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Things to do in Ecuador: 10 day Itinerary (Highlands version)

Mitad del Mundo, Quito

Ecuador is one of the most diverse countries in the world and in only 10 days in Ecuador you can visit volcanoes, beautiful beaches and the rainforest. We recommend starting your week in Ecuador either in Quito or Guayaquil as there are the main international airports in the country. Quito is a UNESCO historic city in the highlands with so much culture and offers a broad range of things to do and see, while Guayaquil is the main port and the gateway to the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador. In this 10-day itinerary we have focused on visiting the highlands region, which takes you along the Ecuador’s Andes from Quito to Cuenca, departing in Guayaquil. If you do not have a car this guided tour might be right for you.

Read More: The best things to do in 8 days in Galapagos

Ecuador is split in 4 regions: Coast (Pacific coast), Highlands (the Andes), Amazonia (Rainforest) and the Galapagos Islands. To fully explore all of Ecuador’s regions you would need to spend at least a month to see all the main highlights of each region; Ecuador has over 80 volcanos.

If you have some extra time when visiting Ecuador we recommend adding a trip to the Galapagos Islands, one of the world’s most biodiverse archipelagos. In the mainland of Ecuador you will be amazed by the diversity in landscape ranging from volcanoes, beautiful mountains, national parks and stunning beaches.

otavalo

Read More: The complete guide to travel the Ruta del Spondylus in Ecuador (all the beaches)

As part of this Ecuador 10 day itinerary you will see some of the most popular national parks in the country, the most beautiful hidden gems and the most popular cities.

Included in the ultimate Ecuador 10 day itinerary are Quilotoa lake, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo Volcanoes, Baños (Ecuador’s gateway to the Amazon), Puyo (rainforest), Cuenca, the Inca ruins of Ingapirca, Cajas National park and the historic port city of Guayaquil.

Things to know before traveling to Ecuador:

  • Currency: USD (United State Dollars)
  • Language: The official language in Ecuador is Spanish and in some communities Quichua. Many people within the travel industry speaks English especially in the tourist areas.
  • Visa: You might need a visa to visit Ecuador. You can check Ecuador visa requirements here.

How to get to Ecuador:

You can either fly to Quito’s airport, Mariscal Sucre International Airport or to Guayaquil, José Joaquín De Olmedo International Airport (GYE). Both airports receive international flights from a range of airlines including Aeroméxico, Air Europa, American Airlines, Avianca, Eastern Airlines, LLC, KLM, LASER Airlines, LATAM Ecuador, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, Delta and TAME.

How to travel around Ecuador:

The best way to explore Ecuador is either by renting a car, taking tours or by taking the bus. Buses are the cheapest way to get around Ecuador. Car rentals can get expensive, but give you the most freedom. If you are traveling to Ecuador with a group, we recommend hiring a private driver (send us an email and we can connect you with some recommended drivers).

What is the best month to visit Ecuador?

Because Ecuador is right in the Equator it is never a bad time to visit Ecuador. The best time to visit Ecuador depends on when you have the time to visit. We would say during the winter, dry, months of December to March for the Galapagos, the Coast and the Amazon.

What to pack to Ecuador (Highlands)

  • A light rain jacket
  • Full-length light hiking pants 
  • Hiking boots or sneakers
  • A light backpack
  • Altitude sickness medication
  • A great camera and a zoom lens 
  • Bug spray and mosquito repellent
  • Hat
  • Hiking socks
  • A water bottle

Is Ecuador expensive?

The amount you will spend in Ecuador depends on the type of accommodations you would like to stay and the activities you chose to do. Keep in mind that Ecuador has the USD so there is no real benefit of currency conversion when visiting Ecuador. Some of the small towns in Ecuador are very affordable, and other areas are extremely pricey. The Galapagos for instance could go either way in terms of your budgeting. You can either do Galapagos in a budget-friendly way or you can spend thousands of dollars in a cruise.

You should plan on spending more money when planning your trip to Ecuador if you are thinking about visiting the rainforest and some of the most tourist destinations in the country.

Is Ecuador Safe to visit?

Ecuador is not the safest country in South America to visit but it is not the most unsafe either. It all depends where you go and what you do. We recommend you avoid traveling at night and in the main cities be more aware of delinquency. Do not flaunt expensive gear and jewelry. If you are travelling with camera gear, please make sure you keep it secure and not visible and I consider insurance if traveling with valuables.

The Ultimate Ecuador Road Trip in 10 Days Map

Day 1: Guayaquil

Arrive to Guayaquil, José Joaquín De Olmedo International Airport (GYE) to start your journey around Ecuador. Guayaquil is the second largest city in Ecuador, after Quito. It is Jazmin’s home town, and even though many people might say skip Guayaquil, it is the best city to start your journey if you want to include Cuenca in your itinerary. Guayaquil is the main port of Ecuador and it is the gateway to the most beautiful beaches in the country. It is a beautiful metropolitan city with a lot to offer to its visitors ranging from museums, to nature with a rich history. It could also serve as your point of departure to the Galápagos. If you do not have a car, the best way to explore Guayaquil is with the hop on and hop off red bus.

In your first day in Guayaquil I recommend walking down the Malecón 2000 and riding La Perla, a Ferris wheel overlooking the historic city center. You can always get a free walking tour or a paid guided tour of Guayaquil. Then head over to the bohemian neighborhood of Las Peñas, which was the first neighborhood in the city and today is full of colorful houses on a hill and a beautiful church and a lighthouse on the top of the hill. If you are more into nature then you have several options. Head over to Manglares Churute, which is a mangrove with amazing fauna and flora, visit Cerro Blanco, which is is a dry tropical forest or Parque Historico de Guayaquil to learn more about Ecuador’s diverse landscape and Ecuadorian traditions.

A great day trip from Guayaquil is Bucay waterfalls, the Naranjal Falls, Salinas to relax on the beach or Puerto Morro to see dolphins.

Read More: The best things to do in Guayaquil in one or two days

Hotel: Hotel Wyndham Guayaquil or Hotel del Parque or Oro Verde

Day 2: Cajas National Park

Start your morning very early and leave Guayaquil towards Cajas National Park. This is one of Ecuador’s most beautiful national parks with over 700 beautiful lagoons, wild llamas and polylepis tree. Within this park you will reach elevations of 10,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level, so be careful when hiking and ensure you have enough water,

Read More: Our experience visiting Cajas National Park

Hotel: Four Points by Sheraton Cuenca or TRYP by Wyndham Cuenca Zahir or Hotel Inca Real or Hotel Presidente

Day 3: Cuenca and Ingapirca

In the morning explore Cuenca by taking a walking tour of the city to learn more the most beautiful city in the country. Cuenca is known for the abundance of Spanish-colonial buildings coupled with its relaxed atmosphere. We recommend visiting the New Cathedral of Cuenca (Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción) at the Parque Calderón and climbing up to the top for panoramic views of the downtown Cuenca, and visit the Las Conceptas Museum, as well as taking cool photos at the Puente Roto. You must visit the Mirador El Turi for fantastic views of Cuenca.

Photo tip: The best photo of the cathedral can be taken from Calle Mariscal Sucre.

Other museums to visit in Cuenca are Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes (Museum of Indigenous Cultures), the Museo Pumapungo, the Ruinas de Todos Santos and the Museo del Banco Central “Pumapungo” to learn more about the indigenous cultures found in Ecuador.

After spending the morning exploring Cuenca head towards Ecuador’s largest Inca and Cañaris ruins known as Ingapirca. Here you must take a tour within the park to learn and access the Pre-Columbian buildings of the Temple of the Sun, which is an round stone temple that dominates the landscape. One of the coolest things you can do in Cuenca is stop at one of the famous Panama Hat Factories. Even though you might know them as Panama Hats, they are handmade straw hats from Ecuador.

Hotel: Four Points by Sheraton Cuenca or TRYP by Wyndham Cuenca Zahir or Hotel Inca Real

Day 4: Mt. Chimborazo National Park:

On your way from Ingapirca to Baños make a stop at the Mt Chimborazo. One of the most beautiful volcanoes in Ecuador with easy to access with a driving road leading to the first refuge. It is Ecuador’s highest volcano (6,310 meters above sea level) and the furthest point from the center of the Earth in the world. It is a great spot to see wild llamas wandering around the plateau.

Hotel: Luna Volcán or Hotel Sangay

Day 5: Baños

Spend your day exploring Baños and all the adventurous activities this awesome city has to offer to the adrenaline junkies. Your first stop should be the swing at the end of the world en la Casa del árbol. Then take a Chiva along the Rutas de las Cascadas where you end at the Pailón del Diablo. If you have extra energy and time you can relax at the hot springs (Termas de la Virgen), take photos at the Mirador Bellavista, rent a bike to explore the area or go rafting, bungee jumping or canyoning. While in Baños you must try the sugar cane taffy called melcocha, which is hand-spun. You will find it anywhere you go. Another great activity you could do in Baños is go zip lining in the Sangay National Park.

Read More: The best things to in Baños in one day

Hotel: Luna Volcan. It is a unique property in the hills surrounding Baños with amazing views over the valley. It is famous for its pool overlooking the valley. If the hotel is too expensive for you can buy a $20 day pass at Hotel Luna Volcán and take awesome photos from the infinity pool.

Hotel: Luna Volcán or Hotel Sangay

Day 6: Puyo

Puyo is only an hour away from Baños and from here you can access the rainforest. If you only go for a day you could visit what is called the “Secondary Jungle”, which is not the virgin rainforest, but more the edge of it. The tour from Puyo is about $30 per person, but I am sure you can could also get a tour directly from Baños to Puyo for the day.

You can visit several waterfalls, the Kotococha Community, go on a canoe ride along the Puyo River, and visit one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Ecuador, Mirador Indichuris overlooking the rainforest.

Read More: The best things to do in Puyo in one day

Hotel: Luna Volcán or Hotel Sangay

Day 7: Quilotoa and Cotopaxi National Park

Quilotoa Lake

Wake up very early in the morning and drive towards Quilotoa Lake. The drive is about four hours through the Andes mountains. You want to arrive to Quilotoa lake before the fog rolls in and covers the lake. Here you can hike around the rim of the Quilotoa Volcano or descend to the shores of Quilotoa Lagoon, where you can rent a kayak. Be aware that hiking down and up to the lake is not easy and you must be in good physical condition, as you are at over 12,000 feet in elevation. You can also rent a donkey to help bring you to the lagoon.

Read More: The best things to do in Quilotoa

Cotopaxi National Park

You will arrive to Cotopaxi National Park exhausted after a day of hiking in Quilotoa, so it is worth spending the night under the stars and the stunning Cotopaxi Volcano. It is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. The next day before heading back to Quito you can try to hike to the first refuge. If you want to go all the way to the top of the volcano, you have to make special arrangements and spend the night at the first refuge so you can leave around midnight and start your hike up to the top.

Hotel: Secret Garden Cotopaxi. It is an amazing hotel right at the foot of the Cotopaxi with amazing views and unique style, with several hobbit hole rooms.

Day 8: Quito

El convento de San Francisco de Quito

Quito is at an altitude of 2,850 meters (9,350 feet) and it is the second highest capital city in South America so take it easy on your first day to allow time to acclimate.

As part of your trip across Ecuador, we recommend to spend at least 2 days in Quito to enjoy its historic downtown, delicious gastronomy, visit the “Mitad del Mundo” monument, take a tour of the Carondelet Palace (Presidential Palace), eat empanadas de viento en La Ronda, be amazed at the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, get the best view of Quito from El Panecillo, Parque Itchimbia or the Basílica del Voto Nacional. You can also explore by foot the most bohemian neighborhood in Quito, Guapulo or La Floresta.

Make sure to try the agachadito in the Floresta neighborhood. Learn more about Ecuador’s freedom battles at the Temple of the Patria, and end your day at the TelefériQo, which is next to the Pichincha volcano. If you enjoy art and culture then you must visit the Fundación Guayasamín and the Capilla del Hombre (you can buy your tickets online and skip the line). In both places you will find pieces of Oswaldo Guayasamin, Ecuador’s most famous and influential artist. We recommend taking a free walking tour of Quito.

Compañía de Jesús, Quito

If you would like an epic photo from Quito head over to the San Francisco church to get a photo of it in the background with pigeon flying around you in the plaza or you can take a Quito Instagram Tour or Quito Photography Tour.

You can depart Ecuador from Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO).

Read More: The best things to do in Quito in 2 days

Hotel: Hotel Plaza Grande or La Casona de la Ronda

Day 9: Otavalo and Mindo

The next day leave Quito in the morning and drive roughly 2 hours to Otavalo, the home of the Volcán Imbabura. If possible make a quick stop in Mindo. Mindo has one of the world’s most ecologically diverse cloud forest in the world due to its unique climate. In Mindo you can visit different waterfalls, learn to make chocolate or just go to see butterflies and hummingbirds at the butterfly farm in Mindo.

Read more: The best things to do in Mindo in half a day

In Otavalo you should visit the Otavalo handicraft market, which is the biggest of its kind in South America. Then stop by Peguche Falls, where you will be amazed by the waterfall and surrounding green areas. In Otavalo you can ride a hot air balloon at the Lago San Pablo. Another thing you can enjoy is a hike around the rim of Lago Cuicocha, which is a volcanic-crater lake.

Read More: The best things to do in Otavalo

Hotel: Cabañas del Lago

Day 10: Goodbye Ecuador from Quito

El convento de San Francisco de Quito

Drive back to Quito and say goodbye to Ecuador. If you have extra time I would visit Tulcan to see the coolest cemetery in the world.

Tulcan is 3 hours north from Otavalo and it is in the border with Colombia, where we you can also visit Ipiales and the Sanctuary of Las Lajas right across the border in Colombia.

More tours in Ecuador

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