10 days in Ecuador: An itinerary for mountain & adventure lovers

10 days in Ecuador: An itinerary for mountain & adventure lovers
Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase from an affiliate link, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you (thank you!). For more info, check out my disclosure policy.

Ecuador is an absolutely stunning country.

From the islands of the Galapagos, to historical cities like Cuenca and Quito, to the jungles of the Amazon, to coastal beach towns along the Ruta del Sol, to the high altitude mountains and volcanoes in the Andes, Ecuador has everything a nature, culture, and animal lover could want.

Mix in friendly, honest people, composting, and the fact that voting is mandatory, and you’ve got one of my favorite countries in the world!

Many travelers spend a month or so in Ecuador. The country just offers too much to really get to know the highlights in less time. But the rest of us have such limited vacation time (go 2 weeks being the standard in the US!) that 7 – 10 days in Ecuador is more realistic.

How do you make the most of it? I don’t recommend cramming everything any country has to offer in 10 days. You’d just be checking off lists, not really experiencing the area. Instead, I always try to focus on a region and get to know it a bit better.

This itinerary focuses on an outdoor Ecuadorean Andes trip, with lots of hiking and adventure. The Andes in Ecuador have so much beauty, activity, and volcanic peaks that 10 days won’t cover it all, but you’ll still have a ton of fun on this trip and make the most of your time.

So here’s a perfect 10 day Ecuador itinerary, for anyone who loves mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and hikes!

Note: There are a lot of high altitude physical activities involved here. If you’re not able bodied or in reasonably good shape, it may be harder for you to follow along exactly. Not that you need to follow this exactly- these are all just suggestions!

Quito

Quito is a beautiful, historical, colonial city, a UNESCO world heritage city, and also the capital of Ecuador. Many travelers will tell you to spend less time here and more time in, like, Baños but I completely disagree. This city is a great place for food and history, is not as touristy as other cities in Ecuador, and you can be safe if you follow the basic safety rules that you should be following in any country.

But Quito is also where most North American flights fly into for the cheapest price, so we’re starting here!

Day 1: Adjust to the altitude

Google says Quito’s altitude is 9,350′. I don’t know about you, but that’s higher than most hikes I’ve ever done and every place I’ve visited before!

So on your first day, I highly recommend you take it easy and not do any intense activities. Let your body adjust to the lower oxygen levels. No, like seriously- I didn’t do this on my first day (I tried to do a volcano hike- woo!), and had serious nausea, dizziness, and irritability. Don’t be like me!

Plus, Quito has a lot to offer. Go on a free walking tour around the historic Old Town. Hang out in a local cafe and try coca tea to help with any altitude sickness (don’t try to bring back any to the US, because that’s illegal!). Head to the Equator line and do some fun experiments.

Day 2: Check out Teleferico

The Teleferico is a cable car ride up to a park on the side of a stratovolcano called Pinchincha. From here, you get some of the most gorgeous views of Quito and nearby volcanoes. There are tons of beautiful lookouts and Instagram opportunities (like, they set up llamas and swings for you to take pictures with!). If you’re like me, exploring this park and the different views could take all day!

If you’re feeling up for it, there’s also a moderate hike to the top of one of the peaks, Ruku Pichincha, from Teleferico. If you want to try the hike, head up Teleferico early because it can take about half a day.

Tbh I started this blog post because I wanted to share this picture somewhere.

But, listen to your body. Teleferico is even higher altitude than Quito, so if being up there makes you feel funny even with medications, feel free to head back down and keep exploring Quito. Hey, the cable car ride is cool in and of itself because it’s ~10 mins, still has pretty views, and according to Wikipedia is one of the highest cable cars in the world! For more lowkey attractions in Quito, check out its official website.

Where to stay in Quito

The Secret Garden Quito. They have a friendly, community oriented vibe, the most helpful staff, and tons of information on day trips and other cool stuff in the area. This hostel and all the opportunities they provide is definitely a big reason I fell in love with Quito, even though most travelers don’t! The only thing to be wary of is their shuttle from the airport is not 100% reliable. Virtually everyone I met (and including me and my friend) were not able to find it from the airport and just headed to the hostel on our own.

Note: Normally I don’t write about where to stay in places unless it’s somewhere I’ve lived (like Seattle) or somewhere I’ve been like 20 times so know most of the hotels well (like Las Vegas).

But, I fell in love with almost every hostel we stayed in in Ecuador. Like, my “favorite hostels in the world” list is exclusively these hostels in Ecuador. That’s why I want to share their awesome with other people!

Cotopaxi National Park

Home to Cotopaxi, one of the tallest, active volcanoes in the world and the second tallest peak in Ecuador, Cotopaxi National Park is next on our list. Many people say that this is a can’t miss part of Ecuador for the peak, but I absolutely loved the park itself.

Where to stay in Cotopaxi

Note that to do exactly days 3 and 4, you need to be staying in Secret Garden Cotopaxi (aka, the most unique hostel I’ve ever stayed in). Secret Garden Quito has a shuttle that takes everyone there.

If you don’t stay here, many places from Quito or in the Cotopaxi Province area offer day trips to Cotopaxi National Park with hikes, horseback riding, and bicycles. Then you can spend the extra days doing some of the Quilotoa Loop (see below).

But really, this hostel is an amazing experience. It’s completely remote, with its own private volcanoes and land. It’s eco-friendly, with compostable toilets. It’s community based, with everyone sharing meals and doing activities together. There are dogs and llamas running around, and tons of local gardens and plants. There is no internet- which really helps you be in the moment with everyone and with nature. This was the best part. One downside is it’s so removed from any culture- you’re just with other tourists doing tourist stuff eating tourist food around the hostel and it also feels funny when foreigners own private land in other countries so.

Day 3: Hike a local waterfall

Like said above, the hostel owns a lot of land in this area, so they’re able to take you on a few private hikes without a lot of extra people. This hike lets you see a different part of Ecuador than we’ve seen so far- more waterfall and jungle, less rugged mountain. My favorite part about this hike isn’t the scenery but the slight challenge- scrambling through the rocks can be a bit sketchy, and it’s pretty common for people to fall and break body parts on this hike! Be careful and know your limits!

Day 4: Hike a local volcano

This hike was one of my favorite hikes in my life, which is why I recommend it to everyone! There’s literally no one else on the trail except for the hostel group. We split into “slow” and “fast” groups and I stayed in the slow one, so it really was like an entire volcano for 3 people. It’s challenging- between the high altitude, the intense inclines, and the scramble to the top (and the fact that I was not in shape for this trip), but the challenge makes it so fulfilling when you complete it. Plus the beautiful, peaceful, lonely scenery makes you feel at peace and fall in love with the Andes.

Day 5: Explore Cotopaxi National Park

Secret Garden Cotopaxi, along with many hostels, offer different day trips in Cotopaxi National Park. You can typically choose from:

  • Hiking on the glacier (don’t worry about bringing crampons and stuff- the tours provide them)
  • Hiking to the glacier
  • Horseback riding in the park
  • Biking down the volcano

It’s up to you, but we chose horseback riding for something a little different. This is a beautiful way to experience the park while covering a lot of ground and is great for first timers since the horses are so used to the trail.

Chucchilan

Chucchilan is a small town towards the end of the Quilotoa Loop, a multi-day hike around a volcanic crater lake of the same name. The lake formed after the volcano erupted last. You can read more about its history here.

Doing the entire multi-day hike is a really popular activity with hikers and adventurous people. If you’re interested and want to fit it in, skip a couple of days in Cotopaxi and read more about hiking the Quilotoa Loop here.

However you do it, Quilotoa Lake itself is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to, and I highly recommend it on your journey!

Day 6: Hike around Quilotoa Lake

Even if you’re not doing the whole loop, you can still do a half day hike around the lake. This alone is already beautiful and challenging, and you catch the lake at all of its gorgeous angles and lighting. Don’t forget to pack a lot of water and snacks, since there aren’t any places to grab these along the lake.

If you’re sick of walking, you could also try kayaking the lake. There’s a steep incline that will take you to the lakefront. We never got the chance to do this, but many hostel people recommended it to us. If you try it, let me know how it goes in the comments!

Also beware of edited photos…. while the lake is gorgeous, most people edit it to look like the left, while the right is more realistic.

Where to stay in Chucchilan

Hostal Cloud Forest. This lowkey hostel is a locally owned hostel that had the most amazing workers, the most hospitable climate, and the tastiest food. This is actually my favorite hostel that I’ve ever stayed in. It’s a quick bus ride away from the lake, and a popular stop for people actually hiking the Quilotoa Loop.

You don’t necessarily need to stay in Chucchilan to check out Quilotoa Lake- you can also choose to stay in Quilotoa itself, the village right by the lake. There’s one hostel specifically that most people recommend you stay in this area. We actually tried to stay there too, but they couldn’t find our booking in their system and the hostel was full, so we had to find a new place! It ended up working out though because this new hostel was awesome.

Baños

Baños de Agua Santa is both the adventure capital of Ecuador and a beautiful town surrounded by waterfalls, rivers, and hot springs, shrouded by interesting folklore. This is where virtually all travelers will recommend you spend time in Ecuador, but really, it was my least favorite part of of the trip because I’m not a big fan of touristy adventure activities (I prefer the slower paced stuff like the hikes above). I’m still including it because you might be with the majority, and if you’re not, it’s still fun to try new things!

Day 7: Explore the city and fit in some bucket list adventures

To get to Baños from Quilotoa area, you can bus. Check with your accommodations people for the most up to date information including where to catch it and the price (the stuff we found on the Internet was totally wrong!).

On your first day in Baños, you might want to start off relaxing in the hot springs given all that hiking you’ve done all week, or taking it easy with exploring the local park Casa del Arbol, which has beautiful views and tons of Instagram opportunities- including the famous “end of the world” swing. The park is almost like Teleferico in Quito, but smaller (and the swing goes higher)!

After that, pack in some adventure! There’s tons you can do in Baños, including:

  • Canyoning
  • White water rafting
  • ATVing
  • Rock climbing
  • Dirtbiking
  • Ziplining

You’ll need to set these up in advance with a tour, but they’re easy to find and if not, your hostel can set it up or at least give recommendations. A few companies combine a couple in one day- like canyoning and white water rafting!

Day 8: Bike along the Ruta de las Cascadas

Many Baños waterfalls are along the Ruta de las Cascadas. You can either go on a tour or go on your own to see them all. We did the Chiva tour (oh you’ll know this tour when you’re in Ecuador- they’re colorful party buses that play reggaeton) which takes you to some of the waterfalls. While it was an interesting experience that locals tend to actually do, a lot of other tourists actually rented bikes and biked along the route, which seemed fun since you can go at your own pace and see as much as you want- if you’re comfortable biking on the same incline-y roads as cars! It’s up to you, but if I had a do-over, I’d choose the bikes!

Either way, aside from the waterfalls, there are ziplining, cable car, and other similar stops you can do along the route.

Day 9: Day trip to the Amazon or more adventure activities

A day is not enough time to explore the Ecuadorian Amazon, and if you have more time, you should spend longer! But Baños is so close to the Amazon, it’s often called “the gateway” to the Amazon, so this is a common day trip people take. Like the above, you could either go with a tour that takes you inside the Amazon for the day or do a day bike ride to Puyo, a small town right by the Amazon.

We ended up doing a day trip tour but for me personally, this tour raised a lot of questions about indigenous rights, so I personally would have spent more time doing adventure activities that we didn’t get the chance to do before (and specifically dirtbiking- it’s so much cheaper than in the US and I met a couple of people who moved to Ecuador just to dirtbike!), but just throwing both out there for you. The scenery was gorgeous either way!

Quito

Day 10: Travel back to Quito

It’s your last day! Baños to Quito can be about 4 hours of bus. Depending on how much time you really have left in the city, catch up on anything you missed before. I highly recommend Teleferico if you missed it the first time or Otalvo Market if you did Teleferico but not the market.

10 days in Ecuador pinterest image10 day Ecuador itinerary pinterest image

And there you have it – a 10 day Ecuador itinerary for anyone who loves mountains, adventures, and being active! What are you most excited for? What else would you add? Let me know in the comments?

And if you want to be extra prepared on your trip, here are my things to know before traveling to Ecuador!

Angelica
Angelica

Traveler. Foodie. Student debt haver. I love finding the best things to do and eat when traveling, and sharing them with everyone else who likes experiencing local culture or exploring the outdoors too! You can read more about me in my about page.

Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase from an affiliate link, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you (thank you!). For more info, check out my disclosure policy.

24 Comments

  1. Bazoooooot24
    January 8, 2019 / 1:58 pm

    Thanks for the amazing post! I hope to make it there one day!

    Your itinerary is very useful too!

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 9, 2019 / 6:54 am

      I hope you’re able to use it when you go! šŸ™‚

  2. January 8, 2019 / 6:53 pm

    I already knew I needed to see more of South America, but wow! These pictures really make me want to get back down there to explore! Pinned to save this for later!

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 9, 2019 / 4:01 pm

      Thank you! Hope you’re able to make it again, I can’t wait to see more of South America either!

  3. Brianna
    January 8, 2019 / 9:13 pm

    Gorgeous photos! Your itinerary looks exactly like the kind of trip I would love to take to Ecuador. Perfect mix of adventure and seeing beautiful landscapes

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 9, 2019 / 4:02 pm

      It’s the best combo šŸ˜€

  4. January 9, 2019 / 9:12 am

    I’m so obsessed with South America right now!! Can’t wait to visit Ecuador, your itinerary looks amazing! Pinned it for future reference

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 18, 2019 / 4:07 pm

      Thank you! I’m so obsessed too, I can’t wait to see the rest of the continent! šŸ˜

  5. January 9, 2019 / 10:20 am

    Hands down the most in depth itinerary and review of Ecuador I have seen. Thanks for sharing:)

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 9, 2019 / 4:08 pm

      No problem- I hope you enjoy Ecuador! šŸ™‚

  6. January 9, 2019 / 5:18 pm

    Ahh what a lovely itinerary! I spent months in Ecuador and adored it, but I didn’t get to spend much time in Cotopaxi. I’ll have to get back there soon..!

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 18, 2019 / 10:24 pm

      I’m so jealous! You probably saw so many cool other things in the country!

  7. January 9, 2019 / 6:03 pm

    What a beautiful country. The sky is so blue in some of the photos. (not just the edited one) It looks like the place with lots and lots of adventures to be had. I think you might have to workout a bit before going so you didn’t have problems on some of those hikes.

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 18, 2019 / 10:25 pm

      Haha I agree, I didn’t work out and it was way harder for me than all the people who were prepared šŸ˜‚

  8. January 10, 2019 / 9:36 am

    I can’t even imagine trying to do a volcano hike on my first day in that altitude! You’re brave šŸ™‚ My best friend in High School was from Ecuador and she was always telling us about how beautiful the country is. Now that I’ve read your post I really want to visit to see for myself!

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 18, 2019 / 10:56 pm

      Yeah… now that I’ve tried, I see why everyone else says not to šŸ˜‚. That’s awesome, she probably knows all of the cool spots! Hope you are able to make it šŸ™‚

  9. January 10, 2019 / 10:34 am

    I visited Peru a few years ago, and I fell in love with the country for similar reasons as to why you mention travelers would love visiting Ecuador. There is a little of everything! Since that Peru trip, I’ve been wanting to visit South America again, and Ecuador is definitely a country I’d like to explore for its wildlife and culture. Your itinerary is such a helpful starting point for planning an Ecuador trip. I’ve pinned it, and I will definitely reference it when I plan a trip to Ecuador in the future!

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 18, 2019 / 10:57 pm

      That’s so funny, I really want to go to Peru next and have been itching to go back to South America too after visiting Ecuador! I’m glad you found it useful, and I’ll check out your blog too for any Peru posts!

  10. January 11, 2019 / 11:47 am

    What an epic adventure! Love how active this itinerary is. This is exactly what our family love to do. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 18, 2019 / 10:57 pm

      Love that you and your family are active together, that’s what I’m hoping for one day too šŸ™‚

  11. January 12, 2019 / 11:25 am

    Oh these pictures! I love South America so much, especially the Andes. Something about that landscape is just so deliciously compelling. Your photos make me wish I could hop on the next flight to Quito, honestly. Thank you for all this info!

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 18, 2019 / 10:58 pm

      I agree, I can’t wait to check out more of the Andes in other South American countries! I don’t know what it is about that landscape either, but there’s definitely something.

  12. January 12, 2019 / 3:05 pm

    I have been dying to go to Quito and I think those llama
    (alpaca????) babies sealed the deal!

    • Angelica
      Author
      January 18, 2019 / 10:44 pm

      I’m bad at telling the difference, but they’re both so cute!

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