Ecuador in 3-4 days
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 birdwatching and zip-lining. 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 is not 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 then 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
One week in Ecuador allows you to throughly cover one region, or scratch the surface of two areas. If you’re coming to Ecuador specifically to see the Galapagos Islands or the Amazon jungle then you can spend 4-7 days in either.
Combine a day of sightseeing in Quito with a trip to the Galapagos. 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, then 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 7-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 to 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 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 both the highlands and the Amazon within a week.
Ecuador in 9-12 days
You can combine a visit to either the Galapagos 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 further south to experience the rather hair-raising Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) train ride.
If you are spending most of the trip in the highlands, then explore the mellow setting of southern Ecuador. The country’s best set of Inca ruins are 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.
Further south is another expat enclave with a more alternative vibe – Vilcabamba. Known as the Valley of Longevity, it is a center for holistic therapies and healthy living. Go horse riding in the surrounding hills and explore Podocarpus National Park, which drops down towards the jungle.
If you're not doing a trip deep into the jungle, then an alternative is to explore 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 do 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 14 days
In two weeks you can really see the best of Ecuador’s diversity. The most popular two-week itinerary is to spend 5 days in the highlands, 3 days in the jungle and 6 days in the Galapagos in a spectacular tour of the real Ecuador, showcasing the country’s immense diversity.
If you are fit enough, then 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 acclimatizing, slowly ascending in altitude from Quito to Cotopaxi National Park before ascending the 19,347 ft (5897 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 5-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 regenerated artistic districts. Then work your way up the coast where you will find resorts to suit every taste – from the high-class party town of Salinas to the hippy surfer hub Montañita. Further north, Machalilla National Park is a highlight with a protected forest and pristine beach, Los Frailes. There is whale-watching here June to September and an excellent boat trip to Isla de la Plata. This island has much of the same birdlife as the Galapagos Islands if you don’t make it to the archipelago.
Further north, 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 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.