Ecuador is a stunning and small country to visit. On top of its obvious natural beauty, it's also home to a rich culture, warm locals, and great food. Not to mention the fact that Ecuador is an extremely budget-friendly country to travel to or move to.
I was lucky enough to call Ecuador home for 2.5 years as a Peace Corps volunteer. Even when my contract was ending, I was incredibly reluctant to say bye to this country that welcomed me with open arms. While I eventually did leave to continue traveling the world, it still stands out as one of the most beautiful countries I've ever been to.
Seriously, you won't believe the incredible places to visit in Ecuador.
Now that you have an idea of where you'll go and what you want to see while visiting Ecuador, it's time to decide when is the best time to visit. Deciding this really depends on what you want to do and which region you'll be spending a majority of your time in. Only after you have that narrowed down should you plan when you'll go.
As one of the world's most biodiverse countries, Ecuador has 4 distinct ecosystems (all with their own weather):
- The Andes Mountains
- The coastline on the Pacific Ocean
- The Amazon Rainforest
- The Galapagos Islands
Let's dive into the specifics so you can decide when is the best time to visit Ecuador for you.
Things to Know Before You Go
Now that you’re gearing up for your trip and planning the specifics of where and when you’ll go, there are a few things you don’t need to overlook.
I know just how easy it is to look towards the big hike, bucket list city, or beach of my dreams and forget about all of the little things in between that’ll make your trip run as smoothly as possible. Be sure to take into consideration these few things before you go to make sure you get all the good bits of your trip without the stress.
- Make sure you have travel insurance. A good travel insurance, like SafetyWing, will ensure you’re covered in case of emergencies. While you will have to pay upfront for your doctor or hospital costs, unless it’s for a pre-existing condition, you can file a claim and should be reimbursed. For any Americans reading this, fear not, healthcare in pretty much every other country is far more affordable than ours, even if you’re paying out of pocket.
- Do your best to learn a few local phrases in their language. No, I’m not expecting you to be able to have a fluid conversation with locals at the bus stop if you’re just visiting their country for a week but knowing your numbers (for prices), how to order something (“I would like…”), and basic greetings really will take you a long way. Mondly is a great app for phrases and vocabulary.
- Book any popular tours you want to do in advance. I’m really not a great planner and I’ve made this mistake more times than I can count. I plan a trip to a destination knowing that I want to do a sailboat trip or food tour and wait until the day before to book only to realize it’s not available the day I’m in town. Don’t make that mistake - if there is something you know you want to do - book your tour in advance.
- Same thing goes for rental cars. If you want to rent a car to cover more ground in a country, do it in advance. Prices will be more affordable and that way you’re guaranteed to have your wheels waiting for you.
- Last tip certainly isn’t mandatory but it is helpful. Before you start booking your flights, hotels, and tours, consider opening up a travel credit card. Thanks to our Capital One Venture card, my husband and I have gotten countless free flights just by gaining points on everyday expenses.
The Weather in General in South America
Generally speaking, the weather works a little differently around the equator than it does in other places. If it's your first time in this region or you haven't experienced this elsewhere, like when visiting Vietnam, there's something important you should know:
There are no real seasons around the equator. Nor is the weather hot everywhere like most people assume.
Instead, the weather patterns are dependent on the altitude. A high altitude means cold or cool temperatures year round, whereas a low altitude means hot temperatures.
This is one of the big reasons expats flock to, for example, Medellín, Colombia, because it's the land of "eternal spring." This will make it easier when packing if you plan to just visit one region but if you're visiting multiple regions, you'll want to keep this in mind.
El Niño and La Niña
El Niño and La Niña affect the weather every 2-7 years, and unfortunately, don't work on a predictable schedule. These are climate patterns that affect the weather in Ecuador, and in some cases, the entire year.
With El Niño, the sea level rises, temperatures rise as well, and heavy rainfalls come throughout the entire country but floods are more likely in the coast. On the contrary, La Niña lowers the temperatures and makes rainfall less likely.
The Best Time to Visit the Highlands
Did you know the mighty Andes Mountains stretch all the way through the middle of Ecuador? These mountains are seriously stunning and have created some impressive peaks through the country, especially the highest volcanoes in the country, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo.
The ridgeline cuts Ecuador in half. So, if you're looking at a map, the highlands running from north to south, drawing a line down the center. To the west of these mountains is the coastal region and the to east is the rainforest. Much of the best places to live in Ecuador are in the highlands so you can plan an incredible trip moving down the ridge from north to south.
Given what I explained in the previous section, this region is the coldest region in Ecuador all year round. The higher in altitude, the colder it gets.
Weather in the Highlands
Just like my example of Medellín, Quito also has a springlike climate all year round, as do much of the other highland cities like Cuenca. Since there isn't as much humidity in the mountains, the sun makes a huge difference. During a sunny day, you could comfortable sit outside in shorts and a t-shirt, while on a rainy or cloudy day it feels a bit cooler so you'll want pants and a light jacket.
The average day-time temperature in Quito is 22° C or 72° F and the average night-time temperature is 9° C or 49° F.
If you're going to be hiking, you'll want to pack warmer clothes and in some cases genuine winter gear.
The only change you'll see in the highlands throughout the year is the rainy vs. dry season. The rainy season is from October to May, with the most rainfall typically coming in April. Really though, the only time you shouldn't expect at least some rain in July and August.
In summary, the best time to visit Ecuador's mountains is July and August. This will give you the least likely chance to face rainy days. Keep in mind this is part of the peak season (along with June and late December) so you'll face more tourists then.
The Best Time to Visit the Coast
As you slope down the western ridge of the Andes Mountains, you'll reach the coastal region of Ecuador. The closer you get to sea level, the hotter the weather gets. The humidity increases, too, but in general the most humid places are those at sea level but not quite on the coast, limiting their cool ocean breeze.
As you creep away from the Andes, you'll reach cloud forests on both the east and west side of the mountains. These beautiful environments mean a lot of rain and warm, muggy climates that might not fit into the mold of nearby places.
This region is where Ecuador's reputation of being a hot, humid country becomes very true. When I lived in Ecuador, I lived in a small town near the Peruvian border. This town wasn't on the coast but was on sea level. I've never been more hot in my life than during those years I've lived there (and I'm from Georgia, USA).
Weather on Ecuador's Coast
The entire coastal region can be characterized as tropical and is hot or hotter year round. Note that although the entire coast wears a similar temperature, the rainy and dry season varies from north to south.
The wet season in the north and in the south is around January to June but the central part of the coast hardly gets hit by this. Although it might rain some days, mainly around March, the central area of the coast is desert-like and doesn't get the heavy rainfall like the north and south do.
The average temperature stays around 29° C or 84° F during the day and 23° C or 73° F at night. The high humidity makes it feel even warmer.
Keep in mind though that rainy season typically coincides to surf season, with the peak of it December to April. Although always a world-class surfing destination, the waves are even harder to beat during El Niño years.
The best time to visit Ecuador's coast really depends on what kind of activities you're looking to do. Keep in mind though that during the rainy season, you really on see short bursts of rain once a day so it's not too bad.
But, if you're visiting Ecuador to spot humpback whales, you'll want to visit between June and October for your best chance of spotting these giant beauties.
The Best Time to Visit the Amazon
If you're visiting Ecuador, I urge you to visit the Amazon Rainforest. Unless you've had the pleasure of exploring this region in other Amazonian countries, this is a bucket list place you shouldn't overlook.
Given the name rainforest, I think you have an idea as to what the weather will look like here. Yep, it rains year round.
Keep in mind that pretty much all of the best things to do in the Ecuadorian Amazon require you to be outside. And you will get wet. It's part of the adventure and if you embrace it, you'll have so much more fun while there.
The Weather in Ecuador's Amazon
There's really not a dry season in the Amazon. Mainly it'll rain a few millimeters less but you most likely won't feel the difference from month to month. It's most common that you'll see heavy afternoon rains or thunderstorms.
The average temperature in the Amazon is around 26° C or 79° F during the day and 17° C or 63° F at night.
While those temperatures might not sound too bad, it's the humidity that'll get you and makes it feel much hotter than it actually is.
It feels a little tough to choose a "best time" to visit the Amazon given the constant in the weather, so if this the trip you're planning, I would simply try and avoid the busiest months of June, July, August, and December so you have fewer visitors there with you and better chances to spot wildlife.
It's also important to note that anytime you travel during low season or shoulder season, you'll likely face fewer crowds and most likely be offered cheaper prices.
The Best Time to Visit the Galapagos
Along with the Amazon, the other place you really can't overlook in Ecuador are the Galapagos Islands. Although you can visit the Amazon Rainforest in other South America countries, there's nowhere on the planet like the Galapagos.
The Galápagos Islands are home to some of the world's most unique wildlife, including giant tortoises, sea lions, tropical penguins, and Blue Footed Boobies, just to name a few.
Other than the wildlife, you know what else makes these islands incredibly unique? The climate. In general, it's still tropical there but it's also semi-arid. It's cooler than what you would expect from islands on the equator. To make it even more complicated, given the currents that run past the islands, each year the weather is slightly different from the last.
The Weather on the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos also have only 2 seasons: warm and cool. In general, it doesn't rain much on the coast but comes more to the inland of the largest islands. Even on the rainiest of days, on the coast, it'll most likely only come through as afternoon showers.
During the warm season, from December to May, the max temperatures are around 29° C or 84° and during the cool season, from July to November, the max temperatures are around 26° C or 79° F.
While all year round could be considered the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands, if you're planning to scuba dive here, the best time to view marine life is between June and November.
Unique Holidays and Festivals in Ecuador
While the weather is certainly a reason to choose the best time to visit Ecuador, the vibrant festivals and fun holiday season are also the perfect excuse to book your flight.
Latin America in general is famous for throwing one hell of a good party and Ecuador is no exception. While they celebrate many international holidays, many of them they put their own unique twist on them that really makes them truly special.
These are the holidays and festivals you should try and coincide your trip with.
New Year's Eve (Año Viejo)
There's no way better to celebrate New Year's Eve than in Ecuador. The traditions they boast will take your idea of a fancy party and throw it out the window.
In Ecuador, you can still expect to eat, drink, dance, and stay up until sunrise but they add in a twist that I've never heard of any other place doing: Año Viejo, or Old Year.
In the weeks leading up to New Years, you'll start to see paper mache dolls everywhere. They're sold on the sides of the street, usually designed to look like the Hulk or Spider Man. Or, the craftiest of houses will set out to create their own.
Traditionally, each person is supposed to make something to represent something from the year that they want to leave behind and not bring into the upcoming year. It's really common to see life-size scarecrow-like figures, dressed in the clothing of the person's ex, for example. Others, go for unique or fun figurines - my favorite was a T-Rex my neighbor built that ended up being taller than his house.
At the stroke of midnight, everyone lights their año viejo aflame at the same time. Maybe I'm weird but I'd take it over fireworks any year. It's so much fun being in a small town or on the beach where it looks like the whole town is glowing.
The entirety of Ecuador comes alive again with Carnival. Usually in March, Carnival means dancing, live music, and massive parades just like it does in other countries. The difference here is that Ecuadorians take the festivities to the next level throw flowers, water, colored flour, and foam at one another.
Many cities host events but one of the biggest is held in the small mountain town of Guaranda. Any other time of the year, this sleepy town is known for its chocolate and cheese production but for Carnival, trust me, there's nothing sleepy about it.
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the most important religious holiday in Ecuador, given that most of the country is Catholic. The celebrations take place usually in April, with Easter and Good Friday at the peak events.
Although celebrated throughout the country, the Quito festival hosts the most extravagant religious parades.
Inti Raymi is the perfect holiday to join in on if you're interested in learning more about Incan culture. This celebration if for Inti, the Incan sun god. The festivities primarily take place in Cotocachi and surrounding towns.
During Inti Raymi, you'll see parades, dance performances, wonderful costumes, and will get to taste an abundance of traditional food. You can celebrate Inti Raymi, too, around mid June, coinciding with the summer solstice.
When's Your Best Time to Visit Ecuador?
Now that you understand the different seasons in the different regions, when do you think is the best time to visit Ecuador? You might prefer to come during the best weather, which typically coincides with peak season. Or you might prefer to risk rainy season in order to have fewer crowds and a cheaper trip.
Given the fact that the seasons don't change much, other than a wet season and a dry season, your decision shouldn't be too tough, unless you plan on summiting Ecuador's volcanoes or surfing the entirety of your trip.
Each month brings something truly magical so you're always in for a treat regardless as to when you decide is the best time to visit Ecuador.
Hero photo by Kiyoshi