Ecuador's Best Adventure Destinations That Aren't the Galapagos

Cascada Agoyan near Baños
Cascada Agoyan near Baños | © Rinaldo Wurglitsch/Flickr

Founder, Not Your Average American

Yes, the Galapagos are great – but the best-kept secret in Ecuador is the mainland‘s wide variety of adventure destinations. Rich natural resources here range from fast moving rivers for excellent kayaking, to windy shores for perfect kitesurfing. If you love getting active outdoors, check out our list of adventure hotspots.

Kayak class IV rapids in Tena

The upper Rio Napo and its tributaries are well known in the world of white-water rafting and kayaking. This area, known as the Jatunyacu (‘big water’ in Quichua), has rapids from class I to class IV, making it a perfect destination for kayakers of all levels. High season is December-February, when rivers in the United States are frozen and the waters of the Amazon Basin are running high and fast.

Tena, Ecuador

Climb Mount Chimborazo

Climb Mount Chimborazo
©Professor X | Wikimedia Commons

Climb Mount Chimborazo

International alpinists come to scale the peak of the Chimborazo volcano because it is the highest mountain in the world when measured from the center of the earth rather than by sea level. It is also popular for beginning mountaineers as the trek requires little technical climbing experience and the summit is obtainable for intermediate skill levels.

Chimborazo, Ecuador

Zipline across canyons in Baños de Agua Santa


Zipline across canyons in Baños de Agua Santa

High canyon walls and beautiful waterfalls lie just outside the famous spa town of Baños de Agua Santa. Locals with a sense of adventure decided that the tram connecting the main road with hiking trails on the far side of the canyon was not exciting enough, and have added a zip line for thrill seekers willing to take a chance.

Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

Mountain bike back country roads

Pacto-Mashpi Route

About 65 km (40 miles) outside of Quito is a popular mountain biking route that connects the small town of Pacto with the even smaller community of Mashpi. This mountainous route, which runs along the Mashpi-Guaycuyacu-Sahuangal Conservation Area, will test your legs as the lowest point on the trail is 480 meters (1,580 feet) and the highest 1,555 meters (5,100 feet). After a good rain shower, the 39 km (24 mile)-route promises to be extra muddy.

Nono-Mindo Route

The old road to Mindo from Nono, just outside of Quito, is famous for spotting birds and makes an excellent trail for mountain bikers. Starting in Nono, the route goes primarily downhill with a 1,524 meter (5,000 feet) elevation change along 51 km (32 miles of road). With only one town to pass along the way, the majority of the six-hour trip will be through secondary cloud forest and high pasture farmland. The road is often washed out during the rainy season, so it is important to ask about local conditions before heading out.

Dive in Machalilla National Park

Just off the Pacific coast of Ecuador lies a small island often called the Poor Man’s Galapagos – Isla de la Plata, part of the Machalilla National Park. The cold Humboldt current meets with warmer water from the north Pacific and this mixture attracts a wide variety of sea life like sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and huge manta rays. During the months of July through August, whales migrate through this region, adding to the excitement.

Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

Kitesurf at Santa Marianita

Kitesurf at Santa Marianita

Strap on a contraption that looks like a snowboard, add a kite, wind, and waves and you’re ready to kitesurf. The best location for this trendy sport is located near Manta, Ecuador on the beach at Santa Marianita. The windy season is from May to January when the beach is practically empty as everyone is out on the water.

Santa Marianita, Ecuador

Backpack the Ecuadorian High Sierra

Quilotoa Crater Rim

The stunning blue water of the Quilotoa Crater attracts thousands of visitors every year, but few venture past the viewpoint. The traditional hike is a straight shot to the water’s edge with a donkey ride back top. Break convention and hike the crater rim instead, an 11 km (7 mile) full day hike with unique views of the crater and the surrounding valleys of Tigua and Chugchilan.

Quilotoa, Ecuador

Quilotoa crater

Camino del Inca

The three-day hike from the small town of Achupallas to the Inca-Cañari ruins at Ingapirca follows remnants of the original Inca roads built just before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

Achupallas, Ecuador

Ruta del Condor

Experience the paramo of the Ecuadorian Sierra on this trail connecting the majestic Antisana to the beautiful but active volcano Cotopaxi. This four- to five-day trek requires 6-8 hours of hiking per day through high altitude grassy meadows and boggy wetlands. The views are unparalleled and the chance to see wildlife like the Andean Fox, White-tailed Deer and the magnificent Andean Condor make this a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Antisana, Ecuador

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.