There is perhaps no better word to describe Ecuador than alive. Whether it’s the vibrant indigenous communities, loud markets, colorful cities, the hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, insects and amphibians, active and threatening volcanoes, the lush Amazon rainforest or the mysterious cloud forests, Ecuador is absolutely teeming with diverse and captivating life.
Our own understanding of the origins of life has been molded from Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was developed through his studies of endemic species here. Ecuador is a clash of ecosystems, landscapes, and cultures, but this clash is part of the reason it is so uniquely beautiful.
Ecuador is a traveler’s paradise: it is small enough to be able to visit most of the country in one visit, especially given its developed infrastructure, but it is large and diverse enough to make you feel like you can never really get enough. Prices remain fairly inexpensive and Ecuadorians are a welcoming bunch, making life easy and fun for tourists. The worst part about Ecuador is choosing where to go, as there are fabulous options everywhere and there is never a dull moment anywhere in this gorgeous country. Don’t be surprised if you are tempted to “accidentally” miss your flight home.
The Galapagos Islands, officially called the Archipiélago de Colón, form one of the most important archipelagos in history. This, of course, is due to the massive impact that Charles Darwin’s study of its wildlife has had on human understanding of evolution and natural selection. The islands are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the archipelago is often hailed as the best nature destination in the world. Here you can snorkel with the marine life, catch a glimpse of the massive waved albatross and see the remains of past volcanic eruptions.
The lofty capital of Ecuador is perched amongst the Andes Mountains, forming a gorgeous setting for a city notorious for its cantankerous weather. The city itself includes a fascinating old town, deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as a more modern new town complete with all the amenities a tourist could ask for. It’s a bustling city of 2.5 million people characterized by its colorful history, whizzing cable cars and equatorial location.
Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, or Cotopaxi National Park, is situated around its crowning glory, the volcano with the same name, a towering peak of 5,897 meters. This volcano is just as dangerous as it looks and is considered Ecuador’s most destructive volcano. It hadn’t erupted in over a century until August 2015, but it still boasts the title of the country’s most popular climb. While the volcano is clearly the focal point of the park, there are other park attractions that are more than enough to entertain visitors.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Ecuador, the city of Otavalo is world famous for its Saturday Market. The city-itself has nearly 100,000 permanent residents and is nestled amongst several smooth peaks of the Andes Mountains. Local crafts are made and sold here, with loud bartering forming the soundtrack of the marketplace. Whether you’re observing the lively merchants or a game of pelota de mano playing in the square, it’s hard to miss that the local, traditional culture of Otavalo still remains solidly present.
Cuenca is often hailed as the more beautiful and less crowded version of Quito, what with its lovely colonial architecture and winding cobbled streets. Not surprisingly, Cuenca (officially named Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an absolute gem for tourists. Well known for its festivals throughout the year, Cuenca has an energy and liveliness to it that can only be found here. Even Fridays and Saturdays seem unusually festive here, as the churches are dazzlingly illuminated at night.
Guayaquil is the biggest city of Ecuador and the central hub of the southern coast. Serving as the country’s main source of imports and exports, it is considered the economic capital of Ecuador. It is known for its distinctly urban feel and was previously considered one of the most dangerous cities in the country. Now it will pleasantly surprise you with beautiful gems such as a lovely promenade, pleasant squares and nearby opportunities for some amazing views.
A picturesque resort town with rushing waterfalls, rolling green hills and a pleasant climate, Banos is a dreamy place, perfect for tourists looking for exciting outdoor activities. It is simply one of the biggest tourist destinations in Ecuador – and it’s easy to see why. The town is dwarfed by its neighboring volcano, the Tungurahua volcano, which is just to the south and still excites visitors by spewing lava. Most visitors come between September and April, when the weather is on its best behavior.
08. Cajas National Park
Also known as Parque Nacional El Cajas, this national park forms one of the best displays of Ecuadorian natural beauty. It includes a diverse, jagged landscape complete with bright white glaciers, rust-colored valleys and sapphire lakes. It’s the perfect Ecuadorian hiking destination and is also excellent for trout fishing, if you are so inclined. Solitude is surprisingly easy to come by in foggy Cajas, forming an ideal spot for people looking to get away from it all.
Part of the Oriente region and lying within the Amazon Rainforest, Tena is a tourist hotspot known for community ecotourism with opportunities for whitewater rafting, kayaking and jungle treks. In fact, any sort of water-based activities are best here, as Tena is located at the point of conversion for numerous tributaries. Tourists prefer to come on February 12 or November 15 for the festivals held on those days – in addition to hosting dozens of fun activities, Tena sure knows how to party.
Perched 1250 meters high and characterized by its foggy, forested mountainsides, Mindo is a village best visited by tourists who have a craving for adventure. It is a tropical, mountainous oasis offering endless opportunities for hiking, zip-lining, horse riding or tubing down the river. The bird population is most impressive here, making it a bird enthusiast’s heaven. The town itself is tiny and remote, save for the other tourists, giving you the feeling that you have truly travelled off the beaten path.