Ecuador Backpacking Guide!

Ahh, beautiful Ecuador… The country where you can have breakfast in the Amazon, lunch in the Highlands and dinner along the coast, all on the same day! This small but mighty country is one of 17 megadiverse nations, making it a hub of biodiversity. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll share the top things to do in the country, the best time to visit and all the logistical information you need to start planning your trip. Ecuador awaits… 

Also See Our Ecuador Travel Guides (Listed A-Z) – Each guide will open in a new window

Ayampe | Baños | Cuenca | Galapagos | Guayaquil | Latacunga | Mindo | Montañita | Otavalo | Puerto Lopez | Quito | Tena

INTRODUCTION | Backpacking Ecuador 

  • Currency: US Dollar
  • Capital city: Quito
  • Population: 17.6 million
  • Main religion: Roman Catholic
  • Main language: Spanish 
  • Telephone code: +593
  • Time: GMT – 5 hours
  • Emergency numbers: General Emergencies: 911 Ambulance: 131 Fire: 102 Police: 101

You’ll love Ecuador if… 

  • You’re a backpacker on a budget who wants to embark on a wide variety of adventures.  
  • You enjoy wildlife watching. Ecuador is home to some of the world’s best wild spots, including the Galapagos Islands, the cloud forests of Mindo and a section of the Amazon Rainforest. 
  • You get easily confused by complicated currency conversions! Ecuador is the only country in tth America where the currency is the US Dollar, making conversions a doddle!
  • You’re looking for a country with a chilled and laidback attitude. The people of Ecuador are very welcoming and love sharing their country with travellers!
  • You hate long bus journeys. Ecuador is one of South America’s smallest countries and as a result, most journeys tend to take a maximum of a few hours. 

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WHEN TO GO | The Best Time to Visit Ecuador 

It’s difficult to pin down the best time to travel to Ecuador, as it totally depends on where you want to go. In the Highlands, some Ecuadorians will tell you that there’s a short winter, a short summer, then a very long winter! Because of its location on the equator, the sun rises and sets at the same time every day, no matter what time of year it is.

Oriente (Rainforest)

The best time to go to the Oriente is between June and September when there’s less rainfall. Heavy rain is common between April and July which can cause major travel problems.

Sierra (Highlands)

If you’re planning to visit the Sierra and the Oriente on the same trip, then you’re in luck! You will get the best weather between June and September here too. The days are sunny and it’s easier to see the likes of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo when the skies are clear. October and November start sunny, but usually, you will have rain and/or thunderstorms in the afternoon. December to May is cooler and rainy from dusk ‘til dawn. 


The coast’s high season is from December to April. In the south of the country, surfing conditions are good all year round.


Any time is a good time to go to the Galapagos Islands. There are two distinct seasons in terms of weather and two in terms of popularity.

First off, it helps to know that the high seasons are not directly correlated with the dry or wet season. The Galapagos has two high seasons, from December to January and June till August. These are the most expensive times to visit the Galapagos. Any time outside of these months is the low season and haggling for accommodation and tours should be possible during this time.

When it comes to climate, the warm and wet season lasts from January to May, and this is when most tourists visit the islands. The landscape is colourful, due to the blooming of flowers. It’s also when the majority of bird species mate and the sea turtles nest.

The cool and dry season lasts from June to December, and the Highlands are often misty. It’s a bit cooler – 18-20 degrees versus 25-30, but that means you have more chance of seeing penguins. The biggest drawback of coming at this time of year is that the seas are much rougher. If you suffer from seasickness, try the high season!

Read more about the best time to visit South America.

VISAS | Do I Need a Visa for Ecuador?

90 Days Visa-Free

Tourists from most countries can travel for up to 90 days in Ecuador without a visa. This includes nationals from South American countries, the UK, US, Canada, Australia and most countries in western Europe. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your travel dates when you arrive.

Visa Extensions

If you’re planning a longer stay, you can extend your visa once before your 90 day period ends. The maximum extension is 90 days and you will need to pay a fee. You can find more information about Ecuadorian visas on their government website (in Spanish).

Border Runs

Visa runs to other countries are not allowed in Ecuador. 

Penalty for Overstaying in Ecuador 

There is a fine for overstaying your visa in Ecuador. If you do not pay it, you could be banned from returning to the country for two years. If you pay, you’ll be allowed to return on an official embassy issued visa.

Read more about Ecuador visa requirements and other visa requirements for South America here.

HEALTH | Vaccines, Malaria Tablets and Altitude Sickness

Do I Need Vaccines to Travel to Ecuador?

Disclaimer: We always recommend that you seek professional medical advice before travelling. 

According to the World Health Organisation, there are several vaccinations you are recommended to have for travelling to Ecuador. These include:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Yellow fever
  • Tetanus, Diphtheria and Whooping cough (TDAP)
  • Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR), 
  • Typhoid
  • Rabies

If you’re working at one of Ecuador’s animal reserves, it’s essential to get a rabies jab as a bite from an infected animal needs to be treated within 24 hours. The jabs give you a bit more time to get to a hospital. They also mean treatment is more effective — just one or two injections as opposed to five. 

Read in more detail about vaccinations for South America here. 

Do I Need Malaria Tablets for Ecuador?

For most travellers, antimalarials are not advised. Malaria risk is low all over the country and there is no risk in the Galapagos Islands, Guayaquil, Quito, or other cities in the inter-Andean region. Despite this, individuals should always practice bite avoidance. Check out more health advice for Ecuador on the NHS Fit For Travel website.

Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever is a threat to travellers and therefore, backpackers should take the necessary precautions to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos. 


Ecuador has several areas that sit at high altitude. Always allow yourself to acclimatise and remember to stay hydrated when you’re in these areas. If you are concerned about the altitude and think you might need altitude sickness medication before you leave your home country, talk to your doctor or health professional. 

Disclaimer: We advise that you visit a travel medical clinic before travelling to Ecuador for the latest health information.

SAFETY | Is Ecuador Safe?

Is Ecuador safe to visit? It is a question we get asked all the time. According to the World Peace Index ranking, Ecuador comes in at number 6 on the list of safest South American countries. However, like many countries in South America, it’s a good idea to exercise some level of caution when travelling through the country anyway. Make sure your travel insurance covers any expensive goods, as the most likely crime to happen is petty theft. Our readers most often recommend World Nomads and SafetyWing

Crime in Ecuador 

In Ecuador’s big cities, there is a risk of petty crime and especially pickpocketing. To keep yourself and your valuables safe, don’t be showy with your belongings. Store cash and your mobile in a money belt or theft-proof backpack

Armed robbery is rare, although it’s a possibility in Quito and some of the coastal areas. Don’t walk around alone at night in Quito or Guayaquil and always make sure that you have the address of your hostel on you at all times. In smaller cities, check with your hosts which areas are safe to go out at night and ask if there are any places you should always avoid.

Roads in Ecuador 

The Pan American highway runs through Ecuador and is generally well maintained. Others road conditions vary in quality… Drivers can be reckless and Ecuador has one of the highest road traffic accident rates in the whole of Latin America. Be aware that many drivers will ignore zebra crossings so take extra care when using these. 

Natural Disasters in Ecuador

Ecuador sits on the ‘Ring of Fire’ and as a result, has its fair share of volcanic activity. Earthquakes are not uncommon and tsunamis are possible along the coast. Luckily, there is usually advance warning of natural disasters. To make sure you know what to do in case the worse happens, familiarise yourself with the evacuation procedures and safety precautions. The Galapagos Islands are generally one of the safest places in Ecuador, however, there are several active volcanos there.

Food and Water Hygiene in Ecuador 

Food hygiene is pretty decent, however, travellers can get sick from drinking tap water in Ecuador. For this reason, it is also best to avoid ice cubes in your drink. Look for food stalls and restaurants with a high turnover as this will ensure that the food is fresh. As always, wash your hands regularly. 

Tap Water in Ecuador 

Water isn’t safe to drink from the tap here, however, in cities such as Cuenca, the locals may tell you that it is. If you do drink from the tap, there’s a high probability that you could get a stomach parasite. In hotels and public areas, you can often find drums of potable water, where you can refill your bottle.

Drugs in Ecuador 

Drugs such as the ‘Scopolamine’ have been used to incapacitate travellers in order to rob them. To avoid becoming a victim, don’t accept food or drink from strangers. 

In Ecuador, Ayahuasca and San Pedro are commonly marketed to travellers as spiritual cleansing experiences. Both of these hallucinogens are highly potent and should not be treated as just another travel experience. South America Backpacker does not recommend buying or using drugs anywhere on the continent. 

6 Tips for Staying Safe in Ecuador:

  • Make sure your taxi is licensed. Unlicensed taxis have been known to commit secuestro exprés (express kidnapping), where you are forced to withdraw money at an ATM and then abandoned on the outskirts of town. Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence. Taxis will have a sign on the side saying which cooperative they work for and are supposed to have emergency panic buttons in the rear seats which track GPS and alert police to the taxi’s location. Check this article for more scams to avoid in South America. 
  • Don’t carry your valuables on day trips, especially in areas popular with tourists. Leave them in your hotel or at least have them securely hidden in your bag.
  • Carry a money belt. These are like bumbags (or fanny packs to the Americans reading this) that you can hide under your clothes and are a much better way to carry large sums of money than your wallet.
  • Be cautious (but not paranoid) in bus stations and on buses. Theft is common, especially on night services. If your bag is slashed, it’s unlikely you’ll notice straight away.
  • Use common sense when accepting food or drinks from strangers. It may be drugged.
  • Avoid crossing the Colombian border at night. There have been reports of bandits and robberies. At the time of writing, it’s the only part of Ecuador that the British government has issued a red warning for.

All in all, using your common sense is the best way to staying safe in Ecuador. Don’t let any preconceptions of South America put you off having a good time, just make sure you are aware of your situation and keep your wits about you.

TRAVEL INSURANCE | Travel Insurance for Ecuador

This article contains affiliate links. Booking/buying through links you find on this site is a great way of supporting the work we do at no extra cost to you.

We always recommend making sure that you are covered by travel insurance for the duration of your trip. World Nomads and SafetyWing are the two most popular companies with our community members. World Nomads are popular with people who practice adventure sports (are you heading to Baños?) and SafetyWing makes flexible plans for long-term travellers and digital nomads. 

As much of Ecuador sits at least 3000 metres above sea level, many insurance providers will not cover you for activities such as trekking or even walking at this altitude. Always make sure to check what you are covered for and purchase add-on coverage if necessary.

Designed for Long-Term Travellers
  • Available worldwide
  • Rolling monthly subscription 
  • No return date required
  • Cover diving and motorcycle use
  • Check policy wording for full details 
World Nomads
Insurance Designed by Travellers for Travellers
  • World Nomads travel insurance policies offer coverage for more than 150 activities.
  • Get a quote, make a claim, or buy or extend your policy while on the road.
  • Check policy wording for full details 
True Traveller
Travel Insurance for Europeans
  • Only insures travellers from Europe
  • Cover for diving and motorcycle use
  • Additional activity packs available
  • Check policy wording for full details 

WHAT TO PACK | What Should I Pack for a Trip to Ecuador?

If you’re heading to Ecuador and have no idea what to pack, check out the following recommendations. 

Clothes for Ecuador 

Waterproof jacket – You’re going to need this, especially in the Sierra and the Oriente and especially if you’re planning on mountain climbing. Remember, the higher you go, the more changeable the weather. You don’t want to be caught unprepared in a hailstorm! Something like this packable rain jacket will do the trick.

Sweatshirt/jumper – Why would you need one of those? You’re going to be on the equator, right? Yes but in Quito and the highlands, it can get mighty cold, especially at night. Don’t worry too much if you forget yours, you can pick up a super trendy and warm alpaca wool sweater at most markets for around $15USD (with a bit of haggling).

Swimsuit – Not only is Ecuador a great place for surfing, but there are also several hot springs, waterfalls, and freshwater lakes that are great for jumping in and cooling off. 

For the other essentials, think light coloured t-shirts and shorts which you can layer up. The key to managing Ecuador’s varying climate is to come prepared for all weathers!

Footwear for Ecuador 

Walking boots – If you’ve done your research on iconic South American treks, you’ll have already realised that Ecuador is a fantastic country for hiking. Although some hikes are doable in trainers, the likes of Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and many other mountains have a lot of loose shale meaning you need a decent grip to stay safe. Some tour operators rent out hiking boots, but I’d suggest bringing your own. Daily rental can be expensive as is buying a decent pair when you’re already there. Invest in a good brand of boots like Merrell and they’ll last you for ages. 

Walking sandals or light trainers – You’ll need at least one of these for bumbling around the cities and visiting warmer climates. 

Practical items 

Backpack – Bring a strong and sturdy backpack to Ecuador. If you’re going to be travelling around, it’s much easier to throw this in the luggage compartment of the bus, or the boot of a taxi. Many historic centres have cobbled streets which will ruin the wheels of your suitcase too! You’ll be surprised at how quickly your backpack will fill up with souvenirs from local markets… Check out our readers poll on the best backpacks for travelling. 

Sun cream – Something backpackers always forget to wear is sunscreen. Just because it’s not 30 degrees doesn’t mean you don’t need to wear it! You can get burnt here even when it’s cloudy! The number of red gringos you’ll see is crazy! Pack factor 50 and some aftersun too.

Camera – This one is a no-brainer. Attach your camera with a sturdy strap and store it safely away when you’re not using it. Many Ecuadorians I’ve met have been happy to have their photo taken but you should always ask their permission first. 

Flash drive – Many tour operators in the Galapagos Islands take photos of you during excursions or trips. Afterwards, they’ll offer to put them on your memory stick free of charge. It’s not every day you get to swim with sharks so these are photos you’ll want to keep!

Binoculars – There are several spots in Ecuador where you can go bird-watching. If you’re in Mindo, checking out the cute little hummingbirds, you’ll need binoculars because they’re small. Others, like the Andean condor, don’t get close to humans so you’ll need binoculars if you want a good look at them.

Microfibre towel – You may not have heard but there are some incredible beaches in Ecuador and the water is too inviting to pass up! A microfibre towel effectively soaks up water and dries off quickly, making it ideal for the on-the-go nature of backpacking. 

Refillable water bottle – For most mountain climbs or hikes, you will need at least 2 litres of water, so having a reliable filtered water bottle is a good idea. Our favourite and the one we use personally is the Grayl Geopress

Insect repellent – You can forget this if you’re in the highlands but below 1500m it’s absolutely essential. If you go to the Oriente without this, you may well end up having a miserable time.

Spanish/Kichwa phrasebook – There are two official languages in Ecuador, Spanish and Kichwa. Spanish is widely spoken in the cities, and it’s always good to learn a few basic phrases. If you’re planning to do the Quilotoa loop, it’s a good idea to learn some phrases in Kichwa too as a lot of indigenous people speak this ahead of Spanish.

US Dollars – Yes, the currency in Ecuador is the US dollar! You’ll look really stupid if you ask for an Ecuadorian peso at your local exchange office!

FLIGHTS | Airports and Airlines in Ecuador 

Flying to Ecuador

If you book far enough in advance, you can fly to the capital city, Quito, for between $500-550USD from Europe. Sometimes, you can get better deals if you fly to Madrid from elsewhere in Europe with a budget airline, then fly either directly or with a stopover in the US or Bogotá to Quito. Guayaquil is also an option in which to fly into. 

Flying within Ecuador 

Ecuador is a very small country by Latin American standards so domestic flights are not popular with travellers. The exception to this is for those travelling on to the Galapagos Islands. All of these flights pass through Guayaquil and are served by either Avianca or LATAM. Flights to the Galapagos can be expensive for foreigners but locals get access to discounted flights. 

LANGUAGE | Spanish Tips

Ecuador is one of South America’s Spanish speaking countries and a great place in which to learn the language. The locals speak much slower than in other Latin American countries and generally, there is less variation in regional accents across the country.

Lessons and courses are readily available across the country and targeted to travellers, making them flexible and affordable. If you have the time and money, a Spanish immersion course at the beginning of your trip is a good investment. 

For a taster of some of the language to come, we recommend watching Spanish movies on Netflix before you embark on your adventure. The video below will also give you an idea of the most used words and phrases used throughout Ecuador.

YouTube video

COMMUNICATION | Phone & Internet in Ecuador 

SIM cards are easy to purchase all over Ecuador. Simply look for phone repair shops, cell phone stores or peddlers selling SIMs on the street. The main providers are Movistar and Claro and the coverage is generally pretty good. 

You may be asked to show your passport (usually a copy is fine) if you are purchasing your SIM from a shop. Be aware that there are pre-paid plans which make your credit go further. The tourist package gives you internet data as well as credit to use on texts or calls. 

To top up your phone, look for places with signs saying ‘recarga aqui’ (recharge here). These will likely include convenience shops, pharmacies, supermarkets and phone repair stores. 

BUDGET | How Much Does it Cost to Backpack in Ecuador?

If you want to do Ecuador’s mainland on the cheap, it’s definitely possible. On a tight budget you can get by on around $30 US a day but it will mean foregoing a lot of adventure sports, jungle trips and safely exploring some of Ecuador’s mountains. 

If you’re more of a flashpacker than a backpacker, you can enjoy more of the best Ecuador has to offer. Here’s a breakdown of costs…

Exchange Rate: US dollar

Also see: Cost of Backpacking in South America.

Cost of Accommodation in Ecuador 

Ecuador has a wide range of accommodation choices catering to the needs of every kind of traveller. In the bigger cities, you’re really spoilt for choice, but in some of the smaller towns and villages, you might have to put up with some inconveniences like uncomfortable beds, traffic noise, and worst of all, cold showers! 

It’s best to have cash on you to pay, as paying by credit card will incur a charge of between 5 and 10%. Accommodation is usually more expensive around religious celebrations (Christmas and Easter), and local fiestas.


In the more popular backpacking zones such as Quito, Baños and Cuenca, you’ve got plenty of choices when it comes to hostels. In Quito, most are around the Plaza Foch area which is the main party zone for backpackers. In some of Ecuador’s smaller towns and cities, you might find it trickier to come by a hostel. 

Hostels start at around $7USD for a bed in a dorm and go all the way up to $20-25USD for a private room. On average, a bed in a nice hostel dorm will set you back $10USD in most cities. Usually singles and doubles/twins are around the same price. Not everything is on Hostelworld, so it’s a good idea to try as well.

Check out these amazing hostels in Quito for a trip you’ll remember!


You’ll find a hotel in every town or city in Ecuador. The cheapest is around $10-15USD per person and will be fairly basic. There’s a chance you’ll have to use a communal bathroom too. Mid-range hotels can cost up to $80USD and they offer a lot of mod-cons and a good location. In the biggest cities, you can find luxury hotels. All hotels have to charge a 12% sales tax, which is usually included in the price, but sometimes it won’t be. Top hotels also add a 10% service charge. 


In the Oriente and the Andes, you might want to stay in a lodge. Lodges are usually included in a tour package and have a minimum stay of 3 nights. They can be expensive but they’re a great way to see wildlife and they’re normally eco-friendly.


Ecuador is home to some of South America’s best national parks and you can camp for free in most of them. You’ll need to bring your own tent and sleeping bag. If you’re in the highlands, it gets cold at night so it’s a good idea to invest in a robust tent and a thick, downy sleeping bag. 

You can also stay at mountain refugios but they may not be the most comfortable option. On the highest mountains like Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, there’s a chance that you’ll spend the whole night vomiting, due to the altitude. They usually cost around $30USD per night, including meals. 

Cost of Food in Ecuador 

Arroz, frijoles, and plátanos are synonymous with Latin America and this country is the best place to grab a cheap and wholesome plate!

Almuerzos (a cheap and filling lunch) are available in many restaurants or markets for $2.50-$3.50USD. An almuerzo consists of soup (usually with a large chunk of mystery meat sitting in the middle but you can ask for it without), a main course which usually includes rice, meat, potatoes, plantain, and salad, accompanied by a fresh fruit juice. 

Most places outside of tourist areas will stop serving almuerzo around 2-3 pm. If you find yourself craving western food, you’re going to paying closer to $10-12USD.

Cost of Beer in Ecuador 

Pilsner, the beer of choice of most Ecuadorians, goes down smooth every time and costs as little as $1USD. As with everywhere, you will pay more for beer in premium bars and clubs.

Cost of Activities in Ecuador 

Most day tours, whether they are adventure sports, mountain climbing, or wildlife watching, will be in small groups and will generally set you back between $50-80USD. 

Trips to the Amazon and especially the Galapagos can really put a dent in your budget. To give you an idea of what activities cost in Ecuador, see below. 

TRANSPORT | Getting Around Ecuador 

Ecuador is well serviced by public transport and owing to the small size of the country, a journey rarely takes longer than a few hours. 

Taxis in Ecuador 

In cities, it’s best to take taxis. Ask drivers to use their taxi meters, otherwise, you’ll be paying over the odds. In Quito city centre, you can reach most places for $5 or less. In smaller cities, you’re more likely to be paying $1-3USD. Taxis should cost between $25-28USD from Mariscal Sucre to the centre of Quito.

Buses in Ecuador 

Ecuador has an extensive network of coaches which travel between most towns and cities. Buses depart regularly and usually cost between $1-1.50US per hour of travel. They’re comfortable, and usually, you’ll be treated to a pirated movie (usually something with lots of machine guns in). I would suggest bringing headphones with you, noise-cancelling if possible.

Trains in Ecuador 

Ecuador has a rail network, but it’s mostly used for tourist routes such as the Devil’s Nose, Tren Crucero, (Cruise Train) and el Tren de Hielo (the ice train). Most tourist trains do day trips and end up back at their original destination.

Flights in Ecuador 

If you want to go to the Galapagos, all flights pass through Guayaquil. You can fly with LATAM or Avianca, for around £300 return. LATAM is slightly cheaper than Avianca. If you’re staying more long-term and get a residential visa, you can get flights around half the price. While on the subject of the Galapagos, boats between the islands cost $30USD one way. 

WHERE TO GO | Places to Visit in Ecuador 

For wildlife…

Ecuador is a wildlife lover’s dream! From the wonderful bird watching opportunities in Mindo to the exotic Galapagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest, the whole country boasts incredible wildlife. 

Look out for some of Ecuador’s most famous residents on your travels, the giant land tortoise and the Blue Footed Booby. Although these are most commonly found in the Galapagos Islands, it is possible to see the same species of tortoise is Guayaquil and Blue Footed Boobys in Machalilla National Park. 

For history buffs…

Vilcabamba is often referred to as the ‘Playground of the Incas’, harking back to the day when it served as a retreat for Incan royalty. Nowadays, it is a chilled place, popular with hippies and other free spirits.

Those interested in Incan history will also not want to miss Ingapirca, the largest archaeological Inca site in the whole of Ecuador. Hikers can also take on the 3-day Camino del Inca trek which follows the original Inca road which linked Cusco with Tomebamba (now known as Cuenca) and Quito

For adventure…

For a shot of adrenaline, head to jungle town Baños. Here you can do everything from zip-lining to hiking and even paragliding! Extreme water sports such as rafting and kayaking are also possible here but we much prefer the setting of Tena.

For beach bums…

Ecuador is home to some fabulous beaches and we’re not just talking about the ones on Galapagos either! Hit up the chilled out surf spot of Ayampe, party the night way in Montañita or add Puerto Lopez to your travel itinerary for a chance to catch a few rays!

Check out this post for more amazing places to visit in Ecuador!

THINGS TO DO | Top 10 Things To Do in Ecuador 

1. Mountain biking/hiking on Chimborazo

Standing at 6,268m, Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador, the tallest volcano in the world, and it’s also the closest you can get to the sun whilst still being on earth. 

It’s possible to climb it but it’s also a great place to practise your mountain biking skills. In the last few years, a mountain biking track has been carved into the mountain. Many tours operate out of Riobamba, and you can find the most experienced guides at Probici.

2. See the wildlife of the Galapagos

No trip to Ecuador is complete without a trip to the astonishing Galapagos Islands. Follow in Darwin’s footsteps to hunt for blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, sea lions, and giant tortoises. 

Those on a budget should consider doing a DIY land hopping trip but if you’ve got a bit of cash, another option is to take a cruise, which will enable you to visit uninhabited islands that you can’t get to on day trips out of the main island, Santa Cruz. Read more about budget Galapagos trips here.

3. Witness the untouched wilderness of Yasuní National Park

The biodiversity in this part of the Amazon basin is unmatched by anywhere on Ecuador’s mainland. There are so many animals here, including jaguars, caimans, harpy eagles, and over 600 species of bird, that UNESCO has declared it an international biosphere reserve. 

It’s difficult to get around and easier to navigate by canoe. There are two indigenous tribes in the park, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane, who remain in voluntary isolation from the outside world. Unfortunately, an attempt to stop oil companies drilling in the national park failed so now is a good time to see it before it’s destroyed.

4. Bird watching in Mindo

Mindo is a charming town located up in the cloud forests, meaning it’s one of the best places to go birdwatching in the whole of South America. If your budget stretches to it, stay in one of the treetop lodges. 

Most are outside of the ramshackle city centre but they offer the best chance of spotting the rarest birds. There are also hiking, mountain biking and canyoning opportunities in Mindo.

5. Hike the Quilotoa Loop

The Quilotoa Loop is an epic hike that takes you from the town of Latacunga into the heart of the Kichwa speaking highlands, to a beautiful, blue crater lake. 

Spend at least 3 days doing the loop, but if you have more time you can volunteer on sustainable development projects or just stay for a few days and soak up the atmosphere of indigenous villages, which come alive on their respective market days. 

If you don’t fancy hiking, you can always hitchhike or take a taxi, but there are no buses that travel the whole loop. Short on time? Why not see Quilotoa Lake on a day trip from Quito?

6. Ride the Nariz del Diablo

The Nariz del Diablo (the Devil’s Nose) is a beautifully restored touristic train that travels from Alausí to the indigenous village of Sibambe. When built in 1902, it was one of the most dangerous and difficult railroads in the world. 

Now, it offers a peaceful journey through a valley where you can experience jaw-dropping views and join in with the traditional music and dancing of the Nizag indigenous tribe. 

7. Kayaking and Rafting in Tena and Macas

Tena and Macas are both gateways to the southern Oriente, and this is where you’ll find the longest stretch of whitewater in Ecuador, meaning that there are a few tour operators here who offer tubing, rafting, and kayaking. 

When you dry off, this is also a great place for shamanic rituals and visits to the Shuar community, one of the larger Amazonian tribes. It’s best to go with a professional guide, as some villages will flat out refuse solo travellers. Check out our full article about rafting in Tena here.

8. Surfing in Montañita

Montañita is a raucous backpacker town, with the South American to Gringo ratio almost equal. It’s the surfing and party capital of Southern Ecuador and the boarding conditions are perfect all year round. 

You might end up here a lot longer than you originally intended, nursing that mojito hangover – you wouldn’t be the first! For a much more chilled surfing scene, check out nearby Ayampé.

9. Visit Puerto Lopez

This is a great place to go if your budget doesn’t stretch to the Galapagos, or you’re short on time. Puerto Lopez is the gateway to Ecuador’s only coastal national park, Machalilla.

It is home to Isla de la Plata, where you can see a plethora of birdlife, including charming blue-footed boobies. Several tour operators offer diving or whale watching trips too.

10. Climbing Cotopaxi

Although Chimborazo is Ecuador’s highest mountain, Cotopaxi is easier to get to from Quito. Hiking Cotopaxi is challenging and as a result, most travellers only go as high as the glacier. 

If mountain hiking isn’t your thing, you can get beautiful views of the volcano from Cotopaxi national park, where if you’re lucky you might spot deer, condors, and spectacled bears. Check out this post for more amazing South American animals!

Do you have any more questions about Ecuador? Contact us by email, leave a comment below or ask away in the South America Backpacker Facebook Community

Written by: Sheree Hooker & Dan Hall.

1 thought on “Ecuador Backpacking Guide!”

  1. I’m considering a trip to mainland Ecuador. Can one backpack, camp and hike in Ecuador’s national parks without a guide? I have no desire to hike much above treeline – no technical climbing for me.

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