Ecuador may be South America’s fourth-smallest country (it’s slightly outsized by Nevada), but the equatorial nation packs a giant punch when it comes to stunning natural scenery, wildlife, history, and culture.
The country is home to four distinct regions—El Oriente (the Amazon), La Sierra (the Andes highlands), the Galápagos Islands, and La Costa (the coastal lowlands)—which means there are things to do in Ecuador for every type of traveler. Follow our Ecuador Travel Guide for the best things to see, do, eat, drink, and buy when you visit on any of our tours.
Forgot to hit up the airport’s currency-exchange counter? Not to worry—Ecuador’s official currency is the U.S. dollar. Coins are similar in size, color, and shape to their American equivalents but bear images of important Ecuadorians rather than U.S. luminaries and landmarks.
Spanish, Ecuador’s official language, is spoken throughout the country, and various indigenous languages and dialects can be heard in the highlands and Amazonía.
In urban areas, when you’re not traveling by private coach with your group, city buses are a relatively affordable and convenient way to get around. (As a rule of thumb, ride only during the daytime—and with companions—whenever you can.)
Taxis are also handy for exploring Ecuador’s major cities, but be sure to ride only in registered cabs. In major urban areas like Quito, meters are common. In smaller, more remote cities and towns, you might need to agree with your driver on a fare first (ask your hotel’s staff what’s reasonable). Taxi drivers don’t typically expect a tip, but rounding up to the nearest dollar is appreciated.
English is common among Ecuadorians who work in travel, but less so among those who work outside the industry. If you want to converse with locals, knowing a few Spanish words and phrases will come in handy:
¿Cuanta cuesta este? (KWAN-tah KWES-tah ESS-tay)
This one’s helpful to know any time you need to pay for something, be it a bus ticket, lunch, or a souvenir. It means “How much does this cost?”
¿Dónde está...? (DON-day ess-TAH)
Need to locate an ATM, the bathroom, or a museum? Complete this phrase (it means “Where is...”) with “el cajero,” “el baño,” or “el museo,” respectively, to find your way.
¿Podrías tomar una foto? (Poh-DREE-ahs toh-MAR OOH-nah FOH-toh)
Want a pic of you and your tour mates together? Pose this question to a friendly passerby; it means “Could you take a photo?” (Be sure to add a polite “por favor” and “gracias,” too.)
¿Por favor puedo tener...? (POUR fah-VOOR PUAY-doh teh-NAIR)
Use this phrase (it means “May I please have...?”) and you’ll sound like a pro when placing your order. Finish it off with “una taza de café” to score a cup of coffee.
Peak travel seasons in Ecuador are largely determined by which holidays are happening around the country. Vibrant fiestas celebrate everything from agriculture and religion to indigenous culture and geopolitical anniversaries. Attending one of these celebrations is among the best things to do in Ecuador for a true taste of local life.
Weather in Ecuador is all but impossible to predict. Seasons are typically characterized by how wet or dry—not how warm or cool—they are. Of course, the weather (and your packing needs) will vary depending on what part of the country you visit, but a few items should make the trip no matter what.
Light, waterproof clothing. Parts of Ecuador (coastal areas and the Amazon) and certain months (October through May) can be wetter than others. Water-resistant clothing and accessories will keep you cozy, dry, and ready for adventure.
Comfy, sturdy shoes. Whether you’re logging thousands of steps in a city like Quito or navigating rocky surfaces in the Galápagos, lace up a pair of well-cushioned shoes with a durable sole to keep your feet in tip-top shape.
Underwater camera. Follow Go Ahead traveler Erica’s lead, especially if you’re heading to the Galápagos like she did. “I brought an underwater camera so I was able to get amazing shots of the aquatic animals,” she said. “It was a wildlife photographer’s heaven. I photographed sea lions, marine iguanas, land iguanas, whitetip reef sharks, Nazca boobies, flightless cormorants, swallow-tailed gulls, parrotfish, albatross, brown noddy terns, pelicans, Frigate birds, penguins, huge yellowtailed surgeonfish, and various finches.”
New to shooting under the surface? Check out an expert’s four underwater photography tips.
Sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen. Sunlight in Ecuador can be strong. Protect your eyes with a pair of shades (polarized if possible), your head with a full-coverage hat, and skin with plenty of SPF.
A backpack. Camera. Money. Sunnies. Jacket. Hat. Sunscreen. Water. Filling a light, easy-to-carry backpack with all of your daytime necessities will ensure you don’t get stuck anywhere without them—and make toting it all a breeze.
Ecuador’s diverse landscape, ecosystems, and cultural heritage give visitors a number of options to choose from when it comes to exploring. Here are a few of the top things to do in Ecuador.
There are enough thrilling places to visit in Ecuador that they might not all make it into your tour’s itinerary. Have some free time? Here are some Ecuador tourist attractions you won’t want to miss.
Ecuador’s long coastline provides an abundance of fresh fish and seafood, which feature prominently in a few of the country’s signature dishes. Root veggies and other types of produce flourish here, too. Give them all a taste in these can’t-miss dishes.
Ceviche. This refreshing, zingy dish is made by marinating, or “cooking,” raw fish and seafood in citrus juice—typically lime—and mixing in chopped fresh herbs, fruits, and veggies (think cilantro, mango, red onion, and tomatoes). It’s served cold and often topped with crunchy accoutrements like fried plantains or corn kernels.
Chocolate. Many chocolate enthusiasts agree that Ecuador produces some of the highest quality stuff on the planet. And with many makers using cacao beans grown in the Ecuadorian Amazon, it’s no wonder. Find chocolate bars everywhere—grocery stores, artisanal shops—that are pure and plain or packed with bits of sea salt, lemongrass, Andean blueberries, and other ingredients.
Encebollado. You don’t have to have a hangover to enjoy this Ecuadorian specialty that’s said to cure one. Often served in the morning or for brunch, this soup typically contains tuna, yuca, onions, and cilantro and is finished with a squeeze of lime juice, ketchup, or mustard. Take a cue from locals and stir in some crushed chifles, or plantain chips, to give it a comforting, stew-like texture.
Fried plantains. This starchy, banana-like fruit is abundant in Ecuador and is served fried as both a street food snack and a restaurant side dish. Ripe yellow ones (maduros) are soft and sweet, while fried green plantains (patacones or tostones) stay crisp and are sprinkled with salt or dipped in ketchup or mayo.
Viche de pescado. Not to be confused with ceviche, this comforting coastal dish (it’s also sometimes called biche) is a hearty fish soup made with a peanut broth, yuca, plantains, cilantro, onions, garlic, veggies, and, sometimes, beans.
Tropical fruits, indigenous plants, and other natural ingredients play a starring role in some of Ecuador’s most delicious—and unique—drinks.
Juice. Lots of flavorful fruits grow in Ecuador, and many of them are used to make fresh juice, or jugo (pronounced HOO-go). Maracuyá (passion fruit), tomate de árbol (tree tomato, or tamarillo), and naranjilla (a sweet-tart fruit that’s native to Ecuador) are a few to look for on menus.
Aguardiente. Made from fermented sugarcane and popular throughout South America, this strong spirit (its name translates to “fire water”) is ubiquitous in Ecuador’s bars, where it’s typically taken as a shot or mixed into cocktails. In higher elevations, it’s mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and hot water to form a warming drink called a canelazo.
Guayusa. Throughout Ecuador, the leaves of this Amazonian holly tree are picked, dried, steeped in water, and served like tea. The naturally caffeinated drink is said to be rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and other healthful properties, so drink up!
Chicha. Ingredients for this tipple tend to vary slightly based on where it’s made, but fermented corn and yuca (a.k.a. cassava or manioc) are common. (Some traditional recipes require the chicha’s preparer to chew up the ingredients and spit them back into the brew. Opt for non-chewed version to keep things safe.)
Agriculture, art, and handicrafts abound in Ecuador—and lend themselves to some pretty special souvenirs. Here are a few you’ll want to save space for in your suitcase.