Ecuador is divided into three distinctive climatic zones (four, if you count the coast and Galápagos as separate).
Quito & Highlands: Quito is broadly representative of the climate in the Highlands region. Weather is cooler and quite rainy in the highlands around now, meaning the start of low season here. At this time of year, daily highs in Quito are around 68°F (20°C).
Oriente/Amazon: Ecuador's Amazon climate varies because this is a vast region. Overall, it's quite dry in most parts of the Amazon compared to the following months, and temperatures in much of the region are at their warmest. This is the warmest weather (79.3°F/26.3°C) in Parque Nacional Yasuni, when many birds come to sun themselves in rainforest canopies.
Desert Coastal Strip & Galapagos: It's a good time of year to visit Ecuador's coastline, and the start of high season here. It's warmer around now, and sunnier, despite the sporadic showers (usually in the afternoon). This is one of the warmest months in the Galápagos, with calmer seas for boat trips.
Crowds & Costs
Crowds are less in the Highlands in January. However, they are much greater on the coast, where high season begins in full swing Crowds continue to flock to the Galapagos. These regions are the busiest and most expensive months along the coast. This is also the best time to find a lively atmosphere, full-service beach facilities, and outdoor festivals.
Where to Go
Quito & Highlands: Cool, wet weather does not matter if you are exploring Ecuador's superb cultural heritage, and the fabulous colonial churches and museums of Quito or Cuenca are great to explore in January.
Oriente/Amazon: Cities like Puyo, close to the serene travelers' hangout of Baños, are actually enjoying some of their driest weather right now: a good time to do a rainforest trip in this central part of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Or visit Tena, close by and well-known for its brilliant white-water rafting, which is possible this month.
Desert Coastal Strip & Galapagos: It's time for sun-bathing, sea-swimming, and surfing at Mompiche, where high season is beginning. Canoa and Montañita are other good beach towns to visit now.
What to Do
Quito & Highlands: Quito has a treasure trove of colonial architecture to explore: start at its pretty central Old Town squares, Plaza Grande and Plaza San Francisco. Or visit Cuenca, full of beautiful churches and world-class museums.
Oriente/Amazon: This is the first month it has been possible to do white-water rafting on the majority of Ecuador's Amazonian rivers. As the warmest month of the year, birdwatching is good in the Amazon because birdlife, including migratory birds, like to come out onto the trees to escape rising water levels and warm themselves.
Desert Coastal Strip & Galapagos: Get some beach life with surfing in Mompiche or make the trip out to Isla de la Plata, a great spot for wildlife-watching if you are not going to the Galapagos and with many of the same fauna. This is also a great season for a wildlife cruise in the Galapagos, as the water is calmer.
Birding is good in January here, although overall there is less wildlife activity than at other times of the year. On the islands, look out for the iguanas which turn bright greens and reds as they prepare for nesting next month. Snorkeling is good on the islands now: especially if you like water clarity.
La Diablada de Pillaro: January 1-6. In Pillaro, near Ambato, revelers don elaborate devil masks and costumes to dance through the streets.
Three Kings Day: January 5/6. It's a nationwide continuation of Christmas at the important Three Kings festivities, with gift-giving, preparation of sweet bread called Rosca de Reyes and ritual offerings to the Three Wise Men (beginning on January 5).
Jondachi Fest: Mid-January. This is a festival taking place in Tena in the middle of the month, a celebration of Tena's famous rivers which is held around a white-water rafting competition.