1. Home
  2. Ecuador
  3. Ecuador Travel Guide
  4. The 9 Best Things to Do in Ecuador

The 9 Best Things to Do in Ecuador

Middle Of The World Monument

One of the best-kept travel secrets today is the vast variety of activities that the compact country of Ecuador has to offer. Whether you’re on your honeymoon, celebrating an anniversary, or taking a family trip, you’ll never run out of amazing things to do,

What makes Ecuador such a distinctive vacation destination is the different types of regions combined within its borders. The Amazon rainforest, Andean highlands, and coastal areas offer numerous things to do during your visit. From nature scenes to historical towns to unique culinary treats, you won’t have time to grow bored. To start your planning, here are the 9 best things to do in Ecuador.

View Of The Cotopaxi Volcano

Complete View & Reflection Of The Cotopaxi Volcano

1. Revel in the Sight of Volcanoes

One of the most incredible natural scenes in Ecuador is its volcanoes. The country is practically filled with them, from the dormant to the active. Many of them are easy to experience with a short day hike or tour through ‘Volcano Avenue’.

    • Volcán Chimborazo: Rising almost four miles high, this dormant, ice-capped volcano is considered to be closer to outer space than any other site on the planet. You can join a tour out of Banos or take a short hike on your own toward the summit for amazing views.
    • Volcán Cotopaxi: One of the highest active volcanoes anywhere, you can enjoy a day hike to the base camp, located near the line where glaciers begin to form. Start from the towns of Quito or Latacunga and organize a tour from there. You can also take the Tren de los Volcaos train from Quito to the base camp and enjoy the scenery along the way.
Cathedral Of The Immaculate Conception Aerial View

Aerial View Of The Cathedral Of The Immaculate Conception In Cuenca

2. Delve into History at UNESCO Sites

Roam through the historic centers of Quito and Cuenca for a valuable cultural experience while in Ecuador. Recognized as World Heritage Sites, these two cities take you back in time and envelop you in the culture and history forming the foundation of the Ecuadorian people.

  • Quito: The best-preserved historic center in Ecuador can be found in Quito, where charm abounds along the narrow cobbled streets. Admire the baroque buildings in the Old Town section, stroll along the grand plazas, enter the historic churches along the way, and enjoy the museums this city has to offer. Enjoy a treat at one of the quaint cafés.
  • Cuenca: Once nicknamed the “Athens of Ecuador,” Cuenca is a seemingly European city that will keep you entertained for hours, if not days. Centuries-old architecture distinguishes it like no other, and its history and many traditions are why UNESCO added Cuenca to its list.
Train Ride In The Ecuadorian Andes To The Devil's Nose

Train Ride In The Ecuadorian Andes To The Devil’s Nose

3. Go Sightseeing on an Excursion Train

Scenic train rides offer a relaxing way to see more of Ecuador. With six different routes available throughout the country, these day excursions will become the highlight of your vacation.

Settle into your seats and enjoy the ride as the train makes its way through the spectacular Valley of Volcanoes, down into canyons, past farmlands, and colorful towns. A few day trips to consider include:

  • Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose): This historical stretch of railway was built to connect the coastal area with the city of Quito. Its completion required laying tracks up a vertical cliff, making it the most difficult railway to build. Access the train from Alausi and take a ride through the Andes.
  • Tren de Hielo I (Ice Train): Another train ride through the Andes, this track winds its way past dazzling views of Volcan Chimborazo. The train makes a stop in Urbina, the highest train station in Ecuador, and where you can learn all about ice harvesting.

Beautiful Lagoon Located In Papallacta

4. Luxuriate in Ecuador’s Thermal Pools

Thanks to the volcanic origins of the Andes Mountain range, you have the opportunity to sink into thermal baths and experience unique spa treatments while in Ecuador. Two experiences to try include:

  • Piedra de Agua Thermal Spa: Located just outside Cuenca, this spa features thermal pools and various unique treatments, such as volcanic mud exfoliation and a red mud bath.
  • Thermal Baths of Papallacta: Located about an hour from Quito, the dozen or more pools allow you to soak your cares away while admiring the scenic landscape, including volcanoes in the distance.
Traditional Ponchos at Otavalo Market

Traditional Ponchos In Different Colors On Display In Otavalo Market

5. Peruse the Arts and Crafts in an Artisan Town

Ecuador values its rich tradition in folk art, with wood carvings, paintings, tapestries, weavings, ceramics, and sculptures. All are available to peruse and purchase at various artisan markets throughout the country.

In Quito, venture to the newer sections and enjoy the various galleries and craft shops. Take a glimpse at the artwork of Guayasamin, a famous Ecuadoran painter and sculptor. Peruse the market stalls full of unique and colorful items such as alpaca jumpers.

If there’s time in your schedule, visit the Plaza de Los Ponchos traditional art market in Otavalo. This market is the best place to find a wide variety of items unique to Ecuadorian culture. These include hand-crafted rugs, shawls, wraps, and other tapestries. In addition, items crafted in other areas of Ecuador are found here, including Cuenca’s Panama hats and San Antonio’s wood carvings.

Mashpi Lodge

Full View Of The Mashpi Lodge

6. Experience the Amazon Rainforest at a Luxury Jungle Lodge

In the extreme eastern part of Ecuador, you can experience the Amazon Rainforest. The lushness of the forest with its expansive tree canopies will captivate your attention while wildlife viewing of pink river dolphins, piranhas, tapirs, monkeys, and maybe even the famed jaguar will entice you.

One way to immerse yourself in the Amazon Rainforest experience is to stay at a luxury jungle lodge. The La Selva Amazon Eco Lodge & Spa overlooks Lake Garzacocha, where you’ll see various wildlife and birds as you enjoy a delicious meal. If you have children, watch as they learn about the animals and their habitat.

Another option is the Mashpi Lodge in Mindo. Calling itself a rainforest hotel located in the clouds, this nature lover’s locale is full of things to do. Waterfalls, hidden paths, and rare birds are just a few of the things they have nearby. You and your family can board the Dragonfly Canopy Gondola and admire the sites at tree level.

Small Waterfall In Nambillo Cloud Forest Reserve Near Mindo Ecuador

Small Waterfall In Nambillo Cloud Forest Reserve Near Mindo

7. Venture to Ecuador’s Many Waterfalls

Thanks to the various rivers throughout the Ecuadorian highlands, you’ll have access to several beautiful waterfalls. From raging waters to calming streams, venturing to these water treasures is an adventure and a relaxing endeavor. Here are a few to add to your sightseeing list:

    • Palion de Diablo Waterfall: If you’re up for an adventurous walk through a narrow canyon, you’ll be rewarded with views of this gorgeous 80-meter waterfall. Expect the misty spray to cool you down once you arrive. Accessible from Baños
    • Nambillo Waterfall Sanctuary: Located in the Mindo Cloud Forest, Nambillo contains numerous waterfalls to enjoy. You can also enjoy time soaking in the pools that naturally form at the bottom.
  • El Chorro de Giron Waterfall: Accessible from Cuenca, this waterfall is less crowded and requires just a short hike. What makes this falls a must-see is its dramatic plummet, with water racing from the Andes down into the cloud forest.
A Blue Footed Booby Dives Towards The Ocean In Front

A Blue-Footed Booby Dives Towards The Ocean

8. Take a Cruise of the Galápagos Islands

While this list of things to do Ecuador concentrates on the mainland, a true list would be remiss if it didn’t include a cruise of the spectacular natural wonders of the Galápagos Islands. Located off the coast of Ecuador, the island chain remains one of the most untouched areas in nature.

Cruises depart from Guayaquil and take you out to the islands. You’ll enjoy time on the water and also day trips on land. Get ready to be enamored by sea lions, iguanas, blue-footed boobies, penguins, flamingos, various endemic birds, sea turtles, and many others. If you’re a scuba diver, you may even get a chance to dive with manta rays and hammerhead sharks.

Freshly Prepared Potato Pancakes Are Served With Fresh Salad

Freshly Prepared Potato Pancakes, Served With Fresh Salad

9. Enjoy the Traditional Culinary Treats

Wherever you are in Ecuador, you can enjoy the traditional dishes of the culture and sit back and admire the scenery. In the coastal regions, these dishes mostly focus on seafood, plantains, coconut, and peanut sauce. In the highlands, you’ll find pork or beef-based meals combined with potatoes and corn.

For a unique tasting experience, be sure to try the guanabana fruit and also the Aji, the infamous hot pepper of the region.

As for wine, Ecuadorian geography and limited seasons challenge the growing of grapes for making fine wines. However, Dos Hemisterios is defying those odds and making a name for itself and its elegant wines. Try a glass of their chardonnay or sauvignon with your meal, and maybe take a bottle or two home with you.

Your trip to Ecuador can be whatever you want it to be — adventurous or relaxing, or a combination of both.  With this list in mind, you’re sure to find things to do perfectly suited for your particular interests.


While Rainforest Cruises aim to provide accurate and up-to-date information, we make no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information herein or found by following any link on this site. Rainforest Cruises cannot and will not accept responsibility for any omissions or inaccuracies, or for any consequences arising therefrom, including any losses, injuries, or damages resulting from the display or use of this information.

This entry was posted June 8, 2021
As Featured In