A week for the best of mainland Ecuador

The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
65 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
South America
Length of time
Around a week
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 600
Time of year visited
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
177th/372 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 50% SUMMARY RATING: Great Experience


This below 9 day itinerary is a good combination of some of the best things about mainland Ecuador – the old town of Quito; stepping back in time to a Lord of the Rings-style adventure around the Quliatoa Loop; a major challenge in summiting Cotopaxi; and getting to meet a range of local people along the way


Obviously, for many people Ecuador is all about the Galapagos Islands (see Island hoping through the main Galapagos Islands and Scuba diving at Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos for tips on these wonderful experiences).  But it also has some world-class experiences to be found on the mainland


#1 Hiking the Quilatoa Loop - 3 days through the luscious mountain valleys like something from a Lord of the Rings movie

#2 Summiting Cotopaxi Volcano - catching the sunrise, seeing valleys and mountains as far as the eye can see and having that wonderful feeling of accomplishment when you reach the summit at 5,897m

#3 Getting lost in the atmospheric Quito Old Town with its colonial streets and unexpected majestic churches all around you

#4 Passing through the local countryside and being able to get up close with the laid back rural life of central Ecuador

#5 Seeing the Quilatoa Crater – the final stop on the 3 day loop and a great finale

#6 Taking the Quito TeleferiQo for views across the city and surrounding mountains. Make sure you go a bit off the track for wonderful views by the radio tower

#7 Relaxing in one of the Haciendas in the beautiful Cotopaxi National Park

#8 Climbing the Cotopaxi Glacier - passing through the otherworldly ice structures as you grab your crampons, ice axe and generally most determined face to make your way to the summit

The Route

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1-2 – Start off in Quito and give yourself 2 days to acclimatise to the altitude, while also checking out the cool Old Town, taking the TeleferiQo and enjoying some of the super local restaurants
  • Day 3 – take a bus to Latacunga, around an hour south of Quito.  Leave your bags in one of the hotels / hostels there and take only what you need for a 2 night / 3 day hike around the Quilatoa Loop
  • Day 3-5 – enjoy walking from Sigchos to Isinlivi, Chugchilan and finishing at the Quilatoa Crater around midday on day 5
  • Day 6 – meet your guide for the Cotopaxi climb in Latacunga and make your way by 4×4 to the Jose Rivas Refuge in Cotopaxi National Park to spend the night
  • Day 7 – start your climb just before midnight and reach the summit just before sun rise.  Spend the afternoon and evening in the super relaxing Hacienda Los Mortinos in the national park
  • Day 8 / 9 – spend some time relaxing in the Cotopaxi National Park, before heading back to Quito for your flight later in the day

Travel Tips

  • I’ve written a series of individual entries for some of the pieces that make up this trip.  See:
  • TRANSPORT – transport is super easy via local buses or simply taxis.  Your hotels will be be more than happy to point you in the right directions and, as with all things like this, taking a local bus can be a bit of an adventure on its own
  • ALTITUDE – it’s something you have to deal with in this part of the world and, generally speaking, giving yourself some time to acclimatise is key.  You can do various things to help such as take various pills (we took acetazolamide and felt like it helped), drink coca tea (less so in Ecuador interestingly), take pain killers to help with the headache etc, but the main way is simply to give your body time to get used to it.  For this itinerary you’re giving your body time to acclimatise by starting at 2850m / 9350 feet in Quito; pushing gradually up to 3900m / 12800 feet for the Quilatoa Crater; and spending the night at 4800m  / 15750 feet on Cotopaxi; before the push up to the Cotopaxi Summit of 5,897m / 19350 feet.  For those who haven’t been at high altitudes before, expect yourself to become tired quicker than normal and, as you get higher, the feeling a bit like various degrees of a hangover.  The good news is though that the nasty feelings of altitude sickness disappear as you descend.  I’ve had some brutal feelings of altitude sickness and have always been pleasantly amazed at how quickly they disappear by going down
  • SAFETY – You’ll feel super safe when in the Cotopaxi National Park and on the Quilatoa Loop.  The only place we felt like we should keep an eye out was Quito – possibly the combo of functional business district being combined with the old town; a lot of homeless people hanging around; dark alleys etc.
  • ACCOMODATION – booking ahead for anything more than a day in advance didn’t seem needed.  Even for the Cotopaxi Summit
  • GOOGLE MAPS LINK FOR THE ROUTE – can be found here A week in Ecuador google maps
  • BOOKS – I didn’t read any books specifically on Ecuador, but would recommend Viva South America by Olivier Balch which is a whistle-stop trip around all South America countries to see if the Simon Bolivar dream of freedom is still alive

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone