Where to Go in Ecuador in 2021
Updated August 19th, 2020
For a country of modest size, Ecuador boasts a surprisingly diverse range of landscapes and a plethora of fantastic places to visit. The west of the country is covered by Amazonian Rainforest, the center of Ecuador is dominated by the Andes Mountains including the impressive Avenue of Volcanoes and is thicketed in a magnificent cloud forest. The western shores are less elevated with a long coastline, and 900 KM off the coast lie the mythical Galapagos Islands which straddle the Equator and are home to an impressive array of wildlife.
Due to its diverse topography and varying elevation, in terms of weather, the best time to visit Ecuador can vary based on where you wish to visit. I recommend talking with an expert Travel Consultant on how best to optimize your trip based on the regions you will be visiting.
From Amazon jungle lodges to hikes in the rarified air of the Avenue of Volcanoes, colorful markets steeped in native Andean tradition, to animal watching on the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador offers a wide variety of activities and places to visit to appeal to all types of travelers. We have a wide range of Ecuador tours to choose from to help you explore this diverse gem.
1. Ecuadorian Amazon
Ecuador is principally associated with the Andes Mountains and the Galapagos Islands. What is often overlooked is that the western region of the country is covered by the Amazon Rainforest. Given Ecuador’s relatively small size this makes visiting the Amazon easy in logistical terms with a flight to Coca from Quito only taking 50-minutes.
From Coca, travelers are within reach of some excellent lodges which are secluded among the enormity of the world’s largest rainforest. Lodges are typically reached by a combination of riverboat and canoe and there are several excellent lodges to choose from. A number of lodges are contained within the Yasuni National Park which is located in the Easternmost part of Ecuador’s borders and is a rich habitat with protected animal species and is home to two uncontacted Amazon tribes. In addition to the lodges, Coca is also a disembarkation point for several Amazon Cruises which provides the option of penetrating even deeper into the Amazon.
Best Time to Visit the Ecuadorian Amazon
Given the amount of heat and precipitation in the rainforest, there are always midday rains in the Amazon. Nonetheless, the best times to visit the Ecuadorian Amazon are from December to February and again from July to October as these are the drier months.
How to Get to the Ecuadorian Amazon
The best way to access the Ecuadorian Amazon is by taking a flight from Quito’s international airport to Coca which is a city located in the Amazon. The flight is only 50-minutes and once there you can board a cruise or a riverboat to your lodge which can take another 2-hours.
2. Cuenca, Ecuador
Nestled amongst the Andes of Southern Ecuador you will find the city of Cuenca. This UNESCO World Heritage City has enchanted visitors for decades and has developed a reputation as a top destination for ex-pats. Its cobblestone streets, impressive cathedrals, colonial mansions, and scenic surroundings give the city a great aesthetic appeal. In addition to this, the city has a rich pre-Colombian history, great restaurants, museums, and galleries. I also highly recommend taking the Devil’s nose train from Cuenca where you will board a 19th-century train and enjoy stunning views of the Andes Mountains.
Best Time to Visit Cuenca
The best time to visit Cuenca is anytime! There is little variation in temperature in Cuenca throughout the year. Given its elevation, there is very little humidity resulting in enjoyable temperatures year-round with moderate rainfall. The hottest months are November through January where highs are regularly around 75.9°F (24.4°C) with temperatures rarely dropping below 53.9°F (12.2°C) at night.
How to Get to Cuenca
Cuenca airport has regular flights to and from Ecuador’s international airports in Quito and Guayaquil. Both flights take less than 1-hour. The city can also be reached by road but given the mountainous terrain of Ecuador, this can be time-consuming with a bus to Quito taking 10-hours.
Recommended Cuenca Tours
Quito and Devil’s Nose Train Tour
3. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Undoubtedly Ecuador’s most well known and prestigious destination is the Galapagos Islands. Located 900 KM of the coast of Ecuador the archipelago is home to a wide array of land and marine life. This protected marine habitat attracts visitors from all over the world to get up close and personal with animals who have evolved without fear of humans and remain undisturbed when inspected up close.
A cruise around the Galapagos is an unforgettable experience and you will have the chance to see iguanas, sharks, penguins, octopuses, tortoises, sea lions, and much much more. All Galapagos tours are led by specially trained local guides who enthusiastically provide visitors with a depth of information about the nature, history, climate, and geology of this unique archipelago.
Best Time to Visit the Galapagos
From a climate point of view, the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands is from December to May. These are the months considered to be the warm season. The water is warmer and calmer during this time, with better visibility for snorkeling or diving. The colder drier season runs from June to November. It’s also important to note that some species seen in the Galapagos are migratory, and often the best time of year to visit depends on which animals you want to see.
How to Get to the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are serviced by two airports on the Islands of Baltra and San Cristobal with flights from the mainland typically departing from Quito, stopping off in Guayaquil, and continuing to either Galapagos Airport. Flights from Quito take 3H 35 M and 2H from Guayaquil.
4. Quito, Ecuador
Elevated by the Andes and surrounded by picturesque conical volcanos, Quito is steeped in a rich heritage, striking architecture, fascinating colonial history, and natural wonders. In the shadow of the Pichincha volcano, the city is renowned as the World’s first UNESCO World Heritage site. Most notably is the city’s Old Town, considered to be the best-preserved historic center in the Americas. Though older pre-Colombian sites still remain to this day and a short trip north will bring you to the middle of the World monument where one can experience having one foot in each of Earth’s hemispheres. Other highlights in Quito include the Quito Metropolitan Cathedral, Carondelet Palace, and the Archbishop’s Palace. Explore breathtaking religious buildings, such as La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, San Francisco Church, Santo Domingo Church, and La Merced Church.
Best Time to Visit Quito
Given its proximity to the Equator, temperature varies little in Quito throughout the year and rain falls about 50% of the time but that said that drier season runs from June until September with November until March also being favorable.
How to Get to Quito
Quito is serviced by its international airport with daily flights arriving from several major European capitals including London, Madri, and Amsterdam with North America also servicing the airport from New York, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles among others.
5. Baños, Ecuador
Mountains draped in cloud forests, waterfalls gushing thunderously upon valley floors where river rapids churn white waters that snake through the Ecuadorian Andes Baños is a world of natural wonder and a haven for adventure enthusiasts. Nestled in amongst the Andes Mountains Banõs offers stunning views and a plethora of adrenaline tour options including white water rafting, bungee jumping, canyoning, etc. I highly recommend renting a bike and cycling down the stunning Highway 30 where you will encounter tonnes of beautiful waterfalls. En route, you can hop off and take a cable car or zipline over the waterfalls. Another highlight is the Casa De Arbol where you can take a swing over a mountain ledge with a stunning view in the distance.
Best Time to Visit Baños
The average temperature in Baños is 18 degrees Celsius (65 Fahrenheit) and this does not vary a great deal throughout the year, although it is slightly colder from June to August. The possibility of rain and cloud is an ever-present throughout the year. That said the driest months are from October to February with November clocking in as the driest.
How to Get to Baños
Without a regional airport to service it the only way to get to Baños from Quito is by road, be that by bus (7hours) or private care (5hours 30 minutes). Likewise, you are traveling from Cuenca a bus will take 7-hours and by private car 5 hours 30 minutes.
Recommended Baños Tours
Quito & the Devil’s Nose Tour
Tren Crucero along the Avenue of the Volcanoes Tour
6. Guayaquil, Ecuador
Located on the Pacific coast Guayaquil, although not the capital is Ecuador’s largest city. In contrast to the rarefied heights of Ecuador’s Andean destinations, you will find the abundant air is complemented by a great nightlife scene, wonderful culinary options (crab is a specialty here), and will leave you close to some of Ecuador’s best beaches. If you are visiting between June and October I highly recommend traveling up the coast to nearby Puerto Lopez to do some whale watching where sightings of migratory humpback whales breaching the equatorial waters are all but guaranteed. Guayaquil is also a good place to start a Galapagos tour from direct flights to the Islands.
Best Time to Visit Guayaquil
Being a coastal destination the temperature in Guayaquil is not tempered by the altitude as is the case with cities further inland. You can expect temperatures to hover around 30 degrees celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) during the warm season (Mar-Jun). Even during winter temperatures do not vary greatly although I recommend visiting during the dry season from January to April.
How to Get to Guayaquil
Being Ecuador’s largest city Guayaquil is serviced by several direct flight options from the US including Miami and Orlando as well as layover flights departing from Los Angeles and Dallas. From Europe, there are flights servicing Guayaquil from Amsterdam, Madrid, and Frankfurt although most will stop in Quito before continuing to Guayaquil.
Recommended Guayaquil Tours
Guayaquil to Quito Train Journey
Tren Crucero Train Tour Along the Avenue of the Volcanoes
7. Otavalo, Ecuador
1-hour 30-minute drive north of Quito you will find the town of Otavalo nestled among the volcanoes of the Imbabura province. With a large native population, Otavalo is most famous as being home to one of South America’s largest and best-known markets. Here you can spend hours walking amongst the labyrinth of colorful stalls that sell traditional goods including leathers, jewelry, straw hats, and of course colorfully embroidered alpaca wools. Here, you can find some real bargains for high-quality wares. Spend the day getting lost among the sites and smells of the market and in the evening I highly recommend dining on one of the second-floor restaurants that can be found surrounding the market square to people watch in the evening with some traditional food. Another great option is to spend the night with members of the Magdalena community in an alpine style cabin situated in a beautiful green valley just outside of the city.
Best Time to Visit Otavalo
As with most destinations in Ecuador Otavalo’s temperatures vary little through the year owing to its proximity to the Equator. The elevation means that temperature remains comfortable typically between 16-18 degrees celsius or between 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit. That said if you have the chance January is the best time of year to visit as it is the driest month.
How to Get to Otavalo
Otavalo can only be reached by car or bus from Quito. A car journey takes around 1-hour and 30-minutes and by bus, it takes around 2-hours and 15-minutes.
8. Cotopaxi National Park
Clocking in at an impressive 5897 meters, Cotopaxi volcano is Ecuador’s second-highest peak and one of the World’s highest volcanoes. In a country dissected by a chain of volcanic mountains, Cotopaxi stands out with its conical symmetry, glaciated upper reaches, and oft-times smoldering summit captivating visitors for centuries. On clear days the volcano is visible from Quito and is ideal for a day trip from the capital. You can hike up to the Refugio at 4,500 meters to take in stunning elevated views of the park but for a less strenuous experience, I recommend visiting the Laguna Limpiopungo which offers fantastic views of the mountain and an opportunity to do some bird watching with Andean gulls and hummingbirds often visiting its shores. You can also stay in one of several lodges that are located in the park which will allow you to go for a sunrise hike on the mountainside.
Best Time to Visit Cotopaxi
Viewing conditions are at their best during the dry season between July and October. Temperatures will vary very little throughout the year but you do want to give yourself the best chance of seeing the summit while there.
How to Get to Cotopaxi
The best way to get to Cotopaxi is by car or 4×4 from Quito. There are lots of tour operators who operate private guided tours of the mountain with journey times to the park taking no more than 2-hours.
9. Riobamba, Ecuador
About halfway between Quito and Cuenca, nestled in the avenue of volcanoes lies the city of Riobamba. The city is located close to the Chimborazo volcano, Ecuador’s highest volcano, and whose summit has the distinction of being the farthest point from the center of the Earth. The surrounding area makes this city an ideal place to visit for adventure tourists with mountain climbing and off-road biking being very popular. Consistent with many cities in Ecuador Riobamba a well preserved colonial city center with the Catedral San Pedro being a particular highlight. My number one recommendation is to take the Devil’s nose train, a thrilling 12KM stretch of the 19th-century rail line which skirts Chimborazo and Carihuairazo and includes a captivating descent down a series of switchbacks known as the devil’s nose.
Best Time to Visit Riobamba
With little variation in the temperature, you can expect mildly cool weather year-round although I would recommend visiting between June and August as these are the driest months of the year.
How to Get to Riobamba
Riobamba is connected to Ecuador’s other major cities by road. From Quito, you can take a bus which will take a little under 4-hours or 3-hours by car. From Guayaquil, a bus will take you 5-hours by bus or 4 hours 15-minutes by car. From Cuenca, a bus will take 5-hours and 30 minutes or 4-hours 30-minutes by car.
Recommended Riobamba Tours
Luxury Galapagos Cruise & Ecuador Train Tour