Ecuador gives you an affluent palate of adventures to work with to create a holiday made exclusively from your bucketlist. Four regions that are easily reached, an abundance of places that ignite the imagination and inspire, and natural landscapes that stretch to the horizon waiting for those who look for exceptional experiences when they travel. Keep reading for some ideas for Ecuador tours that set the bar high for exploring the country, and consider the flexibility to plan the perfect trip by a Custom Made Tour.
The city of Quito has plenty of attractions to keep most travelers busy for a day or two, but the area surrounding Quito also has much to offer. There are a good number of rewarding day trips from Quito that should be on your radar. We’re talking volcano national parks, hot-springs, cloud forest, day treks, indigenous markets and a spectacular crater lake.
All of the destinations that we recommend are within a few hours drive from the city, and suit all ages, travel interests & budgets. Day trips from Quito are easy to organise either as an organised tour, or traveling under your own steam.
So, keep reading for everything you need to know about the best day trips from Quito. Which destinations make the cut on Happy Gringo’s recommended list?
Happy Gringo Travel’s custom-made tours are your ticket to designing a trip, with the help of a travel expert, that is entirely at your discretion. You choose the destinations, the mode of travel, the level of accommodation, and a variety of activities while we arrange the details-down to guides, cruises, tours, and planning free days that let you relax and unwind before heading off to discover your next destination. There isn’t any formula, set agenda, or pre-arranged time table to follow; you choose the route and the schedule, and we make it happen.
The Galapagos Islands are full of adventures for travelers from far and wide. Galapagos cruise ships venture to remote islands where wildlife appears at every bend and turn in the trail. Galapagos land tours take you to tropical outposts where day tours find you hiking to the top of active volcanoes, and traversing the water to nearby visitor sites where the wildlife and snorkeling are amazing. Home base at sea can be a catamaran, motorized sailboat, or luxury cruise ship. On land, hotels and lodges offer above the bar amenities, great food, and community spaces where the whole crew and relax and enjoy the surroundings.
Ecuador’s jungle finds you in canoes traversing tributaries of the Napo River-where the wildlife comes out of the forest, peaceful lagoons harbor classic lodges where howler monkeys growl in the distance, and activities include observation towers high above the canopy where guides point out an amazing variety of birds perching in the treetops.
Combined, these two destinations are great options for an Ecuador custom made trip, giving you a picture of the natural riches of the country that takes the breath away.
Ecuador cultural tours bring to light centuries of civilization that include the Inca and Spanish occupying the country as part of their empires. Lavish haciendas, extravagant cathedrals, traditional festivals established long ago, the oldest outdoor market in South America, and the ruins of Inca fortresses vie for the attention when planning a trip.
The Inti Raymi Festival in the northern highlands is one of four raymis in Ecuador. The raymis are a system based on the astral cycles, that signal the different stages of the indigenous agricultural calendar in the country.
Inti Raymi is a tribute to the sun and a celebration of the harvest. Otavalo and Cotacachi in the northern highlands fill with indigenous people from the communities of the region during the weeklong tributes. Taking place over the summer solstice in June, the events kick off with a ritual cleanse at the Pechuge waterfall and the Cuicocha crater lake. In the days to follow people gather for traditional dances. Children are the first to perform, then men take the stage for four days, followed by women who steal the show. Traditional dress is the norm and there are feasts and parties throughout the proceedings.
Otavalo, nestled below volcanoes and rolling hills has a daily market that spreads out all over town on busy weekends. The people here have been weavers since before the Inca. During the Spanish occupation, locals were forced to work in textile mills in dire conditions. After gaining independence, conditions stayed the same for the indigenous people. In the 1960s, the market began to grow and the people of the region turned the tables, becoming some of the most prosperous merchants in the country.
Ecuador cultural tours to the town give way to rows of stalls selling textiles, jewelry, art, musical instruments, masks, crafts, and everything in between. Haggling here is an art form-one that the merchants have down to a science!
For nature lovers, the Mojanda Lake and hikes to the summit of the Imbabura volcano present outstanding views of the incredible scenery of the region.
Ingapirca, near Cuenca, is Ecuador’s best preserved Inca site. Originally built by the Canari people who preceded the Inca, the fortress and its temple were dedicated to the Worship of the Moon and the astrological system that the culture created. After conquering the Canari, the Inca dedicated the temple to the Sun.
Both Canari and Inca buildings are part of the site, and huge stones are preserved that were used to keep track of the cycles in the sky.
The Pumapungo complex was the center of the Inca city of Tomebamba. Located where present-day Cuenca stands in the central highlands, the site lends itself to Ecuador cultural tours. The ancient city was a hub linking different parts of the empire-considered second only to Cuzco in importance as a trade center. The Pumapungo museum here has one of the best collections of artifacts dating from the Canari people to the present. The onsite theater plays host to the city’s symphony as well as national and international artists and groups. Outside there are expansive terraced gardens around Inca ruins that include a viaduct system still in use, foundations of barracks, and a ritual bathing area.
One of the legacies of the Spanish in Ecuador are haciendas, that dot the countryside around the country. Hacienda La Cienega’s old world charm and history make it one of Ecuador’s best tourist sites- a living testament to the events that helped shape the country.
The French Geodesic Mission expedition to measure the equator led by Charles Marie de Condamine visited the region after arriving in the Spanish controlled country in 1736. Condamine and the hacienda’s owner, the Marquis of Maenza, developed a friendship. The two explorers summited nearby peaks, and Condamine recorded eruptions of the neighboring Cotopaxi, providing valuable records of natural events that are cited to this day.
The hacienda has welcomed presidents, seen constitutions ratified, and played host to other visiting explorers including Alexander Von Humbolt-a man whose research and observations helped put the country and the Galapagos Islands on the map.
La Cienega is lavishly appointed with room after room telling a new story. Beyond the thick walls, gourmet restaurant and library, are expansive gardens, great for relaxing after big days exploring the nearby Cotopaxi National Park.
Ecuador adventure tours make the most out of the varied terrain of the Andes, the vast array of creatures of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, the far off tributaries and lagoons of the jungle, the whitewater of rushing rivers, and the high peaks of the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Happy Gringo’s custom made tours often mix and match activities that take advantage of the diversity of the four regions.
Horseback riding across high mountain paramos under towering volcanoes with the breeze in your hair is Ecuador travel at its best. Trips cover the ground where locals still use traditional farming methods on terraced plots, far off vistas look out over sprawling valleys, and local cowboys share the trail under the canopy of the cloud forest.
Ecuador adventure travel to scuba dive in the Galapagos Islands is an immersion into an underwater eco-system that fosters more sharks than anywhere else on Earth, is home to Orca and humpback whales and offers underwater caves and volcanic shelves where all creatures great and small visit as cleaning stations and to feed. Many consider the islands to be one of the best places to dive in the world, and the number of sites you can explore find something for everyone to discover during day trips or on a liveaboard cruise. One note-some of Ecuador’s best tourist sites for divers in the archipelago are around Darwin and Wolf Islands-only reached on live-aboard dive cruises.
Mountain biking in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands are active adventures that take you down the flanks of the Cotopaxi volcano, from the highlands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal islands to remote beaches on the coast, and along routes that put you at the base of roaring waterfalls.
Short day trips and longer journeys are readily arranged on Ecuador custom made tours. The country’s national parks, the could forest, and adrenalin-filled adventures in the high mountain Andes give you plenty to choose from- and support vehicles take care of luggage transport and any eventualities that arise.
Ecuador adventure tours that include kayaking and rafting put you in the driver’s seat on stretches of river with class II-IV rapids. During the high season from March until May, the rivers are at their highest, providing long runs that keep the blood pumping for hours at a time.
For kayakers, the jungle’s waterways and lagoons are exotic and thrilling places to explore with a paddle. Birds fly overhead, monkeys swing from the treetops, and new natural discoveries wait around every bend.
Ecuador boasts a network of volcanoes to climb including Cotopaxi, the mighty Chimborazo, Cayambe, and El Altar. Ranging in height and difficulty, some are summited in a day after acclimating, others take multiple days to conquer, and the highest craters require more time to adjust in order to successfully make it to the top.
Ecuador adventure tours focused around climbing take into account getting used to the high altitude, and nearby most peaks on the Avenue of Volcanoes are hikes that scale rocky crags to scenic outlooks that make sure you are fit and ready for major ascents. The efforts are rewarded with epic views that span the horizon while the near and far peaks of other volcanoes poking through the clouds.
Ecuador relaxation tours take you to spas and resorts that open their doors and provide a wide range of treatments. Volcanic pools, mud treatments, massages, and jacuzzis rejuvenate-taking away the bumps from Ecuador travel and getting you ready for the next leg of the journey.
Other hotspots around the country find you walking along tropical beaches, discovering hundreds of species of birds in the cloud forest, and relaxing at high mountain retreats surrounded by stunning views at every angle.
Papallacta and Banos are two of the country’s best options for relaxing in style. Papallacta is home to volcanic pools and a full-service resort that offers access to private pools and a variety of spa treatments.
Ecuador relaxation tours that include Banos put you within arm’s reach of hotels and resorts with volcanic pools, spa treatments, and a great selection of international restaurants for all types of travelers. The town also has public pools heated by the nearby Tungurahua volcano.
Luna Volcan is a full-service spa and resorts sitting high on one side of the valley overlooking the lights of the town below. An infinity pool fed by a volcanic spring, a jacuzzi, spa, and spacious suites with bathtubs, fireplaces, and private terraces make staying here a great way to relax and enjoy the town and nearby natural attractions.
The Quilotoa Loop is more known for hiking, but its small high mountain towns are home to hotels and hostels where relaxing and taking in the fresh mountain air is an off the grid way to unwind and enjoy the stunning scenery and camaraderie of others who make the journey. Places like the Black Sheep Inn and Hostal Llullu Llama have jacuzzis, offer yoga classes, and provide comfortable options for lodging that make spending time in the mountains a pleasure. Happy Gringo can also arrange guided tours with a driver who can show you some of the stunning natural sights, including the Quilotoa Crater Lake-one of Ecuador’s best tourist sites in the area.
Mindo and the surrounding cloud forest area are a retreat close to Quito where you can get away and enjoy the incredible diversity of birds, hike to nearby waterfalls for a refreshing dip, and stay in world-class spas or modern luxury lodges while unwinding and connecting to nature. The town itself is small, with a collection of characters often found in mountain ski towns. Up the road from the cloud forest hub, is the Arasha Resort-an award winning complex with its own spa, a private movie theater with daily showings, a mini-golf course, and an a la carte menu that boasts culinary creations for all appetites.
In the Mashpi reserve is a modern hotel with first-class dining, expert guides, and activities ranging from an aerial sky bike over the canopy to guided night hikes to discover the nocturnal creatures of the forest. The onsite spa and wellness center offers massages and treatments for individuals and couples, has an open-air jacuzzi, and an outdoor covered yoga deck.
Ecuador custom made tours with Happy Gringo are excursions that let you design a trip that explores the best places and activities that the country has to offer. Our team’s experience gives you an advantage-we constantly update our information and can create an Ecuador itinerary around what you like to do, how you want to travel, and where you want to stay. Take the first step and use this interactive form to let us know what you have in mind and someone will be in touch.