Ecuador, a country as diverse as almost no other. Tropical rainforest, imposing volcanoes, deep blue lakes, colonial cities and friendly people – you will experience all this on a trip to Ecuador. Whether you hike up Cotopaxi, stroll through the Indian market in Otavalo or make your way through the jungle in the lowlands – no wishes remain unfulfilled.
A trip to the Galapagos Islands with its special species of animals is guaranteed to leave lasting memories. With a little luck you will see one of the famous giant tortoises on your trip. Check out the 18 best places to visit in Ecuador we found for you.
Breathtaking colonial buildings show off in all their glory, with shoe shiners, street vendors and indigenous people scurrying in between looking for a bit of a break against the often brilliant blue sky: the atmosphere in the center of Quito is truly unique. On clear days, the imposing Cotopaxi with its perfect cone shape can be seen from the capital – but Quito takes guests’ breath away at many corners. Not least because of the altitude. After all, Quito is located at an altitude of 2,850 meters.
The city is very close to the center of the world and enchants with magnificent buildings in many colors, with a lively and open atmosphere, and with magnificent natural scenery that stretches out before the gates of Quito. Experience the diverse capital of Quito and explore the well-kept evidence of the omnipresent colonial era.
Canoa is a former fishing village in the province of Manabi and has the most beautiful beach in Ecuador. The village has almost 7000 inhabitants and is located almost 200 kilometers south of Quito at an altitude of 10 meters directly on the sea.
Very close to the cape Cabo Pasado begins a 17 km long sandy beach. And the very first village you come across is one of the oldest in the entire region. Canoa has hardly influenced the history of man and sea like any other fishing village in the province of Manabí. Already the fishermen of the indigenous tribe Jama-Coaque built here once from the trees of the coastal forests their dugout canoes, the canoas, in order to catch shrimps and fish.
Nowadays, only a dozen fishermen go out with their boats. The wide beach, truly one of the most beautiful in Ecuador, now belongs to recreation seekers from near and far who come here to swim, surf and sunbathe. During low tide, some blue-footed boobies can be seen at the north end of the 800-meter beach, and exposed rock caves washed into the cape by the surf can be walked.
Because of the pitfalls of the tides, it is advisable to take a guide, especially since a trail through dry forest is part of the walk. When the wind is westerly, the hill ranges near Canoa are among the best places for hangsoaring, the sometimes hour-long flight of paragliders in the steady updraft of the sea wind.
Montanita is a town on the Santa Elena Peninsula, in the province of Santa Elena. The former fishing village is located 180 kilometers northwest of Guayaquil.
Montanita was discovered by hippies in the 60’s and became a place for dropouts. The place is also very popular with surfers, as there are great waves for beginners as well as experienced surfers. The place is also known for its party culture. In the “Calle de los Cocteles” (Street of the Coctails) whole groups tour until midnight when the clubs open. People party until early in the morning. The village has a certain flair, which is mainly due to the bamboo huts and streets of white sand.
Montanita is completely designed for tourism and the focus as well as the main audience are younger guests. However, people of all ages also come to party and surf in the old fishing village. Here, it’s join in or stay away. For those who find the excessive party culture a bit too much and would like to sleep in peace at night, we recommend staying overnight in the neighboring village of Olon. This is not far from Montanita and offers the possibility to enjoy the party place without being overwhelmed by it.
The Cotopaxi National Park, whose centerpiece is the active volcano of the same name, 5,897 m high, was founded in 1975 and is located about 60 km south of Quito.
It covers an area of 32,255 hectares at altitudes between 3,400 and 5,897 meters in the highlands in the north of the central Andes of Ecuador in the Cordillera Oriental and can be reached through four entrances.
The main entrance is located 25 km south of the small town of Machachi and 6 km north of Lasso, and can be reached via the Panamericana South. The entrance leads to the Mariscal Sucre Interpretation Center with a 3D model of the park, explanations and illustrations of the volcanic activity of the Cotopaxis. Visitors also learn more about the natural history here.
From the small visitor center, you can reach Laguna de Limpiopungo, located at an altitude of 3,830 m on the vast plateau at the foothills of Rumiñahui volcano (4,721 m), facing Cotopaxi volcano.
Cotopaxi has a crater 800 m in diameter and 334 m deep, and was described by Alexander von Humboldt as “unsurpassable in beauty and regularity of cone shape.” To the east of the plateau, you can visit El Salitre, an ancient fortress from the Inca period.
Cuenca is probably the most beautiful colonial city in Ecuador and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Approximately 330,000 inhabitants live at the foot of the beautiful Cajas National Park, almost 200 kilometers southeast of Guayaquil, at an altitude of 2,560 meters.
Cuenca is the center of Ecuadorian ceramic production. The city’s image is characterized by cobblestone streets, two-story Republican houses and more than 50 churches.
The colonial city is famous for its sophisticated handicrafts and the production of the noble Panama hats. Among many different artists, the famous ceramic artist Eduardo Vega lives and works here.
The proud and history-conscious city is divided into two halves by the Tomebamba River. In the north is the colonial center, south of the river are the university and the modern parts of the city.
Cuenca is a melting pot of various European influences and indigenous cultures, especially the “cholas”, which are Cañari women who married Spaniards, proud mestizos who dominate the cityscape. They wear white hats and a skirt decorated with flowers. The heart of Cuenca is the park, Parque Abdón Calderón, formerly Plaza Mayor, where the cholas, proud mestizo women, offer their Panama hats. The city hall, the old and new cathedral are grouped around the park.
The new cathedral, Catedral Nueva, is the city’s landmark with its blue domes. Directly opposite is the Catedral Vieja, the old cathedral, whose construction began in 1557, the year the city was founded.
Salinas is a city of about 50,000 inhabitants on the western tip of the province of Santa Elena on the Pacific coast. It takes its name from the salt production that flourished especially in the second half of the 20th century. The city is the most touristic place in Santa Elena and has a number of beaches to offer.
In earlier times, besides salt production, fishing and the port were important sources of income. Today, in addition to tourism and the production of salt, it is the production of dairy products. The city is also an important location for the Ecuadorian Navy and Air Force.
12. Quilotoa Loop
Perhaps Ecuador doesn’t have quite as famous hiking routes as neighboring Peru with its Inca Trail. But with ten peaks over 5,000 meters, a picture-perfect backdrop of snow-capped volcanoes, turquoise lagoons and evergreen cloud forests, Ecuador’s Andean highlands are definitely a paradise for mountaineers, trekking fans and pleasure hikers. Those who don’t necessarily want to unpack their ice axes to conquer the glaciated peaks of the Cotopaxi or Chimborazo volcanoes will be happy on the Quilotoa Loop.
The network of hiking trails in the Andean mountains around the Quilotoa Lagoon, the best known and probably most impressive mountain lake in Ecuador, covers a good 200 kilometers. Whether two days or two weeks – how long you hike on the Quilotoa Loop depends on your personal fitness and time budget. In any case, there are more than enough spectacular landscapes. A popular three-day route runs from Sigchos via Isinliví and Chugchilán to Quilotoa.
11. Baños de Santa Agua
Baños de Santa Agua is located at almost 2,000 meters in the Andes and is one of the most popular destinations for outdoor activities in Ecuador. Thanks to the volcanic vegetation, it is very green. The valley between Baños and Puyo is also known beyond the borders as Ruta de las Cascadas and is one of the most spectacular waterfall routes in all of South America. The name addition “Agua Santa” means translated “holy water”.
This is not by chance. The place is surrounded by many volcanoes, in the immediate vicinity is the Tungurahua. This volcano supplies Baños with hot springs and sulfur baths. Since time immemorial, the baths have been said to have healing effects. The small town of Baños is therefore not only popular because of its nature, but also a place of pilgrimage for those seeking healing.
Otavalo and Imbarra in northern Ecuador are popular destinations. This is due to the beautiful surroundings with the volcanoes Imbabura and Cotacachi , the crater lagoon Cuicocha and the colorful markets in Otavalo.
The train ride with the “Trén de la Libertad” is a unique experience. Otavalo stands first and foremost for the largest market in Ecuador. Every Saturday is the main market day, but also during the week many merchants offer their goods for sale.
The city is surrounded by three volcanoes: Imbabura, Cotacachi and Mojanda. The large part of the population are the Otavalos (natives of the Kichwa tribe). Ibarra is also called the “white city of Ecuador” because of its narrow streets and colonial style houses (white houses with red roofs).
Atacames is a small town in the Ecuadorian province of Esmeraldas. It is located about 25 kilometers south of the provincial capital Esmeraldas on the Río Atacames. Atacames is the capital of the canton of the same name and has about 11,000 inhabitants.
Atacames is a traditional fishing village, which in the last three decades has become the most famous seaside resort in Ecuador next to Salinas. It is heavily frequented by Ecuadorians mainly during the Andean vacation months. Guests from nearby Colombia can also be found. Among foreign tourists, Atacames is considered a dropout spot.
At the beach of Atacames, bars and pubs are lined up one after the other, on the one hand in the buildings on the waterfront, on the other hand in booths on the beach.
The canton of Atacames was established in 1991. It has about 30,000 inhabitants and includes, besides Atacames, the villages of La Unión, Súa, Tonchigue and Tonsupa. The latter three are also fishing villages with sandy beaches, whose ambience is quieter compared to Atacames.
Riobamba is the capital of the province of Chimborazo and has been an important transportation hub since colonial times. The Andean city with about 150,000 inhabitants is located about 200 kilometers south of Quito at an altitude of 2750 meters and lies directly on the Panamericana.
On a clear day, you will be rewarded with a magnificent view of the surrounding Andean landscape from Riobamba. Here you can admire Chimborazo (6310 m), El Altar (5319 m), Carihuairazo (5020 m), Tungurahua (5023 m), Cubillín (4711 m) and Sangay (5230 m). On the hill Loma de Quito, located in the northern center of the city, is the church of San Antonio. From this hill there is also a particularly good view of the city and part of the volcanoes surrounding it.
Also worth seeing is the Cathedral of Santa Barbara, the oldest church in Ecuador, the Parque de la Libertad, the church of La Balbanera and the Colta Lagoon, about half an hour away. In any case, you should try some specialties of the region such as locro de papas (a delicious potato soup), hornado (roasted pork) as well as exotic fruits.
Guamote is a small traditional village in the province of Chimborazo, nestled in the highlands of the impressive southern Andes. Just 2000 inhabitants live there, only 30 kilometers from Quito, at an altitude of 3000 meters.
Guamote is a perfect stopover on your journey along the Avenue of Volcanoes. The Andean village and its surroundings offer everything: historical sights, natural beauties, the magnificent Chimborazo and Sangay National Parks nearby. However, the main attraction is the local market, which is not the right place to buy souvenirs, but definitely the best place to authentically immerse yourself in Ecuadorian culture.
Guamote’s name comes from the Kichwa words “Hua” and “Muti” which mean “with cooked corn”. Guamote is a jewel of the Andes where time stands still. The village lives mainly from the agricultural production of the farmers of the region.
6. Galapagos Islands
The immense biodiversity on the Galapagos Islands attracts many people to the archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, which belongs to Ecuador. The Galapagos trips are a dream come true for every visitor. Here you can collect unforgettable memories and observe untouched nature on the Darwinian-influenced islands, which are fully dedicated to the conservation of the numerous rare animal species there.
Explore unique regions of this planet on Galapagos trips and marvel at penguins, sea lions, iguanas, giant tortoises and many rare birds and fish on the protected islands. Snorkeling on Galapagos trips will give you a glimpse of a fantastically beautiful underwater world. The national park that you can visit on your Galapagos trip is home to numerous endangered species that can only be found on the Galapagos Islands.
In these places, nature still rules and the giant lizards are reminiscent of times long gone. For every nature lover, a trip to the Galapagos represents an absolute highlight in life.
Tena is the capital of Napo province and an important transportation hub between Baeza in the north and Puyo/Baños in the south.
The quiet town with 13,000 inhabitants is located at the confluence of the rivers Pano and Misahuallí, about 120 kilometers southeast of Quito at an altitude of 600 meters.
Tena offers wonderful swimming in idyllic bays with an average temperature of 24 degrees. Many indigenous communities live in the rainforest, such as the Lowland Quichua, Quijos and Chibcha. The town is a popular vacation spot for many Ecuadorians. Rafting trips on the Misahuallí River are also popular.
Tena is a perfect starting point for guided tours in the Amazon rainforest. The city is surrounded by the Sumaco Napo Galeras National Park, named after the Sumaco volcano, the Napo River and the Galeras mountain range. The biodiversity in fauna and flora here is unparalleled. More than 500 species of birds, butterflies, monkeys and a variety of insects can be seen. From here you can reach the jungle most easily to start your unique journey into nature.
Vilcabamba is a town in the province of Loja and is known for its long-lived inhabitants. Approximately 4200 inhabitants live about 250 kilometers south of Cuenca at an altitude of 1600 meters. Vilcabamba is located in a fertile valley with many wild flowers and animals surrounded by the Andes. A place so extraordinary that street names are already a promise: Avenida de la Eterna Juventud, Avenue of Eternal Youth.
Vilcabamba is a kind of Latin American Shangri-La, a fountain of youth visited by researchers, journalists and hippies. The assistant to Japan’s former prime minister recovered so wonderfully from his heart condition here that he renamed his home Soya on Hokkaido to Soya-Vilcabamba. A filmmaker from Chile could hardly breathe and is now bouncing back at 80. He moved into a bamboo house at the source of his rebirth. The ridge of the mythical local mountain Mandango looks with imagination like an Inca face.
For the Incas this was the Valle Sagrado, the Sacred Valley. Here you can also find the guayak tree, which once a year puts on its impressive yellow leaf dress. If you are in Ecuador at the beginning of the year, with a little luck you can observe this special natural spectacle – the guayak trees bloom only for a few days in January to February.
Mindo-Nambillo is a nature reserve located at the level of the equator line, about 2.5 hours by car northwest of Quito. It covers 19,200 hectares and includes three distinct ecosystems: Andean forests, subtropical forests and montane cloud forests.
Starting at an altitude of 1,200 meters, the area extends to an elevation of 4,780 meters. It is considered one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. In addition to the approximately 350 species of birds (including hummingbirds, toucans, parrots and kingfishers), there are numerous arthropods (including centipedes, butterflies, beetles, dragonflies). Even spectacled bears and cougars are at home here.
A good starting point for visits to the nature reserve is the small town of Mindo. Here a quite decent infrastructure has developed. Besides accommodations and restaurants, there is a butterfly park and an orchid garden, where you can get specific information about these two topics. More exciting and much more interesting, of course, is to explore nature itself. Guided tours are offered, for example birdwatching or special tours on photography.
Access to numerous watercourses and waterfalls, is done by crossing a 100 meter high valley in an open gondola. The view from the gondola is impressive and the two crossings (out and back) are a pleasure.
Guayaquil is the most populous port city on the Pacific coast, capital of the Guayas province and the country’s most important economic and commercial center. At least 2.5 million people live in the metropolis.
Guayaquil’s port serves to handle imports and exports of the small Andean nation, representing the coastal city as one of the most important economic centers in all of South America. Guayaquil’s airport also represents a hub for international flights as well as all flights to the Galapagos Islands.
The main attraction of the city is the Malecón 2000 (Malecón Simon Bolivar) located on the banks of the Guayas River. The waterfront begins at the Palacio Cristal, a building worth seeing from the early 20th century. During your stroll through the city, you will pass colorful gardens, restaurants and stores, as well as many historical monuments.
The most famous is the Rotunda, the city’s landmark. While you are there, you should also visit the Moorish Tower, a tower clock from 1930.
Zaruma is a small gold mining town in the province of El Oro that had its peak in gold mining in the 16th and 17th centuries. The town, with a population of about 10,000, is located nearly 250 kilometers southwest of Cuenca at an altitude of 1200 meters.
Most of the population of Zaruma is engaged in gold prospecting. Here you can find colorful, multi-story wooden houses from the time around 1900.
This small, unknown gold mining town has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Located at 1200 m, it is an “open air museum” with contrasting colorful wooden facades and small cobbled alleys. Learn more about its golden past and visit the 16th century Sexmo gold mine, 15 minutes from town. Last but not least, Zaruma also delights with its varied surroundings. The mineral-rich stones from the gold mines arrive at the mills along the river, where they are crushed and the gold is washed out.