Ecuador, South America

The Best Ecuador Travel Itinerary

Aerial image of Hamadryade Lodge in the jungle Tena, Ecuador

A 2 Week Road Trip Covering 4 Regions in Mainland Ecuador

We never knew we wanted to go to Ecuador. So much of South America travel is focused on Brazil, Peru, Chile and Argentina, and we just didn’t know anything about this tiny beautiful country.

Girl walking through jungle holding red coca pod above her head

Like many travel plans during 2021, our trip to Peru was canceled due to the Covid pandemic. But days later we saw a flight deal for $300USD to Ecuador so we knew we had to go!

We knew virtually nothing about Ecuador (besides that’s where the Galapagos islands are), but that didn’t stop us!

While researching places to visit in Ecuador SO many itineraries were heavy on Galapagos. It seemed everyone was forgetting the plethora of things to do on the mainland. Our kids were going to be 5 and 2.5 during our trip so we didn’t want to go to Galapagos with them this time (since they can’t go scuba diving yet), so for this visit we focused on the mainland. If you’re planning a trip with kids who are still in car seats, make sure you check out our blog on our favorite travel car seats.

Keep reading for full details of our Ecuador road trip itinerary, including where we stayed and what we did!

Aerial photo of family in canoe in jungle river in Tena, Ecuador

Regional Breakdown and Itinerary

We planned just over two weeks exploring the mainland, and focused on four areas where we could maximize our experiences. We traveled in this order: 

  1. The Amazon Rainforest
  2. Baños (full name: Baños de Agua Santa)
  3. Cotopaxi & the Andes Mountains
  4. Puerto Lopez & the Pacific Coastal Region

We spent about 3-4 days in each spot, before returning to Quito to end our trip. Besides a short flight to the Pacific Coast we took private taxis (organized by our lodges/hotels) everywhere else.

Arriving in Quito, Ecuador

After an incredibly long flight delay caused us to miss our entire first day in Ecuador, we ended up arriving shortly before midnight and staying in the on site hotel at the airport: the Wyndham Quito Airport Hotel.

Kids on canoe in the jungle river in Tena, Ecuador

It was clean and modern, the staff was friendly, and it had an incredibly delicious and expansive breakfast! There was a free shuttle that picked us up right outside of the airport baggage claim and drove us the couple minutes to the hotel. We walked over a disinfectant mat on the floor to clean our shoes before entering, there was hand sanitizer everywhere, and the hotel staff was all masked.

After a wonderful buffet breakfast the next morning a driver arrived to bring us from Quito down to Tena, where we would stay for the next 4 days in the Amazon jungle.

After leaving the city we quickly entered the lush mountainous region where puffy white clouds swirled through the trees, looking like they were appearing in front of our eyes. The drive was easy and pleasant and after about 4-5 hours (including a couple photo stops) we arrived at our eco-lodge in the rain forest.

The Rainforest

Hamadryade Lodge in Tena, Ecuador

We chose to stay at Hamadryade Lodge, based on their wide variety of cultural and environmental activities they offer, as well as the relative ease of getting to their location. Other lodges we researched were deeper into the Amazon and required much more effort to get to (such as yet another flight plus a many-hour boat ride), and did not offer nearly the same variety of cultural activities we were interested in (which was truly the main deciding factor for us).

Young Kichwa girl in Tena, Ecuador, wearing traditional ceremonial clothing

Kichwa Community Visit

While staying at Hamadryade Lodge we took a river boat trip to visit a local Kichwa community where they shared some of their local drinks and cuisine, and then showed us their traditional dance and invited us to dance with them. The Kichwa dancers were almost all children, so our two children loved watching and dancing with them as well. Afterwards, we were invited to walk around their village, and to check out their little shop where the women were selling beadwork (necklaces, bracelets, etc.) which we purchased to help support their village. 

Waterfall Hikes

Another day we went on a walk to a small waterfall. It was incredibly short and easy to get to even for the kids! Georg took a more strenuous hike much further up the hill to get to a larger, more remote waterfall. The lodge provided us with rubber boots (somehow they had Georg’s monstrous size all the way down to our son’s teeny size!) so he was equipped for the trek, but I don’t think he realized how far it was going to be! Just when I began wondering if we’d ever see him again he showed up at the top of our little waterfall back down at the bottom of the mountain, just in time to see our daughter swinging on the rope swing and dropping into the pool below!

Children at jungle waterfall in Tena, Ecuador

Traditional Ecuadorian Medicine Man

Later in the day we walked through the grounds at Hamadryade Lodge to meet with a traditional Shaman who was going to cleanse us of any bad energy or spirits. We really had no idea what to expect since we had never done anything like this before, but we were met with a joyful medicine man who must have been in his 70’s. He began the ceremony by having us all enter a dark thatched hut, and we took turns sitting in front of him while he whacked our heads/faces with bundles of leaves while praying and chanting. He finished cleansing us by lighting a cigarette and sucking in smoke at the crowns of our heads, and then blowing the smoke out of the hut and swooshing away the bad spirits I believe. 

We were completely surprised by the entire experience because we really didn’t know what we had gotten ourselves into, but it was definitely something we would recommend you do if you ever have a chance to meet with a traditional medicine man/Shaman. It was a once in a lifetime kind of experience!

Orange, red and yellow coca pods on a green palm leaf

Chocolate Making in Ecuador

Another highlight of our stay at Hamadryade was learning how to make CHOCOLATE! We took a little drive and then hiked up to another eco-lodge located at the top of a small mountain. At the top our guide taught us how to shell coca pods to get the inner fruit. Then we watched as he started a fire and began roasting the coca pods in a heavy cast iron pan.

Woman and children grinding roasted coca pods into powder to make chocolate

After a couple minutes we could smell a hint of roasted chocolate rising from the fire. Once they were toasted we took turns hand grinding them into a coarse powder (like coffee grounds). Then we mixed the grounds with a splash of hot water and some sugar to create a thick chocolate paste. We tweaked it with a little extra water and sugar until we had a chocolate “fondue”. Then our guide gave us freshly picked fruits to dip in the chocolate. What an incredible treat, from start to finish! 

After our chocolate experience we ate a vegetarian Ecuadorian lunch with our guide and the owner of the eco-lodge. It was delicious! We listened to the sound of the rain on the thatched roof above us, and puddles splashing around the hut. We were in the rainforest after all, so it added to the ambiance. 

Traditional Ecuadorian lunch or dinner, vegan vegetarian meal in Ecuador


Tip #1: Make sure to reserve a floating breakfast on the beautiful pool at Hamadryade Lodge!

Tip #2: Plan to do your top choice outdoor activities ASAP after you arrive. You never know what the weather will bring during your trip and you might get rained out if you wait!

Girl smelling yellow coca pod

Disclosure: We only recommend hotels and products we have used ourselves and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that (at no additional cost to you) may earn us a small commission. If you found this blog useful while planning your trip please consider using these links when booking your travels.