Last Updated on January 14, 2020 by Candy Wafford
Ecuador is a small but incredibly diverse country. A tremendous amount of geographical diversity has been packed into its borders including the Andes mountains, the jungles of the Amazon, and beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Ecuador is also home to the Galapagos Islands, a bucket list item for many travelers. While there is an unlimited number of Ecuador itineraries available, this one-week Ecuador itinerary lets you see much of this South American country.
During our one week itinerary in Ecuador, we saw an incredible amount but barely scratched the surface. But you gotta start somewhere and here’s the agenda we loosely followed. It allowed us to do a wide variety of things in a short amount of time but also whetted our appetite to revisit more of this special part of South America.
Start your Ecuador Itinerary in Quito
Our flight into Quito arrived late in the evening. Quito Airport is clean, modern, and very easy to navigate. Our Airbnb host, Humberto, picked us up at the airport and drove us to our apartment just outside the famous La Ronda neighborhood.
Airbnbs work well for our family of three as they give us some room to spread out instead of being cramped in a small hotel room. I also enjoy staying in rentals because I feel like I experience the city I’m visiting in a more authentic way. Hosts often offer personal touches that you don’t find at a hotel and provide an opportunity to connect with locals. Click here to receive 15% off your booking with Airbnb.
One such experience at this Airbnb was the tasty breakfast we shared with our hosts in their apartment below ours. Gladys is a chef and she served us empanada de vieto and tomate de arbol juice. The empanada was filled with a mild cheese and had been perfectly fried. The tomate de arbol juice is made from a tree tomato but is nothing like the tomato juice we are used to here in the US. It is incredibly sweet and something we would have never tried on our own.
One afternoon our hosts caught us as we were coming in and shared freshly prepared canzelo with us. Canzelo is a local drink available throughout the area and is a warm beverage like an apple cider. So delicious!
Sightseeing in Quito Historical Center
Our first day was spent on foot, exploring the historic center of Quito. There is so much history here that the United Nations has declared it a World Heritage Site. The “centro historico” includes a variety of colonial buildings and architectural styles making it a photographer’s dream. The various plazas are where the people of Quito converge in a hive of activity, each one different from the next.
La Compania de Jesus is a must-see and without a doubt one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever visited. The amount of gold in the church is staggering. You’ll want to take a hundred pictures, but photos are not allowed in the church.
I loved the La Virgen del Panecillo, a 150 foot (45 m) high statue of Mary wearing angel wings and a crown of stars. You can take a taxi to the statue, but I enjoyed seeing Mary watching down over us from various points in the city.
Ecuador is a major producer of cacao and you can sample delicious chocolates during your visit. Chocolate is available throughout the country and Pacari makes some of the best. Anytime I’m traveling and find an opportunity to make something with my own hands, I jump on it. This time it was a class at Pacari learning about the chocolate-making process and making truffles using a variety of flavors.
Visit the Equator
Visiting the Equator was the number one thing my husband wanted to do during our one-week in Ecuador. We took a group tour to visit the line that divides the northern and southern hemispheres. Mitad Del Mundo is only 30 minutes from Quito and a visit should be on your Ecuador itinerary. How many places can you have one foot in the southern hemisphere and the other foot in the northern hemisphere? You’ll find many fun photo opportunities here.
Fly From Quito to the Pacific Coast
Opting to fly to the coast instead of taking a long bus ride, our plane ride on Avianca airlines was inexpensive and featured perks not generally found on short-haul flights including breakfast and reading materials. The flight took us from Quito to the airport in Manta. Manta is on the coast and offers many things for visitors, but our destination was the small fishing village San Jacinto.
Our hosts in San Jacinto arranged a driver for the 45-minute drive. Juan was a fabulous driver and kept us entertained on both our arrival and departure trips. He is available for airport transfers as well as tours throughout this part of Ecuador and is highly recommended.
We stayed at a 2-room bed and breakfast, Casa WF. The B&B was built by American expats and sits at the Boca, or mouth, where the Rio Portoviejo spills into the Pacific Ocean. The inn features simple and clean rooms, a delicious Western breakfast delivered to you each day, and a small pool facing the ocean. The inn has changed owners since we stayed there and is now knows as Casita Las Mareas B&B. Click here to receive 15% off your booking with Airbnb.
One of our favorite memories was the arrival of the fruit and veggie truck to the inn. How fun to get produce delivered to your doorstep! But the deliveries didn’t stop there. Later in the day the egg man arrived water and liquor deliveries were received. A slice of small-town living we don’t see in the city.
We picked out some fresh fruit to enjoy in our room and discovered pitaya, a yellow-fleshed fruit that you slice and scoop out the sweet flesh. It was incredible. I’ve purchased a few in the US at five times the cost and it doesn’t even come close to the pitaya we enjoyed in Ecuador.
Activities in Ecuador Beach Towns
The Pacific Ocean stretches along Ecuador’s border between the Esmeraldas, Manabi, Guayas, and El Oro regions. Coastal towns offer visitors a variety of attractions from surfing to whale watching while many are simple fishing villages like San Jacinto. In addition to sightseeing in each town and enjoying a lazy day on the beach, there are other activities to enjoy in Ecuador beach towns.
Eat the Freshest Seafood (and the least expensive)
You can watch the fisherman bring in their daily hauls and then enjoy it a few hours later at restaurants along the water and in town. Not only will the seafood be super fresh, but it will also be the least expensive seafood you’ve ever eaten. We regularly paid $5 for a plate of food that included more food than we could eat in one sitting.
Kayak the Rio Portoviejo
Another special memory for our family was kayaking along the Rio Portoviejo. Gliding along the water as birds flew overhead was a scene straight from National Geographic. The only people we saw were a couple of men diving along the banks looking for mussels. It was magical and the memory only exists in our minds as we didn’t bring cameras. But sometimes the undocumented memories are the most powerful.
Go Paragliding in Crucita
Ecuador holds a special place in my heart because it gave me one of my favorite experiences of all time. I had wanted to paraglide for a while and our host made arrangements for me prior to our arrival. Paragliding is done off the cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean in the town of Crucita. You can read all about my wonderful experience here.
Take a Bus Ride from Quito to Otavalo
We were sad to leave sleepy San Jacinto and the ocean but there was more to see! Once again, we used Juan’s services to get to the airport in Manta and fly back to Quito.
This time we were headed to the mountains and the town of Otavalo. Ecuador has a great system of highways but much of the country is remote and mountainous which means it takes a long time to get from one area of the country to another. Rather than a long road trip, we opted to take a flight from Manta to Quito.
Bus Ride from Quito to Otavalo
Back in Quito, we made our way to the main bus station and took an inexpensive bus to Otavalo. At only $2.50 US and a two-hour drive through jaw-dropping scenery, a bus ride is a must on any Ecuador itinerary.
The buses in Ecuador not only provide transportation but entertainment. Buses are safe, comfortable and a bargain. You can watch movies as they are played at the front of the bus. And you need snacks when watching a movie, right? Vendors hop off and on the bus selling chips, candied peanuts, ice cream, and other novelties. My husband loved this experience and always talks about the bus rides when talking about our time in Ecuador.
Otavalo is home to the indigenous Otavalo people and is surrounded by the Imbabura, Cotacachi, and Mojanda volcanos. The volcanos circle the town as it sits in the valley below. Otavalo is a the perfect spot to spend a few days shopping with local artisans and enjoying the crisp mountain air.
We stayed at Hostal Curinan, which is not a typical hostel but a family-run inn that features a traditional breakfast. It’s located just outside of the center of Otavalo and provides spectacular views of the mountains. The inn was also super convenient and only a quick ten-minute walk into town. Ecuador is an affordable destination and simple accommodations like this can be had for a fraction of what you are probably used to paying.
Visit Otavalo Market
Most any Ecuador itinerary will include a visit to the market in Otavalo. Locals refer to the market as Plaza de Los Ponchos and it’s held every day. Looking for a place to buy souvenirs? This is it!
The Otavalo market is made up of different artisan products including textiles, jewelry, and other traditional Ecuadorian gifts. The Saturday market is the largest and also features an animal market. You can visit the market whenever is most convenient for your travel schedule as it is generally open from 7 AM until 6 PM.
Lake Cuicocha was one of the main reasons I visited Otavalo. It is a caldera and a crater lake at the base of the Cotacachi Volcano. Many activities are available here and we did a short hike around the lake. Longer day-long hikes are available for all the hikers out there. And a boat ride on the lake is a great way to explore the area from a different vantage point and you’ll even see bubbles from the thermal activity of the volcano.
Buy Leather in Cotacachi
Nearby Cotacachi features many leather artisans and is a great place to spend a couple of hours. Cotacachi has become a haven for expats due to the low cost of living and the temperate climate. It’s well worth a visit to see the variety of leather goods and pick up some souvenirs.
New Year’s Eve in Ecuador
We were in Otavalo on New Year’s Eve and learned this is one of Ecuador’s biggest holidays. A local custom is for children to block streets and ask for money in return for passage. This is all in good fun and we were allowed to pass without paying. Another tradition is eating twelve grapes at midnight to ensure happiness in the new year. So you see wheelbarrows full of grapes everywhere as locals prepare for their festivities. And effigies are sold and burned all through the cities and towns at the stroke of midnight. And there are fireworks! All of this combined for one of the most interesting and fun New Year’s Eves our family had ever experienced.
Hike Peguche Waterfall
We spent our last morning in Ecuador doing an easy hike to the Peguche waterfall that sits just outside of Otavalo. Entrance to the park is by donation and there is a small visitor center and some shops and restaurants. The waterfall is lovely and climbing a flat rock in front of it made for a perfect photo op.
End Your Ecuador Itinerary in Quito
The return bus ride from Otavalo to Quito was just as interesting as the first one. Our trip to Ecuador was a completely different vacation for our family and one of our favorites. The diversity, affordability and warm people make this country make it a must-visit and this Ecuador itinerary was perfect.
The high altitude in Ecuador can lead to altitude sickness. I use these chlorophyll pills whenever I travel to any high altitude destination. With Quito being the second-highest city in the world, these pills were a lifesaver for me and my family.