Editor’s Note: This is our first post in a series about Adventure Riding in Ecuador. This series was kindly sponsored by Court and his team at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental in Quito. Ecuador Freedom offers Bike and 4×4 Rentals, Self-Guided Tours of Ecuador as well as all-inclusive Guided Tours. Egle will be guiding a Special Woman’s Tour of the Ecuadorian Andes with Ecuador Freedom later this year.
Not sure where to go on your next adventure? Here are some of the must-see places in Ecuador, the most intriguing country to travel in South America.
Ecuador might be one of the smaller South American countries, but its location and its amazing diversity make it one of the best motorcycling destinations in the continent. Ecuador sits right on the equator, which means the weather is pleasant all year round: it’s a country of eternal spring, and there’s no such thing as an off-season. Because Ecuador is quite small, you can see more of it in less time.
Instead of doing long, hard transport stages to get to the best places, in Ecuador you can enjoy the Pacific coast, ride the high Andes, and explore the Amazon rainforest all in a few days.
Ecuador might be small, but it is diverse culturally. Although the main language is Spanish, several different indigenous communities in Ecuador have preserved their own languages such as Quechua and Shuar as well as their own traditions, food, and ways of life. These communities are very hospitable and welcoming, and you can meet locals everywhere you go.
Finally, Ecuador is very easy to travel. The country uses the US dollar as its official currency; the main roads are in excellent condition; and you can either import your own bike or rent one locally with no hassle at all.
If you’re ready to give Ecuador a go, here are some of the must-see places in the country on and off the bike.
Ecuador’s capital Quito is the perfect place to start your motorcycle tour. Set high in the Ecuadorian Andes at 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito has the largest and best-preserved historic center in all of South America.
At the same time, Quito has a modern, vibrant feel to it: the city is full of great restaurants and hotels, irresistible coffee shops, dynamic nightlife, and a flourishing arts scene. Quito is just sixteen miles south of the equator, and there is plenty of superb riding around the city both on and off road.
Just sixty miles north of Quito lies Otavalo, a small town in the Imbabura province. This is where you can begin to learn about Ecuador’s indigenous communities and cultures: Otavalo is famous for its large and colorful market where the locals sell their hand-crafted wares.
Riding a little further North, you’ll discover Cotacachi, another unique little town where the main livelihood is leather tanning and leather works. Here, the main street is lined with little leather shops offering everything from handmade saddles to leather jackets, shoes, and purses. Some leather tanners of Cotacachi still process the leather using traditional local methods without any chemicals.
Lake Quilotoa is one of the most spectacular sights in the Ecuadorian Andes. Quilotoa is a two-mile-wide, bright turquoise blue crater lake more than 12,000 feet above sea level. The region is home to many indigenous communities, and there are multiple hiking trails crisscrossing the beautiful, rugged country. Lake Quilotoa is accessible by motorcycle, but you may also choose to hike.
Local legend has it that the beautiful volcano Quilotoa, daughter of the Iliniza volcanoes, fell hopelessly in love with the Cotopaxi volcano. However, her parents opposed the marriage, so in her desperation and fury, Quilotoa erupted creating a deep crater. She filled the crater with her tears of heartbreak, creating a turquoise blue crater lake.
Baños, a small town situated in the valley at the base of active volcano Tungurahua, is Ecuador’s adventure capital. A gateway to the Amazon basin, Baños has it all: rafting, zip lining, hiking, paragliding, jungle treks, horseback riding, and more. At the same time, Baños is famous for relaxing natural hot springs and spas. When in Baños, be sure to try the local delicacy, roasted guinea pig, and homemade sugarcane juice.
No trip to Ecuador would be complete without visiting the weird and wonderful Galapagos islands about 1,000 miles off the Ecuadorian coast. You’ll have to leave your bike on the mainland for this one, but the islands are worth the visit. Ranging from barren volcanic rock islands to perfect white sand beaches and gemstone-blue water, the Galapagos are a natural paradise.
Giant sea turtles, sea lions, and other friendly wildlife allow tourists to get close as there are no natural predators on the islands, and the unique Galapagos inhabitants do not fear visitors. Surfing, diving, and snorkeling are all great experiences here, especially if you’re hoping to see hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, and eagle rays.
On or off the bike, Ecuador has so much to offer it’s easy to lose track of time. If you are on a time budget, make sure not to miss the high Andes and the Amazon rainforest, as Ecuador boasts such contrasting terrain and biodiversity. If you can spare several weeks in the country, however, include smaller towns, off-road trails, the Pacific coast, and the Galapagos islands on your itinerary. Get ready, and get going: adventure awaits.