Secret Garden Lodge close to Machachi, south of Quito, very close to the worlds highest (in a way) volcano Cotopaxi. It’s not currently possible to enter the Cotopaxi National Park because the volcano is currently active. I have been at Secret Garden Lodge myself as a volunteer for 2 months – it’s a marvelous place, so wild, and Katherine is a great cook. 🙂 http://secretgardencotopaxi.com/
The village of Zumbahua and the Quilotoa Loop (http://blacksheepinn.com/) – this is a classic, very much countryside, the bus ride to Chugchilán was CRAZY 😀
The thermal springs of Papallacta – you could even hike from the entrance of the Cayambe – Coca National Park to Papallacta: http://www.termaspapallacta.com/
Mindo: is in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest, about 1.5 hours by bus from Quito. A bit on the touristy side but still lovely with a lot of untouched nature. This year I biked from Quito to Mindo, it’s a stunning 2000m drop in altitude, need a good bike with full suspension, though.
Rain Forrest / Amazonia: Tena is a bit quicker and not that deep in the jungle, if you really, really want to go into this green hell, then there is the Cuyabeno National Park or the Yasuní National Park (point of departure for both is the town of Coca). – The famous Galapagos islands are nice, but expensive and need time. If you decide to go there, then I would not book a boat tour but go by speed boat to Isla Isabela, the wildest island, all the funny animals are there as well 😀
For a quick mountain hike you have Quito’s own volcano Pichincha right in front of you, its 4800m high. There is a gondola going up to a base station (Teleferico), if you feel adventurous you can go to Lloa by bus (lovely village) and then hike from the backside up to Ruco Pichincha. As all of Quito is high (~3000m and up) all the hikes are a bit rough though with weather conditions changing quickly and trails not marked.
Coast: Don’t go to Guayaquil (sorry Guayaquileños!), it’s quite a busy trade city, pirates once, pirates now, haha! Nice spots on the Coast are Montanita (more for party) or Canoa. If you decide to travel down through Ecuador I would not recommend to take the Coast journey, the Andean journey is way more interesting.
Going to Bolivia by bus: We did it some time ago – stunning experience. You have to cross Peru first, though! 😀 If you decide to travel through Ecuador by bus the route is normally Quito, Cuenca. And then you could decide to go to Machala and then Tumbes to go into Peru (coastline). The Peruvian coast is very nice, and the bus ride to Lima is stunning! The bus service is also way better on the coast, and in Peru, it’s like flying.
Food you need to taste in Quito: Choclo con Queso Fresco, Humitas, all the crazy exotic fruit shakes and juices. Quiteños, help me complete this list!
Food you need to try on the Coast: It doesn’t matter, they have delicious seafood all over the place 😀 I recommend trying Peruvian ceviche (crude fish cooked in lemon juice) or the Cazuela de camarón con salsa de maní