirts of the Amazon rainforest. It’s easily accessible from Quito or Banos, so it is a perfect addition to your trip if you have time.
Caving: Not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart, but is a memorable experience. You'll climb on your hands and knees, then wade through waist-high water. Stalagmites and stalactites are everywhere and you will see scorpion spiders and bats, but don't worry, they won't bother if you you don't bother them.
Hike: Stroll over to waterfalls like La Cascada de Latas.
Visit Misahuallí: Worth visiting to eat at one of their local joints. The ladies outside were cooking and serving chontacuros -- worms that are supposedly good for your lungs. Don't fret, they kind of taste like bacon!
Feed monkeys: Find these rambunctious friends in the Misahuallí Town Park, they love grapes.
Lagoon Float: Go at dusk to see more monkeys and wildlife.
Motorized Canoe Ride: Dive into the jungle for an interactive day learning how to make Chocolate and Chicha (traditional juice drink) & more about the fruits and plants in the forest.
Places to Stay
La CasaBlanca: Extremely clean hostel owned by the nicest people. One of the owners, Gary, leads excursions through the Amazon. The water at this hostel is purified, a luxury and rarity in Ecuador. They also have a washer/dryer and provide laundry detergent -- which you WILL need after the excursions. To boot, they provide a list of restaurants that are safe to eat at in town.
Things to Do
Calle La Ronda: Traditional place that Ecuadorians go for dinner and drinks. Most restaurants have live music. You could go here after checking out the Centro Historico sights. Best on Thursday-Saturday nights. Also, salsa dancing!
Centro Historico: It’s basically the “old city.” Scenic and cool to walk around. Make sure you check out La Basilica and El Panecillo. The former being a Gothic cathedral, and the latter a big statue of “the Virgin of Quito.” Be careful here, the walk up can be kind of dangerous with pickpockets.
Guapulo: This is the artistic/bohemian neighborhood. Nice restaurants complimented with a good view of the city.
Guayasamin Museum: He is Ecuador’s most famous artist. His paintings are usually based on the racism/suffering that surrounds the indigenous people of Ecuador. It’s somber, but fulfilling and interesting. The museum is his old house and it’s awe-inspiring.
Mercado Artesenal: Go here if you don’t go to Otavalo. See below section, “Around Quito.” It’s a mini-Otavalo and the place to get souvenirs.
Mitad del Mundo: Located at the center of the Earth and dubbed the equator monument. Cool to visit, but you basically just go for the picture.
Plaza Foch: Hoppin’ plaza with tons of restaurants with favorable drink specials. Very commercialized/touristy but there is a giant sign that says “Foch Yeah,” similar to the LOVE statue in New York City.
Quicentro Area: There’s a big mall and it’s a safe area. Also, the Olympic stadium is here!
Teleférico: Gondola ride up Mount Pichincha to get a great view of the city at about 14,000 ft. elevation. There are donkeys & horses at the top that can take you further up, or you can hike it.
Places to Eat
La Briciola: Fancy Italian.
La Oficina: Great dinner spot across from the secret Garden Hostel.
Rodriguez Tacos: Awesome atmosphere and has rooftop seating outside that overlooks Foch Plaza.
Taste of India: Might sound weird to eat Indian food in Ecuador, but, this place is DOPE. Highly recommend, seriously.
Menestras del Negro: This is a chain and you’ll see them all over Quito. Go here for traditional meals with a meat/fish + rice and beans.
Panificadora Ambato: Bakery that's perfect for a quick pastry breakfast. There are a few locations sprinkled around the city.
La Platea: Area of food trucks for any taste you're feeling.
Mercado Central: Large market with local cuisine (see below).
Food to Eat:
Bolón con Queso: It’s basically mashed plantains formed into a ball with cheese. Also available with chicharrón (pork).
Choclo Loco: Grilled corn covered in mayo and rolled with shredded cheese. Don’t knock it til ya try it!
Cuy: Guinea pig. It’s the country's delicacy and will run you around $20.
Ceviche: Mixture of shrimp, peppers and citrus juices. Quite popular around town and always a great option.
Granadilla: Basically a passion fruit indigenous to Ecuador. Might feel weird in texture, but it’s extremely refreshing!
Locro de Papa: Ecuadorian potato soup.
Morocho: Corn pudding drink with cinnamon.
Muchines: Yucca stuffed with cheese. They can be found randomly at little stands.
Naranjilla: Means “little orange.” This is a big smoothie option and very refreshing.
Pan de Yucca: Yuca bread. Sweet and delectable.
Pinchos: Meat on a stick. Served in little stands everywhere.
Tigrillo: This is more common towards the coast. It’s essentially plantain mash with an egg on top.
Tomate de Arbol: Means “tree tomato.” A personal favorite!
Tortilla de Papa or “Llapingachos”: Simplified, it's a potato patty. Unexpected, but ended up being a favorite.
Aguardiente: Sugarcane alcohol. Aguardiente is fairly common and worth trying but be weary, it’s a sure-fire hangover.
Traditional restaurants will offer almuerzos (lunch) for around $2.50. It comes with a soup, usually a meat of choice, rice, yucca or something similar, and a juice.
Places to Drink
Aladdin: Laid-back hookah bar with cool ambiance.
Bungalow: Go here for ladies' night on Wednesday. You’ll drink for free until 10 p.m. and they will separate the men and women until then. It’s a weird concept, but it’s fun and gets wild.
Chupitos: Go here for pregame shots. There’s a burning shot that’s really popular.
Finn McCool’s: Trivia on Tuesday nights. There’s an awesome burrito place tucked away next door as well.
G-Spot: This is a venue to hang out and watch sports. Solid tacos. Owned by Americans and a lot of expats hang out here.
No Bar: This is an ideal bar to casually pregame or end up later at.
Plaza Foch: Touristy, but a lot of two for one specials.
The Attic: Kinda sketchy, attracts different characters, but definitely a good time.
Places to Stay
La Mariscal/Plaza Foch: This is where we would stay. They call it “Gringolandia,” Plaza Foch, La Zona, La Mariscal, or Mariscal Sucre.
Posada del Maple: Quaint and clean hostel located on a cute street with big elm-like trees and pale colored hostels. Only about three blocks from La Mariscal. The "mom" of the hostel was the sweetest and always makes sure guests are doing okay.
Secret Garden Hostel: Great vibes, great location, amazing view of the city from roof bar. They also offer free walking tours.
Major Bus stations
Carcelen: Northern bus station. Use to get to: Otavalo, Ibarra, Mindo, Esmeraldas, and other northern destinations.
Quitumbe: Southern bus station. Use to get to: Guayaquil, Cuenca, Ambato, Baños, Latacunga, and other southern destinations.
Take Metrobús all the way south to the big bus station and you can get on the buses to go long distances. Be careful in South Quito. It’s known to be more dangerous due to economic disparities.
Chivas: If you get the opportunity to do this with people you meet at your hostel or wherever, do it. It’s an open-air party bus that takes you around the city and provides alcohol. Then, it usually drops you back off in La Mariscal to go out.
Taxis: They are cheap so don’t let them overcharge you. Make sure they turn the meter on, or agree to price beforehand. It may cost you $15 to get down to the southern bus station but everywhere else shouldn’t be more than $5-7.
The airport is pretty far away so it may cost you $15ish too
Be careful on public transportation! Known for pickpockets, keep your head on a swivel, especially if you are obviously a traveler or are on your own.
Don’t carry too much cash with you in La Mariscal and don’t walk down any super dark streets (obviously).
Parks: Don’t go too deep in the parks. This is usually where I heard of people getting robbed. If you go, stay around the edges.
Day trips from Quito
Only two hours from Quito but not a day trip. Dubbed "The Cloud Forest" it’s very chill. You can zipline here, waterfall rappel, jump off a 35 foot waterfall, and home to amazing hiking. Plus, a butterfly forest and a chocolate museum.
A couple hours away from Quito. This is a huge indigenous market. Will take hours to walk through it and this is where you’ll get your souvenirs. Also, check out Termas de Papallacta -- they're hot springs heated by a nearby volcano. Beautiful and relaxing. Good place to spend an evening.
Vast crater-lake inside of a caldera volcano that erupted and collapsed. Offers incredible views and good hiking. You can also kayak in the lake and ride horses back up to the top after hiking down. Roughly three hours from Quito. This is also accessible from Latacunga (about two hours) but the town is pretty uneventful.
La Basilica, Quito
Secret Garden Hostel
Amazon River, Tena
This is one of Ecuador’s larger cities (125,000 people). Lively night life, tasty food. There’s also a big military base here. The US used to occupy it so it’s American-friendly. Now, it just harbors the Ecuadorian military.
IF YOU DON’T GO TO THE GALAPAGOS YOU HAVE TO GO HERE!
Whale-watching tours: Check if it will be whale season. However, if you go diving here you will probably see the whales on the way out.
Scuba: Isla de Plata. Again, if you can't catch the Galapagos Isalnd check this one out because you'll see a lot of the same animals.
Easily the zestiest food in Ecuador. It's another hippie-beach but on a smaller scale. Walk around everywhere. This place is super chill.
Bahia de Caraquez
Very pretty, only a short bus ride from Canoa. All the buildings are white and it’s where Rio Chone meets the Pacific Ocean, which is pretty neat to see. You’ll see freshwater and ocean from the same spot. Excellent restaurant here called D’Camaron. Get the Camarones de Ajillo. Of note, don't go to Canoa without coming to Bahia, spend the day on the beach, and eating at this restaurant.
Note: You need at least four days, but probably more. Give yourself a full week if you want a chance to see everything.
Where the university is, the people are, and the nightlife is. Although, that's probably not what you go to Galapagos for. Check out the sea lions and sea turtles if you go snorkeling at the beach!
Offers more natrual sites than San Cristobal, take full advantage of being outside by checking out these recommendations.
Tortuga Bay beach: Gorgeous lizards everywhere.
Turtle park: Huge land turtles.
Lava tunnel: Cave carved out by lava eons ago.
Los Gemelos: Twin volcanic craters and hiking.
Darwin Museum: People really enjoy it for the natural history lesson, but may be better to just spend time outside.
Las Grietas: Big cliff jump here
Isabela: See the penguins and Blue Footed Boobie Birds! Yes, blue feet.