Ecuador is a very diverse country with 4 completely different zones and all worthwhile places to visit. . To help you get a clearer overview and idea of what you could visit and do in Ecuador we created this top 10 of destinations you should visit. Ecuador has much more to offer than this top 10, but since your time is most likely limited it is a great place to start and discover some of the highlights!
Ecuador’s capital Quito is most likely the first place you will visit when you arrive. The city is amazing itself with its altitude of 2850m. Its historical centre is the best preserved of all of South-America and at night the lights of the houses on the hills are very charming. The city has many parks and museums that could be visited. Famous is the Teleferico, a cable-cart that will bring you to Rucu Pichincha, a mountain with a great view over the city, and it offers the opportunity to hike to the summit at 4.696m.
Mindo is a village located near the entrance of the rainforest at high altitude. It has the name of a cloud-forest, due to its high location the surrounding forest is full of clouds. This small but charming village is a great get-away from the busy city, as it’s only about an hour from Quito.
The village is especially known for its great possibilities of bird-spotting, chocolate tours, its butterfly farm, zip-lining, hikes along waterfalls and general slow atmosphere. It is an unmissable destination that although it has a lot to offer for travellers is not overly touristic. There are many toucans and hummingbirds that can be spot in and near the village.
Otavalo is a city in the northern province of Imbabura. This city is mainly known because of its high number of indigenous inhabitants and the corresponding artisan market. The indigenous Otavalo people are famous for weaving different types of textiles, which are sold at the market. While the market is open the whole week, it’s highlight is on Saturday.
Stalls full of jewellery, blankets made of alpaca hair, handmade purses, clothing, dream catchers, leather items, spices, a variety of musical instruments and the famous ‘’panama-hats’’ (which despise their name are originally from Ecuador) are amongst the items that can be found.
The Otavalo market Is perfect for a day-trip however, there is much more to see around here. There is a livestock market, a wonderful church and the Peguche waterfalls are all worth a visit. The parquet del Condor is a sanctuary for rescued birds, offering sights of beautiful birds that are native to Ecuador.
With clear weather the Cotopaxi volcano can be seen from Quito. This remarkable volcano with a perfect round snow-capped peak is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. It is with its 5.897m the second highest volcano of Ecuador and Is the most popular under mountaineers. Due to it being relatively non-technical it is a good mountain for beginners with proper acclimatization and fitness.
The surrounding Cotopaxi national park is an excellent location for hiking, trekking, mountain biking and wildlife spotting and for example camping. You can hike up until the refugee which is located at around 4800m. Visiting or climbing Cotopaxi should definitely be on your list if you are planning a vacation to Ecuador.
An unmissable place for its impressive beauty, the Quilotoa lagoon is a big lake in the crater of an old volcano. The crater is located at 3800m heights, giving you a beautiful view over the Andean mountains and the emerald green coloured lake.
It is a beautiful place to hike with a lot of wild life surrounding the lake. Among other foxes, wolves, rabbits, deer and cervicabra can be found here. The most popular hikes include a descend to the lagoon shore, a hike around the lake or a 4-day trek through various valleys and villages, ending at the lake called the Quilotoa loop.
Located about three hours south from Quito, Baños is a one of Ecuador’s most popular destinations. Due to its natural beauty and incredible variety of activities it is a must-visit destination for many people. The most popular attractions include the stunning views from the ‘Pailon del Diablo’ waterfall and famous ‘swing at the end of the world’.
It is the perfect destination for thrill seekers and adventurists that are into zip-lining, bungee jumping, rafting, mountain biking or canyoning. But also, those who are not into those activities, there is plenty to do and see. Besides the nature and activities, there also is a very active night-life in Baños.
Literally translated to ‘’the devil’s nose’’ It is a mountain that had to be overcome in order to build the trans-Andean railroad. The solution: one of the most complex and unique railroads in the world. Therefore a zigzag railroad was built that climbs over 500m in less than 12 km, including steep ascents and descents. This impressive construction remains a very special piece of engineering, and it is an unseen way of transport.
Cuenca is the third biggest city of Ecuador. It is regarded as the most European city of the country due to it’s Spanish colonial architecture. This makes the city look a lot like Spain. The city is located about 2500m above sea level and is UNESCO World Heritage due to its many historical buildings. The city is a popular destination for Expats and retirees.
The Cajas national park that is located near the city is a wonderful place full of vegetation, lama’s and alpacas, and a lake system consisting of more than 200 from glacial origin lakes.
The Ecuadorian Amazon is one Ecuador’s four regions that are more than worth visiting. Cuyabeno is located in the Amazon rain forest and is the second largest protected area/national park in Ecuador. It is considered the best place to spot wildlife which includes 10 species of monkeys, anaconda’s, Caymans, spiders, sloths, pink dolphins and more. It is almost certain that you will see some of these animals during a trip to the Cuyabeno reserve.
The most convenient way to get to Cuyabeno is by booking a tour to a lodge. You will enter the reserve by a motorised canoe that will bring you to a variety of lodges to be found here. The wild amazon jungle is an amazing place to visit, and the golden sun set above the big lake is something you will not easily forget.
Without a doubt the most famous and popular destination in Ecuador are the Galapagos Islands. This remotely located volcanic archipelago is located about 1000 km off the countries coast and is one of the most magical places on earth. It is one of the, if not the best wildlife spotting destination of the world.
Because of the millions of years of isolation from land, the animals that made it to the islands have evolved to adapt to the rough conditions of the Islands. The result? An enormous biodiversity with animals that can not be found anywhere else. Animals ranging from marine iguanas to sea lions, blue-footed boobies and the Galapagos Giant turtle can be found, and they don’t fear humans allowing tourists to experience wildlife from up close.
The Islands all have their own characteristics, none of the Islands is the same. The black lava stone in combination with crystal-clear waters and green vegetation are a goldmine for stunning pictures and will give you a once in a lifetime experience. More information about The Galapagos Islands? Click here.