“Though she be but little, she is fierce!” Ecuador is more than just the equator that it is named after; it’s a country full of dark jungles, mighty mountains, rumbling volcanoes, cliffy coasts, hidden Inca ruins, really bizarre wildlife, and never-ending adventures. If your feet need a break from hiking, water sport-ing, ziplining, and sightseeing, there are plenty of options to kick back with the locals over a cup of colada de avena and listen to the energizing strums of pasillo music. Throw some Spanish practice into the mix, and you’ve got yourself an adventure travel itinerary larger than this modest landmass.
They say that “the best perfume comes in small bottles,” and this is most definitely Ecuador’s philosophy. Although Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America, it is one of the most diverse (and one of 17 worldwide labeled as “megadiverse”), both in terms of its people and its geography. With the first two UNESCO sites of the world and a wide array of nature, Ecuador offers something for every kind of adventure traveler.
Start your adventure travel in Ecuador in colonial Quito, the second-highest capital of the world. Visit the historical town centre, stand with one foot on each side of the equator, check out the weekend markets in Parque El Ejido, and eat one of its famous envueltos. Enjoy nights in La Floresta and fill up on all the pubs, because there’s not a lot of ‘em in the jungle.
Next up, the Galapagos Islands is the location for sea lovers. These islands are a heritage of humanity; the very same islands that inspired Darwin to form his evolution and coral atolls theories. Whether your interest lies in studying turtles or snorkeling, there are blue skies and even bluer water to keep you company. Take a dive in Los Tuneles or hike to the top of the Sierra Negra volcano, and if you stray off-path or dive a little bit deeper, you might even discover a new specie!
In The Amazon, adventure travelers can canoe along its waterways and discover the jungle life (even if you do not bump into Marsupilami, you will probably spot a scarlet macaw or two). If that doesn’t make your heart beat faster, consider rafting in the Amazon Basin, making new friends while visiting long-lost communities, taking night tours to search for nocturnal critters, or learning how to use a blowgun.
If you’d like to take your adventure in Ecuador one step higher, check out the Andes. The Andean region is one of the most visited in Ecuador and it’s the perfect place to find new adventures and climb every mountain; at the top of any of which, you will feel as mighty as Emperor Kuzco. Don’t forget to check out Chimborazo, the point of Earth closest to space (yee-haw, equatorial bulge!).
Adventure Travel in Ecuador
Ecuador has so many adventures to offer that maybe one life is not enough. However, with a little bit of planning, you might succeed in at least scraping the top of this rich playground of natural treasures.
Let’s start with the animal kingdom. Nature lovers are able to swim with sea lions and meet the giant tortoises in the Galapagos Island, while exploring on marine life or snorkeling with pilot whales and white-tipped reef sharks. Some adventure travel programs in Ecuador even offer the possibility of volunteering alongside your wild dives; you could spend one week volunteering and three weeks adventure traveling. Not a bad deal that lets you kill (er, conserve) two birds with one stone. When ired of sea animals, Ecuador will bring you back to earth with a healthy dose of birdwatching or horseback riding.
Cycling is the perfect way to get to know the Andes, but there’s nothing wrong with tackling a climbing trip through the majestic Andes either. Most adventure travel programs in Ecuador offer all equipment, local transportation, and a good dose of thrill, so the only thing you need to bring is a courageous heart and your GoPro. For adventures in Ecuador at lower altitudes, try hiking and rafting in the Amazon. Have fun in humid paradise while brushing up on jungle survival methods!
Adventure travel program characteristics vary, but most last between one and four weeks, with instructions offered in both English and Spanish. Due to liability issues, the majority of travel programs only accept travelers of legal age. Regardless of age or language, the most important thing to keep in mind when traveling to Ecuador is the weather. The dry season (summer) runs from June to September and the wet season (winter) runs from October to May. Research well about proper weather, animal, and trail seasons before signing up!
Costs & Affordability
Good news: Ecuador is one of the cheapest countries in South America. That means that your bank account won’t be in the red as you have the adventure trip of a lifetime.
Daily life in Ecuador is quite affordable. You can find menus in markets for $1.50 that have more taste than 4-star dinners in Paris. If you prefer to buy your own meal and cook, go to the traditional markets, as products will not only be fresher, but also cheaper (and you get to practice your haggling skills!). Regarding transportation, you won’t have problems either. Buses cost around $0.25 and there is no need for specific bus cards. But you are all adventurers that prefer walking over bus routes, so that’s not even an issue.
Specific adventure travel program costs vary, depending on the duration and activity. However, most programs will cover almost all your expenses during your time in Ecuador, so you won’t have to worry about food, accommodation, transportation, excursions, etc. There is only one thing you have to worry about: making the most of your adventure in Ecuador!
If you do need some help covering that trans-Atlantic plane ticket, there are ways to fatten up your wallet before departure dates. If you have a particular skill, put it to good use. Sorry guys, get a job, save some money. If you still need an extra hand, check out FundMyTravel, where you can start your own online travel fundraiser.
Accommodation & Visas
Traveling abroad for an extended period of time can be scary, but what do we say to fear? As a mighty adventurer, just laugh in the face of danger and move on to the next jaguar-wrestling match.
Most adventure programs in Ecuador offer three accommodation options: apartments, dormitories, and homestays. If you are more independent, you might prefer to stay in an apartment or dormitory, where you’ll have a greater level of privacy and the potential to stay with fellow travelers. If you pick a homestay, you will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see how the people of Ecuador live. Some things might seem completely foreign, so plan on being flexible, patient, and open to their traditions and perspectives. Above all else, take a risk and leave your comfort zone!
Some adventure trips may include travel to surrounding nations, such as Peru (it’s hard to draw boundaries in the middle of thick jungles). In programs that move through various locations, participants will most likely be required to have sleeping bags and will be introduced to the beautify of South America’s stars. Camping is common, and a lot more safe and enjoyable when someone else is organizing camp sites and equipment.
Visas cannot be ignored, so listen up, por favor. Most tourists need to apply for a 90-day visa, but specific requirements and procedures vary. Visit GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory to explore the nitty-gritty, and keep in mind that most adventure travel programs in Ecuador provide visa help.
Benefits & Challenges
After spending time in the Andes, you will not be the same. The colourful Amazonian species will remain in your memory and the landscapes will be difficult to forget. You’ll feel so powerful and so little at the same time. There’ll be no more fear of mosquitoes that terrified you at night or of cold temperatures that made you shiver before. Ecuador takes your vertigo away and those mountains help you see life from a different perspective.
It will be difficult for most cosmopolitans, as most areas in Ecuador are rural, but all adventures are hard at the beginning. Perhaps you won’t be able to take a shower everyday or surf the Internet, but you have the ocean instead! Getting used to the food will be a matter of time (you don’t have to eat cuy if you don’t want to). Fortunately, Ecuador’s cuisine is very diverse. You might suffer culture shock at first, but there is nothing that a long hike or rainbow sunset won’t heal.
Home is where the heart is; when you come to Ecuador, your heart will stay somewhere between the Inca ruins of Ingapirca and the snowy peak of Cotapaxi, taken by the magic that surrounds this colorful country. So, what are you waiting for? Go to Ecuador and have the adventure of your life!