Sitting on the equator between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador may be the smallest Andean nation but it’s packed with the most startling contrasts of scenery. With its astounding biodiversity, impressive historical legacy, stunning colonial architecture, bustling highland markets and diverse mix of people – it’s easy to see why this friendly and exotic destination is regarded as a microcosm of South America. The historic centres of Quito and Cuenca are lined with photogenic plazas, 17th-century churches and monasteries, and beautifully restored mansions. Wandering the cobblestone streets amid architectural treasures from Spanish colonial days is a fine way to delve into the past. Beyond the cities, the Ecuadorian landscape unfolds in all its startling variety.
There are Andean villages renowned for their colourful textiles and sprawling markets, Afro-Ecuadorian towns where days end with meals of fresh seafood and memorable sunsets, and remote settlements in the Amazon where shamans still harvest the traditional rainforest medicines of their ancestors. The famed Galápagos Islands, with their volcanic, otherworldly landscapes, are a magnet for wildlife lovers. Here, you can get up close and personal with massive lumbering tortoises, scurrying marine iguanas (the world’s only seagoing lizard), doe-eyed sea lions, prancing blue-footed boobies and a host of other unusual species both on land and sea. The Amazon rainforest offers a vastly different wildlife-watching experience. Set out on the rivers and forested trails in search of monkeys, sloths, toucans and river dolphins. Some lodges also have canopy towers offering magnificent views.
Top 10 Places to Visit in Ecuador
1. Galápagos Islands – Of course, the Galápagos Islands are one of the most popular tourist destinations not only in Ecuador but in the whole entire world. The 19 islands making up the Galápagos archipelago are places that are unique and cannot be found anywhere on the planet. In addition, simply imagine the amazing variety of unique wildlife since the Galápagos Islands are best known as the site that inspired Darwin to come up with his theory of the evolution.
2. Quito – The Ecuadorian capital Quito is the highest capital in the world at almost 3000 meters above the sea level. This cosmopolitan city is also located on an active volcano section of the Andes. Definitely, worth a visit for more than one day, Quito allows you for a dive into the authentic South African vibe with the largest number of preserved historic districts.
3. Otavalo – Otavalo is the place to go for traditional Ecuadorian crafts, art, and hand-made goods, as it is a home to the most colourful and interesting weekly market in the Andes. The market has been going for such a long time that it has existed even before the Incas. The main market takes place on Saturdays.
4. Cuenca – Cuenca is mostly popular for its many colonial old buildings, sharing many architectural features with Old Quito but without the hassle of the hectic capital city for a more peaceful and enjoyable walk around. The city is also known for its colourful festivals in January and November.
5. Baños de Agua Santa – Lying at the foot of an active volcano called Tungurahua, Baños de Agua Santa is a small city but it definitely deserves your attention, especially if you are an adventurous type of tourist. And you won’t be the only one there as Banos is one of the most popular destinations in between the borders of Ecuador plus the place is a favourite departure point for jungle tours, often called the “Getaway to the Amazon”.
6. Riobamba – There are a few reasons why the small city of Riobamba in the Andean highlands will certainly awaken your interest. First of all, it is a great destination for hiking enthusiasts and professionals as the highest mountain in Ecuador Chimborazo is located pretty close to the small city. Riobamba is also a starting point of one of the most spectacular train rides in the world to Nariz del Diablo.
7. Quilotoa Loop – Hikers will definitely appreciate the Quilotoa Loop that takes trekkers through a stunning walk along some several remote Ecuadorian villages in the Andes. Hiking the entire loop by foot can take you up to four days but the majesty of the surrounding nature worth it.
8. Salinas – It is the most western city in Ecuador and its convenient location on the Pacific coast makes it a popular place among surfers and yachters. Salinas is not only the most popular beach resort in Ecuador but also a home to a natural beach reserve of turtles where they lay their eggs.
9. Mindo – Mindo is your getaway to eco-friendly travelling on the border of two ecosystems – the tropical Andes and the Chocoan lowlands. If you are interested in getting to know Ecuador’s unique nature even more in-depth here you will be able to enjoy cloud forests, farmlands, three beautiful rivers, hundreds of steams.
10. Guayaquil – Guayaquil is the commercial heart of Ecuador and the largest city in the country. The city was founded in 1538 by a Spanish conquistador on the banks of the Guayas River and nowadays offers an interesting walk around colonial buildings and great views.