Ecuador Travel Tips for the First Time Visitors
If someone asks us about traveling to an exciting country, we always recommend Ecuador, based on the diverse tourist attractions and natural beauty it possesses. Named after the equator, Ecuador offers tropical beaches, beautiful landscapes, and indigenous market places as well as historical places for those who love to delve into the history of South America. That is why we believe it should be on everyone’s travel list.
Because it is a small country, many people believe that there isn’t a variety when it comes to places to visit in Ecuador. However, that is not true! This country’s rich landscape covers the Amazon Jungle, Andean seas, and the world-famous Galapagos Islands. Additionally, its small size makes it a lot easier to tour all these places because they are at a short distance from each other.
Ecuador has a ten-thousand-mile-wide coastline encompassing its mesmerizing beaches, Amazon Basin’s tropical rainforests, and Andes Mountains. Moreover, it has Colombia and Peru on one side of the border and the mighty Pacific Ocean on the other side. The ecologically important and lush forests make it an ideal attraction for trekkers, adventurers, and nature lovers.
If you already have Ecuador on your list of places to visit but aren’t sure where to go within the country, then don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This blog post contains a list and gives you the details of the 11 best places to visit in Ecuador. Let’s get started!
Top 11 Things To Do In Ecuador
1. Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands must be the first place to visit on your list, and we recommend it to be at the top of the 11 best places to visit in Ecuador. It is Ecuador’s most famous tourist attraction but instead of the mainland, it is located a few hundred miles from the shores. Galapagos Islands were discovered in the 16th Century and since then they have been an intriguing place for thousands of tourists.
Galapagos is a beautiful archipelago of nineteen islands and each island is home to several local yet unique wildlife. Some of these wildlife species include the Blue-Footed and Red-Footed Boobies, Marine Iguanas, Frigate Birds, Giant Tortoises, Christmas Iguanas, Fur Seals, Galapagos Penguin, and Lava Lizards.
The islands’ formation is still in progress and is also considered one of the most active regions for volcanos. During the 1950s, most of the larger islands and islets of this archipelago became a part of the Galapagos National Park. This part is considered a fragile ecosystem, hence, it can only be visited through a guided tour. Even then, you can only visit the designated sites. However, there are a few sites that you can visit without guides, which include popular scuba diving points.
Not all the islands here are populated, but only a few. You can also find a few towns on this archipelago that have bars, hotels, and restaurants. These towns include Puerto Ayora, Puerto Villamil, and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
The only way to explore the islands is through cruises and you can find various touring operations at different places. You can book anything from a small yacht to a luxury cruise ship.
2. Quito, capital of Ecuador
Located at about 9,350 feet or 2,800 meters above sea level, is Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, which is also geographically, the highest capital in the world. It is a cosmopolitan city located near an active volcanic region of the Andes with a population of 2.2 million. We consider it as one of the 11 best places to visit in Ecuador as it contains one of the largest and best historic centers in South America.
The city was founded in 1534 and has around twenty colonial-era Catholic Churches. The most famous tourist attraction here is the San Francisco Church which dates back to the 1500s. The city is famous for its Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprising a wide array of monuments and colonial architecture, all standing upon the ancient ruins of the Incan city.
Quito also houses the Convent Museum of San Francisco which is a home of religious paintings, carvings, textiles, sculptures, porcelain, and handcrafted furniture. However, it is mostly famous for its magnificent Baroque interior.
Due to the presence of colonial and historical architecture, Quito has undergone intensive restoration. You must take out time and go exploring the Plaza Grande. It is a stunning square and surrounded by places that you cannot miss such as the Presidential Palace, the cathedral, the Municipal Palace, and the Archbishop’s Palace. You can find several Day Trips options from Quito.
3. Cuenca City
The official name of Cuenca is Santa Ana de Los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca, and it is the capital of the Azuay Province. It is located on the Southern side of Ecuador and is famous for many old buildings with a population of 330,000. Just like Quito, Cuenca was also designated UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its colonial and historical architectural treasures dating back four hundred years.
Many key attractions lie in the center of the city and out of these, the most important one is the Old Cathedral of Cuenca that was built in 1567. There is also the New Cathedral of Cuenca that was built in the 1960s and which is also worth a visit. Don’t forget to visit the Church of San Sebastian, known for its neoclassical and gothic elements.
It has narrow cobbled streets where white churches and balconied houses are constructed, with their famous interior courtyards. But the best part is that you won’t experience any noise or general pollution and friendly locals makes it one of the best places to visit in Ecuador. Cuenca is also a popular place to live among retired Americans.
4. Cotopaxi & Quilotoa National Reserves
Cotopaxi and Quilotoa are two of the most popular parks of Ecuador and they both are at a short distance from Quito and Cuenca. Cotopaxi National Park is located at a distance of 50 km from Quito and it is known for its massive Cotopaxi Volcano which dominates the area along with smaller volcanoes like Sincholagua and Ruminawi. To experience the early morning beauty of the Cotopaxi volcano; you should stay overnight in one of the available lodges.
Quilotoa is Ecuador’s stunning hike in the Andes Mountains. It’s called the Quilota loop and it is a multi-day, self-guided hike. If you are a regular trekker or just want to experience an adventurous hike, then it should be on your list. You can begin and end your hike at Quilotoa Lake which is a spectacular crater lake of Cotopaxi Province. The trail takes you through multiple remote Andean villages of Ecuador. The hike can be completed in four days but it takes less time if you take a bus in between.
5. Baños de Agua Santa
Due to its beautiful surroundings, Baños de Agua Santa has made it to our list of best places to visit in Ecuador. It is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in central Ecuador. It is situated at Amazon Basin’s western edge and lies among dense forests, hence, is also called “Gateway to the Amazon”. Tourists can enjoy various recreational activities at Baños including mountain biking and hiking.
But the most exciting thing about this place is its numerous waterfalls and hot springs that are rich in minerals. There are also some fun and exciting ways of accessing the waterfalls and hot springs through the town, like through ropes and bridges. You can also enjoy stunning views over the deep pools and waterfalls through these trails.
Baños also offers adventurous water sports like kayaking and white-water rafting. Other activities include visits to popular landmarks like Virgen de Agua Santa Church, which is known for its statue of Mary. You can also enjoy a great shopping experience here and buy local goods including colorful balsa parrots and the famous “melcocha” sugar cane candy.
6. Discover the Amazon Jungle
The Amazon rainforest is the most diverse ecosystem spreading across nine countries and Ecuador is one of them. In Ecuador, it covers the eastern part of the country including the six provinces of Napo, Pastaza, Morona Santiago, Orellana, Sucumbíos, and Zamora-Chinchipe respectively. Here, you will find a small native community called Pimilacha, where the locals are friendly and welcoming.
Around twenty-five families are living here currently and two of them work in the tourism industry and host tourists. The Quechua culture and traditions are prominent in this region and the communities continue to prosper. They help travelers experience their unique culture at a local level, they can also stay at the Amazon lodges which is a remote destination.
There are numerous species found in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In Yasuni Biosphere Reserve you can find a hundred and fifty amphibian species, two hundred species of mammals, a hundred and twenty-one species of reptiles, three hundred and eighty-two species of fish, and five hundred and ninety-six species of birds. Not only that, but there are more than seventy thousand documented species of insects found in this region. Since it’s a treat for animal lovers, this should be on your list of top places to visit in Ecuador, if you are one.
7. Mindo Cloud Forest
Mindo offers two of the best bio-diversified ecosystems; the Chocoan lowlands and the tropical Andes. Just like Amazon, Mindo Cloud Forest is also home to numerous species of birds; therefore is a hotspot for bird watching. It’s called a cloud forest because it has temperatures that are usually cooler than those of tropical rainforests. Due to cooler temperatures but high humidity, clouds are frequently forming above it, giving it an ethereal aura.
In addition to various bird species, Mindo Cloud Forest is also known for its mystical environment. However, bird watching is not all this place offers; there are still several other fun activities that you can do, such as taking a Tarabita to Nambillo Waterfall Sanctuary, rafting, visiting a butterfly farm, zip line, and incredible chocolate tours.
8. Otavalo Market
Otavalo is one of the most picturesque cities in Ecuador, so we weren’t going to exclude it from our list of best places to visit in Ecuador. This city is known for its colorful and extravagant weekly markets. Here, you will find all the traditional goods and handmade craft items like textiles, jewelry, rugs, sweaters, blankets, bags, and leather goods. The Otavalo market has been here for centuries and it is considered one of the largest markets and is a long followed tradition in South America.
Due to all the vibrant colors, it won’t be wrong to call it a photographer’s paradise. To add to its picturesque nature, the natives wear their traditional clothes and with the snow-covered mountains in the background, it makes for a stunning backdrop. The main Otavalo market is usually set up on Saturdays only, but tourists can find similar handicrafts and various souvenirs in Plaza de Los Ponchos.
In June, this place hosts a very famous music festival called Inti Raymi, meaning the festival of the Sun. This festival invites numerous local musicians so you can experience the rich, melodic tunes of the various localities.
9. Relaxing on Ecuador’s best beaches
Along with its adventure opportunities and eco-tourism, Ecuador is also famous for its beautiful beaches which include Los Frailes, Ayampe, Montañita, Bahía de Caraquez, and Salinas. These are great for a short relaxing break from all the sightseeing or for long days under the sun. Due to the numerous beach resorts, Salinas is one of the most popular beaches. Located near west Guayaquil, it has a great, constantly pleasant climate throughout the year.
The city of Bahía de Caraquez is also very popular. It is located on a beautiful peninsula spreading out into the ocean. Due to its fine beaches, lively entertainment, and numerous hotels, many tourists head towards this beach.
Montañita is another popular choice among tourists and lies in the Southern coaster region of Ecuador. A lot of young tourists prefer this beach over others.
10. Nariz del Diablo - The Devil’s Nose
Nariz del Diablo should be on every tourist’s bucket list. This is one of the most historically rich places in the country, as the story behind the world-famous tracks is captivating. The project started in 1899, when Eloy Alfaro connected the capital city of Quito to Guayaquil, a coastal city, by rail. The Devil’s Nose got its name due to the deaths of the workers that came with building the rail at such a steep and dangerous height.
It is one of the most challenging yet spectacular train tracks in the world. It is a 12 km short railway track and is considered an engineering masterpiece. Located between the towns of Alausi and Sibambe, it is now used exclusively for tourism purposes.
This 12 km return trip to the Devil’s Nose is a great opportunity for sightseeing. The train goes in a zigzag manner through sharp ups and downs as it climbs the vertical sides of the mountain to reach the station at the top. We suggest a 4-day trip from Quito which includes the Devil’s Nose Train.
11. Exploring the Amazon’s Upper Basin in Tena
Last on our list of best places to visit in Ecuador, we have the city of Tena which is the capital of the Napo province and known as the Gateway to the Jungle in Ecuador. It was founded by missionaries soon after the Spanish invaded South America, and it is also known as Ecuador’s cinnamon capital. Today, it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions due to its various opportunities for adventure.
You can go on organized jungle excursions into the Amazon and enjoy other activities, including river journeys, white-water rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. It also has a spectacular pedestrian bridge above the Tena River which offers beautiful views of the city.
These are our 11 best places to visit in Ecuador. Despite its small size, Ecuador still has a lot of adventures to offer to tourists than one might think. If Ecuador wasn’t on your bucket list before, we are sure after reading this blog, you will be convinced to make it your next destination.
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