From the surf beaches of the Pacific coast and the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the Galapagos Islands and the humid Amazon Basin, Ecuador serves up epic travel experiences in every season, all in an area only slightly larger than Colorado.
Compared to its enormous neighbors, Ecuador offers a taste of South America on a more bespoke scale. However, with such wildly differing environments, the timing of the busy and quiet seasons can vary widely depending on which part of the country you visit. When you visit will naturally be influenced by where you want to go and what you plan to do when you get there.
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If you’re here to catch some surf and sun on the coast, aim for January through March. August to November is the best time for cruising down the Río Napo to a jungle lodge in the Oriente, while June to September is the best time for trekking in the Andes and enjoying Ecuador’s highland cities.
Whenever you come, some special facet of Ecuador’s diverse beauty will shine through, making your trip memorable. Here’s how best to plan your visit.
June to September is the best time for highland treks
Ecuador’s high season falls in the South American winter – an ideal time to explore the magical highlands of Ecuador. If you’ve dreamed of picking through tribal fabrics at the Otavalo market, trekking the multi-day Quilotoa loop or strolling with grazing llamas at the Ingapirca archaeological site, this is the time to come.
Though the temperature fluctuates a great deal from morning to night – and changes markedly as you gain altitude – this season is verdant, and the highlands are full of life. Thanks to the drier weather and the North American and European summer holidays, this is a busy time for tourism, with correspondingly high prices. Plan ahead and book early for travel at this time of year.
June to August is the best time to explore Ecuador’s highlands © BROTEstudio / iStockphoto / Getty Images
October and November are the best months for budget travel and trips up the Amazon
Naturally, rain is part and parcel of a visit to the rainforest, but here’s some good news – the shoulder season is the dry season in the Amazon Basin. This means low water levels and excellent conditions for spotting colorful birds and other active wildlife, with less risk of getting soaked in the process.
During the drier months of October and November, you’ll be able to traverse the jungle without so much boot-sucking mud, avoiding the curtains of heavy rain that descend on trekkers at other times of the year. This is also a good time to visit the Central Highlands – you’ll beat the crowds during this slow season, with the added bonus of lower prices for accommodations and tours.
December to May is the best time for Galápagos trips and beach adventures
Characterized by warm, sunny days with some tropical downpours in the afternoons, the wet season is actually a good time for expeditions to the Galápagos Islands and spending time on the beach. What? Visit the beach in the rainy season? We say yes! While showers are frequent, the rain doesn’t last long, and when the sun comes back out, the air feels cleansed and refreshed.
Along the coast, boat-based wildlife-watching, diving and snorkeling are enhanced by calm seas and excellent water clarity. This is also the prime season for surfers to enjoy consistent northwest swell at surf spots such as Montañita, while beach lovers can set up camp in whichever beachside fishing village or coastal party town suits their mood.
December to May is the time to get close to nature in the Galápagos Islands © Michele Westmorland / Getty Images
January is wet but busy on the coast and in the Galápagos
January is the wet season, but Ecuador still sees plenty of sunshine on the coast. Be sure to book ahead for coastal accommodations, as coastal towns will be crammed with surfers and sun-worshippers. This is also high season for trips to the Galápagos, while the Amazon is hot and dry, meaning good conditions for wildlife spotting.
Key Events: La Diablada de Píllaro (Devil Dance of Píllaro), Día de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day)
February welcomes Carnaval crowds
Though prices fall after New Year’s festivities, they rise again in time for Carnaval, when the colorful celebrations draw floods of visitors – Ambato and Cuenca are two popular places to celebrate. This is a great time for rafting near Tena, but the highlands are chillier and wetter.
Key Events: Carnaval
March brings busy religious festivities
Book well ahead for transport and accommodations during Semana Santa (Holy Week), which can spill into April. At other times of the month, you’ll find lower prices across the country. It’s still rainy in the highlands, but it’s worth enduring a little wet weather to experience Quito’s processions on Good Friday.
Key Events: Semana Santa (Holy Week; can extend into April)
April is wet, but quieter on the beaches
It’s beginning to look a lot like rain in most parts of Ecuador, but the showers fall mainly in the afternoons, and the levels of rainfall vary widely from region to region. The coast is nearing the end of its high season, but the beaches still see significant amounts of sunshine and surf.
Key Events: Founding Day of Cuenca
Introducing Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands
May sees the end of the high season in the Galápagos
May represents the tail end of high season in the Galápagos, while the coast is beginning to cool off under gray skies. However, you may luck out with odd days of decent weather both on the coast and in the highlands.
Key Events: Batalla de Pinchíncha (Battle of Pinchíncha) celebrations
Inti Raymi is June’s biggest celebration
As the high season begins in the highlands, the colorful Incan celebration of Inti Raymi occurs at the summer solstice. The festivities are best experienced in highland locations such as Otavalo or at the archaeological site of Ingapirca near Cañar.
Key Events: Inti Raymi, Corpus Christi
July is high season, with the prices to match
In the thick of the high season, prices are at a premium, and more travelers are out and about in the highlands – it’s a brilliant time to trek the Quilotoa loop or to check out Parque Nacional Cotopaxi during its low season.
Key Events: Founding of Guayaquil celebrations
August brings drier weather
Rain is lessening in the Oriente while the sun still shines over the highlands. Día de Independencia is the big event on the cultural calendar, but the procession of La Virgen del Cisne (Virgin of the Swan) is also quite a spectacle, traveling 70km (43 miles) before ending in the city of Loja.
Key Events: La Virgen del Cisne, Día de Independencia (Independence Day)
The shoulder season sees smaller crowds at big sights such as the market in Otavalo © holgs / iStockphoto / Getty Images
September sees some interesting Indigenous festivals
High season is still in full swing, but beaches remain muggy. Notable festivals include the Fiesta de la Mamá Negra in Latacunga, a joyous syncretization of Catholic, indigenous and African elements. Another lively event is the Fiesta del Yamor, a Kichwa harvest festival taking place in Otavalo.
Key Events: Fiesta de la Mamá Negra, Fiesta del Yamor
October is a great month for budget travel
Shoulder season is a great time to find slightly lower prices and avoid the crowds, including in the Galápagos. However, weather and ocean conditions are less ideal for outdoor activities and wildlife spotting on the coast.
Key Events: Independence of Guayaquíl celebrations
November gets busy for All Soul’s Day
The shoulder season winds down in November, but there are deals to be had before prices ramp up for the end-of-year holidays. On Día de los Difuntos (All Souls’ Day) on 2 November, it’s a highland tradition to eat a special baby-shaped bun and sip colada morada – a purple corn-based drink that is only consumed on this day.
Key Events: Día de los Difuntos, Independence of Cuenca
December gets busy for the holidays
Christmas and New Year’s Eve, both public holidays, are big events in Ecuador. December usually means sunny weather in the Oriente, with refreshing warm days and afternoon rain showers along the coast.
Key Events: Fiestas de Quito, Fiesta de Baños