The 8 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Ecuador

Ecuador, a country in South America, offers a unique and diverse experience to visitors. While it may not be as well-known as its neighboring countries like Peru or Colombia, it has plenty of wonders to explore. The Andes Mountains divide the country, resulting in distinct ecosystems and cultures. From the Pacific coast and the Galapagos Islands to the Amazon rainforest and towering peaks over 6000 meters, Ecuador boasts an array of impressive landscapes. Immerse yourself in the country’s rich cultural traditions and explore its stunning natural wonders.

1. Quito

Basilica of Quito

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Jess Kraft

Located at an altitude of 2800 meters above sea level, the capital of Ecuador serves as the main gateway to the country and also as a great starting point to acclimate to the altitude. The city is divided into two main districts where most visitors congregate.

The historic center, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, is the hub of tourist attractions. Independence Square lies at the heart of the city, and it is home to prominent landmarks such as the cathedral, the Government Palace, and the Archiepiscopal Palace. Exploring Quito’s colonial architecture and brightly colored buildings is a pleasant experience, and the city’s valley location provides various viewpoints over the surrounding hills.

For those in search of entertainment, the new Quito district offers a diverse selection of bars, restaurants, and nightlife options.

2. Otavalo and its market

Otavalo Market

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Fotos593

Otavalo town is an excellent destination to immerse yourself in the local culture and bring home unique souvenirs from Ecuador. A vast market takes place every day at the Plaza de Ponchos, offering textiles, ponchos, and various handicrafts. Though primarily for tourists, locals flock to Otavalo on Saturdays for their market day. The streets are filled with diverse stalls, and towards the west of the city, you can explore the food market and try Ecuadorian cuisine at small impromptu restaurants, including the local specialty of cuy, a roasted guinea pig! Additionally, the region offers several activities such as exploring the Cuicocha lagoon, Lago San Pablo, Peguche waterfall, and hiking the Fuya Fuya peak, over 4000 meters above sea level.

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3. Quilotoa Lagoon

Quilotoa Lagoon

Photo credit: Shutterstock – JEAN-FRANCOIS Manuel

This hike is considered one of the most stunning and affordable hikes in Ecuador, suitable for occasional hikers. To begin, you must head to the village of Quilotoa, located at the top of the volcano of the same name, where you’ll find the crater lake. If you don’t wish to walk far, you can reach a watchtower offering a breathtaking view from the crater rim within 20 minutes on foot. For the more adventurous, kayaking tours are available at the bottom of the lake. If you’re seeking a moderate hike in Ecuador, you can choose from day hikes or a 3-day loop from Quilotoa, which allows you to explore small Andean villages and witness how the indigenous people have adapted to the environment. However, keep in mind that the Quilotoa lagoon sits at an altitude of 3800 meters, so acclimatizing beforehand is advised.

4. Bathrooms

Pailon Del Diablo, Ecuador

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Ammit Jack

The city of Baños, situated on the slopes of the Tungurahua volcano, owes its name to the thermal baths that it houses, and where one can relax in hot water heated by the region’s geothermal activity. But Baños, one of the top destinations to visit in Ecuador, has much more to offer. The city lies at the gateway of a valley that winds its way to the borders of the Amazon rainforest, offering visitors an opportunity to embark on a day trip to explore the jungle and discover the indigenous communities by canoe.

The region is also known for its picturesque waterfalls, and you can take a bus tour or descend by mountain bike to admire the different waterfalls, including the impressive Pailon del Diablo. You can even cross the valley on a zipline! Baños is also Ecuador’s capital of extreme sports, where you can satisfy your thirst for adrenaline with activities such as rafting, bungee jumping, and climbing. So if you’re wondering what to do in Ecuador to get your heart racing, Baños is the place to be!

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5. Basin

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Cuenca

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Mark Pitt Images

Cuenca is a charming city that offers a blend of European architecture and friendly locals, making it an excellent destination to include in your visit to Ecuador. The city’s historic center features colonial buildings, approximately 50 churches, and colorful houses lining the cobbled streets. With a pleasant climate year-round, the city is located at an altitude of 2500 meters above sea level.

There are several activities available in Cuenca for those looking for things to do in Ecuador. A museum showcases the history of pre-Ecuadorian civilizations and displays real shrunken heads. Nearby, you can visit the ruins of an ancient Inca city. For nature enthusiasts, the Las Cajas natural park, located on the city’s heights, boasts exceptional landscapes and is home to llamas. It also offers excellent opportunities for day hikes, with well-served bus lines. Lastly, Cuenca is the birthplace of the Panama hat, and you can bring back this timeless souvenir from the city where it was created.

6. Cuyabeno

Aerial view of the Amazon rainforest in Cuyabeno

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Guadalupe Polito

The Cuyabeno Reserve is a must-visit for anyone exploring Ecuador, as it offers a comprehensive experience of the Amazon rainforest covering more than 6000 square kilometers.

To get there, you’ll need to go to Lago Agrio and take a canoe to reach the reserve. Since the hotels are not accessible by land, it’s best to book an all-inclusive excursion to a lodge in the heart of the park. This way, your guide will help you explore the flora and fauna, including caimans, monkeys, snakes, and insects. You can also observe reptiles in the river both during the day and at night.

Most stays also include jungle treks, which are a great way to encounter the indigenous communities that reside in the forest. Women from the community typically request assistance with cooking, and the village shaman will be available to examine you.

7. The Galapagos Islands

Sea lions in Galapagos

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Steve Allen

The Galapagos Islands, a remote and renowned archipelago located approximately 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador, boasts exceptional and unique wildlife species that cannot be found anywhere else. These islands, studied extensively by Charles Darwin in his book “The Origin of Species”, are home to remarkable animals such as sea lions, giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, a wide variety of sea and land iguanas, and birds. To fully experience the most remote and wild islands, it is recommended to take a multi-day cruise. However, day trips and hotel stays are also possible. Either way, visitors will be amazed by the unparalleled biodiversity of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has been protected since 1978.

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8. Middle of the World

Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world), Ecuador

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Fotos593

La Mitad del Mundo, meaning “middle of the world”, is the place where the equator line runs through. Situated just a few kilometers away from Quito, a monument stands as a tribute to the first French geodetic mission, which aimed to verify the scientific theories of the time. An exhibition presents the contrasts between the two hemispheres, and many interactive experiments demonstrate scientific principles. La Mitad del Mundo is a fascinating activity and easily reachable from Quito, making it an excellent option if you are searching for things to do in Ecuador.

Concluion

In conclusion, Ecuador is a country that boasts a rich culture and diverse geography. From the Andes mountains to the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands, there are many beautiful places to visit in Ecuador. Baños offers hot springs and extreme sports, Cuenca has a European feel with colonial buildings and churches, the Cuyabeno Reserve allows for an authentic Amazonian experience, and the Galapagos Islands are a unique destination with exceptional wildlife. Finally, La Mitad del Mundo is an interesting activity for those looking to explore the equator line. With its warm and welcoming people, Ecuador is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking adventure, culture, and natural beauty.

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Mohamed SAKHRI
Mohamed SAKHRI

I am Mohamed SAKHRI, the creator and editor-in-chief of this blog, 'Discover the World – The Blog for Curious Travelers.' Join me as we embark on a journey around the world, uncovering beautiful places, diverse cultures, and captivating stories. Additionally, we will delve into mysterious and, at times, even bizarre destinations.

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