Ecuador is a country that packs enormous diversity into a small area, so it's ideal to visit for a short trip. You can spend a long weekend exploring Quito and the mountains, stay for a week venturing into the Amazon jungle or cruising the Galápagos, or spend two weeks climbing volcanoes, exploring cloud forests, and enjoying adventure sports before relaxing on the Pacific beaches. Whatever your preference, use this guide to help you make the most of your visit.

Ecuador in 3-4 days

At Mitad del Mundo, a monument and museum marking the location of the equator

If you're in Ecuador on a short visit, then you can still see a lot in a long weekend due to the country's compact geography. Begin by exploring Quito's historic Old Town and visit the equator at Mitad del Mundo just north of the city.

There are also many interesting day trips within two hours of Quito—the Indigenous market of Otavalo is a haven for shoppers, and the cloud forest town of Mindo is excellent for bird-watching and ziplining. If you're seeking an adrenaline fix in the mountains, you can enjoy a Multi-Adventure in the Ecuadorian Highlands, including horse-riding, trekking, and climbing.

If this isn't your first time in Ecuador and you've already seen the areas close to Quito, then fly to the coastal city of Guayaquil to explore Ecuador's biggest city and head to the nearby beaches at Playas, Salinas, or Montañita. Alternatively, fly to the northern city of Esmeraldas and stay at nearby resorts on the most beautiful stretches of the coast—Atacames, Same, or Mompiche.

Ecuador in 5-7 days

Explore views of Lake Quilotoa, a great destination if you have a week in Ecuador

One week in Ecuador allows you to thoroughly cover one region or scratch the surface of two areas. If you're coming to Ecuador specifically to see the Galápagos Islands or the Amazon jungle, you can spend 4-7 days in either.

Combine a day of sightseeing in Quito with a trip to the Galápagos. Fly from Quito via Guayaquil to Santa Cruz island and choose from a cruise or land-based itinerary to see the geological and wildlife highlights of one of the world's top destinations for nature lovers.

If you're more interested in the jungle, fly from Quito to the gateway town of Coca and journey deep into the primary jungle to experience canoe rides, treks, and views from canopy towers on the edge of Yasuni National Park. An example of an exciting seven-day itinerary is this Best of the Ecuadorian Amazon tour.

If you want to see more of the highlands, then spend a week exploring the region near Quito. In addition to Otavalo's market and Mindo's cloud forest to the north, head south through the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Explore the stunning scenery of Cotopaxi National Park and the shimmering waters of the extinct volcanic Lake Quilotoa. Spend a day relaxing after your hikes in the thermal baths of Baños.

You can also mix things up by visiting the highlands and the Amazon within a week. 

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Ecuador in 9-12 days

Consider a trip to Cuenca, considered the best-preserved colonial city in Ecuador

You can combine a visit to the Galápagos or the jungle with a more thorough exploration of the Ecuadorian highlands. One option is a 10-day itinerary that includes the Amazon and the Highlands. In addition to Quito, Otavalo, Cotopaxi, and Baños head farther south to experience the rather hair-raising Nariz del Diablo (Devil's Nose) train ride. 

If you're spending most of the trip in the highlands, then explore the mellow setting of southern Ecuador. The country's best set of Inca ruins is at Ingapirca. Stay in the beautifully preserved colonial center of Cuenca, many people's favorite city and a haven for US expats, then explore the rugged mountains and lakes of Cajas National Park.

Farther south is another expat enclave with a more alternative vibe—Vilcabamba. Known as the "Valley of Longevity," it's a center for holistic therapies and healthy living. Go horse riding in the surrounding hills and explore Podocarpus National Park, which drops down toward the jungle.   

If you're not going deep into the jungle, an alternative is to explore the secondary jungle on the edge of the Amazon basin via Puyo or Tena. These towns can be accessed most easily down the Pastaza Valley from Baños. You can make a day trip or stay overnight and visit local tribes to learn about their jungle culture. Here are some examples of Ecuador's best jungle lodges – from the most accessible to those deep in the jungle.

Ecuador in 2 Weeks

With this much time in Ecuador, many opt for an extended trip to the Galápagos Islands

In two weeks, you can really see the best of Ecuador's diversity. The most popular two-week itinerary is to spend five days in the highlands, three days in the jungle, and six days in the Galápagos in a spectacular tour of the real Ecuador, showcasing the country's immense diversity.

As a trip to the Galápagos tends to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we recommend spending more time on the islands with an itinerary of six days or 10 days

If you're fit enough, a two-week trip is sufficient to tackle one or two of Ecuador's best climbs. The most famous is Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. To tackle its peak, you need to spend a week acclimating, slowly ascending in altitude from Quito to Cotopaxi National Park before ascending the 19,347 ft (5,897 m) peak.

Other easier peaks include Illiniza Norte, while Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, is even more challenging. It's possible to do a Volcano Trek, including the refuge of Cotopaxi, if you want to experience the unworldly landscapes of the high Andes without attempting an arduous climb. If you prefer horseriding to climbing, consider a five-day horseback ride near Cotopaxi

An interesting alternative to the highlands is to explore Ecuador's coastline. A haven for surfers and sun worshippers, it can bring welcome respite after treks in the jungle and mountains. Begin in the tropical city of Guayaquil, where you can explore the waterfront and revitalized artistic districts. Then work your way up the coast, where you'll find resorts to suit every taste—from the high-class party town of Salinas to the hippy surfer hub Montañita.

Another option is Machalilla National Park, a highlight with a protected forest and pristine beach, Los Frailes. There's whale watching here from June to September and an excellent boat trip to Isla de la Plata. This island has much of the same birdlife as the Galápagos Islands if you don't make it to the archipelago. Farther north, you can also explore the mangroves around eco-city Bahía de Caráquez, the surfing resorts of Canoa and Mompiche, and the party town Atacames which gets very busy at weekends in high season, December to April.

Here is an example of a tour that enables you to combine the Amazon, Andes, and the Coast in two weeks. If you are fortunate enough to have more than two weeks in the country, consider going on an epic cross-country hiking trip