Get the most out of Ecuador's varied regions as you enjoy active adventures from the central highlands to the northern Amazon and down the ruggedly beautiful coast. In Quito, learn to cook Ecuadorian cuisine before touring the crater lakes and riding horses around idyllic mountain towns. Then, venture deep into the Amazon for rainforest hikes and river rafting before winding up on sandy beaches near Puerto López, a coastal hub for whale watching, snorkeling, and other aquatic adventures.

Highlights

  • Tour the colonial landmarks, famous archaeological sites, and art museums of Quito
  • Ride horses through the Ecuadorian Andes and cycle to highland waterfalls
  • Soak in the relaxing thermal pools at Baños and hike the rainforests near Archidona
  • Go kite-surfing on the Pacific coast and search for migrating humpback whales

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Archaeology Museum Tour Quito
Day 2 Quito City Tour & Mitad del Mundo, Ecuadorian Cooking Class Quito
Day 3 Transfer to Cotopaxi National Park, Horseback Ride Cotopaxi
Day 4 Transfer to Baños de Agua Santa, Hike Quilotoa Lagoon Baños
Day 5 Baños Canyoning Adventure, Hot Springs & Casa del Arbol Baños
Day 6 Baños Cycling & Waterfalls Tour Baños
Day 7 Transfer to Archidona, Rainforest Hike Archidona
Day 8 Rainforest Hike, Waterfalls & Caving Archidona
Day 9 Whitewater Rafting on the Río Jatunyaku Archidona
Day 10 Day Trip to Papallacta Hot Springs, Transfer to Quito Quito
Day 11 Fly to Puerto López, Visit Los Frailes Beach Puerto López
Day 12 Puerto López Diving Experience Puerto López
Day 13 Boat Tour to Isla de la Plata & Whale Watching Puerto López
Day 14 Full-Day Kite Surfing in Manabí Puerto López
Day 15 Transfer to Quito, Evening Cocktail Class Quito
Day 16 Visit Casa Museo Guayasamín, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Archaeology Museum Tour

Welcome to Quito, home to one of the most well-preserved colonial centers in the Americas

Welcome to Ecuador! This relatively small country in South America draws travelers from around the world to its myriad wonders, which range from its beautiful coastline and ancient archaeological sites to its volcanic highlands, rainforests, and indigenous markets. You'll arrive in Quito, itself a highland gem, nestled in the Andes at 9,350 feet (2,850 m). It's a great base for exploration as it features many Ecuadorian highlights, from the surrounding volcano peaks to its UNESCO-listed historic center.

Upon arrival at the airport, driver will transfer you to your hotel in the city. Settle in, and you can stretch your legs with a walk around the city. If you like, head downtown to Plaza Froch, which features no shortage of shopping and dining options. Plus, it's a great place to pull up a seat at a café and do some people-watching. You can also visit Parque Metropolitano Guangüiltagua, one of the largest urban parks in the Americas. This expansive green oasis offers a serene respite from the bustle of Quito, where you can lose yourself amid its lush foliage and meandering trails.

There is just one scheduled tour today: a guided visit to Museo Casa del Alabado. This museum of pre-Columbian art features a collection of over 5,000 artifacts spanning more than 5,000 years, dating back long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The exhibits are organized thematically, covering various aspects of pre-Columbian life, religion, art, and technology. One highlight is a collection of ceramic and stone figurines and sculptures representing ancient Andean cultures.

Day 2: Quito City Tour & Mitad del Mundo, Ecuadorian Cooking Class

Venture outsit of Quito to Mitad del Mundo, which marks the equator

Hit the streets this morning on a walking tour of the famous colonial center of Quito, named one of the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1978. Admire the intricate stone carvings of La Compañía and wander the 16th-century Iglesia San Francisco cloisters. Wrap up the historical center leg of your tour with a walk down La Ronda, once a pre-Columbian walking trail, now a romantic pedestrian street full of cafés, live music venues, and eclectic shops. 

Later on, head just north of Quito to Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), a park dominated by the 98-foot (30 m) tall Monument to the Equator. It marks the precise location of the equator, the invisible line that divides the Earth into the northern and southern hemispheres. You can straddle the yellow line here, which means you'll have one foot in each hemisphere. Later, visit the Planetarium, which houses a small-scale model of Quito, and various exhibitions.

Upon returning to Quito, you'll cap the day with a fun cooking class with a local chef. This is your chance to enjoy an authentic Quiteño culinary experience as you prepare Ecuadorian classics, such as empanadas de Viento (savory pastries), seco de pollo (a rich chicken stew), and roast cuy (guinea pig). You and the chef will take a trip to a market to buy the ingredients needed for each dish. Then, learn the recipes and follow the steps to create a meal to share.

Day 3: Transfer to Cotopaxi National Park, Horseback Ride

Venture into the wild on a horseback adventure in Cotopaxi National Park

It's an early start as you hit the road with your driver on the 1.5-hour ride south of Quito to the province of Cotopaxi. This area is home to Cotopaxi National Park, a pristine nature reserve that covers 129 square miles (334 sq km) in the Andean highlands. After checking into your accommodation, you'll meet a guide, hop in the saddle, and explore this wild frontier on horseback. Gallop across windswept plains through native forests, all with the snowcapped peak of Cotopaxi volcano looming overhead. As you ride, keep an eye out for native wildlife, which includes rabbits, deer, and even wild horses.

Day 4: Transfer to Baños de Agua Santa, Hike Quilotoa Lagoon

Hike around awe-inspiring crater lakes on your way to the Amazon basin

It's time to move on to the next adventure as you take a two-hour scenic drive west from Cotopaxi to Laguna de Quilotoa. This 2-mile (3 km) wide crater lake gleams with mineral-rich emerald waters. Upon arrival, you'll stretch your legs on a brisk three-hour hike around the lagoon. It covers a distance of about 2.5 miles (4 km), and much of it's uphill, so a decent level of physical fitness is required. That said, there's the option to hire a mule to ease some of the burden.

After the hike, you'll get back in the car and continue about three hours south to the charming town of Baños de Agua Santa. During the drive, you'll leave the highlands and arrive at the edge of the Amazon basin, a region known for its hot springs and waterfalls. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and can spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Day 5: Baños Canyoning Adventure, Hot Springs & Casa del Arbol

Today's all about the thrills as you rappel down waterfalls

Prepare for some adrenaline-pumping action as you transfer just outside of Baños this morning to a river canyon. Here, your professional guides will instruct you in abseiling (canyoning). Once you're familiar with the equipment, you'll strap into a harness, and after a fun zipline ride across the canyon, you'll start rappelling down waterfalls. Continue sliding down natural chutes until you reach the freshwater pools below, where you can enjoy a victory swim.

Later, wind down with a relaxing soak in one of the area's soothing hot springs, then visit the famous Casa del Arbol, a whimsical treehouse perched precariously on a mountainside. From here, you can take in breathtaking views of the Tungurahua volcano and ride the swing that soars out over the edge of the mountain—sure to be the most memorable photo op of your trip.

Day 6: Baños Cycling & Waterfalls Tour

The "Devil's Cauldron" is just one of three waterfalls you'll visit today
Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

The outdoor adventures continue this morning as you gear up for a mountain bike excursion you won't soon forget. From Baños, you'll transfer to the Río Verde, hop on a bike, and begin an 11-mile (18 km) ride through the highlands. This is a particularly thrilling ride, as it's mostly downhill.

About 20 minutes into the route, you'll arrive at Agoyan, a massive waterfall that cascades 200 feet (61 m) over a mountain cliff. Take a break here to rest up and snap some pics before continuing to the next stop, Manto de la Novia, another impressive waterfall located in a canyon. Here, you'll step inside a tarabita—an open-air cable car for a ride across the canyon and over the Río Pastaza to enjoy prime views of the falls. 

But that's not all! Continue riding to Pailón del Diablo (also known as "The Devil's Cauldron"), another plunging waterfall you can hike alongside on a stairway built into the canyon walls. Afterward, enjoy a snack at a restaurant near the river before transferring back to Baños by vehicle.

Day 7: Transfer to Archidona, Rainforest Hike

There's plenty of local wildlife to spot on your Amazon hikes, including resident howler monkeys 

Continue driving this morning about three hours west to Archidona. Known as the "Gateway to the Amazon," this colonial town remains a missionary outpost surrounded by Indigenous Kichwa communities. Once here, you'll check into a comfy jungle lodge (complete with outdoor pool and WiFi), and prepare for a few days of rainforest hikes.

The excursions begin right after arrival, as you'll grab your day pack and set off with a local naturalist guide on an introductory hike. As you explore, your guide will point out interesting rainforest features, like medicinal plants used by locals and the wildlife in the region. Animals to look out for include howler monkeys, tapirs, sloths, toucans, and parrots. (Get lucky, and you might even spot the elusive jaguar.) After an hour or two, you'll return to the lodge and can spend the remainder of the day by the pool.

Day 8: Rainforest Hike, Waterfalls & Caving

Hike through the jungle and go caving

Today's itinerary involves another fun exploration of the rainforest. After a hearty breakfast, you'll enter the Sumaco Biosphere Reserve for a 2.5-hour hike through the Gran Cañon del Jondachi. This massive jungle canyon is carved by the Río Jondachi as it flows through the dense jungle, creating towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and lush green vegetation.

Follow the trail along the rim of the canyon to a primary forest and beautiful waterfall, where you'll break for a picnic lunch. After eating, continue to nearby caverns where, equipped with helmets and torches, you'll head underground for a spelunking tour. In addition to stalagmites, you'll also encounter bats, fireflies, spiders, and other denizens of the underground. Later in the afternoon, you'll return to the lodge.

Day 9: Whitewater Rafting on the Río Jatunyaku

Savor the quieter moments on today's Class III whitewater adventure

Meet your driver early and transfer 10 minutes outside of Archidona to Tena, the capital city of the Napo province. From here, you'll head to the banks of the mighty Río Jatunyaku, your starting point for today's 15.5-mile (25 km) whitewater rafting trip through the beautiful Llanganates National Park.

Grab a paddle, hop in the raft, and set off down the river, braving roaring whitewater and Class III rapids. During the quieter stretches, you can admire the rainforest scenery passing by on the banks and try to spot animals in the treeline. There will be a break to enjoy a packed lunch, then continue downstream, where a transfer will be waiting to take you back to the lodge.

Day 10: Day Trip to Papallacta Hot Springs, Transfer to Quito

Take advantage of the facilities at Termas de Papallacta Resort and Spa

Wake to the sounds of the rainforest and savor a final morning in this secluded paradise. On returning to Quito, you'll stop at the Papallacta hot springs to refresh and relax in volcanic waters. Situated at 12,100 feet (3,700 m) in an evergreen páramo (Andean high grasslands) landscape, this area is renowned for its healing waters, and if the weather is clear, you'll spot the giant Artisana volcano looming above.

Spend some time at the Termas de Papallacta Resort and Spa, which offers nine warm and three cold pools at various temperatures, and an on-site spa with multiple health and beauty treatments, including hydromassage, a Turkish steam bath, and a mud wrap. It's also a great spot to have lunch with local dishes such as fresh-grilled trout. When the time comes, you'll get back on the road and continue to Quito, where you'll check into your hotel.

Day 11: Fly to Puerto López, Visit Los Frailes Beach

Playa Los Frailes is a postcard dream of a Pacific beach

Say goodbye to the highlands and hello to the coast as you transfer to the airport this morning and catch a one-hour flight to the port city of Manta. At the terminal, a driver will pick you up for the two-hour scenic drive down the coast to Puerto López, a small fishing village on a postcard bay.

This area is all about the beaches, so after checking into your hotel, you'll transfer to nearby Playa Los Frailes. One of the most beautiful stretches of sand in mainland Ecuador, Los Frailes is part of Machalilla National Park, which protects the diverse ecosystems of the country's Pacific coast. Keep in mind that the area is a nature reserve, meaning there are no stores here—so bring some snacks and water with you. Upon arrival, the rest of the day is yours to swim, snorkel, and enjoy the prime coastal viewpoints before returning to Puerto López for dinner.

Day 12: Puerto López Diving Experience

Swim with giant manta rays on a full-day dive tour around Puerto López
Hop in a boat this morning for a full-day scuba tour around Puerto López. Thanks to the nutrient-rich waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Humboldt Current, this part of Ecuador's coast is one of the best dive sites on the continent. It's filled with diverse marine habitats and healthy coral reefs, with tropical fish, turtles, and plenty of other aquatic life. These waters are particularly famous for the giant manta rays that live here, whose wingspans can reach up to 22 feet (7 m). This adventure is led by experienced guides, and lessons are available for those without prior diving experience.

Day 13: Boat Tour to Isla de la Plata & Whale Watching

Morning with Whales!
A humpback whale breaches the surface of the Pacific in Ecuador

Enjoy another seafaring adventure as today, you'll board a small yacht for a three-hour tour to Isla de la Plata (Silver Island). The name derives from the legend that Sir Francis Drake buried treasure here. The island is also part of Machalilla National Park, a protected area home to incredible marine life like sea lions, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, and waved albatrosses. During a stop on land, you can stroll around the island before diving into the water and snorkeling the coral reefs surrounding the island.

On the boat ride back to Puerto López, keep your eyes peeled for migrating humpback whales and pods of dolphins—whale watching reaches its peak from mid-June to October here. Upon arrival ashore, you'll head back to Guayaquil for the night. If you feel like going out, head to the Malecón boardwalk or visit the cafés and galleries on Santa Ana Hill.

Day 14: Full-Day Kite Surfing in Manabí

Carve waves and take to the skies on a full day of kite surfing 
Make your last day on the Ecuadorian coast one for the books as you head out of town to the windswept beaches of Manabí province. The conditions here are excellent for today's activity: kite surfing. At the beach, you'll receive your safety gear and board, then learn the basics with the help of your private instructor. Once you've got the techniques down, you'll hit the water and use your kite to periodically launch into the air as you zip across the water's surface. After a full day of harnessing the wind for personal enjoyment, you'll return to Puerto López and your hotel. 

Day 15: Fly to Quito, Evening Cocktail Class

Cocktail Class at Night!
Raise your bartending game with a private mixology lesson

Say goodbye to the coast as you transfer back to Manta and the airport this morning for the flight to Quito. A driver will be waiting at the terminal to transfer you to your hotel in the city. Then, you can spend the rest of the day relaxing, explore more of the historic center, and pick up some last-minute souvenirs.

Later, you'll visit a local bar and learn the secrets to preparing the perfect cocktail. Alongside an expert mixologist, you'll shake and stir your way to cocktail perfection using an array of local ingredients. Besides classics like mojitos, piña coladas, and Cuba libres, you'll have the freedom to craft your own signature cocktails. Throughout the private lesson, you'll snack on delicious canapés that pair perfectly with the drinks. Afterward, a driver will take you back to your hotel.

Day 16: Visit Casa Museo Guayasamín, Depart

Marvel at works by expressionist/cubist painter Oswaldo Guayasamín

Milk your final hours in Ecuador for one more memorable cultural experience. This morning, you'll visit Casa Museo Guayasamín, a museum located in the former residence of Ecuador's most famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín. Nicknamed the "Painter of Ibero-America," Guayasamín was of Indigenous heritage and became famous for his Cubist-styled depictions of Latin American people. 

The museum features a comprehensive collection of Guayasamín's works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints, spanning various periods of his prolific career. The exhibits are organized thematically, tracing the evolution of Guayasamín's style and themes over time. One highlight is a series of paintings entitled "La Edad de la Ira" (The Age of Wrath), which depicts the suffering and resilience of the human spirit in the face of oppression, poverty, and violence.

After the tour, you'll say goodbye to Ecuador as your driver transfers you to Quito's international airport. There, you'll board your flight home—or onward to the next adventure. Safe travels!

More Great Ecuador Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Ecuador? Check out these other Ecuador itineraries, explore different ways to spend 16 days in Ecuador, and find out the best time to visit Ecuador.

Map

Map of Active Ecuador Highlands Adventure: From the Amazon to the Beach - 16 Days
Map of Active Ecuador Highlands Adventure: From the Amazon to the Beach - 16 Days