Given that Ecuador is synonymous with being the home of the Galapagos Islands, it's understandable that some of its other attractions get sidelined. Indeed, we met a number of travellers heading north to Colombia from Peru who had decided to skip the country entirely given that they didn't think there was much else there.
How wrong they were.
Due to our tight travel budget, we weren't able to make it to the Galapagos (on the cheap it would have cost us about $800 each for a week). But would that stop us from recommending Ecuador to other budget backpackers? Absolutely not.
In our ten weeks in the country, we cycled, hiked and bused from the lost countryside in the Andean hills to glacier-topped volcanoes, gorgeous sun-kissed fishing villages stretched along the coast and the beginnings of the Amazon rainforest.
Here are five beautiful experiences any traveller on a budget can experience in Ecuador!
#1 - hiking the quilotoa loop
This is a travel experience we'll never forget.
For five days, with just our small packs on our back, we hiked for four nights, five days around the Quilotoa Loop. Exploring high up in the Andean hills, traversing rivers on rope bridges, wandering through rush green and verdant valleys and countryside, a volcano with a crater lake, getting to know small Quechua communities, staying in cosy hostels and creating such fantastic memories.
And, per person per day, we spent only $19.75/£12.7; so unless you positively detest hiking and beautiful scenery, you've got no excuse not to go!
Read our guide for hiking the Loop on your own here.
#2 - cycling and climbing cotopaxi
On this two year trip through Latin America, we conquered many a volcano. However, Cotopaxi was an utterly unique experience.
Based in the national park of the same name, it's one of the most beautiful spots in Ecuador. The glacier-topped volcano dominates the scenery, but there are also waterfalls, lakes and and wild horses cantering through the flat grassy plains.
You can take a day-trip from Quito to hike up to the glacier before enjoying a thrilling downhill bike ride - all for $50 per person including meals, entry and transport (unless the volcano has erupted, like it did in August 2015).
Read about our Cotopaxi experience and see some more photography here.
#3 - being a beach bum
Secluded eco-lodges, surfer party towns or laid back fishing villages, Ecuador's coast has it all.
Learn how to surf in Montañita, eat fresh seafood lunches for less than $2 in Mompiche, find inner peace and solitude in Ayampe - the country's coastline is home to gorgeous sandy beaches catering to every type of traveller.
And they're generally pretty cheap too. Of course there are plush hotels and fancier hostels, but you're just as able to find small family run guesthouses where a double costs less then $10.
Read our Ultimate Guide to Ecuador's Beaches to find out which town is best for you and your budget.
#4 - exploring the poor man's galapagos
It may not have the sea lions, but Isla de la Plata (Silver Island) is a great option for nature lovers who can't afford the Galapagos.
A $30/£20 per person day trip from Puerto Lopez ($50/£33 if you take a tour in Montañita) will take you out to see hundreds of blue-footed boobies, frigates with a bulging red balloon under their neck as well as snorkelling with tropical fish. If you're lucky, you may even spot some giant turtles (we did) and, between June-September, see some whales.
Check out our photography and overview of the tour experience here.
#5 - biking from baños
If you're heading to Baños, and have a little cash to spare, then you'll have no shortage of options. White water rafting, rock climbing, bridge jumping and zip-lining are just a few of the options available in Ecuadors adventure capital.
However, for those who can't afford it, there are still some excellent experiences to be had. Our highlight? Cycling 60 kms from Baños to Puyo via waterfalls, dirt tracks and highway to the front door of the Amazon rainforest.
And what did it cost us? $9.50 each for the bike rental and bus ride back - bargain!
Read more about what to do in Baños on a budget.
Would you recommend any other budget experiences in Ecuador? Let us know in the comments!
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