Interested in visiting Ecuador, but not sure if 10 days is worth it? I asked myself the same question.
Last year I was in transition between jobs and was looking for a new destination to visit. I had not been to South America before and wanted to experience it, especially after spending time traveling in Puerto Rico and backpacking through Spain. I only had around 10 days though, so I had to ask myself the question: would a 10 day itinerary for Ecuador be possible?
I generally prefer to take long-term backpacking trips so as not to feel rushed nor have a strict schedule, but when you have opportunities to travel you have to take them. The chance to travel in Ecuador was intriguing enough to attract me, even though I knew I might not get to see everything that I’d like in one trip. I’ll share my experience, what I was able to see, and my general itinerary.
In 10 days of traveling Ecuador, I was able to visit:
- Nueva Loja – Lago Agrio
- Amazon Rainforest
The best part was I didn’t feel rushed and it didn’t cost me that much. If you like travel videos, check out the video of this trip on my YouTube channel or at the bottom of this page. Also you can see these Ecuador travel tips here, that may help you plan your trip.
Before getting into the details of what I saw in each place, I think it is helpful to mention what you can see in Ecuador. In an oversimplified generalization, there are basically 3 regions of Ecuador (not including the Galápagos Islands): the coast (la costa), the Andes mountains (la sierra o zona andina), the Amazon rainforest (la amazonía). Each region of Ecuador is uniquely beautiful and culturally different. They even speak differently in Spanish and have regional languages that date back thousands of years.
When I arrived, I spoke with a local who gave me some sound advice for traveling in Ecuador. Paraphrased, but basically, if you don’t have a lot of time you should choose the regions that you want to visit most or you will waste all of your time trying to see everything and end up seeing nothing. Great advice and something that I think can be applied to nearly everywhere. Ecuador is a small country, but it is very diverse and due to the terrain and logistics, it can take a lot of time to travel between cities and regions. I was able to visit 2 of 3 regions in my trip. I didn’t get to go to the coast unfortunately. 2 is definitely possible. 3 might be pushing it.
2 nights; 2 days
I arrived late in the night to the airport of Quito, which wouldn’t be ideal if you aren’t a Spanish speaker or do not have something organized for your transportation. Thankfully, the hostel that I was staying at was in connection with a network of dependable taxi drivers who I was able to request a ride with. If you are flying in to Ecuador, Quito would probably be the best starting place as the flights would be cheapest depending on where you are coming from. Beyond my arrival, I had no plans though.
Quito is a relatively long city, stretching the span of a valley from north to south. Most visitors to Ecuador would stay in north Quito near the Plaza Foch area. This is the most touristy area and not too far from the business district areas and central parks. There are plenty of things to do in Quito, but a lot of them revolve around going out and partying, especially when you are short on time. I liked the parks a lot; Parque El Ejido is a great place to people watch and observe some small insights into everyday lives. Parque La Alameda is another park that I can recommend visiting. It is a hike to the top, but the view is really nice once you are there. Plaza Grande is highly active and a central place to lots of shops, restaurants and stores.
Contrary to what many people might say, I think Quito Sur, or South Quito, is also worth the visit. It is not as flashy or active as North Quito and some say it is more dangerous, but I didn’t find it bad. It also has Mercado Mayorista, which I think is one of the best things to do in Quito.
1 night; 1.5 days
A must-see in Ecuador. I was extremely lucky that I happened to still be in Quito right before the weekend or I would have missed this experience completely. Otavalo is one of the few cities in Ecuador that has a traditional market every weekend where merchants and farmers come together to form a huge market that takes over the streets of Otavalo. If I’m not mistaken, I think Otavalo is the largest market in Ecuador.
I was told that the best time to visit Otavalo is on the weekend when the market is fully operational. When you go, make sure to visit both the textile market and the farmers market. I started in the city where the textile market was and walked to the farmers market. There is probably about 10 minutes between the two.
2 nights; 2 days
Baños de Agua Santa, Baños, is probably the most touristy thing that I did while in Ecuador. Baños, or baths in English, got its name from the thermal pools that can be found in the surrounding area. It is known locally as a kind of adventure area or extreme sports capital. Most visitors to Baños look to do a variety of recreational activities such as canyoning, zip-lining, white water rafting, bike riding, hiking, thermal baths, or the like. Due to the amount of tourists, it is also a popular place to party. Note: you’ll need to book tours from your hostel or from agencies in the street. In high season, some may not be available.
Also make sure you check out the swing at the end of the world, or Casa de Arbol. It is basically a tree house swing at the edge of a mountain above the city of Baños Ecuador. It is a really great place to overlook the surrounding mountains and serene landscape. When the clouds set in, it really looks like you are swinging at the end of the world too.
Amazon Rainforest – Lago Agrio
3 nights; 3 days
Moving from the Andean region of Ecuador, I chose the Amazon region over the coast. This was not a difficult decision for me because visiting the Amazon was something that I always dreamed of doing. Now after doing it, I cannot wait to have the opportunity to do it again. Lago Agrio was a starting point for a 2-3 hour drive through many small towns and the country side to get to a river where we began a boat ride to an eco lodge in the Amazon. It was incredible. We stayed in the Siona territory. I got to see many species of animals ranging from monkeys, spiders, snakes, birds, ants, caiman, bats, and pink dolphins. Originally coming from Louisiana my favorites were the Anaconda and Caiman, which reminded me of home. We have alligators everywhere in the swamp.
1 night; 1.5 days
Papallacta is one of the least touristy places that I visited. It is back in the Andean region of Ecuador. I crossed from the Amazon to Papallacta on my way back to Quito. It is known for relaxation and being a tranquil mountain town for spa like treatment. Most people, myself included, visit Papallacta for the geothermal pools. It was the only place that I’ve visited where you can sit back in a warm pool and overlook the majestic Andes mountains.
Papallacta was a place not too far from the airport of Quito and a good place to spend my last night. Though I do not recommend leaving from Papallacta to the airport unless you give yourself plenty of time. I missed my flight, but truthfully it was my fault not the bus system.
A big regret of mine was that I did not have enough time to visit the Galapagos Islands. I heard from many people that it is highly recommendable and like no other place, but I just could not do everything. If your primarily point of interest would be the Islands, then you could probably spend almost all 10 days on the islands or in transit via Quito. I heard that many people visit for around a week. From what I heard, less than a week would not be worth the efforts and cost. Next time.
That’s my itinerary for 10 days in Ecuador. As you can see, there are many places to visit in Ecuador but it mostly depends on what interests you most. Hopefully this has given you an idea of what to do in Ecuador or at least what is possible in a short time frame. When you visit, add your experiences below! I’d love some suggestions for my next trip.
If you’re thinking you want some more visuals of this trip, check out the travel video of Ecuador on my YouTube channel. I combine the best highlights of this trip to Ecuador.
Have you been to Ecuador? What are your favorite activities there?