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I spent 3 weeks in Ecuador and I really loved it! In fact, I would go as far as saying it was my favourite country that I visited in South America, and in my top 5 favourite countries ever!
Like many countries in South America, Ecuador is very diverse with lots of landscapes but because of its small size, well at least compared to many other countries in South America like Argentina and Brazil, Ecuador is a lot easier to travel around and one of the cheapest countries in South America to travel around – on average one hour of bus travel in Ecuador is $1.00 USD, therefore it makes it a great country to backpack around!
Here’s my 3 week Ecuador itinerary which worked really well so you could copy it, or take ideas for your trip to Ecuador whether you’re visiting for 2 weeks or 1 month!
First, let me show you a map to help you work out where all of these places are:
I started my trip to Ecuador on the coast! I travelled from Peru into Ecuador by bus to Guayaquil. I had heard and read that Guayaquil is not a city to be visited because it can be a bit dangerous and to be honest I was over cities after visiting so many in my South America backpacking trip so far. I stayed in Guayaquil for one night in a hostel near the bus station and the next morning I got a 3 hour bus journey to Montanita.
Montanita is one of the main party towns and party destinations in Ecuador (and South America for that matter) but because I was travelling Ecuador solo and I wasn’t interested in nightlife I didn’t get a good first impression of Montanita.
Even though I was there on a Sunday and it was ‘apparently’ quiet I didn’t like the number of people trying to sell me things, all the neon signs, and the hoards of people on the beach. Montanita felt like Haad Rin in Koh Phangan in Thailand for me, which is great if that’s what you want at that time, but not great if you don’t want it.
I stayed in a nice and quiet hostel but only for one night before heading to a quiet town just 30 minutes up the coast- Ayampe.
Ayampe was my favourite place in Ecuador, I was craving a beautiful but quiet beach and this is just what I found!
The village of Ayampe is made up of a few dusty streets, a few restaurants, a surprisingly good number of places to stay, a huge beach and big waves. If you’re looking for a place to surf in Ecuador, this is it and it’s most famous with surfers because of its waves. Along with surf and that general vibe, comes a yoga vibe and community so there are also a number of places to do yoga in Ayampe too.
I spent 3 nights in Ayampe sunbathing, reading, watching the amazing sunsets (the beach is perfectly west facing) and generally relaxing after a busy 2 months in South America so far.
If you’re on a budget in Ecuador note that Ayampe is more expensive than many other places in Ecuador including accommodation and food but this is because it’s pretty remote, not as visited, and the locals want to keep it that way!
There are many beaches to visit in Ecuador and after being so impressed with the coastline I had seen so far, I toyed with the idea of going further up the coast to the beaches near Manta and even further North to Esmeraldas because I was reading great things about them, but I also had plans of going inland and to the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador which wasn’t leaving me much time as I only had a few weeks left on my 3 month South America backpacking trip!
So after Ayampe, I headed to the Capital of Ecuador – Quito! I had to get the public bus back to Guayaquil from Ayampe and then get another bus to Quito which equated to a full travel day and I ended up getting to Quito pretty late at night. I later learned that Quito is not the ideal city to be walking around late in but thankfully I had no issues!
I spent a few days in Quito wandering around the plaza’s and seeing the old buildings. I wasn’t a huge fan of Quito and I did find it a hard city to get around because it’s so huge.
One of the most popular things to do in Quito is to go to the Equator line which I did! It’s funny because there are 2 tourist information centres at the equator line. One was built but later on GPS identified it wasn’t in the accurate position, so they built another (LOL)! The biggest tourist complex (pictured below) is the incorrect one and what’s even funnier is the people who work there won’t admit it! You have to go looking for the smaller, real one just a few meters away.
After 2 days in Quito, I got the bus to Banos, the bus journey is only 4 hours from Quito to Banos which is nice and short for Ecuador and South America in general.
I loved Banos! After Quito, I was pleased to be in a small town with everything nearby and a touristic, backpacker vibe. The hostel I stayed in- Great Hostels Backpackers was really social and I met and got on with more people here than I did on the rest of my 3-month trip! Lots of British backpackers, Aussies and Europeans all up for a good time and a few drinks at the hostel and in the bars and clubs in town.
There are lots of things to do in Banos and lots of places to visit near Banos! Banos is full of adventure activities like canyoning, white water rafting, canoeing, and there’s even a bungee jump off a bridge in the town centre!
One of the most popular places to visit from Banos is ‘Casa del Arbol’ with the ‘swing over the edge of the world’! To be honest you go here for the photo more than the experience, especially as when I visited there was a huge queue for the swing! It was so cloudy when I went but on a clear day the views from Casa del Arbol are amazing and you can see a volcano! A few of us from the hostel went together hiring a minibus and on the way back we visited Pailon del Diablo waterfalls (pictured below) which were so impressive and one of the best waterfalls I’ve ever been to! The power of the water is insane so definitely add that to your things to do in Banos!
Banos is a place you can easily stay for 3-5 nights and I really recommend that you do. It’s the perfect place to chill as a backpacker in Ecuador with plenty to do in the town and outside the town, it’s not as tiring as many of the big South American cities are, so it has to be high on your list of places to visit in Ecuador!
In Banos, I booked a 4-day, 3-night tour into the Amazon Rainforest! From Banos I got a bus to Ambato which is the nearest city to Banos, waited in the bus station for a few hours and then got an 8-hour overnight bus to Lago Agrio which is where I got picked up and started my tour from. This Amazon Rainforest tour in Ecuador was a highlight of my time in South America!
I spent 4 days staying at Caiman Lodge with a small group of people canoeing around the rivers, looking out for monkeys, birds, snakes, spiders, sloths, dolphins and so much more! We swam in the river and watched some great sunsets from our boat.
My last stop on my backpacking trip in Ecuador was somewhere I was really looking forward to having been told about it by a few girls I met in Peru a few weeks before. They told me to visit a retreat centre in the mountains of South Ecuador which offers free yoga, a swimming pool, gorgeous views and they have dorm rooms so it’s affordable for travelling Ecuador on a budget! I’m happy to confirm that everything the girls told me was true!
I stopped for one night in the city of Cuenca to break up my travels from the North of Ecuador where I’d finished the Amazon Rainforest trip, further South to my final destination. I didn’t expect much of Cuenca but I actually really enjoyed it for the limited time I was there, it’s a very traditional South American city with beautiful buildings!
From Cuenca, I headed to Loja by bus and from Loja I finally reached Vilcabamba! Vilcabamba is pretty close to the Ecuador Peru border and it’s most famous because it’s known as the valley of longevity – aka the town where people live the longest due to the climate, water and general relaxed way of life!
The town itself is only very small, the centre is literally just a plaza with shops and restaurants surrounding the 4 sides, most of which have been opened by expats because this is also a really popular place for expats to live and work in Ecuador due to the lifestyle they can get here. The plus of that is that there’s some delicious fresh food on offer, in fact as a vegetarian in South America I ate the best food in Vilcabamba of my trip, and there are lots of nice jewellery shops too!
2km from the town centre of Vilcabamba is Hosteria Izhcayluma run by 2 German guys and this is not your usual hotel or hostel. I spent 4 nights and 4 full days here going to morning yoga (in Spanish I’ll add), eating a huge breakfast of fresh fruit, lying in a hammock or by the pool reading, going on some nearby hikes, having a massage and popping into town to eat even more food. If I hadn’t had to get back to Peru because my flight was leaving Lima soon, I could have easily stayed for one week in Vilcabamba.
Hosteria Izhcayluma is a hotel but as mentioned they have dormitory rooms for a really reasonable price so be sure to check them out if you want an affordable retreat in Ecuador!
From Vilcabamba I got a local bus back to Loja to get a bus back to Peru as my flight was leaving Lima in a few days time.
Ecuador was a huge highlight for me on my 3 month South America backpacking trip. It felt so much easier to travel than Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and even Peru which is where I had before Ecuador. It’s cheap to get around on the buses and the journeys are not as long as elsewhere in South America. The backpacker and travel vibe was much more apparent, it was easier to eat as a vegetarian with lots of fresh fruit and there are so many places to visit in Ecuador.
In my 3 weeks in Ecuador, I didn’t get to the Galapagos Islands. I could have gone to way more beaches in the North, I also could have done much more hiking as there are so many volcano hikes in Ecuador plus many mountains to climb.
It’s a country I’m sure I’ll visit again though and I know that you’ll love it too!
For more posts on South America see:
I’m Ellie Quinn!
I’m a total travel addict who has been travelling on and off since 2010 and has visited over 55 Countries. (Yes I’m a Country Counter!)
I love travelling, visiting new places and meeting new people but what I also love is sharing my experiences to help you travel better which is why I pour so much love into this travel blog.
I hope to inspire you to visit new places, make you realise you don’t need to spend that much money to travel and give you helpful tips on how to get to places and what to do there!
In the Summer of 2018, I quit my office job in London, left my flat and I now travel and blog full time so if this is your dream too, follow along because I post lots of content around how I did it. And it really is amazing!
Be sure to follow me on social media and you can read more about me here!
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