Ecuador is a land of contrasts. Less known to tourists than neighboring countries such as Peru or Colombia, it has many wonders to explore. Cut in two by the Andes, the country has very different ecosystems to which the inhabitants have had to adapt. From the Pacific coast and the Galapagos Islands to the Amazon rainforest, passing through peaks over 6000 meters, Ecuador does not fail to impress the traveler. Discover this small South American country with deep-rooted traditions, and marvel at its breathtaking landscapes.
The capital is located at 2800 meters above sea level and is the main gateway to the country. Its central location makes it a good base for visiting Ecuador but also for acclimatizing to the altitude. There are two distinct districts where visitors are concentrated.
The historic center, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, concentrates the majority of sites of tourist interest. Independence Square is the heart of the city, where the cathedral, the Government Palace and the Archiepiscopal Palace are also located. It is very pleasant to walk around Quito, with its colonial architecture and brightly colored buildings. Built in a valley, it gradually nibbles away at the surrounding hills, which offer numerous viewpoints over the city.
For tourists looking for what to do in Ecuador to party, the new Quito offers a wide variety of bars, restaurants and nightlife.
2. Otavalo and its market
The town of Otavalo is the perfect destination to mingle with the locals and bring back souvenirs from your visit to Ecuador. A huge market takes place every day in the Plaza de Ponchos . As its name suggests, you will find ponchos here but also all kinds of textiles and local crafts. If the daily market is mainly for tourists, the inhabitants of the surroundings converge on Otavalo on Saturdays to meet. The streets are filled with stalls of all kinds. West of the city, you will find the food market where you can buy ingredients, but also taste Ecuadorian gastronomy in small improvised restaurants. Why not try the cuy, the Ecuadorian specialty par excellence which is a… guinea pig on the spit! Further west is an impressive animal market.
If you are looking for what to do in Ecuador while waiting for Saturday, many activities are possible in the Otavalo region. You can discover the Cuicocha lagoon, the Lago San Pablo, the Peguche waterfall and even climb the Fuya Fuya, more than 4000 meters above sea level.
3. Quilotoa Lagoon
This hike is reputed to be one of the most beautiful when visiting Ecuador, while remaining affordable for occasional walkers.
First of all, you will have to go to the village of Quilotoa, located at the top of the volcano of the same name. The lagoon is indeed a crater lake. If you don’t want to walk too far, a watchtower reachable in 20 minutes on foot offers you a breathtaking view from the rim of the crater. The bravest can choose to go down to the lake for a kayak tour. If you’re looking to do a medium-difficulty trek in Ecuador, you’ll have the choice of day hikes from Quilotoa or a 3-day loop. You will be able to explore the small Andean villages to discover how the Indians have adapted to the environment. Be careful though, the Quilotoa lagoon is located at 3800 meters above sea level. It will be good to acclimatize a little before you start a walk,
In Spanish, baños means “baths”. Built on the slopes of the Tungurahua volcano, the city benefits from the region’s geothermal activity. You can bathe in waters at over 40 degrees and enjoy their thermal virtues in the fitted out pools. But Baños has many other assets to offer when you come to visit Ecuador. It is located at the gates of a valley that winds to the borders of the Amazon rainforest.
You can therefore go on a day trip in the jungle, discover the indigenous communities and embark on a canoe. From Baños, you will follow the road of the waterfalls towards Puyo. Two possibilities are available to you: a bus tour or a descent by mountain bike and a return by shuttle. You will discover the region by following the river to admire waterfalls of different sizes until the impressive Pailon del Diablo. On the road, embark on a zipline crossing of the valley. Indeed, Baños is also the capital of extreme sports of Ecuador, and you can practice rafting, bungee jumping, climbing… Something to find your happiness if you are looking for what to do in Ecuador for a good dose of adrenaline.
Cuenca is the third largest city in the country, and its architectural style, as well as the friendliness of its inhabitants make it an ideal place to stay. The colonial buildings give it a European feel and the approximately 50 churches are a feast for the eyes. Located at 2500 meters, the city of Cuenca enjoys a pleasant climate throughout the year. The colorful houses stand along the cobbled streets of the historic center.
Many activities are possible if you are looking for what to do in Ecuador. A museum traces the history of pre-Ecuadorian civilizations, with real shrunken heads. Behind the museum, you will find the ruins of an ancient Inca city. On the heights of the city, the natural park of Las Cajas presents exceptional landscapes and is home to llamas. Well served by bus lines, it offers great prospects for day hikes. Finally, Cuenca is the original city of Panama, this braided straw hat. You can bring back a timeless souvenir from the city where it was created.
The Cuyabeno Reserve is the best way to discover the Amazon rainforest if you are going to visit Ecuador. With an area of more than 6000 square kilometers, the reserve gives a good overview of the Amazonian ecosystem.
You will need to go to Lago Agrio and then take a canoe to get around. The reserve is indeed located in a wetland and the hotels are not accessible by land. We advise you to book an all-inclusive excursion to a lodge in the heart of the park, to make the most of your stay. Thus, your guide will make you discover the plants and animals, in particular the caimans, monkeys, snakes and insects. You can go and meet reptiles on the river, day and night. Jungle treks are also included in most stays. You will discover the indigenous communities that continue to live in the forest. The women always ask for help with cooking, and the village shaman (healer) will be happy to examine you.
7. The Galapagos Islands
About 1,000 kilometers off the Ecuadorian coast lies an isolated but world-famous archipelago. The Galapagos Islands are renowned for being home to exceptional wildlife, with endemic species found nowhere else. The Galapagos Islands have been studied at length by Charles Darwin who talks about them in his book “The Origin of Species”. The most notable animals are sea lions, giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies as well as a wide variety of sea and land iguanas and birds. The Galapagos can be visited by boat, ideally on multi-day cruises, to be able to venture to the most remote and wild islands. But staying in a hotel and going on a day trip is also possible.
In any case, you will be amazed by the incomparable biodiversity of this natural park. It is the first natural site to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
8. Middle of the World
La Mitad del Mundo, literally “half of the world”, is where the equatorial line materializes. Located a few kilometers from Quito, a monument pays tribute to the first French geodetic mission. This expedition was intended to validate the scientific theories of the time. An exhibition explains the differences between the two hemispheres. Many playful experiments are used to illustrate scientific principles. La Mitad del Mundo is an interesting activity, easily accessible from Quito if you are looking for what to do in Ecuador.