Climbing Volcán Cotopaxi: Although it's actually only the second highest peak in the country, Cotopaxi is Ecuador's most coveted summit. At 5,897m (19,347 ft.), this is no leisurely climb, yet most people in reasonably good condition, with the proper guides and acclimation, can reach the top. The views on the way up, at the summit, and coming back down are spectacular. Compañía de Guías de Montaña (tel. 02/2901-551; www.companiadeguias.com.ec) and Safari Ecuador (tel. 02/2552-505; www.safari.com.ec) are two excellent local operators who can get you to the snowcapped summit.
Playing Cowboy or Cowgirl on the High Mountain Paramo: In Ecuador, cowboys are called chagras, and the chagra tradition is alive and well. Whether you sign on for a short ride or actually get to join in a round-up of wild bulls or horses, you'll feel like a chagra as you ride your steed over the rugged scrub of the high Andean paramo. Hacienda La Alegría (tel. 02/2462-319; www.haciendalaalegria.com) offers multiday rides.
Watching Whales Breach & Breed off the Pacific Coast: From late June to early October, humpback whales congregate in large numbers off Ecuador's Pacific coast. They come to the warmer waters from Antarctica to mate, give birth, feed, and nurse their young. The whales here are very social, and they often give spectacular displays of breaching. Whale-watching tours are offered up and down this coastline, but Salinas and Puerto López are your best bases for setting out on a whale-watching excursion.
Surfing Lonely Waves Along Ecuador's Pacific Coast: Surfers love isolated or undiscovered breaks, and Ecuador is loaded with them. In fact, even the most crowded breaks here could be considered deserted by California standards. Beach and point breaks can be found up and down the Pacific coast. Montañita and Canoa are the country's top surfing destinations, and good bases to use for your search for the perfect wave.
White-Water Rafting & Kayaking: With high Andean peaks plunging down to coastal lowlands in two directions, Ecuador is blessed with a host of white-water rivers perfect for rafting and kayaking. The small town of Tena, in El Oriente, is the country's hot spot for these sports, with easy access to everything from Class III to Class V rapids. The most popular rivers are the Upper Napo, or Río Jatunyacu, and the Río Misahuallí. There are also opportunities accessible from Quito and other cities around the country. Ríos Ecuador (tel. 06/2886-727; www.riosecuador.com) is an excellent operator with offices in both Tena and Quito.
Scuba Diving in the Galápagos Islands: While most visitors spend their time marveling at the turtles, iguanas, boobies, and finches, diving the Galápagos may just provide the archipelago's most rewarding wildlife-viewing opportunities. The rich and protected waters here are home to large quantities of sea life, from schools of hammerhead sharks, to manta rays, to large masses of jacks, barracuda, and other schooling fish. Lucky divers enjoy playful encounters with sea lions and penguins. Your best bet for enjoying the diving is to sign up for a cruise on a dedicated dive boat. You can also book dive trips out of Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.