The Andes Mountains run like a spine through Ecuador, bringing majesty and mystery. Mountain bike riding, hiking, and horseback riding are all popular things to do in the highlands, with a highlight being condor sighting in Cotopaxi National Park.

The landmass of Ecuador descends into the sea, with the coast offering additional activities for the visiting guest. On the mainland, there are great beaches for snorkeling, sunbathing and surfing. Humpback whales can be spotted offshore certain times of year. Holiday-makers who venture to the Galapagos Islands will be rewarded with pristine wilderness and the opportunity to dive with whale sharks and other marine life.

Ecuador is establishing itself for surfing, especially around Montanita where schools such as Balsa Surf Camp offer gear rental and lessons. The Galapagos Islands also offer good surfing, which can be accessed through package companies like Waterways Surf Adventures. The months from January until May have the best breaks.

Visitors who prefer land-based adventures will find hiking offers a fascinating glimpse into Ecuador’s special eco-systems. The Santa Lucia Lodge is a local cooperative venture that is just a two hour drive from Quito specializing in nature treks. Visitors hike to the lodge (baggage is carried by donkeys), from where exploration of the magical cloud forests is possible. Spot orchids, bromeliads and other tropical plants en route to waterfalls and rivers suitable for swimming.

Ecuador has some of the world’s best scuba diving, particularly the 30-odd sites around the Galapagos Islands where the historically-isolated wildlife is completely unafraid of intruders. Operators such as Scubaiguana and Galapagos Divers Inc offer package tours and charters to spot hammerheads, rays, penguins, sea lions, turtles, fish, or whale sharks.

Horseback riding is a relaxing way to enjoy Ecuador’s natural beauty, particularly around Quito where ranches such as Hacienda La Alegria offer a traditional farm environment. Real enthusiasts may enjoy more challenging trips such as the Andean Adventures seven-day circuit around the world’s highest volcano. This trip offers riders the chance to spot condors while passing through the plains, wetlands and hills of Cotopaxi National Park.

Flying downhill through the beautiful Andes makes mountain biking in Ecuador a truly special experience. Cotopaxi National Park is a popular location, with Exclusive Hotels & Haciendas of Ecuador featuring package tours that include mountain biking. Alternatively, Riobamba-based Julio Verne Travel Day Tours organizes guided Andes mountain cycling adventures, including a mind-blowing ride down the Chimborazo Volcano.

Ecuador has some great beaches, with Salinas being widely regarded as the best. Montanita is also known for its sandy shores, as is the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz. Private daytrips from Guayaquil can be arranged through Viator, while Discover Galapagos offers full beach holidays to Santa Cruz.

During June and September, humpbacks frequent the waters of the Manabí province and the Galapagos Islands, making Ecuador a great place for whale watching. Machalilla Tours can arrange daytrips from Puerto Lopez, while Exclusive Hotels & Haciendas of Ecuador offers full holiday packages that include whale-watching.