Road Tripping Ecuador's Mainland: Guayaquil to Quito

One of the most memorable skipping-Thanksgiving trips ever. This diamond-in-the-rough country is only the size of Nevada, but offers everything from beaches to volcanic mountain ranges. Practica tu español and pack your bags for a South American adventure.

cuenca ecuador sign with block letters

3 Random Facts You Probably Didn't Know

ecuador flower


Ecuador has FOUR ecosystems: islands, mountains, rain forest, and cloud forests.

big quito letter sign

Living the High Life

Quito, Ecuador is the 2nd highest capital city in the world. At 9,350ft., it is 2nd only to La Paz, Bolivia.

view of cotopaxi volcano from the road


Ecuador is home to a stratovolcano, and you can take a rocky drive all the way up to 15,219ft.


The Itinerary


walking up 444 steps in ecuador guayaquil
Las Penas Lighthouse Climb


  • Fly in to Guayaquil
    • You don’t need more than a day here. It’s mostly a jumping-off point for the Galapagos
  • Stay at the Hilton Colon Guayaquil
  • Explore Guayaquil:
  • Walk Malecon 2000 boardwalk along the Guayas river
    • You’ll find things like the La Perla ferris wheel, La Rotunda monument, a food hall, an artisinal market, and for us Tampa natives we loved seeing their pirate ship!
  • Check out the Las Peñas neighborhood.
    • This area is eye-catching because of the colorful housing, but you can also walk up all 444 steps to the top for an up close view of the lighthouse and 360 views of the city. 
  • Stop for a bite at Resaca Bar Restaurant
  • Walk through Malecon del Salado (we were here during the day so we missed the highlight of seeing it lit up at night).
  • Continue walking to Plaza Guayarte – Norte, close to the university. 



  • The drive is about 3.5 hours
  • The route takes you down 582. We stopped at a little market/restaurant called Mirador el Paraiso. The views from here are surreal. 
  • The highlight of the drive was going through Parque Nacional Cajas
    • And we know I can’t be in a national park and not hike, so we detoured in to hike “Route 2,” Cumbre del Cerro San Luis, Laguna Chica Toreadora  
hiking in the cajas national park in ecuador
Parque Nacional Cajas Hike


swing at the turi sky park in cuenca ecuador
Mirador de Turi Lookout Swing


  • Stay at the TRYP by Wyndham Cuenca Zahir
  • Wander around Cuenca, Centro Histórico area
  • Dinner/drinks at La Cofradia Pub House
  • Explore Mercado 9 de Octubre and surrounding area. The architecture here is beautiful. 
  • Since we had a car, we drove up to the Mirador de Turi lookout area. For those without a fear of heights, there is a swing that throws you out over hillside and comes with a hell of a view. (*I am terrified of heights. But I made myself do this after watching a few 10 year olds do it first. Worth it.)

BANOS (de Agua Santa)


  • Drive from Cuenca to Baños (about 7 hours)
    • (*It is officially ‘Baños de Agua Santa’ – there is another area in Ecuador called Baños so it can be confusing on Google!)
  • Got a little fancier than normal staying at the Samari Spa Resort, and we loved it.
  • Explore Baños, wander around the ‘downtown’ area
  • Whether you go with a tour group or on your own, don’t miss seeing the Pailón del Diablo waterfall area. There is a small fee to enter the park and several hikes you can do taking you closer (and under) the falls. 
  • We drove up to the Luna Volcan Adventure Spa, which was the other hotel we were considering. We got lucky and it wasn’t a busy day, so we had the mountain-top pool (and bar) pretty much to ourselves. 
  • Dinner at the Leprechaun Pub Restaurante Cafeteria
view from the pailon del diablo waterfall in quito ecuador
Pailon del Diablo


view of cotopaxi volcano
Cotopaxi Volcano


  • This drive is about 3ish hours, but there’s a detour you don’t want to miss…
  • Stop at Parque Nacional Cotopaxi.
  • The summit of the volcano is 19,347 ft., but you can actually drive  to the parking area at 14,765 ft. and hike a little ways up to the refugio at 15,960ft. Definitely have a sturdy, 4×4, high clearance vehicle. 



  • Stay at the Hilton Colon Quito
  • An hour outside of Quito you can take a telefériQo up the side of the Pichincha Volcano, the view is incredible and there is a swing at the top. 
  • Visit the Basílica del Voto Nacional – a unique church that features… a bar.  
  • Independence square
  • Plaza Foch area, where we had the  best tacos of our lives, and almost immediately got food poisoning. 
  • San Sebastian area
  • Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal
  • Parque La Carolina
  • Parque El Ejido
  • Parque Itchimbia – home of the big Quito sign/statue
  • La Floresta – you can do a street art walking tour here
  • And maybe more drinks on the rooftop of the Vista Hermosa
  • Parque La Carolina
  • About a 40 minute drive from Quito you can get to the Mitad del Mundo, “The Middle of the World.”
  • Drinks on the rooftop of the Hotel Mama Cuchara
  • Airport
quito ecuador


coming down cotopaxi volcano


Things I never thought I would do: Skid down the side of a volcano at 15,000 feet.

view from the pailon del diablo waterfall in quito ecuador

El Pailon del Diablo

This is the view I came to Ecuador for. The waterfall is behind us.  

luna volcan spa quito ecuador

The Adventure Town Spa

Baños is the ‘adventure capital’ of Ecuador, but don’t miss out on relaxing at the Luna Volcan.