Unless heading to the Galapagos, Ecuador isn’t high on most peoples’ radars. Especially when Machu Picchu is right next door! But for the adventurer in all of us, Ecuador packs a punch. Here are some of the best ways to experience adventure in Ecuador. If you plan your adventure right, most of these are doable in a 2-week Ecuador itinerary!
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Adventure in Ecuador
Cotopaxi Volcano is said to be one of the easier Ecuadorian volcanoes to hike. It is the second-highest mountain in Ecuador, but one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the country.
You’ll need to be acclimatized to hike to the summit, which is usually a 2-day and 1-night hike. You can even take this hike from your accommodation in Quito. It’s truly an accessible adventure in Ecuador to have for most tourists.
Most summit hikes start from the car park at 4,500 metres, and then hiking begins there to the refuge at 4,800 metres, where you’ll spend your first night, rising just after midnight to summit early on day 2.
Choose to stay locally, at the Secret Garden Hostel. It’s described as heaven on earth, and to be honest, it’s not far wrong. Their private cabanas have a fireplace, bathroom and the most stunning views of Cotopaxi and the surrounding area.
When hiking Cotopaxi, it isn’t necessary to reach the summit – but try to head up past the refuge to the snowline to hit 5,000 meters (which would beat the 4,900 meters if you’ve ever hiked Rainbow Mountain in Peru!).
The views from Cotopaxi are glorious and the air somewhat thinner. Whether you get to the top or not, life at this altitude is a little slower – a truly incredible place to visit.
Cycling the route of the waterfalls
One of the most fun adventures in Ecuador is to cycle down the Andes along the Route of the Waterfalls. The day cycle trip leaves from Baños de Agua Santa, where there are several bicycle rental stores.
Once you have your bike and checked it is good condition, just hop on the road leading out of town and continue down the mountain. The route passes multiple waterfalls, including several that cascade down the side of nearby hills and even across the road in parts.
The largest and most spectacular is Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron), about half way along the route. The thundering waterfall is reached down a series of walkways and steep steps. The effort is worth it, as the waterfall is even more impressive the closer you get. This is also a nice spot for lunch.
Fortified, continue down the mountain. Soon enough you will get a panoramic view of the Amazon Rainforest below stretching as far as the eye can see. When you get to Puyo at the bottom of the Andes, hop on one of the frequent buses that climb back up to Baños, with your bicycle on the roof.
Baños is famous for the natural hot springs that give the town its name, so soaking in hot water is the perfect way to end your day and soothe any sore muscles.
There are frequent buses to Baños from major cities, including Quito.
Hike Cerro Negro on Isabela Island
No trip to Ecuador is complete without visiting Sierra Negra (or Cerro Negro) on Isabela Island in the Galapagos. It is the only accessible volcano on the islands and one of the most active volcanoes in the Galapagos region with a black, surreal landscape forming the caldera which is the largest of all the volcanoes in the Galapagos.
To reach the caldera you’ll have to take the 16 km return trail to the top. You are required to visit and hike with a local guide but it is not recommend going without one, even if you could. It wasn’t too long ago that Sierra Negra last erupted, so your guide will likely be able to give you an interesting, first-hand account.
Besides the great views and first hand accounts, your guide will teach you all about the geology and natural habitat in the area to help you further understand the formation and evolution of the Galapagos Islands. It puts into context all the other adventures you will have in Galapagos and around Educador!
Ayahuasca in the Amazon
Wait, what!? You read that right.
The Amazon rainforest spans nine countries in South America, making it the largest tropical rainforest in the world. People come from all over the world to visit this spectacular place, aid in wildlife conservation, volunteer in reforestation efforts, and see one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. What most people don’t come here for is…. an ayahuasca experience.
Ayahuasca is a plant medicine commonly used in indigenous tribes in South America. It is consumed as a tea under the supervision of a shaman or taita (spiritual guide). In a nutshell, it is used as a means of reconnecting with oneself and the earth – though there is much more to it than that, and everyone’s experience is different. It can have profound, lifelong effects. Some scientists and psychotherapists proclaim it as an effective tool for treating depression and other mental health issues.
While ayahuasca is certainly not for everyone, it will undoubtedly give you an unforgettable experience to commemorate your time in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Alma Healing Center works with a local indigenous tribe about an hour outside of Puyo to facilitate the ayahuasca ceremonies.
Snorkeling the Galapagos
While there are many things you have to do on a trip to the Galapagos Islands, snorkeling probably tops that list. You can admire coral and fish while swimming with sea turtles, Galapagos penguins, sharks, sea lions, and more.
There are quite a few places to go snorkeling in the Galapagos. These include Tortuga Bay, Eden Islet, Garrapatero Beach, Las Grietas, Las Tintoreras, Los Tuneles, Concha Perlas, and Kicker Rocker. And that’s just to name a few. No matter which island you’re on, there will be somewhere to go.
Cost will vary depending on tour company, how long the tour is, and where you’re going. Prices generally range from $70-$150. But don’t worry, if that’s out of your budget, there are places you can go on your own! Gear rental is usually under $20.
Most tours will take you out to places you can’t go, to other beaches, and occasionally include other activities. It is definitely recommended to do at least one tour to see something you wouldn’t normally be able to. This is a really great way to experience the islands from a new perspective.
Cajas National Park
Anyone looking for adventures must not overlook the stunning national parks in Ecuador, especially Cajas National Park. Cajas is located an easy day trip away from the colonial city of Cuenca. Unlike the typical landscapes of Ecuadorian parks, where there are lush forest and waterfalls, Cajas National Park features unique tundra vegetation.
Located about 3,900 meters above sea level, hiking in Cajas National Park is definitely no easy task, though some routes are easier than others. At such a high altitude, the level of oxygen is much lower than that at sea level. In a way, that makes the adventures in Cajas National Park much more exciting.
As you hike through the seemingly-barren land with nothing but soaring mountains and small plants, you feel a sense of unworldliness. The effect of the lower levels of oxygen kicks in and struggle as you tackle this beautiful place in Ecuador.
Don’t worry though, the trails are well-marked (though worse after a rainy day) and there are easy trails for beginners. Whichever route you pick, excitement and stunningly unique landscapes await you.
Hike the Quilotoa Loop
Ecuador is an adventure lover’s dream destination. The people are friendly and welcoming, and the scenery and sights are out of this world. Traveling Ecuador is an amazing adventure in itself.
Although Ecuador has some cool cities to visit, its natural beauty is what is truly awesome. The Quilotoa Loop hike is a must for anyone who loves independent treks.
Located in the Central Highlands, this journey takes you through pristine farmland, rolling hills, small mountain villages, and unbelievable scenery — including the volcano crater lake of the same name (Quilotoa).
You can hike this route clockwise, or counterclockwise. The main town in the area is Latacunga. Latacunga is where you’ll catch a bus to one of the mountain towns to start your hike.
Spend your days enjoying the silence of nature, picnics in the middle of nowhere, and gorgeous landscapes. Evenings can be spent enjoying dinner with fellow hikers at one of the few hostels/guesthouses along the way.
Not only is the hike itself incredible, but these towns also have weekly markets — different days for each town, so make sure you take that into consideration when planning your hiking route. If you love getting out in nature on your own, you won’t want to miss this trek.
Head to Mindo
Mindo is an incredible village in the Andes Mountains of Northern Ecuador. Under three hours by bus from Quito, come to Mindo to spend a few days of adventure activities.
If you’re looking for adventure in Ecuador, you’ll find a ton of options in Mindo. Be forewarned – the bus ride there from Quito is SCARY AF. Be prepared for sweaty palms and, if you get nervous of heights easily, sit on the left side of the bus for the ride there.
There are many adventure activities to experience in Mindo. Hike the cloud forest to the cascades, go zip lining through the cloud forest, go tubing on Rio Mindo, or explore the cloud forest by bike.
When you’ve had enough adventure, check out the butterfly farm or take a chocolate tasting tour. Mindo is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, so a night hike or bird-watching tour are both excellent options. Bring your binoculars!
Wherever you choose to base yourself in Ecuador, you’ll find no shortage of adventures to experience. And afterwards, fresh food and countless ways to relax and enjoy the natural abundance that this country holds. Heading here for a vacation? What is your favorite adventure experience to have in Ecuador? Drop it in the comments below!