13 Must-Visit Places In Ecuador
Ecuador, a small country located in the northwest corner of South America, is a treasure trove of natural wonders and cultural experiences. From the stunning Galapagos Islands to the majestic Andes Mountains and the lush Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador offers something for every type of traveller. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at 10 must-visit places in Ecuador that are sure to leave you breathless with their beauty and charm. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, nature lover, or history enthusiast, Ecuador has something to offer. So, let’s dive in and discover the must-visit places in Ecuador.
Can You Drink The Tap Water In Ecuador?
Tap water is safe to drink in many places in Ecuador. For more information read our post – Can You Drink The Tap Water In South America?
Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is a beautiful colonial city that sits at an altitude of 2,850 meters (9,350 feet) above sea level. This high-altitude city is surrounded by majestic mountains and boasts stunning architecture, rich cultural heritage, and delicious cuisine. Quito is home to one of the best-preserved and largest historic towns in Latin America. This UNESCO World Heritage Site features 16th-century churches, buildings, and squares that offer plenty to explore. You can marvel at the mix of Colonial-era Spanish architecture and modern buildings as you wander through the various streets and plazas, making for a truly amazing experience!
Things To Do In Quito
The Rucu Pichincha Hike
Rucu Pichincha is a popular hike located near Quito. The peak stands at an elevation of 4,696 meters (15,407 feet) and is part of the Pichincha Volcano complex. It is a challenging hike that is suitable for experienced hikers due to the high altitude, steep slopes, and rugged terrain.
The trailhead for the Rucu Pichincha hike is located just outside of Quito and can be reached by a short taxi ride or by taking the Teleférico, a cable car that takes you up to 4,050 meters (13,287 feet) in elevation. From the top of the Teleférico, the trailhead is about a 45-minute hike away.
The hike itself takes around 4-5 hours to complete round trip, and it is essential to start early in the morning to avoid afternoon storms that are common in the Andes Mountains. The trail is steep and challenging, but the views are breathtaking, and hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of Quito, the surrounding mountains, and the Pichincha Volcano complex.
Hiking at high altitudes can be a rewarding and challenging experience, but it also requires some precautions to ensure your safety. Here are some safety tips for high-altitude hiking:
- Acclimatize: Gradually acclimate to the high altitude by spending a few days at lower elevations before beginning your hike.
- Hydrate: Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which can exacerbate altitude sickness.
- Dress appropriately: Wear warm clothing to protect against cold temperatures, as well as sunscreen and a hat to protect against the sun’s harmful rays.
- Pace yourself: Hike at a slow and steady pace to conserve your energy and avoid overexertion.
- Pay attention to your body: Listen to your body and rest when needed. Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty breathing. If you experience any of these symptoms, descend to a lower elevation.
- Plan ahead: Research the trail and weather conditions ahead of time, and make sure you have appropriate gear and supplies. Here’s our list of 25 things to take hiking.
- Hike with a partner: It’s always safer to hike with a partner in case of an emergency.
Visit The Middle of the World
The Middle of the World, or La Mitad del Mundo in Spanish, refers to the point where the equator passes through Ecuador. This is a popular tourist destination and there are actually two different locations that claim to mark the exact spot of the equator.
The first location is the Mitad del Mundo monument, which is located about 23 kilometers north of Quito. This site was established in the early 18th century by French geographer Charles Marie de La Condamine, who conducted experiments to determine the position of the equator. In 1936, a 30-metre tall monument was built at this location to mark the equator line.
However, it was later discovered that the actual equator line is about 240 metres to the north of the monument. This was confirmed by modern GPS technology and is now marked by a yellow line at the Intiñan Museum, which is the second location that claims to mark the exact spot of the equator.
The Intiñan Museum is dedicated to showcasing the culture and traditions of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples. The museum features a variety of interactive exhibits that demonstrate the unique characteristics of the equator, such as the Coriolis effect, which causes water to spin in opposite directions on either side of the equator.
So while both locations claim to mark the exact spot of the equator, the Intiñan Museum is considered by many to be the more accurate of the two. Some of the day tours from Quito will visit both places which is the best way to get the full equator experience.
Free Walking Tour
If you’re looking for a way to explore Quito without spending a lot of money, free walking tours are a great option. Led by local guides who are passionate about their city, these tours offer visitors a chance to learn about Quito’s history, culture, and cuisine. The tours typically last 2-3 hours and cover different areas of the city, such as the Historic Center, La Mariscal, and other neighborhoods. The guides provide insights into the city’s colonial past, its modern-day culture, and its vibrant street art scene. One of the best things about free walking tours is that they do not have a set price – you can tip the guide as much or as little as you like at the end of the tour, depending on how much you enjoyed the experience and your budget. So if you’re looking for an affordable and informative way to explore Quito, consider joining a free walking tour.
Where To Stay In Quito
➡️ Secret Garden Hostel – Near the Centro Historico
La Mayordomía Cloud Forest Reserve in Mindo is one of the most biodiverse areas in Ecuador and the world. Located two hours from Quito, this reserve offers spectacular views of lush evergreen forests and abundant wildlife – including over 400 species of birds, reptiles and amphibians. With its winding trails that take you through guarumos (gurgling waterfalls) and underground caves, this area truly is a hidden gem within Ecuador that shouldn’t be missed!
Things To Do In Mindo
- Go bird watching – Mindo is home to over 400 species of birds, making it a popular destination for bird watchers.
- Take a hike – Mindo is surrounded by lush cloud forest and there are plenty of hiking trails to explore, including the popular Waterfall Trail.
- Ride the cable car – A thrilling experience that takes visitors high above the cloud forest canopy, providing stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
- Go tubing – The rivers around Mindo offer a fun and adventurous tubing experience, with scenic views of the surrounding forest.
- Visit a chocolate factory – Mindo is known for its delicious chocolate, and there are several chocolate factories in town where you can learn about the chocolate-making process and sample some of the local treats.
- Visit the frog concert – The Mindo frog concert is a unique experience where visitors can listen to the sounds of the forest’s many frog species.
- Take a canopy tour – Mindo offers several canopy tours that allow visitors to zip-line through the forest canopy and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
- Relax in hot springs – The nearby town of Papallacta is home to several hot springs where you can relax and soak in the natural mineral waters.
- Explore the town – Mindo is a charming town with a laid-back vibe, and there are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and shops to explore.
- Go on a jungle night walk – Many tour operators offer guided jungle night walks in Mindo, giving visitors the chance to see nocturnal animals such as owls, bats, and frogs in their natural habitat. This is a unique and memorable experience that shouldn’t be missed!
Where To Stay In Mindo
Cotopaxi National Park: This national park is located in the Andes Mountains and is home to the Cotopaxi volcano, which is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. The park offers breathtaking views and opportunities for hiking and camping.
Located approximately an hour and a half from Quito, Cotopaxi National Park is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world. With its snow-capped summits, glacial lagoons, and abundant wildlife, the park provides endless opportunities for adventure seekers. From spotting horses in their natural habitat to hiking the protected trails — it’s easy to spend a full day here exploring all that this volcanic landscape has to offer. Be sure to visit Limpiopungo Lagoon to admire the fantastic views of the volcano and its surroundings!
Where To Stay At Cotopaxi
➡️ Secret Garden Cotopaxi – The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is an eco-friendly hostel that is completely off the grid, powered by solar panels and wind turbines. The hostel offers a range of accommodation options, including private rooms, dormitories, and luxury tents. The facilities include a hot tub, sauna, bar, and restaurant serving delicious Ecuadorian and international cuisine.
Another must-see destination during your trip to Ecuador is the cozy mountain village of Baños located in the Andes. Nicknamed “the gateway to the Amazon”, this place offers plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking, rafting and bungee jumping. In addition, enjoy the amazingly beautiful landscape and its hot springs, said to be very beneficial for health. People call it one of the most visited adventure destinations in South America, so make sure to put it on your list!
Where To Stay In Baños
Montañita is a small beach town located on the southern coast of Ecuador, known for its beautiful beaches, laid-back atmosphere, and world-class surfing waves. It is a popular destination for both local and international tourists, with a lively nightlife scene, numerous restaurants and bars, and a variety of accommodations ranging from budget hostels to upscale resorts. Montañita also offers a range of outdoor activities such as surfing, fishing, and diving, as well as opportunities for yoga and wellness retreats. It is a great destination for those seeking a relaxing beach getaway with a vibrant social scene.
Where To Stay In Montañita
6. Machalilla National Park
For an unforgettable experience, make sure to visit Pirate Fishers Bay in Machalilla National Park. This beach is situated on the western tip of Ecuador and it’s renowned for its tranquil vibes and stunning sunsets. Relax by the shore and take a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the ocean before exploring the local area – you can hike up Los Frailes viewpoint .
7. Isla De La Plata
Isla de la Plata is a small island located off the coast of Ecuador, known for its diverse wildlife and stunning natural beauty. It is often referred to as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” because of its similarity to the famous Galapagos Islands, but with more affordable prices.
To visit Isla de la Plata as a day trip from Montañita, visitors can take a bus or taxi to the nearby town of Puerto Lopez, which serves as the main departure point for tours to the island. There are several tour operators in Puerto Lopez offering day trips to Isla de la Plata, typically including a boat ride to the island, guided hikes to see the wildlife and nature, and opportunities for snorkelling in the surrounding waters.
Before embarking on this adventure, it’s important to have the right gear. A good snorkel set, like the ones reviewed on DiveIn, can greatly enhance your experience in the crystal-clear waters around the island.
Some of the highlights of a day trip to Isla de la Plata include spotting the island’s famous blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, and other seabirds, as well as exploring the island’s unique flora and fauna. Visitors can also swim and snorkel in the crystal-clear waters around the island, which are home to a variety of marine life such as sea turtles, manta rays, and colourful fish.
8. Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are top of the list of must-visit places in Ecuador for nature lovers. This archipelago of volcanic islands is located off the coast of Ecuador, in the Pacific Ocean. They are world-famous for their unique and diverse wildlife, including giant tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and many other species found nowhere else on earth. The islands are also known for their stunning natural landscapes, with rugged volcanic terrain, crystal-clear waters, and beautiful beaches.
The Galapagos Islands played a crucial role in the development of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, as he visited the islands in 1835 and made many observations of the unique flora and fauna. Today, the islands are a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular destination for tourists, who come to explore the islands’ natural wonders and wildlife through activities such as hiking, snorkelling, and scuba diving.
Due to their unique ecosystem, the Galapagos Islands are heavily protected, with strict rules in place to ensure the preservation of the island’s delicate environment. Visitors must travel with a licensed tour operator and adhere to a set of regulations aimed at minimizing the impact of tourism on the islands.
Otavalo is a small town located in the Andean region of Ecuador, known for its rich indigenous culture and traditional handicrafts. It is located about two hours north of Quito and is a popular destination for tourists looking to experience the vibrant culture and natural beauty of the Andes.
The town is most famous for its bustling market, which takes place every Saturday and attracts vendors and shoppers from all over the region. The market offers a wide variety of traditional handicrafts, including textiles, pottery, jewellery, and more, all made by local artisans using traditional techniques.
In addition to the market, visitors to Otavalo can explore the town’s historic colonial architecture, including the impressive Imbabura Volcano in the background. Outdoor enthusiasts will also enjoy the many hiking and trekking opportunities in the surrounding Andes mountains, with several nearby peaks offering stunning views of the surrounding valleys and lakes.
The Laguna Cuicocha Hike is a popular trek to do when in Otovalo. The hike takes visitors on a scenic journey around the edge of the stunning crater lake, Laguna Cuicocha, which sits at the base of the Cotacachi Volcano.
Where To Stay In Otavalo
✅ Hostal La Rosa Otavalo – Great price for a private room.
Cuenca is a charming city located in the southern Andes region of Ecuador. It is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, colorful markets, and rich cultural heritage. Cuenca was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful and authentic cities in South America.
Some of the top attractions in Cuenca include the historic city center, which features narrow cobblestone streets, ornate colonial buildings, and picturesque plazas. The city is also home to several impressive museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Pumapungo Archaeological Site and Museum.
Another popular attraction in Cuenca is the El Cajas National Park, which is located just outside the city and features stunning Andean landscapes, including high altitude lakes, páramo grasslands, and cloud forests. The park is a great place for hiking, birdwatching, and nature photography.
Cuenca is also known for its traditional craft markets, where visitors can purchase handmade textiles, pottery, and other handicrafts produced by local artisans. The city is especially famous for its Panama hats, which are actually made in Ecuador and not Panama, and can be found in many of the local markets.
Where To Stay in Cuenca
11. Cuyabeno Nature Reserve
Cuyabeno Nature Reserve is a vast protected area located in the northeastern corner of Ecuador, bordering Colombia and Peru. It is a tropical paradise consisting of over 600,000 hectares of primary rainforest, lagoons, rivers, and swamps, which are home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna.
The reserve is home to a variety of rare and endangered species, including pink river dolphins, giant otters, jaguars, anacondas, and various species of monkeys and birds. Visitors to Cuyabeno can enjoy guided tours of the reserve, which include hiking through the rainforest, canoeing down the rivers and lagoons, and observing the abundant wildlife in their natural habitats.
Cuyabeno is also home to several indigenous communities, such as the Siona and Cofán tribes, who have lived in the region for centuries and continue to maintain their traditional way of life. Visitors can learn about their culture and traditions, and even participate in community-based ecotourism initiatives that benefit the local communities.
The best way to visit Cuyabeno is with a tour from Quito. The Secret Garden Hostel offer an Amazon tour to the Tucan Lodge in the nature reserve. You can choose a 4-day/3-night or 5-day/4-night program that includes activities such as canoe trips down the Cuyabeno River, hiking in the primary forest to learn about flora and fauna, paddling in traditional canoes to explore lagoons and rivers, visiting an indigenous community to learn about their culture and traditions, meeting with a shaman to learn about jungle ceremonies, birdwatching, swimming in Laguna Grande, and night walks to spot caimans and other wildlife. The tour also includes meals and an accredited naturalist guide and licensed canoe driver. The tour ends with a return to the Cuyabeno Bridge and a transfer back to Quito.
✅ Book Your Amazon Tour
12. Quilatoa Loop
Another must-visit place in Ecuador is the Quilotoa Loop is a popular trekking route in the Andes of Ecuador that takes hikers through a scenic landscape of snow-capped mountains, high-altitude plateaus, and indigenous villages. The highlight of the trek is the Quilotoa crater lake, which is an emerald-green lake formed inside a dormant volcano.
The trek typically takes 3 to 5 days to complete, with the route starting and ending in the town of Latacunga. The trail passes through several villages along the way, including Sigchos, Isinliví, Chugchilán, and Quilotoa. Hikers can choose to stay overnight in these villages and experience the local culture and hospitality.
The trek offers a range of difficulty levels, from easy walks through picturesque countryside to more challenging hikes up steep mountains. Along the way, hikers can enjoy stunning views of the Andean landscape, including towering mountains, deep valleys, and rugged terrain.
The Quilotoa Loop is a popular destination for both experienced trekkers and those looking to experience the beauty of the Ecuadorian Andes. The best time to visit is from June to September when the weather is dry and sunny, although the trek can be done year-round.
13. Nariz del Diablo
Nariz del Diablo, also known as the “Devil’s Nose,” is a famous train ride in Ecuador. It is named after a steep mountain called “La Nariz del Diablo” that the train passes through, which resembles the shape of a devil’s nose.
The train ride starts in Alausí and takes you on a thrilling journey through the Andes Mountains, passing by stunning scenery, including deep canyons, waterfalls, and valleys. The train then makes a zigzag descent down the steep mountain, which is considered one of the most challenging stretches of railroad in the world.
During the descent, passengers can step out onto the train’s rooftop to get a better view of the scenery and experience the thrill of riding on a historic train. At the end of the ride, the train stops at the small town of Sibambe, where visitors can learn about the history and culture of the area.
Conclusion: Must Visit Places In Ecuador
Ecuador is a country filled with a diverse range of natural and cultural wonders that make it a must-visit destination for travellers. From the Galapagos Islands to the Amazon rainforest, from the colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca to the stunning Quilotoa Loop and the adrenaline-pumping Nariz del Diablo train ride, there is something for everyone to explore and discover.
Visitors to Ecuador can witness the incredible biodiversity and unique wildlife that the country has to offer, as well as immerse themselves in the rich history and culture of its indigenous communities. And with a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, trekking, kayaking, and surfing available, adventure-seekers will also find plenty to keep them occupied.
Overall, Ecuador is a destination that should not be missed by any traveller seeking to experience the natural and cultural wonders of South America.