Best Places to Visit in Ecuador
Ecuador is a country that provides something for everyone. This started with nearly 1,000 miles of coastline and beautiful beaches, and then the tropical rainforests of the Andes Mountains and Amazon Basin. It even extends to the remote Galapagos Islands with its wonderful wildlife. It consists of hundreds of the best places to visit. In between, visitors will find large cities offering luxurious facilities and small villages known for their colorful markets. Here is an overview of the best places to visit in Ecuador:
13 Best Places to Visit in Ecuador
The small city of Banos is located at the foot of the active volcano Tungurahua. Baños, named after the hot springs provided by the volcanic hot spring water, is one of the most popular attractions in Ecuador.
Banos, known as the “gateway to the Amazon,” is the favorite starting point for jungle trips. The waterfall pours down thousands of feet from the deep river canyon and also attracts tourists. The thunderous Pailon del Diablo waterfall surging over the canyon at the intersection of Rio Verde and Rio Pastaza is the most impressive.
Otavalo is one of the most colorful and important weekly markets in the Andes. It is a good place to buy traditional handmade crafts, including the exquisite textiles, leather products and jewelry that the city is famous for.
This market had existed for centuries before the appearance of the Incas. This is a photographer’s paradise. Ecuadorians wear their traditional costumes against the backdrop of snow-covered mountains. The main market is held on Saturdays, but visitors may find handicrafts at Plaza de Los Ponchos at other times.
Salinas is the westernmost city in Ecuador. It is located on the Pacific Ocean and is popular with surfers and yacht lovers. The most popular beach resort city in Ecuador has some beautiful beaches. It is called Little Miami Beach because of its high-rise apartments scattered along the coastline.
It is also the location of La Chocolatera, which has nothing to do with chocolate, but the beach where sea turtles lay eggs, which means that visitors need to get permission to enter. The best time to enjoy Salinas is December, which is the beginning of January. During summer weekends, it can become crowded, and from April to November, it can be cloudy and dull.
Cuenca is the capital of Azuay Province and is famous for its many ancient colonial buildings. Cuenca is a typical example of a Renaissance town planned in the Americas, sharing many architectural features with old Quito.
Its narrow cobblestone streets, houses with balconies with inner courtyards and white churches are free from the pollution, noise and crowds of the capital. The city is popular with retired Americans and is famous for its colorful festivals in January and November. The largest Inca ruins in Ecuador are in the nearby Canar Plantation.
As the largest city in Ecuador, with a population of nearly 2.7 million, Guayaquil is the commercial center of Ecuador. Located on the Guayas River leading to the Pacific Ocean, the city was founded in 1538 by the Spanish conqueror Francisco de Orellana.
Parque Historico Guayaqui has colonial buildings, lush gardens and native animals of the country; visitors especially like free admission. Las Peñas is a colorful old neighborhood with a lighthouse and great views of the city below, while the boardwalk Malecon 2000 along the river is a great place to end the day.
Mindo offers environmentally conscious travelers the best of two biologically diverse ecosystems: the tropical Andes and the Chocoan lowlands. Here, visitors will see cloud forests, farmland, three major rivers and hundreds of streams.
As one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ecuador, Mindo offers a variety of outdoor activities, from rafting and bird watching to mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking. Travelers who like less strenuous activities can learn from cocoa beans to finished chocolate at the chocolate maker El Quetzal del Mindo.
7. Quilotoa Loop
Hikers who like to hike in remote areas will love the Quilotoa Loop, a trail that takes tourists through several remote Andean villages in Ecuador. The trekking cycle can take up to four days, but if hikers take a bus between the points, they can complete it in a shorter time, although if they do, they will miss some ancient trails.
The scenery of Quilotoa Crater Lake is spectacular. The village hosts colorful markets throughout the week, and the Thursday market in Saquisili is considered one of the best.
Riobamba is a city in the Andean highlands, which stands out for several reasons. One is near Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, which is 6,268 meters (20,564 feet) above sea level. It is very popular with hikers, who often start trekking at 1 am to watch the sunrise.
Secondly, it is the starting point for the spectacular train to Nariz del Diablo (the devil’s nose) through the mountains and cloud forest. Riobamba hosts a market on Saturdays, which is more authentic than other markets in Ecuador because it is geared towards locals.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is 2,800 meters (9,350 feet) above sea level, making it the highest capital in the world. This international metropolis with a population of 2.2 million is located in an active volcanic area in the Andes Mountains. Quito has one of the largest and best-preserved historical districts in South America.
It was founded in 1534 and contains no less than 20 colonial-era Catholic churches. Despite extensive restoration, the old city still retains the vibrant working class and the indigenous characteristics that have always defined it. The Calondole Palace, the seat of the Ecuadorian government, is located in a historic area.
Another great place to experience the vast Amazon Basin is Tena, the capital of Napo Province. Tena, known as the cinnamon capital of Ecuador, was established by missionaries shortly after the Spanish arrived in South America. Due to its many adventure opportunities, it became more and more popular with travelers.
The highlight here is the Amazon jungle trip, as well as river trips, including white-water rafting and canoeing. Kayaking along the Tena, Misahualli and Napo Rivers, the latter flows directly into the Amazon River and is also a popular adventure activity here. For those who prefer smoother river activities, Tena also has a first-class pedestrian bridge and towers that rise above the Tena River, offering great views of the city.
11. Galapagos Islands
Inspired by Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the Galapagos Islands is a remote but beautiful archipelago composed of 19 islands located on the equator about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) west of Ecuador. These islands are isolated from the mainland and are home to unique wild animals that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Some of these unusual species include marine iguanas, giant tortoises, red-footed and blue-footed boobies, fur seals, lava lizards, frigate birds, colorful Christmas iguanas and Galapagos penguins.
In the early 1800s, Ecuador claimed sovereignty and was visited by Darwin. The Galapagos Islands remained a place of exile in the early 20th century until it was declared a national park in 1959. Today, the Galapagos Islands are a popular tourist destination. Some of the most visited ones include Santa Cruz, home to giant tortoises, lava tubes, and the Charles Darwin Research Center. Santa Cruz also offers the most hotel and tourism businesses.
Fernandina has all kinds of wildlife, from flightless cormorants to marine iguanas, sea lions, dolphins and whales. San Cristobal is famous for its striking rock formation, Kicker Rock. Isabela is the largest island with many volcanic trails, while Plaza Sur is home to a large number of sea lions. The Wolfe Islands and Darwin Islands are considered to be the two best diving destinations in the world, and Baltra is home to the airport and some souvenir shops.
Although only a few islands are inhabited, there are several towns in the archipelago that offer restaurants, bars, and hotels, including Puerto Ayora, Puerto Moreno, and Puerto Villamil.
12. Cotopaxi and Cajas National Park
Two of Ecuador’s most popular national parks, Cotopaxi and Cajas, are within a short drive from Cuenca and Quito and can be enjoyed on a wonderful day trip. Two of them are the Cotopaxi National Park, Located only 50 kilometers south of Quito, which is perhaps the most famous.
Highlights of the visit include the opportunity to observe many volcanoes up close. The most striking of these is the huge, Cotopaxi volcano. The most recent eruption was in 2015, and this huge volcano, together with the smaller Rumiñawi and Sincholagua volcanoes, dominates the stunning scenery of the area.
Parque Nacional Cajas is located approximately 30 kilometers from Cuenca in Ecuador’s enchanting highlands and offers a very different experience due to its many hills and valleys, making it an ideal place for hiking and cycling. With more than 270 lagoons and glacial lakes, water sports enthusiasts, especially kayakers and canoe enthusiasts, can also enjoy it.
Finally, Podocarpus National Park often referred to as the “American Botanic Garden”, offers a variety of flora and fauna. Located in the southeastern part of the country, its humid mountain forest has more than 4,000 plants and trees. Some of these specimens are up to 40 meters high, including the famous Ecuadorian national tree Cinchona.
13. La Nariz del Diablo
Visiting the stunning beauty of La Nariz del Diablo should be on everyone’s wish list. Whether you are a train enthusiast or not, take one of the country’s meticulously restored railways to get the best view of the spectacular part of the Andes near the town of Araúsi.
As part of a network that extends to some of the most scenic locations in the country, the 12-kilometer Nariz del Diablo return journey is undoubtedly one of the most popular routes. Highlights include a wonderful sightseeing trip by train, which winds through many bends as it climbs the nearly vertical sides of the mountain to the observation deck at the top of the mountain.
Along the way, you will have the opportunity to experience the rich culture of the Andes. Highlights include a visit to the Puñuna Condor Museum, which has exhibits and exhibitions related to the indigenous peoples of the area.