Ecuador’s alternative adventures

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Ecuador has much more than volcanoes and rainforests up her sleeve. The country’s diverse geography provides the backdrop to an astounding range of adventures, and its compact size makes it possible to combine a number of activities in a short time. You can go bird-watching in misty cloud forests on the Andean slopes, plot multi-day treks through lush national parks, climb the peaks of the country’s towering volcanoes, and snorkel with giant manta rays, turtles and sea lions off the Galápagos Islands. There’s also some excellent surfing and mountain biking, along with world-class rafting.

And there are plenty of more uncommon adventures in the wondrous caves and pretty rivers of Ecuador. Get your adrenaline pumping in this round-up of unusual thrill rides, taken from Lonely Planet’s brand spanking new Ecuador & the Galápagos guide book. Photographs by Alejandra X Castaneda.

Biking down from Baños to Puyo, you pass from cloud forest to jungle in less than a day. Along the route, numerous hiking spots to places like the Devil's Cauldron call for extended exploration. Photo by Alejandra X Castañeda

Caving, Cueva de los Tayos

Located on the eastern slopes of the Andes, the Cueva de los Tayos (Cave of the Oil Birds) provides a fascinating wonderland for cave lovers. The entrance is located within rainforest at the bottom of a valley – but it’s no easy entrance. The journey starts with a 70m drop into the caves – from which you could then spend a week (or a lifetime?) exploring the stalactite-filled caverns. A guide is recommended.

Tubing, Mindo

While some prefer kayaks and rafts, in Mindo there’s nothing quite equal to the joy of gliding down the fern-lined Río Mindo, bottom securely planted in a rubber inner tube. Keep in mind this is white water (and all the livelier in the rainy season), and helmets and life jackets are essential.

This active volcano provides a backdrop to the myriad hikes out of Baños. It is currently closed for climbing, but when it opens, it's a fascinating and challenging climb to the top of Ecuador's 10th highest peak. Photo by Alejandra X Castañeda

Whale watching, Puerto López

With an annual population of humpback whales of around 400, Puerto López is considered the epicenter of whale breeding grounds. Numerous boat operators ply the waters in search of the magnificent mammals, with excellent sighting opportunities from June to September (July and August are peak months).

Puenting, Baños

In Baños visitors with a rock-solid life insurance policy might consider the freefall excitement called puenting (think bungee jumping without the bounce). It roughly translates as ‘bridging’ but it’s really leaping, then swinging pendulum-style on a rope tethered underneath a bridge.

Hike, bike or bum rides along the dusty roads of the Quilotoa Loop. Along the way you'll pass indigenous villages, artist's colonies and the Laguna Quilotoa, a volcanic lake set in a perfect half-moon crater. Photo by Alejandra X Castañeda

Canyoning, Baños

Another Baños-based activity growing in popularity, canyoning involves rappelling (abseiling) down waterfalls, swimming in rivers and taking short hikes through canyons.

Sport fishing, Salinas

Some 13km offshore from Salinas the continental shelf drops off, providing an ideal setting for deep-water fishing. Swordfish, sailfish, tuna, dorado and black marlin all frequent the waters, with the best fishing from September to December. Salinas is the place to charter a boat.

 The summit of Cotopaxi, arguably the world's highest active volcano, is a remarkable ring of fumaroles, snow and ice. The national park that protects the volcano and its delicate ecosystem offers good chances for hiking, mountain biking and longer treks. The climb to the top is accessible to even novices, though few make it to the top. Photo by Alejandra X Castañeda

Even more adventures

So our list of energetic feats hasn’t left you exhausted? Time to get to work on our list of Ecuador’s best adventures:

  • Best climb: the majestic heights of Volcán Cotopaxi (5897m) provide a fantastic view for those fit enough to make the summit.
  • Best trek: the multi-day Camino del Inca follows the Inca royal road for 40km to the striking ruins of Ingapirca.
  • Best bird-watching: the biologically diverse cloud forest of Mindo is home to hundreds of colourful species.
  • Best mountain-biking trip: descend 61km from the crisp highlands town of Baños to steamy Puyo in the Amazon.
  • Best white-water rafting: in the Oriente, both Tena and Macas offer fantastic full-and multi-day rafting trips past jungle-clad scenery.
  • Best surfing: Montañita, Mompiche and Canoa on the mainland offer good breaks; while Isla San Cristóbal on the Galápagos has more challenging waves.