The post you’ve all been waiting for…a two-week itinerary for Ecuador! Okay, maybe you haven’t actually been waiting for it. But, after living in Ecuador for four years, I’ve been able to explore quite a bit of this incredible, often overlooked country. Most foreigners from the States or Europe make a beeline for Peru (Machu Picchu) or Colombia (it’s experienced a major revival over the last ~7 years) and don’t necessarily consider Ecuador. I’m here to tell you that Ecuador should most definitely be on your list! Here are a couple of advantages for Ecuador over Colombia and Peru:
- The size. The sheer enormity of Colombia and especially Peru in comparison to Ecuador make it much more challenging to visit the diverse, amazing spots you want to see in a short time frame. Ecuador is much smaller and extremely bus-able!
- The biodiversity. Ecuador has about 10% of the world’s biodiversity despite its small size.
- The relatively quick transitions from one region to the next. You can be in the Andes mountains looking at snow-capped volcanos in the morning, and four hours later be at the edge of the Amazon jungle. Or six hours later and you’re at the tropical coast.
- If you’re from the States, the US dollar. Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency, and it’s so much easier to budget when you are working within your own currency!
- The hipster factor. Not a ton of other people visit Ecuador or even know where it is. Your friends will almost certainly put Ecuador on their lists after hearing about your amazing visit!
Okay, now to the point…
The Ultimate Two Weeks in Ecuador
A caveat: two weeks is not nearly long enough to see all of Ecuador, so this is not all-inclusive. This is my recommendation for the nature and adventure-loving traveler.
Day One: Arrive in Quito
Arrive in Quito, and leave as soon as possible. Quito was my home for four years and has some wonderful elements to recommend it, but in terms of nature, there are much better places to explore. Spend the night in Hostal Alcala in La Foch (party/restaurant zone) or Colonial House in the historic center. You can expect to pay around $25/night for a private room and bathroom.
In the morning, head to Quitumbe Bus Terminal. You can take the Ecovia or the Trole bus to Quitumbe in the south of the city, or take a taxi for about $10-$12. Your destination: Tena. Tena is always my top choice destination for travelers, and it’s often overlooked. Tena is the gateway to the Amazon, and there are endless places to explore rivers, jungles, and get your adrenaline pumping. The bus ride is about 4-5 hours, and it’s a stunningly beautiful descent from the Andes to the jungle.
Day 2: Tena
- Arrive mid-day, grab lunch and drop off your belongings at the Casa del Abuelo hostal. Sonia, the owner, is a fantastic host–tell her Elizabeth from WorldTeach sent you! Be sure to request a room with air conditioning if you like to be cool when you sleep! Expect to pay around $17/person or around $34 for a private room for two.
- If you arrive before noon, you can take a bus to Laguna Azul. There’s one bus per day in each direction, and it leaves at 12:30 from Tena and departs the Laguna around 6 pm. The bus ride is about an hour, and costs a couple of dollars, or you can hire a taxi for about $30 round trip. Pay your entrance fee, also about $3, and play around in the beautiful natural jungle pools! If you’re brave, you can scramble around the rocks and find a natural rock slide…
- Back in Tena, head to Raft Amazonia to book your rafting trip for tomorrow. *I am not affiliated in any way with Raft Amazonia; I just love that they are indigenous owned and operated, unlike many other rafting/excursion companies, and their service is top-knotch. I’ve gone on excursions with them 5 times. You can do the Rio Jumandy for class III fun or the Jondachi-Hollin for class III-IV. I’ve done both; the Rio Jumandy is more of a fun, jump in and swim, play games on the raft experience and more friendly for younger and older people. I have been on rafts with kids as young as 5 or 6 on the Jumandy. Jondachi-Hollin is more expensive, and will require trekking in the muddy jungle down to the river for about an hour before starting the journey, but you’ll also get to see the “Grand Canyon” in the area, which is a beautiful natural swimming hole with a waterfall in a cave. Both rivers are wonderful experiences, it just depends on what you are looking for!
Day 3: Tena
- Start your day off with breakfast at your hostel, and head to the Raft Amazonia office around 8:45 am to start your adventure. Be sure to bring sunscreen, bug spray, a sun hat, and your GoPro if you have one. Wear your bathing suit and your Chacos/adventure sandals, or plan to go barefoot and hand your shoes to the guides. The guides will have a dry bag you can place your items in, but I wouldn’t recommend bringing anything that can’t get wet just in case your raft tips. Enjoy the most MAGICAL day rafting in the jungle!
- If you aren’t too tired after rafting, head straight to the Cavernas Jumandy for a cave tour when you’re back in the city. You can catch a bus for around $.35 or a taxi for $5-$6. The entrance fee is also about $5. Note you cannot bring any backpacks or cameras into the caves, so plan ahead and only bring bus fare or plan to pay a small fee to store your items at the entrance. The tour is about one hour and you’ll get to hear about the caves, swim through a portion of it, take a “bath” in a waterfall, and for the brave, plunge into a 12 foot deep water hole. This cave tour is operated by local indigenous communities, so you’ll be supporting the people whose land this belongs to.
- You’ll want a hefty dinner tonight. Get an incredible barbecue plate from Parilladas del Manaba. If you’re vegetarian, they make some excellent beans/rice/salad plates, too. Make sure to ask for avocado on the side if you’re ordering veg.
- Return to Tena, book your next adventure with Raft Amazonia: hiking through a waterfall-filled canyon in the jungle!
Day 4: Tena
- Take your excursion to the Pimpilala Falls/Canyon area with Raft Amazonia. You’ll learn about medicinal plants and foods in the area, you’ll scramble through the water up and over waterfalls, and have one heck of a fun time. Seriously, you won’t regret it. You’ll finish your day around 3 pm, drenched and exhilarated.
- At this point, you might feel inclined to rest! If you’re still rearing to go, catch a bus to Puerto Misahualli where you can see monkeys on the beach and take a dip. Or, head to Balneario del Sol for a quicker, closer excursion.
- Grab your bus ticket in the evening for the next destination: Baños!
Day 5: Baños
- Take an early bus to Baños (~3 hours) and arrive mid-day. Drop off your belongings at Hostel Chimenea if you want to be close to the action, or Hostal Monte Carmelo if you’d like to be in a quieter, further out lodging. Drop off your bags and grab a quick lunch.
- If you’re ready for some serious adrenaline, head to the San Francisco Bridge to do “puenting” to start your time in Baños with a bang. The cost is $20, and you can walk to the bridge from town. You’ll jump off a 300-foot bridge, and fall 100 feet before you start to swing.
- After your jump, head to one of the endless tour agencies to book a visit to the Casa del Árbol on a chiva (party bus). The Casa has some cool swings that are in basically everyone’s instagram who has gone to Ecuador. But the ride up the mountain on the chiva is amazing and worth it in and of itself! It should cost about $10-$12 for the ride and the swing entrance. This is a great activity to do around 4 pm when the light is so beautiful. You’ll arrive back in the city around 7:30 or 8, just in time for dinner.
- Head to Cafe Hood for a nice dinner. If you like fish, the fish in orange white wine sauce is fantastic (according to my husband and also my dad). The chicken is my favorite here!
Day 6: Baños
- Today you’ll get an early start, because you’re renting a bicycle ($5-15) to bike the Ruta de las Cascadas. This bike adventure takes you to several waterfalls along the highway you’ll be riding on, and it’s mostly downhill. You’ll be able to stop along the way to hike around some of the falls, while others are simply viewed from the highway. You can end at Pailon del Diablo, the massive and most famous of the waterfalls, and then pay a few dollars to hitch a ride in a truck with your bike back to the city.
- Back in the city, head to Aroma & Sabor Mercedes for one of the best fried empanadas you’ve ever had. Relax at the little cafe with your coffee and snack after a long day of exercise.
- Visit one of the agencies to book your tour for tomorrow: canyoning! I’ve used Geotours many times and have had only positive experiences.
- Check out Cafe Good for dinner. Their Thai peanut dish is fantastic!
- After your day of biking, head to one of the hot springs Baños is known for! Termas El Salado is a quieter, inexpensive hotsprings, or, if you want a more upscale experience, head to Luna Volcán (previously Luna Runtun), a famous spa on the top of a mountain ($6 via taxi to the spa). You can pay $20 to just access their legendary hot springs without having to stay at the hotel itself.
Day 7: Baños
- Pack your bags, because you’ll be heading out of Baños after your adventure today. Ask your hostel if you can use a shower after your adventure–if not, be prepared to head out a bit dirty (alternatively, stay one more night in Baños and do all travel on day 8.)
- Get to the Geotours office by 8:45 am for your Canyoning Cashaurco tour. They’ll give you a wetsuit, helmet, harness, and shoes to wear for your adventure, so plan to wear a bathing suit underneath your outfit. They’ll drive you to the start of the canyon, and then you’ll rappel down waterfalls, zip down a zip line, and slide down at least one waterfall on your bottom.
- Buy your bus ticket to Quito and head back to the city in the evening. Stay at a hostel you liked from your first night!
Day 8: Quito to Mindo
- Rise and shine, you’re headed to the Mindo cloudforest. You can take a bus from La Ofelia station in the north of the city from Quito to Mindo. It will cost about $6-8 in taxi to get to the terminal, and about $4-5 for the bus fare. Buses depart approximately hourly Monday-Friday between 8 and 4, and Saturday and Sunday between 7:40 and 4 or 5 pm (check here). The ride is 2 hours.
- Stay at Biohostal in Mindo town or pay a bit more and stay outside of town at Hotel Bambu. Drop off your bags, grab some food, and head to hike the waterfalls via the yellow cable car. You’ll take a taxi up to the departure area (~$5-8 dollars–it’s recommended to ask the driver to return to pick you up to be sure you have a ride down!) and then take the cable car across the forest to the hiking area (~$3). Spend your first afternoon in Mindo exploring the waterfalls.
- Eat dinner at El Chef!
Day 9: Mindo
- Today’s adventure is ziplining. Walk the 1.5-2 miles up the hill to the site, or take a $5 taxi. Then spend two hours zipping through the cloud forest across 10 different lines. If you’re feeling extra daring, ask to do the Tarzan swing afterwards (additional cost of ~$5-10).
- Return to Mindo for lunch, then book a tubing tour in the afternoon. You’ll bounce around in the small river for 30-45 minutes and have a blast, and it will only set you back ~$8.
- Relax in your hostel’s hammocks and then grab dinner.
Day 10: Mindo and return to Quito
- Today you can pick from a variety of activities: a bird watching tour, a coffee tour, a chocolate tour, a visit to the butterfly garden, or all of the above! Each of these activities is fairly short–I’ve done them all. I’d probably recommend a bird watching tour if you haven’t done one of these previously; we saw toucans and other pretty birds, but be warned you have to wake up early for this type of tour. I’d also recommend the chocolate tour at El Quetzal.
- Eat lunch at the best arepa place around, say goodbye to Mindo, and return to Quito.
- You should have a couple of hours in Quito before it gets dark. If you’re ambitious, consider visiting the Capilla del Hombre. I’m not a museum fan, but this one is amazing. It showcase the artwork and life of Ecuador’s most famous artist, Guayasamín, and it’s absolutely worth the visit. Price to enter is about $15 for foreigners.
- For an evening treat, grab drinks at Cafe Mosaico on their outdoor patio. The food here is not very good, in my opinion, but it’s a beautiful place to appreciate city views and have a hot canelazo, Quito’s delicious signature cocktail.
Day 11: Cotopaxi
- It’s time for an Andean adventure, so you’ll head to Cotopaxi for your last few days. Book 2 nights at The Secret Garden, and pay a bit extra for them to transport you in their van, because it’s impossible to get here on a bus. You’ll arrive around 11 or 12, and in the afternoon, you can take a hike to a waterfall (optional) or lounge around on the famous hammock and take in your first views of the majestic Cotopaxi mountain.
- A note: all meals will be eaten at the hostel–there are no restaurants anywhere nearby. This hostel is pretty pricey for Ecuador, especially compared to all the other recommended places on this list, but there are no truly cheap options around Cotopaxi, unfortunately. I’m also not a huge fan of the way this hostel is run; another option (more expensive) where my parents stayed is Hacienda Los Mortiños which looks super beautiful.
- You’ll need to sign up for activities on your first afternoon. I’d recommend doing the Pasochoa hike on your first day and horseback riding on your final day, but there is also biking and summiting other mountains as alternatives.
Day 12: Cotopaxi
- Hike Pasochoa! Be warned: this is high elevation. Be sure to drink plenty of water and don’t attempt a hike in the area if you aren’t in moderately good shape. Biking (downhill) Cotopaxi might be a better option if you’re worried about altitude and your fitness.
- Provided you do the hike, it’s a great, moderately strenuous day of traipsing up the mountain. You’ll get spectacular views for your efforts.
- You’ll arrive at the hostel around 2 pm in time for lunch, and relax for the rest of the day. You’ll probably want to jump in the hot tub if you haven’t already.
Day 13: Cotopaxi and return to Quito
- Your final day here will be magical. No joke. The horseback riding in Cotopaxi National Park is out of this world amazing. Volcano views, high Andean páramo, glimpses of wild horses, almost no one else around…it’s unbeatable. You’ll spend about three hours on horseback and you’ll wish it would never end.
- Eat lunch at the hostel and take the transit back to Quito.
- If you’re staying in the downtown area, check out En Dulce for an afternoon sweet or savory pastry and coffee.
Day 14: Last day in Quito!
- On your last day, you’ll want to take the Teleferiqo to Rucu Pichincha volcano. Be warned: this is very high altitude as well. If you’re fit and up for it, hike to the top of Rucu (about 4-5 hours round trip). It’s a fantastic hike! If you’re tired/wanting to relax, simply walk around near where the cable car drops you off and appreciate the stunning beauty of the Andes laid out before you.
- Visit the artisanal market in La Mariscal area to buy any alpaca blankets/scarves/ponchos or other Ecuadorian souvenirs you might be looking for. You’ll want some mementos from this trip.
- Say hasta luego to Ecuador! Who knows, you just might want to return someday.
Possible modifications to itinerary:
- Want more jungle, less travel time? Eliminate Mindo, start in Tena, then head to Puyo for a couple nights before Baños.
- Want more Andes, less jungle? Skip Mindo, and head instead to Riobamba to spend some time around the Chimborazo volcano and El Altar.
- Want to minimize travel time? Spend a couple nights in Papallacta, then head to Tena, then Puyo, then Baños and your entire trip will be in basically a loop.
Budget for Two Weeks in Ecuador
Budgeting for Ecuador. This itinerary is more of a mid-budget trip, mainly because of the adventure activities being a bit more costly. Not including flights, this trip should cost roughly $1,500. Here’s how I’d estimate expenses:
- Hostels: $25-$35 per night for private room. This is pretty standard cost for either one or two occupants. The cost of the Cotopaxi hostel if you want a private room is ~$100/night (can be shared with your travel buddy)–the one big exception to this estimate. Unfortunately, that’s what you’ll have to pay to stay near the park. You’ll only stay there for two nights in this itinerary.
- Food: $25 per person, per day. $12 per day for breakfast, local almuerzos, and a snack/water/coffee. You could easily do this more cheaply for half the cost/day, with $3 for breakfast and $3 for local lunches and eliminating the snacks, and budgeting $6 for dinner. $12-$13 for dinner is enough for a nicer plate and a juice or beer/wine.
- Transportation: $200 per person, total. This should cover local buses and occasional taxis to all of the destinations mentioned in this itinerary. It also accounts for some “extras” since you and your travel partner(s) can share the cost of some of these taxis. It includes the biggest expense of the $25 (each way) taxi to and from the airport. Also, some of the activities you’ll be doing won’t require transit funds, or they’ll be included in the payment for the activity.
- Activities: Roughly $400 per person for ALL activities listed in this itinerary. This drives the cost of your trip up a lot, so if you’re trying to be budget friendly, maybe pick half of these activities or focus on the less expensive ones.
- Laguna Azul*, Tena: $3
- Rafting*, Tena: ~$55, can be negotiated lower
- Waterfall hiking Pimpilala*, Tena: ~$55, can be negotiated lower
- Bridge jump “puenting”, Baños: $20
- Casa del Árbol/Chiva*, Baños: $12
- Bike rental*, Baños: ~$10
- Ruta de las Cascadas waterfall entrance fees (varies), Baños: $10
- Swanky Luna Volcán hot springs, Baños: $20
- Canyoning*, Baños: $60, can be negotiated lower
- Cable car and waterfall hike*, Mindo: $5
- Ziplining*, Mindo: $20
- Tarzan Swing, Mindo: $6
- Bird watching, Mindo: $20
- Chocolate tour, coffee tour, or visit to butterfly garden, Mindo: $10/activity
- Pasochoa hike, Cotopaxi: $20
- Horseback riding*, Cotopaxi: $35
- Capilla del Hombre, Quito museum: $16
- Teleferiqo*, Quito: $18
The starred items are the activities I would NOT miss. Honestly, it’s hard to pick, because I have loved each and every activity on this list, but these are the ones I’d focus on if on a stricter budget.
- Extras/incidentals: $100/person for items like souvenirs, a 6 pack of beer, a toothbrush because you forgot to pack one, etc.
Safety. Robbery is super common in Ecuador, so be mindful of your belongings at all times. No need to walk around cowering in fear, but definitely exercise caution. Keep all valuables on your person while busing the longer distances (do not store them under the bus with your bigger suitcase of clothing/shoes). If your hostel room has a lock box, use it. Don’t carry all your credit and debit cards around with you–keep one safe in the hostel just in case. Make copies of your passport and your credit/debit cards so you can more easily replace/cancel them if stolen. Be careful if someone seems too eager to help you out. Don’t walk around alone at night. If you’re going out to drink, don’t bring anything except your ID and the cash you plan to use. If you bring a purse or backpack out and about, make sure some part of your body is always touching it (preferably it’s on your lap). Simple things will go a long way towards keeping you and your belongings safe!
Most importantly, have a FANTASTIC trip! Ecuador is an incredible country and you are in for a marvelous adventure.