Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Ecuador Travel!

Welcome to your Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Ecuador Travel!  Ecuador reminds me of Portugal, in that it’s an often overlooked, & highly underrated country.  In Europe, Portugal takes second-place to “sexier” destinations like Spain & Italy, which are perennially popular with foreign tourists.  In South America, the same is true of “sexier” destinations such as Brazil, Peru, & Argentina, which have been luring tourists for years with staggering sites like Machu Picchu, the wilds of Patagonia, & beaches like Copacabana. 

But what about Ecuador??! 

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Ecuador is most famous for the Galapagos Islands, which are 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the coast & filled with some of the most LOVABLE sea lions you’ve ever met!!

Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Ecuador Travel!

Again, much like Portugal, Ecuador is one of the safest & most stable countries in Latin America, making it an appealing option for foreign travelers.  In fact, did you know that statistically speaking, Ecuador is SAFER than the United States??!  To put things in perspective, as of 2019: Portugal is the 3rd safest country in the world (Iceland is 1st), Ecuador is 71st (near Argentina), & the U.S. is 128th!!!  Truly.  Check out this article for further discussion on this topic.  

Ecuador makes a great starting point for travel to South America.  It’s approximately the same size as Oregon, making it far smaller & easier to get a handle on than Peru, Chile, Argentina, or Brazil (which are all quite massive).  And Ecuador’s currency is the U.S. dollar, which makes conversion rates a non-issue, if coming from the U.S.  Combine that with a friendly, laid-back attitude, cost-effective transport, & easy-to-understand Spanish ~ plus many English speakers, especially in heavily-touristed areas…& you’ve got a fantastic destination for foreign travel.

Map of Highlights in Ecuador

On the map below, I’ve highlighted the places you’re most likely to visit on a first-time trip to Ecuador: the Galapagos Islands, Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil (where many people catch flights to the Galapagos), Banos, & Puyo, which is the gateway to the Amazon, & where many people volunteer with wildlife organizations.

Galapagos Islands

Quito

Cuenca

Guayaquil (Catch Flight to Galapagos Here)

Banos

Puyo (Gateway to the Amazon)

Ecuador Travel Overview!

  • Safety = One of the Safest Countries in Latin America, especially the Galapagos Islands 85% 85%
  • Cost = Great Value! Similar to other Latin American countries; Galapagos slightly more expensive 40% 40%
  • Adventures = EVERYWHERE!!! Snorkel, dive, play with sea lions, climb volcanoes ~ DO it ALL here! 100% 100%
  • How Safe I Felt as a Female Traveler = Very Safe, especially in Galapagos 95% 95%

Ecuador Travel Quick Facts!

  • Ecuador in Two Words = Galapagos Islands.
  • Ecuador in Two More Words = The Amazon. 
  • Wi-Fi = Good Wi-Fi was hard to find in the Galapagos Islands ~ which is understandable.  And let’s face it: you’re not in the Galapagos to work!  You’re here to see wildlife & enjoy the outdoors.  Similarly, remote areas in the Andes & the Amazon will likely have poor Wi-Fi, but in major cities like Quito & Cuenca, good Wi-Fi is available at most hotels & restaurants.
  • Global Peace Ranking = #71 out of 163 countries, as of 2019 (U.S. is #128) = The #1 safest country in the world is Iceland, while Afghanistan ranks at #163, as the least safe.  This puts Ecuador right in the middle of the pack, with similar rankings as Greece & Argentina.  Ecuador is one of the safest & most stable countries in Latin America.  I felt especially safe in the Galapagos Islands, & I highly recommend the islands to solo travelers & families.
  • Hotels = Great hotels can be found for less than $40/night ~ even in the Galapagos!  Check out the Gloria Galapagos Hotel on Isla Santa Cruz, which features large rooms with ocean views for $35/night ~ & check out Del Parque Hotel & Suites in Cuenca, which offers in-your-face views of those blue cathedrals….  
  • Must-Do’s = Fly or sail to the Galapagos Islands.  Swim with sea lions & marvel at all the up-close encounters you’ll get with wildlife in the Galapagos.  Stare up at the blue cathedrals in charming Cuenca.  Get lost in Ecuador’s capital, Quito.  Swing on the famous swing-over-the-mountains in Banos de Agua Santa, then follow it up with a visit to the hot springs.
  • Is Ecuador Good for Solo Travelers = YES!!  In terms of Latin America, I think Ecuador is a perfect starting place for solo travelers: Ecuador uses the dollar (so no conversion problems there), the food is great (think: AMazing seafood), the cost is low, & the Galapagos Islands are one of the safest places for solo travelers.  In my opinion as a widely-traveled solo traveler, I think Ecuador is a great choice for solo travel. 
  • What to Expect as a Female Traveler = Because of the machismo vibe in Latin America, you may be hassled from time-to-time as a female, particularly if you’re alone ~ & particularly by groups of men (I’ve found that Latinos rarely have the balls to hassle you all by themselves)!  If you see a group of men ahead of you on the street, try to avoid them if you can.  And try to avoid walking alone at night; go with a group if you can.  Petty crime is also a concern in this part of the world, but in general, I found Ecuadorians to be very kind & welcoming.
  • Would I Go Back = YESSS!!! Absolutely. I’ve already returned to the Galapagos. TWICE. And I’m dying to explore Quito more….

When to Visit Ecuador?

Ecuador essentially has two seasons: WET & DRY.  October to May is considered the “warm & wet” season, while June to September is “dry” season ~ & usually quite busy with foreign travelers from northern climates (during their summer).  Ecuador is very close to the equator, so unless you’re high up in the mountains, it’s quite warm year-round.  I visited the Galapagos Islands in April, & it was balmy & around 75-85 degrees the whole time.

Photos of the Galapagos Islands…

The main attraction that brings people to Ecuador are the incomparable Galapagos Islands.  1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos is known for one primary thing: WILDLIFE.   And these animals, in my experience, are completely unafraid of humans!  During two weeks in the Galapagos, I saw baby sharks, tiger sharks, more sea lions than I can count (in the water & on land ~ for some reason, they love hanging out on benches!), sea turtles, land iguanas, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies (!?), & all kinds of technicolor fish. 

If you love animals: GO TO THE GALAPAGOS!!  The Islands are great for families, couples, & even solo travelers ~ I can’t really think of anyone who would not enjoy it here, unless you don’t like animals & the water!

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

The opportunities you’ll have to connect with wildlife are innumerable in the Galapagos…

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

View from the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Best Things to Do in Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

We found this GORGEOUS, uninhabited beach on our way back from Isla Santa Fe to Isla Santa Cruz.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

You can find yellow land iguanas (like this one) on several of the Galapagos Islands ~ as well as swimming iguanas, which were my favorites!!

Photos of Quito & Cuenca…

Quito is the second-highest capital in the world, at 9,350 feet (2,850 meters) above sea level.  Only La Paz in Bolivia is higher, at 11,913 feet.  Quito’s Colonial Spanish center is replete with the stunning architecture of 16th & 17th-century palaces ~ while the city itself is surrounded by dramatic volcanoes & the Andes mountain range. 

Then there’s one of my favorite cities: Cuenca.  Its unique blue-topped Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (or Catedral de la Immaculada) commands the center stage of Cuenca’s historic district, & if you’re lucky: your hotel will offer cathedral views from your balcony….like in my photo below, from Del Parque Hotel & Suites).  Strolling the charming streets of Cuenca was one of the best surprises of my Ecuador trip: one night, I walked past a church filled with the sounds of choral music ~ so I sat to enjoy the dazzling performance; another night, an energetic dance troupe performed in the main plaza. 

Cuenca is a fantastic city to explore….

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Stunning architecture is just one reason to visit Quito…

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

…& volcanoes are another, like this one: Cotopaxi.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

I fell in LOVE with Cuenca, Ecuador & its beautiful cerulean blue-topped cathedrals.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

One of my favorite things about Latin America is their fantastic use of COLOR! It makes me happy…

Photos of Banos & the Amazon…

Then there’s popular, tourist-friendly Banos de Agua Santa, located in the hills by the Amazon basin.  Banos is the “Adventure Capital” of Ecuador ~ & it’s also one of my top five picks for taking Spanish lessons in Latin America: there are plenty of language centers, & the amount of outdoor activities here is endless.  You can ride mountain bikes, hike to hidden waterfalls, enjoy hot springs, or my personal favorite: swing on the famous tree swing at La Casa del Arbol! 

Finally, we come to the Amazon.  Brazil & Peru are more well-known Amazon destinations: yet 35% of Ecuador is Amazonian rain forest.  And there are many amazing eco-lodges & resorts that take full advantage of that rain forest setting ~ such as Mashpi Lodge outside of Quito, which is a “National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World.”  

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

If you visit Banos, Ecuador ~ you MUST visit the famous tree house so you can swing out over the mountains!!

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Banos is the adventure capital of Ecuador: you can mountain bike, hike, raft, visit hot springs, & take in crazy sights like this vertigo-inducing staircase…

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Pinas, Ecuador.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Amazon Jungle Resort in Ecuador.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to Ecuador Travel, Girl Who Travels the World

Stay in the cloud forest just outside of Quito at Mashpi Lodge. Photo by Travel Babbo.

Ultimate Girl’s Guide to Ecuador Travel!

Thanks for joining me on this trek to underrated Ecuador!  Ask me any questions about the Galapagos or travel in Ecuador below…

xoxo Noelia

Read Next: Solo Female Travel in the Galapagos Islands