Beaches, Wildlife, Mountains, Jungles, Volcanoes, Culture, Food and History. With four very different regions in one country, beautiful Ecuador has everything you need and more. We share some of our top attractions (and what to do there!) in the Andes, Amazon, Galapagos Islands and Pacific Coast.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, rises high in the foothills of the Andes at 2,850 m above sea level. As the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is worth visiting for at least two to three days, if not longer. Explore the best-preserved old town in Latin America, enjoy sweeping city views from the Basilica Del Voto Nacional, and indulge in a delicious Empanada de Viento. Quito is a stunning place full of art, history, food and most of all friendly and welcoming people. It’s the perfect stopover to explore and serves as a base to explore the rest of Ecuador.
If you’re in the mood for colonial architecture, rich culture and absolutely delicious cuisine, you’ll find all that and more in the vibrant city of Cuenca. The best way to explore the area is to grab your camera and wander aimlessly. Stroll to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and admire the stunning blue domes, enjoy an ice cream while people-watching in Calderon Park, and visit the Panama Hat Museum, where you will discover the true origins of the iconic straw hat. (Note: It is a product from Ecuador.)
Lace up your hiking boots and head to Cotopaxi National Park to see one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes. Enjoy the views of the snow-capped mountains and hike the Laguna Limpiopungo trail for just over an hour. Keep an eye out for large herds of wild horses and up to 15 different bird species, including migratory waterfowl.
4: Amazon jungle
The Amazon rainforest stretches across eight countries, including Ecuador. Everything about its 1.6 billion acres of dense forest is impressive, including the fact that it’s home to millions — yes, millions — of species, including pink dolphins, jaguars, and sloths. Add to this the thousands of plants, fish and reptiles that make their home here and it creates a true wildlife spotting experience. We could go on with facts and figures, but the best way to experience it is in person, by staying in rustic cabins, communicating with the locals, and enjoying the bounty of nature.
The gateway to exploring the Amazon jungle is through Tena. Relatively accessible from Quito, it’s the capital of the province of Napo and a place not to forget your rain gear or your sense of adventure. Go jungle trekking, waterfall chasing and experience a shamanic healing ceremony. A must-do when visiting Tena is a canoe trip to the amaZOOnico Animal Rescue Centre. It is a rehabilitation center for wild animals that are victims of illegal trade. The team cares for more than 200 turtles, monkeys, toucans and other native wildlife, and your visit will help ensure they return healthy and to their natural homes.
La Casa del Arbol is no ordinary playground swing, but the right place if you want to swing at the end of the world. Originally built as a watchtower for Tungurahua (another active volcano), you can swing to your heart’s content while overlooking the breathtaking Ecuadorian valley. However, this is not the only reason to visit Baños. Nestled between the Andes and the Amazon rainforest, it is home to dozens of waterfalls, hot springs, and rivers. One of the most famous waterfalls is Cascada el Pailón del Diablo or Devil’s Cauldron Waterfall. Prepare to get a little wet as massive amounts of water explode at the mountain ridge, but we promise it’s worth it.
The Galapagos Islands
A stone’s throw and a 2.5-hour flight from Quito will take you straight to one of the most extraordinary places on earth. An animal lover’s paradise, the Galapagos Islands are known for their incredible variety of wildlife. Think blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, sea lions, iguanas, flamingos, finches and hundreds of species of fish. The best way to see all these animals? The options are endless: hike the trails at Darwin Bay, snorkel at Isabela Island and explore the red-sand beaches of Rábida. Also, our top tip for a visit: Take the time to learn about the conservation efforts that protect the islands and their residents from invasive species, pollution, overfishing and climate change.
The Pacific Coast
8: The Pacific Coast
To truly experience all the attractions Ecuador has to offer, start or end your adventure with a trip to coastal gems like Guayaquil, Salinas, Esmeraldas, Montañita and Machalilla. A blend of culture and stunning beaches, the Pacific Coast fills your lungs with salty air and your mind with endless memories. Explore the vibrant city of Guayaquil, laze on golden sands in Salinas, tantalize your taste buds with fresh cuisine at Esmeraldas, perfect your surfing skills on the waves in Montañita and take a mud bath in the sulfur lagoon of Agua Blanca in Machalilla National Park.
Are you ready to travel to Ecuador and make unforgettable memories with a small group of new friends? Here are our top suggestions to make the most of your time:
Highlands of Ecuador
Inland and Amazon
Galápagos – Central and East Islands aboard the Reina Silvia Voyager
Complete Galápagos – Eden