Ecuador is found straddling the equator, right in the heart of South America. Despite its small size, its diverse landscape is home to Andean highlands, the Amazon jungle, and the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands.
It’s due to this immense diversity that I believe Ecuador is set to become one of the fastest growing tourist destinations of the next decade.
Thanks to its compact nature, traveling around Ecuador is fast and easy, with most places being no more than a day’s bus ride from the capital.
So if you are intrigued by this small, underdog of South America I encourage you to seek it out, sooner rather than later!
Region: South America
Our Top 5 Must-Do's
SCUBA DIVE THE GALAPAGOS
Considered some of the best diving in the world, it would be a shame not to see Galapagos underwater. Santa Marta offers the most options for dive shops and allows access to the most well-known sites. Liveaboards are also a good way to get a lot of diving in during your time here.
SEE THE DEVILS CAULDRON
Officially named Pailon del Diablo, this attraction is a good stopping point on your way into Banos. It’s located about half an hour out of town and is the most breathtaking waterfall we saw in Ecuador. The entry costs $2.
SWING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
Located in the highland regions surrounding Baños lies a set of swings that allow you to swing through the clouds. This popular tourist attraction costs $2 to enter and is sure to snap you up some likes on social media. There are also alternative ‘adventure swings’ for the adrenaline seekers located close by.
MEET THE WILDLIFE
The Galapagos is without a doubt one of the most unique places on earth. Because of the strict nature of their protection laws, the animals on the Galapagos Islands are totally unfazed by humans. Which allows for some of the most remarkable animal viewing opportunities on planet earth.
RAPEL DOWN A WATERFALL
Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador and one of the most unique activities you can do here is ‘Canyoning’. Rapel down rushing waterfalls as you make your way downstream…. just wait for the surprise at the end.
Quito has been referred to as the center of the world by the Incans for centuries, long before the invention of the GPS. During your time in Quito, it is worth visiting one of the two museums that are dedicated to the equator.
While Ecuador no longer holds any part of the Amazon River it certainly is still home to a large chunk of the Amazon Rainforest. We visited Minga Lodge as a part of the MetoWe program whose aim is to help set up sustainability projects for remote amazonian communities.
The history of Colombia is one of the most interesting I’ve ever learned about. The free tour of Medellin is a great way to be introduced to the city and also learn about the history of both the country and the city from people who actually lived through parts of the most controversial parts (*cough Pablo Escobar cough*). The tour is free but a donation is asked for at the end, but no matter what I promise it will be worth it.
While Medellin was definitely our favorite, Free Walking Tours are also available in Bogota and Cartagena.
One thing I did not expect from the Galapagos was pristine white sand beaches. Tortuga Bay was listed on Tripadvisor’s list for Top 10 Beaches in the World. This scenic stretch of coastline can be found on Isla Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands. It’s not usually very crowded, at least not by humans… Sea lions and iguanas, however, are a common sight.
With fast-moving rivers flowing down from the Andes mountains, Ecuador is a prime spot for whitewater rafting!
Located near the Amazon basin, the town of Tena is a great spot to take on the river. The rafting here is some of the most moderately priced in the world also, with trips starting at just $30.
Budget & Costs
Hostels are easy to find in any of the ‘Touristy’ towns but are very rare outside of them. Expect to pay $6 – $12 a night for a bed in a shared dorm.
You can find budget hotel rooms or private hostel rooms for about $20-25 a night.
Hot water is not a given (especially in the warmer cities) so do your research if it’s a necessity for you!
A flight from Quito to Guayaquil can start at $45 and a bus doing the same will cost $15-20.
Once you’re at your destination, local taxis are pretty cheap ($3-4 for under 20 minutes).
You can save a lot of money in Quito and Guayaquil by using Uber. Use this link for $15 off your first ride.
If you plan on visiting the Galapagos make sure you budget for it, the flight will most likely cost you between $400 – $500.
Money Saving Tips
1. Drink Local! (Beer or Aguardiente)
While the food might be cheap in Ecuador, the price of alcohol fluctuates immensely. Like in most places, the cheapest way to do so will be going to the supermarket or liquor store and buying the local beer ($1.50 per 660mL).
I recommend sticking to the beer. If the spirits are cheap, trust me, they will give you a hangover.
2. Book with Contiki
One of the biggest perks about booking an Ecuador trip with Contiki is that the flight to the Galapagos is included. Considering this fact, booking with Contiki might just be one of the cheapest ways to see the Galapagos.
To get the maximum discount you can combine the discount codes ‘CHEAPISHTRAVELS’ and ‘CONTIKITOM’ to get 10% + $100 off.
3. Save Money on Water.
To my surprise, a lot of the hotels we stayed at in Ecuador provided water stations to refill water (and even more in the Galapagos).
Just make sure you’ve got a good water bottle!
In the other parts of the country, however, drinking tap water is not recommended. Instead of buying water (about $1 for a liter on the street, half of that in Super Markets), we either fill up our 2-stage filtered water bottle or simply use a LifeStraw.
4. Save Money with Your Phone.
ESPECIALLY in the bigger cities of Quito and Guayaquil. AirBnB is huge here, and rather cheap if you are traveling with others. You can rent an entire 2-3 bedroom apartment for the price (or sometimes less than) a cheap hotel room.
You can find a $39 Coupon for AirBnB here.
Do yourself a favor and download Google Translate with ‘offline mode’ as well.
5. Learn the Language
We’re a big advocate of cultural immersion, which includes learning the language! You’d be surprised just how much money you can save by talking to locals, haggling/bargaining, or even just being given a lower price because they’re happy you’re trying! We found that especially in Colombia, there aren’t that many people who speak English fluently, and while they may want to help you they’re simply unable to due to the language barriers.
By knowing the language you can also find out about local hotspots, directions, and other tips and tricks (usually money-saving) that most tourists wouldn’t know about.
6. Cook For Yourself
If you are staying at hostels (which you should be if you’re trying to save money!!) then always try to find one with a kitchen available. When you’re traveling it can be tiring but this single habit will save you the most money if you can adopt it. Shop at a supermarket and cook your favorite meals for a fraction of the cost of eating out!
Ecuador - Travel Film
Check out the vlogs we (Tom and Trish) put together of our time in Ecuador.
We spent 10 days there on a Contiki trip (10% off using code CHEAPISHTRAVELS)
The video shows the highlights of the trip, from the time we spent in the Amazon to the awesome adventures we took on in Baños.
Enjoy and make sure to jump over to the YouTube Channel and subscribe when you’re done watching!