Backpack traveling in Ecuador & Galapagos islands: Things to know, do, see

backpack traveling in Ecuador & Galapagos. Things to do

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By: Samuel Plante & Camille Boucher

Ecuador is probably the country in South America with the biggest range of activities!

From the towering mountains with snow-capped peaks to active volcanoes; from the coast’s magnificent beaches and its beautiful waves to the Amazon rainforest and the biodiversity of the Galapagos islands, villages and much more! 

There is something for everyone!

The route and itinerary possibilities are endless depending on your interests, the time you have and your vibe!

Here are the key points that we will cover in this full Ecuador travel blog:

General information

Airline tickets and transport

Things to do:

-The Cities

-The marvelous Amazonia

-The mountains/volcanoes

-The coast

Galapagos Islands

-The island of Santa Cruz

-San Cristobal island

-Isabela Island

The end

Cuenca, Ecuador (South,East of Guayaquil)

Backpacking in Ecuador, General information

It is important to know that currently (September 2021) Ecuador has opened its borders to tourists! Requirement: Have proof of double vaccination (there is a list of valid vaccines; we had Pzifer and Moderna) or a negative PCR test made at most 72 hours before. 

Ecuador is a South American country located between Colombia and Peru. The spoken language is Spanish and the currency is USD! Its people are very welcoming and warm.

Ecuador has a variety of microclimates, present in its two seasons: Summer (June-November) and Winter (December-May).

In the Andes, temperatures are cool all year round and rarely rise above 20 ° C. On the Pacific coast and in the Galapagos Islands, the climate is pleasant in all seasons with an average of 22 ° C.

Airline tickets and transport

It is possible for you to land either in the capital, Quito (if you want to start your trip in the mountains or in the Amazon, this is the closest place). Otherwise, you can land in Guayaquil which is located on the coast close to the surf, beaches or where most of the flights leave for the Galapagos Islands

It’s super easy to get around Ecuador; the long-distance bus system is very reliable and inexpensive (between USD $ 2-15) for longer distance trips like Quito -> Montanita / Guayaquil / etc.

We recommend taking the wonderful night buses to save accommodation and time! Taxis are also plentiful and inexpensive. Do not forget to negotiate your price before the road so you don’t have a bad surprise when arriving at your destination $$! 

There is no need to book your bus tickets well in advance. To make sure you secure a spot on the bus, it is recommended to arrive at the station no more than 90 minutes before departure. Ask the locals: they can guide you through the schedules.

Keep in mind that Ecuador is a country famous for its theft on the streets and on buses! Keep an eye on your bags and make sure your valuables stay close to you.

Quito, Ecuador

Things to do in Ecuador

If you land in Quito and want to start your trip in this part of the country, here is what we have on offer:   


In the city of Quito, you will find very interesting urban landscapes. The architecture of old buildings, street food, viewpoints from the heights and much more! Ask for the free walking tour in your hostel, it is definitely worth it! Also find out about the areas which are not recommended to go to.

You certainly cannot miss the impressive Basilica “Basílica del Voto Nacional”. For only $ 3 USD you can climb the steeple and enjoy a 360 view of the gigantic city on Quito.  

Nearby, you will also find the famous Quito cable-car. “Le TelefériQo” is a cable car going from the edge of the city center to the Pichincha volcano. It is one of the tallest cable cars in the world, going from 3,117 m to 3,945 m. You will once again have a great view of the city of Quito for a few dollars.  

Also in the same area, we find the imposing statue “Loma El Panecillo” located at the top of a small mountain in the heart of the city of Quito. Getting there by taxi is highly recommended as the stairs on the way are notorious for being filled with armed thieves.  

Banos : 

The town of Banos is indeed a mainland hot spot! You have probably seen the famous videos / photos on the giant swing of Banos!

It’s one of the city’s most popular attractions! it is located at Casa de Arbol and it costs $ 2 USD to enter, which includes all three swings and the zip line. There is a small cafe on site as well with food and drinks.

If you are in Banos, you certainly cannot miss the impressive Cascada el Pailon “del Diablo” waterfalls! The ticket costs $ 2 USD and you can buy it in a restaurant on the path that leads to the waterfall.    


Discovering the protected and remote areas of the Amazon will certainly be an unforgettable adventure in your life. The Ecuadorian Amazon is relatively unknown but it’s certainly one of the highlights of the country. The authenticity and wildlife of this region is straight out of a movie! It’s breathtaking. You will find exotic animals such as crocodiles, river turtles, monkeys and a great diversity of birds.    

There are several excursions and tours that include transport and accommodation in Amazon lodges from Quito.

The mountains: 

The gigantic Andes Mountain range passes right through Ecuador and is very generous in landscapes and points of view! Several possibilities are available for you to visit it!

Quilotoa Loop

One of the options (which we especially loved) is the iconic Quilotoa Loop! We did the 3-day trek from Sigchos town to the gigantic lagoon, and it was definitely worth it! For more information on the route and things to know, visit our detailed article: Quilotoa loop Ecuador 3-day trek 

Cotopaxi Volcano

We can’t omit mentioning the popular Cotopaxi volcano! With its perfect cone shape and snow-capped summit, the Cotopaxi volcano is certainly an Ecuadorian Icon! You can go and observe it from below without a problem; if you are lucky the sky will be exposed, and you will be able to see the entire volcano.

The second option is to go to the refuge and the glacier. This includes a 45 min – 1 hour climb at an altitude of around 4800m. The view is breathtaking and the glacier is very impressive. It is advisable to acclimatize well before going to the refuge. Personally, the Quilotoa loop and a few days in Quito were enough to acclimatize us.

For the motivated trekkers, it is possible to get to the top of the volcano with the help of a guide and specialized equipment. Several agencies offer this excursion which includes a guide, the equipment, lodging and food.

You will also have the chance to meet one of the rare populations of wild horses in this area.


Chimborazo is a volcano in Ecuador culminating at an altitude of 6,263 m. It is the highest peak in the Ecuadorian Andes and the closest point to the sun in the world.

Again, motivated travellers can prepare several weeks ahead to climb the summit of Chimborazo. For the remaining majority, there are several ways to view the spectacular volcano from below.

The fabulous Coast

Ecuador has a total of 2.253 kilometers of magnificent coastline! You will find beautiful surf waves, a warmer atmosphere than in big cities, and restaurants & bars directly on the soft sandy beaches! 

We particularly appreciated the calm of the city of Ayampe. A beautiful little village, 35 minutes north of Montanita, where a hippy, surfing atmosphere reigns, right on the edge of the ocean. It is a surfer’s paradise, with several accommodations and surf schools available.

Next, we recommend La Punta, just a few minutes from Montanita. It’s a little quieter but Montanita remains within walking distance, so it is easy to get there along the beach. It is not recommended to walk on the beach after 9:00 p.m.

If you are a party animal, you will love the town of Montanita. With its dozens of festive bars and restaurants, it truly is a city that never sleeps

The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands: 

The iconic Galapagos Islands: The highlight of the show!  After several days of trekking in the mountains followed by challenging surfing sessions, our reward was the Islands! I consider this place to be a true respectful open world zoo!

It’s definitely another planet; it’s magic! The abundant terrestrial and marine fauna is like no other!

To get there, you can take a flight from Guayaquil or Quito and land directly in San Cristobal or Santa Cruz. Flights prices can vary between 300-600$ for a round-trip. To travel between the islands, there are 2 ferries per day (7am and 3pm) at the cost of $ 25 USD per person. The journey normally takes 1h30 by ferry.

The island of Santa Cruz: 

It is the most populated and “modern” island of the archipelago. Wildlife is scarce and so are activities. We spent 3 days in Santa Cruz, and we did most of the activities one can do there. We particularly liked the ‘La fisuras’ called ” Las Grietas ”    

There, you will find Tortuga Bay: the most beautiful white sand beach in Ecuador! It is the perfect place for swimming, surfing, and snorkeling (at the end of the beach). This is where I saw the most sea turtles in one place in my life! 

San Cristobal Island: 

San Cristobal is home to one of the largest populations of sea lions in the world! There are so many that they enclose the beaches (with entrance doors of course) so that they do not come to take their nap in the city. There are several beautiful places to snorkel like Playa Loberia and Muelle Tijeratasé  

In Galapaguera, north of the island, you can go observe giant tortoises for free at the “Jacinto Gordillo breeding center”. You can get there by taxi for $ 40 USD. If you plan to go to Santa Cruz, wait until you visit the Darwin Museum; you will also be able to see giant tortoises and the entrance fee is only 10$ USD per person.  

Isabela Island: 

This island is known for its population of penguins and flamingos! You will not be able to observe these animals in Santa Cruz or San Cristobal!

To the east of the city there is an iconic snorkeling spot named Pearl Shell where you can observe black-tip sharks and dozens of sting rays in an iconic diving environment.

In Isabela, you cannot miss the Los Tuneles tour! These lava tunnels were formed millions of years ago and are now home to a rich fauna!  

Here is the list of animals that you can observe in the Galapagos Islands: 

·   Blue footed boobies

·   Galapagos Flamingo

·   Sea turtles

·   Sea lions

·   Galapagos Penguins

·   Manta ray

·   Sting ray

·   Sea horses

·   Giant tortoises

·   Sharks·   And much more!

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands are definitely a top destination for backpackers. With its fauna diversity, its various breathtaking landscapes, the ease of getting around, finding accommodation and eating, this South American country is undoubtedly worth crossing off your bucket list.

Thank you very much for reading ! Lets Roam the unknown together !

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