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 in Ecuador has to offer in those 10 days. You’d just be checking off lists, not really experiencing the area. Instead, I recommend focusing on a region and getting to know it.
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. There’s a lot of culture in this region too, but I would recommend checking out local Ecuadorian bloggers if you want to focus your trip there.
So here’s a great 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 is a beautiful, historical, colonial city, a UNESCO world heritage city, and also the capital of Ecuador (here are more interesting facts about Quito). 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. Seriously- I didn’t do this on my first day (I tried to do a volcano hike- woo!), and suffered from 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!). 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 (no really- they set up like 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.
To be perfectly honest, 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
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- and I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels around the world. That’s why I want to share their awesome with other people!
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.
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
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.
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, and you can spend the extra days doing some of the Quilotoa Loop (see below).
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 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 3-4 day hike is a really popular activity- especially with people who have more than 10 days in Ecuador. If you’re interested and plan to fit it in, you can read more about the Quilotoa Loop here.
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 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:
- White water rafting
- Rock climbing
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!
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.
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!