Get ready for adventure as you drive through Ecuador from north to south, making your way from high-altitude Quito to coastal Guayaquil. With the freedom to go at your own pace, start where the world divides in Quito and explore the base of an active 19,347-foot (5,897 m) volcano at Cotopaxi National Park. Swing over the "End of the World" in Baños de Agua Santa, and walk through a city with four rivers in Cuenca, ending your trip in Guayaquil as you return to sea level.


  • Feel the pulse of nightlife and the equatorial divide in Quito
  • Drive through seven towering volcanoes in Cotopaxi National Park
  • Soak in healing mineral waters in Baños
  • See a city crisscrossed by four rivers in Cuenca

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito Quito
Day 2 Free Day in Quito Quito
Day 3 Drive to Otavalo & Cuicocha Lagoon Hike Otavalo
Day 4 Drive to Cotopaxi & Cotopaxi National Park Cotopaxi
Day 5 Drive to Baños, Hot Springs & Waterfalls Baños
Day 6 Free Day in Baños, Ecuador's Adventure Capital Baños
Day 7 Drive to Riobamba & Explore Chimborazo Riobamba
Day 8 Drive to Cuenca & Hike Ingapirca Ruins Cuenca
Day 9 Explore the City of Four Rivers Cuenca
Day 10 Drive to Guayaquil Guayaquil
Day 11 Guayaquil Neighborhoods Tour Guayaquil
Day 12 Depart Guayaquil  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito

View of Quito and the Cotopaxi Volcano
Dramatic volcano views from high-altitude Quito

Welcome to Quito! Upon arrival in Ecuador's capital city, you'll pick up your rental car to start your road trip adventure—traveling at your own pace as you explore Ecuador from north to south.

At 9,350 feet (2,850 m) above sea level, Quito is one of the highest cities in the world. Built following the 1533 Spanish conquest, it's surrounded by majestic Andean peaks, including the restless Pichincha volcano. After picking up your rental car, drive about one hour from the airport to reach your hotel in the city center. Then, get out and walk through Quito's picturesque plazas, markets, and stores with locally-made hats and other products. As the sun sets, find a restaurant for dinner, and if you are up for it, check out the city's nightlife.

Day 2: Free Day in Quito

At Quito's Mitad del Mundo, see the world's physical divide

In the morning, explore more of Quito. Visit the historic Old Town to discover the colonial churches of San FranciscoLa Compañia de Jesús, and other landmarks, or head to the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) to see the monument where the Earth divides into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. There, you can also visit the Ethnographical Museum to learn more about Ecuador's history. 

If you're feeling adventurous, ride one of the highest-elevation cable cars in the world up the slopes of the nearby Pichincha volcano for dazzling views over the city from 12,942 feet (3,944 m). By night, chat with local Quiteños at a restaurant or lounge bar in La Floresta or La Ronda.

Day 3: Drive to Otavalo & Cuicocha Lagoon Hike

Cuicocha Lagoon
At Cuicocha Lagoon, take a break on a relaxing boat ride

Your road trip through Ecuador begins today as you drive north 55 miles (90 km) from Quito to Otavalo. In Otavalo, explore a market of colorful textiles, paintings, carvings, hand-painted bowls, and other traditional products. Snack on street food such as salted mango or fritada con mote (fried pork with cooked corn), then continue to nearby Cotacachi, which is known for its leather products.

In the afternoon, take a walk along the shores of the volcanic crater lake of Cuicocha Lagoon, where you can spot its high-altitude flora and fauna and even take a boat ride around its islands. After your lake tour, drive to a hacienda in Otavalo to spend the night.

Day 4: Drive to Cotopaxi & Cotopaxi National Park

Explore Cotopaxi National Park to see Ecuador's wildlife and active volcanoes

Your next destination is Cotopaxi National Park, traveling south approximately 43 miles (70 km) through the "Avenue of the Volcanoes" with its eight towering mountains. The park's eponymous active volcano has a more than 19,347-foot (5,897 m) symmetrical snow-capped peak—the second-highest summit in Ecuador—so be sure to bring plenty of layers to prepare for a change in weather and altitude.

Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
At Limpiopungo Lagoon, see birds, wild horses, and a mix of Andean plants and wildlife amid rugged scenery. Hike to the 15,800-foot (4,830 m) Padre Rivas Refuge for a spectacular view of Cotopaxi's volcanic cone. In the afternoon, or whenever you're ready for a break, go back to your Otavalo hacienda for a restful evening.

Day 5: Drive to Baños, Hot Springs & Waterfalls

Swing at Casa del Árbol, known as the End of the World

Baños de Agua Santa, about 81 miles (131 km) south of Otavalo, has natural hot springs, dramatic waterfalls, and access to hiking trails. On the way there today, take another picturesque drive along the "Avenue of the Volcanoes." Stop at the Pailón del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron), which is considered one of the most important waterfalls in Ecuador. After a hike down to the falls, get the full view of their height—approximately 262 feet (80 m) or 24 stories high. Then, take a ride on the Swing at the End of the World at Casa del Árbol, a tree house on a mountain overlooking Baños.

At the end of the day, settle into your Baños hotel, maybe taking an evening dip in a thermal mineral bath before or after dinner.

Day 6: Free Day in Baños, Ecuador's Adventure Capital

Set off for adventure in Baños de Agua Santa

Baños de Agua Santa is named for its healing hot springs, and today is yours to relax in their thermal waters, walk around town, or head into the mountains and jungle for an adventure. Pick from rafting, canyoning, bungee jumping, hiking, or mountain biking excursions, depending on your level of thrill-seeking, and be sure to dress for all weather conditions.  

At the Río Blanco waterfall, gear up with a wetsuit, shoes, helmet, and harness for an adrenaline boost as you go canyoning with a local guide. Or, ask the tourist office for trail information for hikes, such as to Pondoa or on a loop trail to Mirador Virgen (Virgin Mary Viewpoint), and even return to Casa del Árbol before going back into town. At the end of the day, return to your Baños de Agua Santa hotel to prepare to get on the road again tomorrow.

Day 7: Drive to Riobamba & Explore Chimborazo

Car Rental Drive from Baños to Riobamba
Chimborazo volcano is visible for miles on the drive from Baños de Agua Santa to Riobamba

Your road trip continues today from Baños to the Chimborazo volcano, traveling west about 73 miles (119 km). During the drive, keep on the lookout for the 20,549-foot (6,263 m) mountain, which last erupted about 10,000 years ago. Chimborazo's three peaks stretch eastward from a base of more than 12 miles (20 km), making it visible for miles. When you get out of the car, pay attention to the altitude as you walk to the refuge Carrell at 15,748 feet (4,800 m), where you can see views of the surrounding valleys and mountains and stop for lunch. 

Take your time walking around the area, marveling at its natural beauty, and then continue your road trip about 30 miles (49 km) southeast to Riobamba to spend the night.

Day 8: Drive to Cuenca & Hike Ingapirca Ruins

Riobamba  & Hiking Ingapirca Ruins
Hike the Ingapirca ruins, one of Ecuador's largest archaeological sites

Cuenca, 160 miles (259 km) south of Riobamba on the Río Tomebamba, is the next stop on your tour exploring Ecuador's Andes. On the way there, stop at the Ingapirca pre-Inca ruins, one of the largest archaeological complexes in Ecuador. Learn about the site's cultural influences from the Cañari and Inca and how its location at 10,498 feet (3,200 m) above sea level was strategic to control and secure entire empires. Climb through Cañari settlement ruins, and look out for llamas roaming freely.

At the end of your archaeological hike, continue on to Cuenca, traveling the remaining 43 miles (70 km) south. Rest at your hotel after a long day, as there will be plenty of time to see the city tomorrow.

Day 9: Explore the City of Four Rivers

Cuenca's four rivers make it a relaxing place to walk along the water

Cuenca is officially known as Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca (Santa Ana of the Cuenca Rivers) because of the four rivers coursing through the city: Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui, and Machangara. Spend a leisurely morning or afternoon following paths and parks along the rivers, and be sure to bring a jacket and umbrella for unpredictable weather in the city at 8,400 feet (2,560 m).

To see the historic center, walk through Cuenca's central plaza, Parque Calderón, where you can visit its blue-domed Catedral Nueva and 16th-century Catedral Vieja. To learn more about the area's Inca history and the former Inca city Tomebamba, go to Museo y Parque Arqueológico Pumapungo. For lunch or dinner, visit a local market to try street food such as grilled corn and tamales. Then, get back to your hotel to pack and get ready for another day on the road tomorrow. 

Day 10: Drive to Guayaquil

Walk along the waterfront and taste fresh seafood in colorful Guayaquil

Ecuador's major port city, Guayaquil, is known as a gateway to the Galápagos Islands. It's also brimming with colorful houses, waterfront views, and restaurants and galleries to explore. The drive there is approximately four hours north of Cuenca, traveling 121 miles (196 km), and as you navigate along the scenic route, you'll notice the shift from dry highlands to lush coast along the way.

You'll feel the elevation shift from Cuenca when you arrive in Guayaquil, which is on the Río Guayas estuary at 13.2 feet (4 m) above sea level. Check in to your hotel and then take a leisurely walk around the city to see some of its neighborhoods. Start in Las Peñas with its brightly-colored wooden houses —the oldest part of the city—and then walk along the waterfront at Malecón 2000 to breathe the fresh sea air. Get ready for a hike as you follow the stairs up to Santa Ana Hill, stopping for a coffee or to browse art galleries along the way before visiting Santa Ana Chapel for some of the best views of Ecuador's second-largest city.

Day 11:  Guayaquil Neighborhoods Tour

Take a ride around Guayaquil to explore more of its highlights

See more of Guayaquil by car today, visiting parks, monuments, and an island. At Seminario Park, spot land iguanas sunbathing in trees and among hidden corners. Then, see the Palacio Municipal and Palacio de Gobernacion, and in front of those buildings, look up for the clock tower La Torre Morisca, where you can climb to the top for panoramic city views. Later on, visit the city's iconic La Rotonda, a statue that commemorates a meeting between Simón Bolívar and José San Martín in 1822.

Return to the 1.5-mile (2.5 km) waterfront promenade, Malecon 2000, and then cross over to Isla Santay. On the island, walk or rent a bike to follow wooden paths and be on the lookout for crocodiles. In the afternoon or early evening, go back to the city center to eat dinner on the waterfront and toast the end of your Ecuador road trip.

Day 12: Depart Guayaquil

Say your goodbyes to the colorful streets and lively culture of Guayaquil

Enjoy your last morning in Guayaquil with a walk through the city or along the water. Then return your rental car at Guayaquil Airport and head home or on to your next destination.

More Great Ecuador Itineraries 

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Ecuador? Check out these other Ecuador itineraries, explore other ways to spend 12 days in Ecuador, or discover the best time to visit Ecuador.


Map of Ecuador Road Trip From North to South: Quito, Cotopaxi & Baños - 12 Days
Map of Ecuador Road Trip From North to South: Quito, Cotopaxi & Baños - 12 Days