One of South America’s smallest countries, yet one of its most diverse and beautiful, Ecuador has a lot to offer travelers of all budgets – but is more and more becoming a budget traveler’s paradise. There is an Ecuador backpacking itinerary perfect for every kind of traveler, from surfers and hikers to history buffs and party seekers.
After living in Ecuador for 2+ years, we’ve backpacked through this entire country on a very tight budget, and have learned exactly how to experience the best this country has to offer on a budget.
Our ultimate guide to backpacking Ecuador shares everything we’ve learned and help you have an incredible adventure as you backpack Ecuador. Plus, we’re sharing how to plan your dream trip to Ecuador for cheap – and sharing a backpacking Ecuador budget to help you budget for your trip.
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For a relatively small country (smaller than many states within the United States!), Ecuador packs a huge punch for travelers.
Mainland Ecuador is generally – unfairly! – overshadowed by next-door neighbors Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. It’s also overlooked far too often by travelers who come here just to visit the Galapagos Islands. But for those who spend the time to explore all that Ecuador has to offer, there is so much to experience!
Ecuador is also truly a backpackers paradise – one of the cheapest and best countries to visit in South America, you could easily spend a month backpacking Ecuador and still have more to see and do.
With an extensive yet inexpensive public transportation system, and the low cost of food and accommodation, your Ecuador backpacking budget will take you far. Plus, with so much to see and do here, you won’t want to leave.
What To Pack for Ecuador
Check out our Ultimate Ecuador Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Ecuador and what we never travel without.
Safety in Ecuador
We’re often asked about safety in Ecuador, especially for backpackers and female travelers. I can confidently say that Ecuador is generally quite a safe place to travel – it’s even one of the safer countries in South America.
Living and working in Ecuador for 2+ years, I never had a single incident of being robbed or otherwise threatened or feeling unsafe.
However, it’s important to be aware that petty crime does happen here – mostly pickpocketing. Several friends I lived with or traveled with in Ecuador had their phones or bags snatched over the course of the time they were in Ecuador. It’s important to be aware of, but don’t let this rule your trip or overwhelm you.
When you make sure to take simple safety measures – designed to make you appear not the easiest target for crime – you’re more than likely to have a completely safe and perfectly uneventful trip.
Ecuador Travel Safety Tips
Keep Your Belongings Close
Keep an eye on your backpack under bus seats, and any bags or backpacks while eating in restaurants. Don’t leave your phone or camera sitting out on the table when eating. Ladies – I recommend using a crossbody purse, and keeping it in front of you. Rest your hand over the zipper.
Use S-Biner Micro-Locks
I always use s-biner micro-locks to lock the zippers together on my backpack, and I keep my suitcase locked at all times with a lock with flexible cord. Feel free to use backpacks while out and about, but move them to your front when in public transport, in a market, or in another crowded area.
Walk With Purpose
Even if you’re totally lost, look confident and calm as you walk down the street. Don’t underestimate how much this can make a difference!
Keep Expensive or Flashy Items Hidden
This goes for technology, jewelry, etc. Don’t fear taking out your camera to take pictures or your phone to check a map, but don’t walk down the street with these things on display.
Read More: Is Ecuador Safe? Ecuador Safety Guide
Things To Do in Ecuador
Exploring Quito merits its own special mention on this list of fantastic things to do in Ecuador. I may be biased – I lived in Quito for 2+ years – but it truly is a wonderful city filled with opportunities to explore historical sites, meet fellow travelers, see modern art, and so much more.
Quito is a backpacker’s dream city, too – check out our Quito Backpacking Guide for more.
Check out these articles on Quito to learn more:
- Best Things to Do in Quito
- Old Town Quito: Ultimate Guide to Quito’s Historic Center
- Where to Stay in Quito
- Day Trips from Quito
- Quito to Cotopaxi Day Trips
Not only is there so much to do in Quito, but it’s also a fantastic base for exploring the rest of the country. Close enough to serve as a base for exploring the Amazon, Cloud Forest, and the rest of the Andes Mountains.
Visit the Amazon
The Amazon Rainforest is a bucket list destination for travelers, and Ecuador is (in my opinion) one of the best countries from which to explore the Rainforest. It’s a particularly great option for backpackers looking to visit the Amazon.
Easily accessible via an inexpensive 4 or 5 hour bus ride from Quito, Tena is the backpacker’s gateway to the Amazon. Here you’ll find accommodations at every price point, including cheap jungle lodges (check out Banana Lodge near Misahualli, or my favorite Hostal Pakay on the edge of the jungle).
You can also find affordable jungle tours departing from Tena, including either full-day or multi-day tours, with local guides. They’ll take you to discover wildlife (including monkeys!), visit indigenous villages, canoe and kayak along the rivers, and so much more.
These are fantastic and generally quite affordable experiences, well worth the cost!
Visit the Cloud Forest
The Cloud Forest is one of Ecuador’s most unique ecosystems. Located between the mountains in the center of the country and the coast to the west, here you’ll find perfect weather year-round, incredible wildlife, and abundant natural beauty.
If you want to visit the Cloud Forest, head to Mindo. This small town is a true paradise – I’ve been countless times and still am dreaming about the next time I can go back!
In Mindo you’ll find adventure sports like ziplining and canyoning, world-class birdwatching, a butterfly sanctuary, local artisan chocolate producers, and much more. Come for all this, or just to kick back and relax in the jungle next to a bubbling river at Casa de Cecilia (one of my favorite hostel in Ecuador).
Interested in trying out Workaway, Worldpacking, or one of the many other work exchange sites that make budget travel super affordable? There are plenty of opportunities available in the Cloud Forest for you to try!
Backpack up the Coast
Ecuador has an incredible Pacific coastline with countless fantastic beaches to explore. You’ll find a great mix of cities, resort towns, and villages along the coast, so there is truly something here for every traveler.
Even if you don’t have time to explore all of Ecuador, backpacking up (or down) the coast of Ecuador is a popular Ecuador backpacking itinerary.
Popular beach towns include Canoa, Mompiche, Ayampe, and Puerto López. Head to Montañita if you’re looking to party – this town has the distinction of being Ecuador’s beach party destination.
Resort towns like Atacames and Súa have more facilities and tourist installations than other beach towns, though they can get more crowded, especially on holiday weekends.
If you’re looking for a larger city with a nearby beach, Salinas is a great bet. This is a fantastic destination for digital nomads in Ecuador who need super-fast internet but want to spend time at the beach.
Ecuador is a fantastic destination for adventure sports of all kinds – you’ll find everything here from ziplining and canyoning (repelling down waterfalls) to whitewater rafting and river tubing.
Hike, Trek, and Climb
The Andes Mountains run right through the center of Ecuador, north to south, and make Ecuador an incredible spot for outdoor enthusiasts looking to hike. These are some of Ecuador’s best hiking, trekking, and climbing spots.
Towering over Quito, the Pichincha Volcano is one of the most popular hiking spots near Quito. Ride the TelefériQo to the top, then start the hike to Rucu Pichincha – one of Pichincha’s three peaks – a moderately difficult climb a few hours long.
Check out more about this popular day trip from Quito in our ultimate guide.
One of the best multi-day treks in South America, the famous Quilotoa Loop is a moderate three or four-day trek to the Quilotoa Crater Lake, a stunning volcanic crater lake high in the Andes.
The ultimate climbing expedition in Ecuador (other than Chimborazo – leave this one to the professionals!), Cotopaxi volcano is a high-altitude snow-capped volcano and a difficult climb, though possible for fit yet less-experienced climbers.
Even beginners can climb to the glacier line – though a basic level of physical fitness is required!
Read More: Quito to Cotopaxi Visit and Excursion Guide
Another popular day trip from Quito, Pasochoa is an extinct volcano in the Chillos Valley just south of Ecuador. A much easier climb and surrounded by less-visited towns and villages, expect gorgeous views of neighboring Cotopaxi and the surrounding valleys.
Ecuador Backpacking Itinerary
You’ll find a ton of different backpacking itineraries out there for Ecuador; as Ecuador becomes more and more popular with backpackers, there is more content on how to backpack Ecuador well.
There are also some fantastic itineraries out there for specific regions in Ecuador, like detailed itineraries for exploring just Ecuador’s coast, or just the Andes mountains – both are very popular Ecuador backpacking itineraries.
Check out all of our Ecuador itineraries as you plan your ultimate backpacking Ecuador adventure.
A popular time frame for backpacking Ecuador is one month, so I’ve created an example Ecuador backpacking itinerary for one month in Ecuador. This covers the entire country (except for the Galapagos Islands!), so you’ll have a complete Ecuador experience on your trip.
Check out these recommendations and get planning your perfect Ecuador backpacking itinerary.
- Day One: Quito – Quito is the perfect place to land in Ecuador and get your bearings (and adjust to the altitude). It’s also generally a great place to meet other travelers. Check out my favorite Secret Garden Hostel to get settled and meet other travelers.
- Day Two: Quito
- Day Three: Quito
- Day Four: Cotopaxi – Head to Cotopaxi National Park from Quito – the best way to visit if taking the Secret Garden Hostel shuttle for just $10 USD and staying at their sister location, the Secret Garden Hostel – Cotopaxi.
- Day Five: Cotopaxi
- Day Six: Otavalo – Head for an overnight to Otavalo – see if you can time it so that you’ll be in town on Saturday morning for the market – one of Latin America’s best markets and the largest of its kind in South America.
- Day Seven: Otavalo
- Day Eight: El Ángel – From Otavalo, head north of the incredible El Ángel Ecological Reserve; in this unique micro-ecosystem you’ll find stunning flora and fauna you won’t see anywhere else.
- Day Nine: Quito
- Day Ten: Quilotoa – Head to Quilotoa to start the three- or four-day Quilotoa Loop trek. Check out my ultimate guide to Quilotoa for more, but I recommend starting in Sigchos and ending in Quilotoa at the stunning crater lake.
- Day Eleven: Quilotoa
- Day Twelve: Quilotoa
- Day Thirteen: Quilotoa / Latacunga
- Day Fourteen: Baños – Head from Latacunga to nearby Baños, a favorite backpacker town in Ecuador and home to many adventure sports like bungee jumping and canyoning.
- Day Fifteen: Baños
- Day Sixteen: Tena – Easily accessible from Baños, Tena is the gateway for backpacking Ecuador and exploring the Amazon Rainforest on a budget. Here you’ll want to spend a few days exploring – maybe on a multi-day jungle trek excursion!
- Day Seventeen: Tena
- Day Eighteen: Tena
- Day Nineteen: Quito
- Day Twenty: Guayaquil – Head to the coast to explore this incredible part of the country. While Guayaquil doesn’t have much to offer travelers, it’s the first stop for travelers from Quito who want to start an Ecuador backpacking itinerary up the coast.
- Day Twenty-One: Salinas – One of Ecuador’s larger beach towns, Salinas is actually a small city, making it a comfortable place to hang out for a few days
- Day Twenty-Two: Salinas
- Day Twenty-Three: Puerto López – This peaceful beach town is an absolute favorite with travelers. Here you can trek to the nearby Machalilla National Park (a popular tourist attraction in Ecuador!) and the untouched beach Playa de Los Frailes. Plus, offshore is the Isla de la Plata, known as the poor man’s Galapagos due to its abundance of wildlife and the ability to go whale watching in the summer months!
- Day Twenty-Four: Puerto López
- Day Twenty-Five: Canoa – Canoa is a favorite beach town for surfers, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn here. I loved Canoa and could have easily spent weeks enjoying the beautiful beach and fresh seafood here.
- Day Twenty-Six: Canoa
- Day Twenty-Seven: Canoa
- Day Twenty-Eight: Mompiche – Spend a few days at Mompiche, a small fishing village well worth a visit and perfect for backpackers on a budget. There isn’t much to do here other than kick back and relax – which is perfect.
- Day Twenty-Nine: Mompiche
- Day Thirty: Guayaquil or Quito – Finish your trip back in Guayaquil or Quito to depart from the international airport. Or if you’re lucky, extend your trip in Ecuador a bit longer.
Money-Saving Tips for Ecuador
Choose Excursions Wisely
There are plenty of incredible excursions, tours, and activities in Ecuador, which can help make your travel experience that much better.
While most group tours and activities tend to be quite inexpensive for travelers, the cost can add up quickly if you’re not careful.
Choose the activities that will save you time – on transport, on public transportation, etc. – and provide unforgettable travel experiences. You don’t have to do it all, just focus on the ones that will be an irreplaceable opportunity.
These are just a few that I recommend!
- Whale watching in Puerto Lopez
- Biking down the side of Cotopaxi Volcano
- Ziplining in Mindo
- Whitewater Rafting in Tena
Don’t Go to the Galapagos – Maybe?
The Galapagos Islands are a notoriously expensive travel destination. If you’re traveling as a backpacker, I’d generally recommend steering clear of the Galapagos, unless you have money set aside for this bucket list trip.
However, sometimes you can find deeply discounted tour and cruise packages for sale at Galapagos tour companies’ offices in Quito. Often companies will slash the prices for their trips departing in just a day or two, though it would mean getting to the coast quickly for departure!
If you’re interested in traveling to the Galapagos on a backpacker’s budget, stop by tour company offices (there are several just a few blocks north of Plaza Foch in La Mariscal).
This can be a perfect opportunity for travelers with flexible Ecuador backpacking itineraries, so if you have the chance, it’s well worth looking in to.
Learn Some Spanish
Don’t underestimate the power of knowing at least a little Spanish in helping you save money (our guide to basic travel Spanish phrases will help!).
Spend some time practicing and learning some keywords to help you ask directions, read menus in restaurants, ask for advice, and communicate with people you might come in contact with.
Plan on downloading Google Translate as well! This easy-to-use app adds helpful new features all the time, like its image reader, which can help you translate menus.
Save Money on Food
Ecuador has a wide range of food options, from expensive fine dining in large cities to street food stalls in markets. Spending your food budget wisely as a backpacker is an important way to stretch your budget when traveling.
Steer clear of places selling international food and head to the local places, such as markets and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
Make sure to take advantage of almuerzo specials – for around $3-5 USD, you’ll find delicious multi-course set menus for lunch, while a single plate could easily cost double that at a nicer restaurant.
You’ll generally find the cheapest prices for groceries at markets, especially for fruit and vegetables, so make sure to head to your local market before you visit a supermarket.
Plus, you’ll want to skip imported brands and select local products, as import taxes make these goods much more expensive.
Ecuador has an extensive and relatively inexpensive public transportation system, one of the main reasons why Ecuador can be so cheap for backpackers. You’ll find interprovincial buses heading everywhere, and tickets that won’t cost more than $10 USD to take you long distances.
All interprovincial buses and most local buses are Greyhound-style buses and are generally relatively comfortable.
You’ll need to have cash ready to pay for bus fare, though if traveling through a bus station you’ll likely buy a ticket at a ticket counter before boarding.
When moving through Quito, make sure to download the Moovit app – this app is a game changer when it comes to figuring out the bus and train system that crisscrosses the city. You’ll simply add your destination and find multiple methods to get to where you’re going.
Guayaquil is the major bus hub for the coast, so you’ll likely have to travel through Guayaquil at some point in your travels. While Quito is an important destination for many bus lines and is a transportation hub, you’ll find many more buses traveling up and down the Andes than you will on the coast
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.