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Seven awe-inspiring adventures in Ecuador

Ecuador is one of the best places on the planet for authentic experiences and active adventures. In the regions around Quilotoa, the country’s stand-out crater lake, you’ll find destinations where you can go deeper, explore further and lose yourself in nature.

Venture away from Ecuador’s colourful cities and you’ll experience a completely different view of this beautiful land. For a country about the same size as the state of Colorado, its diverse natural attractions pack a powerful punch, with cloud-brushing volcanic peaks, golden beaches, emerald-green lakes and dense rainforests.

Meet inquisitive sea lions, spot sun-bathing iguanas on isolated lunar-like islands and watch brightly coloured hummingbirds flit past as you hike jungle trails. Don’t overlook the human element, either; spend time with the friendly people who live in rural locations for a taste of Ecuadorean life far from the tourist hubs. 

Our experts have picked out seven of their favourite adventures in Ecuador.


Sleep high up in the cloud forest

There’s no better place to wake up than at Mashpi Lodge, a boutique hotel and nature lover’s paradise hidden deep within Ecuador’s cloud forest. Star of the BBC’s Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby series, this surprisingly contemporary eco-lodge sits within a 1,200-hectare private reserve, part of a biodiversity hot spot known as the Tumbez-Choco-Darien, celebrated for its flora and fauna. Expect front-row forest views, a high standard of dining and sleek rooms with glass walls – all just a little over three hours’ drive from Quito.

Exploring is the name of the game here; venture to cascading waterfalls for a refreshing dip, admire rare orchids with forest guides, walk along lesser-trodden nature trails and look out for monkeys, jungle frogs, toucans and even pumas. Thrill-seekers can catch the mile-long canopy cable car for a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest or pedal in tandem through the treetops and across a gorge on a sky bike. 


Spot humpback whales and their young

Ecuador’s Pacific Coast is home to some of the best beaches in the country. It often gets overlooked by travellers as they hurry from the Andes to the Galapagos, which makes it all the sweeter. Visit tiny fishing villages like Mompiche or popular resorts such as Salinas, hit the surf and kick back on palm-fringed golden sands, then tuck into boat-fresh ceviche washed down with a cold beer or two. 

Head to the Pacific Coast between July and October and you’ll be in for an extra treat. This is when thousands of humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to breed and nurse their young in Ecuador’s warm waters. Join a boat tour and you may just spot adult males breaching and curious calves gliding alongside their mothers.

Stay at Tanusas Retreat & Spa in Puerto Cayo for some serious R&R between activities. This beautiful eco-retreat on the beach is dedicated to wellness, so you can unwind with a soothing massage and bed down in an ocean-view tiki-thatched villa after sunny days spent cantering along the beach, perfecting your Pilates positions and catching a few waves.


Soar over the Avenue of the Volcanoes

Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes is scenery on a blockbuster scale. Here, down the spine of the Andes, eight sky-high mountains of impossibly steep slopes and snow-capped peaks tower over green farmland and indigenous villages. 

The best views, of course, are from above. Take to the skies on a panoramic helicopter flight to swoop over deep canyons and volcanic peaks, gazing in awe at the twin peaks of the Illinizas and the conical peak of Corazon peeping through the cloud-covered slopes. Cotopaxi is sure to be a highlight – this active stratovolcano is the second highest point in the country and it has erupted more than 50 times in the last 300 years.

For a breath-taking journey from the ground, scale the peaks on a thrilling multi-day trek. Our Ecuador for the Adventurous itinerary takes you across the northern Andes to the summit of Cayambe, Ecuador’s third tallest volcano sitting right on the equator. 


Cruise the wildlife haven of the Galapagos 

The Galapagos is one of the few places left on Earth where the wildlife will barely bat an eyelid at your arrival. In this remarkable volcanic archipelago, you can get up close with blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, sea lions and iguanas without disturbing their natural environment. 

The jumping-off point for the Galapagos Islands is Guayaquil, a thriving port city that’s become a destination in its own right. Hop aboard one of A&K’s intimate ships and sail out to the marine-rich waters in style. Evolve – our new mega-yacht named after the scientific works of Darwin, and one of only three Relais & Château ships – caters for just 20 passengers. Or, Charter a Galapagos Cruise for an exclusive adventure through the fabled waters with all excursions tailored to suit your interests. 

Spend your days exploring inspiring islands such as Española, the oldest of the Galapagos Archipelago, or Darwin Island where you can retrace the hero’s steps. On a beach walk, you might spot an albatross taking flight and see iguanas relaxing on the rocks. Paddle out to sheltered coves in a kayak or don a wetsuit and jump into the ocean to snorkel alongside turtles, sharks and rays. Back on board, settle into a hammock (or the hot tub), tuck into a delicious dinner and stargaze from the deck before heading to your luxury cabin to fall into a deep slumber ahead of another day of adventures.  


Make your own chocolate on a cacao farm

Travel just an hour and a half from Guayaquil for a real taste of the good life. Family-owned Hacienda La Danesa is a world away from Ecuador’s big cities and top tourist attractions, and it offers its guests so much more than just a place to lay their head. On this 500-hectare working dairy and cacao farm, you’ll get an authentic insight into rural life in Ecuador and come away feeling more connected to the country and its people. 

Alongside the warm hospitality, there’s a strong farm-to-table ethos and a range of immersive experiences. Join the farm’s ‘From Bean to Bar’ chocolate workshop to see the whole process of how chocolate bars are made. After a short walk to the cacao plantation to hear about the hacienda’s start-up business and the chocolate industry in general, you’ll get to craft your very own chocolate bar, complete with ganache filling. While the bars are setting in the fridge, enjoy a cup of smooth Ecuadorean hot chocolate. 


Head deep into the Amazon Rainforest

On the edge of Lake Añangu, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the largest tract of tropical rainforest in Ecuador, Napo Wildlife Center is a one-of-a-kind community-run lodge dedicated to conservation efforts. This is the place to immerse yourself in the rainforest – nature attractions include two unique parrot and macaw clay licks and a 36-metre-high tower deep in the forest for panoramic views of the canopy. 

You’ll share this special space with just 20 guests, the Kichwa Añangu people… and monkeys, giant otter, caiman, anaconda, tapir and around 600 bird species. Hike along forest trails in search of jungle creatures, kayak on the lake and spend time with the Kichwa Añangu community. Getting here is part of the adventure. Travel down the mighty Amazon on a motorboat before hopping into a dug-out canoe to peacefully glide through a narrow creek to the lodge.


Hike the Quilotoa Loop

High up in the Andes, around three hours south of Quito, Quilotoa’s spectacular blue-green crater lake is one of the iconic images of Ecuador. Stay at the Illa Experience Hotel, an authentic city centre mansion designed to showcase the hotel’s journey through Quito’s history, before setting off for Quilotoa. 

The Quilotoa Loop is a multi-day trek offering travellers an incredible introduction to rural Ecuador, taking you through rolling hills, deep valleys and traditional Andean settlements before climbing to the lake-view pinnacle. This isn’t a trek to be rushed. Take time to connect with nature and the local people as you begin in Sigchos and follow the guided paths, descending into the valley and climbing back up each day to reach Isinlivi, Chugchilan and finally Quilotoa. Bring a sense of adventure to navigate dirt tracks and narrow trails used by shepherds, make rustic river crossings and stay overnight in traditional villages. You’ll be rewarded with glorious valley views along the way and feel on top of the world as you stand on the crater rim and soak in the breath-taking surroundings from an altitude of 3,900 metres. 

If hiking the full Loop is a stretch too far, take a six-hour trek around the crater rim or venture to the Mirador Shalala viewing platform for epic photo opportunities. 

See Ecuador in style on our Epic Ecuador tailor-made itinerary or take a look at our range of Ecuador & Galapagos luxury holidays for more inspiration.