While the Galapagos Islands and all the attractions in Quito are usually the first things that come to mind, there are plenty of other things to do in Ecuador that shouldn’t be missed.
Aside from the main attractions, many other parts of this amazing country are often overlooked and people forget that there are plenty of fun things to do here. Here are my top recommendations!
Things to Do in Ecuador near Quito
1. Stand in the Middle of the World
Located just half an hour away from Quito’s downtown, you can find the exact middle of the world – the Equator, also known as the Mitad del Mundo in Spanish.
While the huge monument and the line passing underneath it is a tourist trap, at least there are some llamas running around. But don’t be fooled, the moment you try to approach them they run away.
Anyway, the real equator (at least the one that shows on your GPS) is located just 5 minutes away in a museum. Of course, the museum charges a few extra dollars to enter, but if you’re there already there’s no way you can refuse to pay a small amount to get a guided tour.
In the museum, you can try balancing an egg amongst various other sorts of experiments relating to the equator. It was a lot of fun and we even got to learn a bit more about Ecuadorian culture and history while we were at it. If you bring your passport you can even get some stamps that prove you’ve visited the middle of the world. The place is totally worth the money!
2. Stay at an Eco-Lodge in the Mindo Cloud Forest
The Mindo Cloud Forest is an amazing place where you can experience a huge variety of plants, birds, and mammals in a magical natural setting.
While there are many day tours that take you here from Quito, I recommend you stay at the El Monte eco-lodge in the middle of the forest for a few days. There’s nothing like waking up to the sounds of tropical birds and eating delicious and nutritious meals every day. You can even volunteer at the eco-lodge if you want to make your stay a little more affordable.
3. Visit the Amazon
Visiting the Amazon from Ecuador is way cheaper than doing it from Brazil or Peru, although you should be prepared that it won’t be as ‘luxurious’. That being said, the experience is absolutely worth it.
Since you cannot wander off into the Amazon on your own, your only option is to take a tour. You can choose if you want to take a 3, 4, or 5-day trip depending on how far into the jungle you would like to go to.
I did a cheap 4-day deep jungle tour and while the jungle was amazing, I definitely wouldn’t do it again with the same tour company as my group got lost in the jungle!
That being said, I know that others weren’t as unlucky as I was. The Amazon jungle itself was beyond fantastic and I’d definitely recommend visiting. In fact, I can’t wait to go back there!
4. Go to the Otavalo Animal Market
You can’t miss the Otavalo market when visiting Ecuador. It’s both an outstanding shopping opportunity and an amazing cultural experience all in one. You can buy absolutely anything at this market including clothing made out of llama fur as well as local food.
The market is open every day, but the best time to visit is on a Saturday before 6 am. It might sound crazy, but trust me it’s worth it! Most travelers choose to go there a day before to spend the night.
Why visit on a Saturday? It’s the only day when you can see the animal market! The animal market is a truly amazing experience, but it might seem a bit surreal. There are sounds of squealing pigs and guinea pigs reluctantly being taken home by their new owners. You can even purchase a cow or two if you like…
5. Climb Cotopaxi Volcano
Cotopaxi volcano is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world and this 5,897m high mountain has erupted more than 50 times since the 18th century. Don’t worry, the chances it’ll erupt during your trip are very small.
The best way to get there is by booking a tour from Quito but you can also go on your own and hire a local guide if you prefer. The tour will take you up to the base of the mountain from where you can start hiking but you only get to hike for 500m, and it’s not an easy walk. The altitude is pretty high, so you need to walk slowly in order not to get sick.
A simple tour won’t let you hike all the way up to the summit because it requires a lot of preparation and hiking experience. Apparently, only 50% of the people who attempt to climb it actually make it, but that’s something I just read and can’t confirm.
Tip: Don’t book it before you get to Ecuador! Similar to the case of Rainbow Mountain in Peru, there are plenty of agencies offering tours for much cheaper than you’d pay from your home country. Simply walk about the Mariscal area of Quito and pick your tour.
6. Visit Baños
Located just 175km from Quito is Baños, a town loved by travelers. This small town in the south of Ecuador attracts all kinds of travelers from luxury lovers to cheap backpackers, simply because it has everything.
As the name indicates (baños means bathrooms), Baños offers plenty of cheap spas, hot springs, and an endless list of adventure activities. Massage costs approx. $25 with hot springs included and you can find them in pretty much every corner of the city so I recommend spending a few days here.
If you’re brave enough you can even throw yourself off of a bridge for ridiculously low prices! For those of you who are a little less brave, I recommend a world-famous swing off the cliff.
7. Chill on the Beach in Montanita
If you’d like to visit some of the most beautiful beaches in South America, Ecuador should definitely be on your itinerary.
Most beach-loving expats live in the quiet little town of Olón, but as a visitor, you should go to nearby Montañita. It has nightlife, restaurants, Spanish schools, and surfing classes.
A lot of my friends went for a few days and ended up staying for a whole month!
8. See the Galapagitos
Before I spontaneously decided to visit the Galapagos Islands I was researching if I could see some of the same wildlife on the mainland. To my surprise, I found a place to spot blue-footed boobies (don’t ask why are they called boobies!) and iguanas.
Isla de la Plata is easily accessible from Puerto Lopez by boat and is often called the Poor Man’s Galapagos. It’s a great place to hike for a few hours and spot some wildlife if you’re on a budget.