Often overlooked in the rush to get to the Galapagos, mainland Ecuador is one of South America’s best-kept secrets. Dramatic highland scenery, active snow-capped volcanoes, colourful indigenous cultures, picturesque colonial towns and the fascinating flora and fauna of the Amazon jungle are just the start. Read on to find out why holidaying in Ecuador with kids justifies a two-week tour, taking in most of the highlights. Or opt to sample some of the of the country’s top attractions before flying out to the Galapagos…
Here are our top 10 family-friendly activities to do in Ecuador with kids… well top 12 as we just couldn’t decide what to leave out…
1 – Horse-ride through the volcanic highlands
Ecuadorians are proud horsemen and traditional cowboys – or ‘Chagras’ – still make their living from herding their cattle on the high slopes. What better way to reach the higher peaks and enjoy the stunning scenery and views than letting the horse do the work so you do not need to worry about huffing and puffing at altitude?
2 – Barter in the markets
The colonial market towns of Ecuador are a dream for shoppers in search of traditional handicrafts to take home for souvenirs. Colourful rugs and tablecloths, bright ponchos, handwoven pencil cases, recycled glass jewellery as well as the usual Ecuadorian football tops and flags. Otavalo is the most famous with a large market on a Saturday (barter to the background of the Andean pipes) and smaller ones throughout the week. But most towns will offer market stalls lining their cobbled streets. Pack an extra bag!
3 – Visit the Amazon jungle
Even if you are visiting the Galapagos as part of your trip, including the Amazon in your holiday is hugely worthwhile. It is a completely different experience. You can cruise in a dug-out canoe to your atmospheric jungle lodge surrounded by the sounds of the rainforest. Learn about the medicinal properties of plants, spot an exotic array of creepy crawlies and larger mammals lurking within the dense foliage and bob down the river on a safari float.
4 – Take a handicraft workshop
Ecuador has a myriad of fascinating indigenous cultures who are proud of their unique handicrafts. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture by taking part in a musical workshop, a weaving demonstration or the children can learn how to make a genuine dreamcatcher – the ultimate home-made souvenir.
5 – Take a walk on a live volcano
Ecuador is packed full with volcanoes. The famous Avenue of Volcanoes runs south from Quito towards Riobamba, with perfectly conical snow-capped mountains and dramatic, jagged peaks soaring to over 5,000m either side. Cotopaxi National Park is little more than an hour from Quito and offers some really exciting walks. Gentle ones take you around the scenic Limpiopungo Lagoon or opt for a challenging ascent (including climbing the volcano itself – only suitable for those happy to don crampons and use an ice-axe.)
6 – Get active in Banos
Banos is known as the adrenaline town of Ecuador. Perfectly positioned between the jungle and the volcanic highlands, it offers white-water rafting, mountain biking, canyoning, rock climbing, zip-wiring (including an upside down option!) or hopping on the Swing at the End of the World for the ultimate playground ride. Or simply relax in a thermal bath beneath the smoking Tungurahua Volcano.
7 – Stay in a traditional hacienda
By far the best accommodation on offer in mainland Ecuador are the gorgeous haciendas which litter the entire country. Usually situated in stunning locations in the foothills of volcanoes or in the rural outskirts of towns, with wide-ranging views of the countryside and beautiful landscaped gardens, these hotels have often been in the same family for centuries. Traditional decor and antique furnishing create a lovely atmosphere. Don’t expect power showers or the latest in mattress technology but do expect warm welcomes, roaring log fires (sometime in your own room) and hot water bottles in your bed at night.
8 – Take the teleferico in Quito
Quito has changed significantly from when it was known for its crime and grid-locked city streets. The new airport makes journeys to the north or south of the country much easier and the old part of the city, where the exquisite colonial buildings and cathedral are located, has been cleaned up with regular police patrols creating a safer atmosphere. A fantastic new addition to sightseeing tours is the teleferico which takes you up to the great height of 4,050m. Perhaps not for your first day in Quito but definitely worth a trip at some stage for the views and walking possibilities from the summit.
9 – Hike Quilotoa or Cuicocha crater lakes
Let your kids impress their geography teacher with their knowledge of calderas and volcanic activity. Hike the challenging circuits around these lakes or descend to their heart, hire a canoe and paddle across their green waters and then hop on a mule back up to the rim. Stunning scenery surrounds.
10 – Surf the Pacific
A little know fact is that Ecuador has a superb coastline with beautiful beaches and superb surfing opportunities. Montanita is the best known surf spot whilst at Salinas you can also spot whales in season. How about visiting the ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos’ – the Islas de la Plata are home to many similar species found on the more famous islands. Travel here from Puerto Lopez where you can also laze, snorkel or dive from the idyllic Los Frailes beach, part of Machalilla National Park.
PLUS two more great activities we couldn’t bear to leave out!
11. Take the train
Ecuador has many different rail routes, the most famous being the Devil’s Nose, renowned for its series of switchbacks through dramatic gorge scenery. We find that a shorter and thus slightly more child-friendly version is available from Ibarra, close to Otavalo, travelling up into the highlands at Salinas, home to an Afro-Ecuadorian community. Hop on board the Liberty Train!
12. Swing through the cloud forest
A few hours from Quito lies another world – a cloud forest where you can follow trails through the rainforest, swing on rope vines a la (or should that be ‘le’) Tarzan, observe the canopy from a gondola nearly a kilometre above the ground, pedal your way high across a gorge on a unique ‘Sky Bike’ or simply enjoy the sights and sounds of the steamy primary forest, home to numerous tropical birds, butterflies and noisy howler monkeys.
Ecuador with kids resources
Comfortable traditional hacienda inns and a good, compact infrastructure make travelling in Ecuador with kids a pleasure. Check out our Where to stay in Ecuador & the Galapagos for info on the different types of accommodation.
For the low down on the best way to explore Ecuador with kids, see our Ecuador family holiday section. And get the kids interested with these fun facts on the Activity Village website. You can check out the best time to go to Ecuador here or simply get in touch with Helene by phone or email. She will be delighted to help you plan the ideal trip for you and your family.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
We’d love to hear about your experiences holidaying in the Ecuador with kids, so do send us your reviews and photos. Thank you – firstname.lastname@example.org.