Complete Road Trip Guide of Northern Ecuador

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I just got back from a road trip of northern Ecuador. Northern Ecuador is full of mountains, forests, rivers and everything green.

Two places that were not on our trip route, but still made it into this travel guide are Quito and Cotopaxi. That is because we have already visited both of them on a previous trips.

While we did start this trip in Guayaquil, I suggest others do this as a Quito based trip. If you are visiting from abroad, have Quito as your home base. If you are visiting from within Ecuador, I would add additional time to spend exploring Quito, otherwise the drive might not be worth it.

The total trip took us 736 miles or 1185 kilometers.

Northern Ecuador Roadtrip

Mindo Travel Guide

Mindo, Ecuador is known for, as locals call it, “extreme sports.” This includes rafting, tubing, trekking, zip lines, mountain biking, and canyoning.

We on the other hand went to enjoy its rich biodiversity. Mindo is teaming with beautiful butterflies and hummingbird hotspots.

The highway outside of Mindo overlooks La Reserva Biologica Maquipucuna, a beautiful protected cloud forest.

Read more in our Mindo Travel Guide.

Calacalí Travel Guide

The Mitad Del Mundo in Calacalí. Look familiar?

Just north of Quito is the small town of Calacalí. Home to the original Mitad del Mundo monument.

At the edge of Calacalí is the entrance road to El cráter del Pululahua. The relaxing oasis is an hour drive down the dirt road.

Read our complete Calacalí travel guide here.

Quito Travel Guide

Mitad El Mundo Monument

Visit a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, the Mitad del Mundo, Pichincha Volcano, Basílica del Voto Nacional and more in Quito, Ecuador!

From its old history, to modern days, Quito has something to offer for the whole family around every corner. It is not to be missed.

Read our complete Quito travel guide here.

Otavalo Travel Guide

Otavalo is located 3 hours from Mindo and 90 minutes north of Quito. Otavalo has an endless supply of legunas and lakes, including Cuicocha Lake, Laguna de San Pablo, and the Lagunas de Mojanda.

Otavalo is also known for its local artisan crafts and markets, for their unique items and colors. There is a larger market held every Saturday.

Otavalo is also know for the beautiful Cascadas de Peguche are located right on the edge of town. There you can also find a small artisan market, food vendors and a solar calendar!

Read our complete Otavalo travel guide here.

Quilotoa Travel Guide

We arrived in Quilotoa in the afternoon with hopes of seeing the famous Quilotoa lake before dark. However, at over 12,000′ the city was blanketed in so much fog we could hardly see across the street.

The village of Quilotoa charges $2 per person entry, but it covers the cost for parking and entrance into the Laguna de Quilotoa ecological reserve.

The hike down to Quilatoa lake is a 280-meter vertical descent from the rim to the lake. Round trip is closer to three hours.

Read more in our Quilatoa Travel Guide.

Back to Guayaquil

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After finishing the hike, we packed up and headed back to Guayaquil. The five hour drive took closer to six hours, due to getting stuck behind slow moving trucks on many mountainous roads. We saw many near misses of head-on collisions as cars were passing on curvy roads. When driving be cautious, and remember, getting to your next destination a few minutes late is better than risking your life.

The view however was breathtaking. Between Zumbahua and La Maná we passed a dozen waterfalls and countless landscapes. Here are a few of the many photos we took on the car ride home.

There was one instance of a bus passing me on a busy stretch of road. It was able to get half passed me before the truck coming the other way was closing in fast. The bus had to swerve back into the right lane, and luckily I was aware enough to slam on the brakes and allow the bus over. Otherwise, the bus would have knocked our car off the road. Sometimes buses in Ecuador do what they want, even if it is dangerous, as a car is much smaller and must move out of its way.

There was one instance of a bus passing me on a busy stretch of road. It was able to get half passed me before the truck coming the other way was closing in fast. The bus had to swerve back into the right lane, and luckily I was aware enough to slam on the brakes and allow the bus over. Otherwise, the bus would have knocked our car off the road. Sometimes buses in Ecuador do what they want, even if it is dangerous, as a car is much smaller and must move out of its way.

We arrived back home in Guayaquil, after a busy northern Ecuador roadtrip ready for dinner, but went straight to bed.

The most important thing to remember from our northern Ecuador roadtrip guide is that it didn’t happen if you don’t take a #selfie.

If we missed any must see places outside of Quito or in northern Ecuador, please let us know in the comments, so we can check them out ourselves!

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15 thoughts on “Complete Road Trip Guide of Northern Ecuador

  1. It looks like you had an amazing trip. I really hope I’ll be able to visit South America at some point in my life,

  2. It is such a beautiful country with so much to see and do, and a truly amazing landscape… Definitely worth a visit. That said, my heart and prayers go out to all impacted by the recent earthquake…

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