The Backpacker’s Guide To Ecuador: A Crash Course

For some reason, Ecuador was never really on my radar until recently. I had backpacked South America twice before and did a separate trip with my university before all of this began. None of those adventures have taken me to Ecuador. Backpacking Ecuador ended up being one of my favorite adventures. And it’s still going. I initially planned to spend about three weeks in Ecuador and I’m already a month deep with no plans on leaving soon.

Although I had backpacked South America solo before, Ecuador does have its differences from other South American countries. Here’s everything backpackers need to know before taking on this marvelous country and all that it has to offer.

Is Ecuador Safe To Travel To?

Ehh. Just like every country in the world, there are some shady parts and some pretty safe parts. The rural areas of Ecuador felt extremely safe. Meanwhile, once it got later than 7 PM in Quito, I felt very uneasy walking the streets by myself. And it’s not just a tourist thing. Most of the locals lock up and hide away once the sun goes down. They’ll look at you like you are crazy if you are out past a certain point. I needed to go to an ATM about five minutes away from my hostel and the receptionist literally would not let me go unless I got a taxi. That’s how sketch it is.

So basically, big, bustling cities like Guayaquil and Quito, not so safe. Everywhere else in Ecuador seems to be pretty safe. I walked home at like 4 AM or later in Manta, Montañita, and Baños without ever feeling remotely unsafe. But yeah, 7 PM in Quito, no bueno. Use your best judgment and try not to be alone too late at night.

The only other thing to be really concerned about is getting your things stolen on a night bus. Just keep your valuables close and secured. Keep an eye out for pickpockets as well since I had a friend get his phone and credit cards stolen in Quito in broad daylight on a local bus. Of course, you only hear about the bad experiences and those are the ones that stick. For every person who has had a rough time in Ecuador, there are hundreds that have traveled through the country problem-free.

How To Get To Ecuador From…

Colombia

The most popular way to get into Ecuador from Colombia is to take a bus from Cali to Quito. It takes almost a full day, usually around 20 hours give or take a few. Crossing the border can add a little excitement since you might have the chance to see the incredible church located in Ipiales, close to the border of Colombia and Ecuador. There’s not too much in between Cali and Quito otherwise, so most backpackers will just tough out the long bus ride in one go.

Peru

Going to Ecuador from Peru gives you a bit more freedom. There are more cities in the south of Ecuador that you can easily access from Peru. Cuenca, Guayaquil and Montañita are all popular spots in Ecuador that have buses going to and from Mancora. Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador but is widely considered by backpackers to be worth skipping. Montañita is an insane party spot that is also close to some more beautiful beaches and the stunning Isla de la Plata. Cuenca is perhaps one of the top destinations for backpackers in all of South America.

Basically, take a bus and you’ll end up at one of the border towns. Tumbes is the usual stopping point at the border but depending on where you are coming from, you might get a different one.

Everywhere else

Fly to Quito or Guayaquil as they are the largest cities and the cheapest to fly into. I flew in to Quito for $268 one-way from the U.S., and that was from a smaller airport. So if you are flying from a big city like New York or Miami, it might be significantly cheaper.

How To Budget For Ecuador

Ecuador is a cheap country by Western standards but it is definitely a bit pricier than I was expecting. After being spoiled by $1 train rides and massive $.75 meals all throughout South East Asia, finding myself in Ecuador made a bigger dent in my wallet than I was expecting.

Transportation

Public transportation is the cheapest way to get around Ecuador. You can expect to pay about $2-3 per hour of the journey, or less for longer journeys. A 10-hour overnight bus will be about $15, for example.

Taxis and Ubers are also much cheaper in comparison to Western countries. You can expect to pay about $10 for every 30 minutes of your journey. Buses don’t run as frequently as one would expect, so sometimes a bus to the next town over might only come once every 3 or 4 hours. You’ll inevitably have to take a taxi or hitchhike at some point in your Ecuadorian journey.

Another alternative for people just looking for the convenience of having all of their transportation taken care of for them is EcuadorHop.

Accommodation

Hostels in Ecuador are as cheap as they come. The one I’m staying in right now is $5 a night and is one of the nicer hostels I’ve ever stayed in. In smaller villages, you can expect to pay less than $10 a night for a bed in a hostel dorm. In bigger cities like Quito or Guayaquil, you’ll be paying around $10 or slightly more per night. As far as accommodation costs go, Ecuador definitely won’t break the bank.

Food

Desayunos and Almuerzos are the name of the game in Ecuador. Literally means breakfast and lunch, but order them at a restaurant and you get the most bang for your buck. They’ll usually be only about $2-3 and you will get a starter (usually some sort of soup), a main (rice, beans, and meat usually), and a drink. I looked forward to eating breakfast and lunch every day because it would always be something new.

Grocery shopping is an even cheaper alternative here in Ecuador. Produce is super cheap and if your hostel has a kitchen, you can live off of $2-3 a day for food. If you eat out for every meal, you’ll probably end up spending around $10 a day as long as you eat local. Again, a bit more expensive than what I was used to in Asia but the cheap accommodation costs make up for it.

Activities

Ecuador can get expensive if you want to do all of the best things the country has to offer. If you’re planning on doing the Galapagos, the Amazon Rainforest, and summiting some of the incredible mountains here, you’re looking at a couple thousand dollars already. However, Ecuador is still probably one of the cheapest places you can kick off some of these types of excursions. These are once-in-a-lifetime types of things so shelling out the money would definitely be worth it. I personally do not have that sort of money right now so I am holding them off for a later date, but I encourage you to do them if you can afford it.

For smaller scale things, Ecuador is a pretty cheap place. Baños, for example, is widely considered to be one of the adventure capitals in South America. You can go on excursions like white water rafting, paragliding, canyoning, zip lining, horseback riding, and more for about $20-40 (or about $60 for paragliding). You can have a lot of fun in Ecuador without breaking the bank.

What Is The Party Scene Like In Ecuador?

Bro. Crazy. I was not expecting Ecuador to party as hard as it did. It’s no Colombia but there is one major outlier: Montañita. Sure, there are some pretty fun parties in Quito, Baños, Guayaquil and Cuenca but nothing touches Montañita in terms of craziness. It’s something you’ll have to experience for yourself.

But yes, Ecuador does have a party scene. Alcohol flows pretty freely and you can get drunk for very cheap here. Aside from alcohol, Ecuador also has a strong recreational and medicinal drug scene. Marijuana is smoked pretty much everywhere in the country and harder drugs can be found in the party cities, especially Montañita.

Oh, and what tf do I mean by medicinal drug scene? Ayahuasca, San Pedro, and more. Hallucinogenic drugs that people take with shamans in order to discover a purpose or answer an existential question are prominent throughout Ecuador. Drug tourism is a big draw, although obviously Ecuador offers a lot more than that.

The Best Spots To Hit in Ecuador

Galapagos Islands

You don’t really need words for the Galapagos do you? These islands are among the best places in the world to see unique wildlife and relax on some stunning beaches. I have yet to make it here but fingers crossed that somehow my budget works itself out. If you can afford to make it to the Galapagos, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t go.

Quito

basilica del voto nacional quito

Quito was the beginning of many pleasant surprises during my time in Ecuador. I loved exploring this beautiful and historic city surrounded by such stunning scenery. There is plenty to do both in the city and just outside. The Basilica del Voto Nacional, Centro Historico, and Teleferico are all highlights in this stunning capital city.

Hostel Recommendation in Quito – Community Hostel

View more hostels in Quito on Hostelworld

Cotopaxi

volcan cotopaxi

Hiking this thing sucked. And I was still over 1,000 meters from even coming close to summiting it. I just did the short hike to the base camp situated at 4,800 meters. The summit is at 5,900 meters above sea level and you need to get started around midnight in order to wrap things up before the ice starts to melt at 7 AM.

This is one of the most beautiful sights in all of Ecuador. Seeing Cotopaxi is an unforgettable sight but being on the mountain itself is a different kind of experience. It can be brutal and inhospitable but it gives you a strong reminder that nature is as violent as it is beautiful.

Hostel Recommendation for Cotopaxi – Secret Garden Cotopaxi

Quilotoa

This greenish-blue lagoon located inside a volcanic crater is one of the most beautiful sights you will ever see. I visited it three times during my stay in Ecuador, with the highlight being the epic hike back to my cabin in Chugchilan from the crater itself.

Hostel Recommendation for Quilotoa – Black Sheep Inn Eco-Lodge

Baños

pailon del diablo banos ecuador

After being nestled deep in the remote regions of Ecuador’s sierra, arriving in Baños was an unpleasant surprise. Tourists galore, especially during a holiday weekend. However, it did not take long for Baños to grow on me. The abundance of adventures and incredible nature to see both in and out of the city won me over pretty quickly.

Click here for my complete guide for backpackers going to Baños.

Hostel Recommendation for Baños – Community Hostel Baños

View more hostels in Baños on Hostelworld

Las Ilinizas

For hikers, this is a must. Even if you don’t plan on climbing the mountains themselves, the surrounding area is absolutely breathtaking. It thrusts you into the rural Ecuadorian sierras, which in my opinion is the best part. Far away from everything else, just you and the open air.

Chimborazo

Chimborazo is the tallest mountain in Ecuador, standing at a whopping 6,268 meters above sea level. That’s 20,548 feet for my fellow Americans. Although its height is menacing and the altitude can provide problems, it is considered to be easier than summiting Cotopaxi. If you need to break the 20,000 foot barrier, this is your guy.

Vilcabamba

This small town south of Loja is insanely beautiful. There isn’t much to do in the actual town itself, although it does have a surprisingly diverse food scene. The main highlights of Vilcabamba are all of the incredible hikes and other outdoor activities it offers. Riverside trails, horseback riding, national parks, and the epic Izhcayluma Loop are just some of the adventures you can do in this often overlooked part of the country. The scenery here, especially the endless mountain panoramic views you get on the Izhcayluma Loop, is nothing like I’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world. It’s seriously unreal.

Hostel Recommendation for Vilcabamba: Hosteria Izhcayluma

You won’t find them on any booking website so book directly through their website. We’re talking $9.50 a night for a bed in their massive dorm cabins and a life of luxury with free yoga classes, a swimming pool, and unreal sunset views from the property.

Cuenca

Cuenca is a backpacker favorite in Ecuador. It is a relatively big city but has many historic and cultural regions and is surrounded by many options if you need to get away into nature for a little bit. Cajas National Park is a popular destination for hikers. Cuenca itself has a vibe and beauty that can’t be overlooked.

Hostel Recommendation for Cuenca – AlterNative Hostal

View more hostels in Cuenca on Hostelworld

Alausi

Alausi is a smaller town that is a bit more off the beaten path. However, if you can make it here, it is perfect for hiking and getting away from the traditional tourist trail.

Hostel Recommendation for Alausi – Community Hostel Alausi

Cuyabeno

If you’re looking for some Amazon Rainforest adventures, Cuyabeno is where you’ll want to be. You can get here from Baños in about two hours or less and spend a few days trekking through the jungle, visiting indigenous tribes, and seeing some of the incredible wildlife that the Ecuadorian Amazon has to offer. That includes the famed pink river dolphin!

Montañita

montanita ecuador beach

I spent 12 days in Montañita. I don’t know how but I did. The parties here are among the craziest I’ve ever experienced. It is a lawless place where people are free to do whatever they want and it is amazing. For beach vibes, surf, great food, and a top-notch party scene, Montañita is the place to be.

Hostel Recommendation for Montañita – Hidden House Hostel

View more hostels in Montañita on Hostelworld

Puerto Lopez

During my two-week bender in Montañita, I made a couple of day trips to Puerto Lopez to get away for a bit. Isla de la Plata, Machalilla National Park, and whale watching are all must-dos while you are in Ecuador. Puerto Lopez is the gateway to all of them.

Hostel Recommendation for Puerto Lopez – Hostel Pachamama

View more hostels in Puerto Lopez on Hostelworld

Manta

Manta is the largest city on Ecuador’s coast. In stark contrast to the smaller fishing villages that dot the Pacific Coast right now, Manta has got that upscale vibe about it. Resorts, classy nightclubs, fine dining, all along the coast. If you want to treat yourself to a proper beach vacation, Manta is your best bet to have all of the luxuries you deserve.

Hotel Recommendation for Manta – Treat yourself fam. Get a nice hotel. Hotel Poseidon is the best you can get.

Guayaquil

Guayaquil is a pretty controversial destination for backpackers. Most people say skip it. Some say that it’s worth delving a bit deeper to find the good side. I’m on the side of the latter, although I’ll admit that I wasn’t as fond of it as I was of the other cities in Ecuador.

Miscellaneous Ecuador Information

Do you need a Visa to travel to Ecuador?

U.S. citizens are gucci. No Visa necessary. I didn’t even have to fill out an immigration form upon arrival. I think you can stay up to 3 months in Ecuador without needing anything more than the tourist visa that you get by default.

What Is The Currency in Ecuador?

It’s the U.S. dollar fam. I had no idea when I landed and I got frustrated trying to find an ATM that dispensed the “local” currency. Eventually I found out that they dropped the sucre decades ago and adopted the U.S. dollar. All it took was one taxi driver who definitely facepalmed the entire way to my hostel from the airport. So yeah, the exchange rate is $1 to $1.

Do you need any vaccines to get into Ecuador?

I didn’t get asked to show any proof of vaccine or anything. However, many travelers going to Ecuador go to the Ecuadorian Amazon. Malaria pills and yellow fever shots are usually brought up by travelers but I haven’t heard of anyone needing it beyond just a precaution.

How much time do you need for Ecuador?

Take all the time you need. Ecuador, despite being one of the smaller countries in South America, is just as rich and diverse in beauty and adventure. Like I mentioned earlier, Ecuador boasts the Amazon Rainforest, Galapagos Islands, Ecuadorian Andes, and a stunning Pacific Coastline. There is a high level of biodiversity as well as dozens and dozens of indigenous tribes all over the country. For culture, wildlife, nature, and adventure, Ecuador is hard to beat.

Seriously, get your culos over here.

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15 thoughts on “The Backpacker’s Guide To Ecuador: A Crash Course

  1. It’s not a kind of vacation I did, I thought I’d do or I’ll do, but never say never in life right? So I keep your guide, who knows …

  2. What an adventure! I have always been afraid that I am not aware enough to travel like this. I’d definitely need to drag my husband along to help me stay accountable.

  3. I have always been curious what is it to see in Ecuador, and i thi k its amazing, i have to visit some time

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