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

Cascada Agoyan near Baños | © Rinaldo Wurglitsch/Flickr
Cascada Agoyan near Baños | © Rinaldo Wurglitsch/Flickr
Photo of Angela Drake
Founder, Not Your Average American11 July 2017

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.

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

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.

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 Crater | ©Eric Schmuttenmaer | Flickr

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.

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.