Ecuador is an up-and-coming and under-exploited adventure-tourism destination. The following itinerary packs a lot of adventure punch into a single week. This is a basic outline; if you want to do more high-altitude climbing, trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding, or kayaking, schedule that in place of one of the activities that doesn't get your adrenaline pumping.
Day 1: Arrive & Settle into Quito
If your flight gets in early enough and you have time, head to Old Town and visit some of the colonial-era treasures this UNESCO World Heritage Site has to offer.
Days 2-4: Head for the Hills
Parque Nacional Cotopaxi is Ecuador's premier high-mountain park, and home to the country's second highest peak. The rustic yet very comfy Hacienda El Porvenir, right at the northern entrance to the national park, makes an excellent base for exploring this area. You'll need at least a day or two to acclimate if you plan on climbing Cotopaxi. The hacienda can arrange a number of adventures, including high-altitude trekking and camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, and, of course, summit climbs of Cotopaxi and several other nearby peaks. They also have a zip-line canopy tour at one of their sister lodges.
You'll want to head back to Quito for your final night of this leg, because you'll be getting up early to head to the Galápagos.
Days 5-7: Dive with Hammerhead Sharks
Sure, the wildlife-viewing and natural history are fabulous draws and reason enough to visit the Galápagos Islands, but scuba divers know that this is one of the prime diving destinations on the planet. The isolated location, fishing regulations, and ocean currents have blessed this archipelago with abundant sea life. Large schools of all sorts of fish are the mainstay, and it's common to encounter hammerhead sharks -- I've seen them on every one of my dives here. If you're lucky you might also bump into a manta ray, whale shark, sea turtle, or dolphin. You'll almost certainly have a sea lion swim right up to your face. If you're going specifically to dive, I recommend staying in Puerto Ayora and doing daily dives with one of the local operators such as SCUBA Iguana. Because you're not supposed to fly soon after diving, talk with your dive master, and if necessary, spend your final day surfing Ola Escondida (Hidden Wave) and Punta Barba Negra (Black Beard Point).
Days 8-10: Go Native in the Amazon Basin with the Cofán Nation
No adventure tour to Ecuador would be complete without a visit to the lowland rainforests of El Oriente. There are plenty of ways to visit Ecuador's Amazon basin, but those with a real sense of adventure will do so by booking directly with the Cofán Nation, one of the local tribes. Cofán guides lead multiday tours through the area around Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, emphasizing hands-on experiences that get you into the lifestyle, tradition, and culture of the Cofán people.
Days 11 & 12: Get Wet & Wild
From the northern part of El Oriente, head south to Tena and spend some time on the rivers. Tena is Ecuador's capital for white-water rafting and kayaking. There are a number of local operators in town; Ríos Ecuador is one of the most reputable, with options ranging from relatively gentle Class III floats to kayak outings on raging Class IV and Class V sections.
Day 13: Return to Quito & Prepare to Say Goodbye
If you're traveling by land, make a stop at Papallacta on your way back to Quito. After all your adventure travel, you'll appreciate -- and perhaps desperately need -- a few hours soaking in the hot springs at Termas de Papallacta. Papallacta is just off the road, along the main route between Tena and Quito.
Day 14: Fly Home
Your flight will probably leave early in the morning, but if you have time, head to the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal (Mariscal Artisans Market) to buy last-minute souvenirs and gifts.
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.