The Best places to visit in Ecuador: Ecuador offers it all in one compact package. Jungle adventures in the Amazon rainforest, active volcanoes, UNESCO-designated colonial cities, thermal hot springs, indigenous markets and the Galapagos, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet with species that live nowhere else. Feeling inspired to visit? Check out our Ecuador tours here.
Situated at 9,000 feet (2,743m), Quito is one of the world’s highest capital cities. The historic city and UNESCO World Heritage site is surrounded by hilly terrain–the dormant Pichincha volcano looms over the city. A teleferico (cable car) zips up to the top of the volcano, and is a fun way to get an overview of the city from above. The ancient town is anchored by Plaza Grande, lined by several public buildings, including the majestic presidential palace, and at its center is a monument dedicated to Ecuador’s independence. Colonial structures, many built with adobe, pepper the city and La Ronda or Juan de Dios Morales streets contain a cluster of preserved homes and ornate balconies.
Cotopaxi National Park
The dome-shaped, 19,348 foot (5,897 m) snowcapped beauty is also the highest active volcano in the world. It’s part of the Cotopaxi national park filled with diverse flora and fauna, such as Sub-Andean paramo plains, which is above the tree line but below the snow line, as well as and rainy tundra with low-growing mosses. The park also contains wildlife, including pumas, llamas, Andean wolves, hawks and condors. Adventure seekers can trek up and down the volcano on a hiking or mountain biking trip, or explore the area on horseback.
Geothermal hot springs are the big draw in Banos, yielding flocks of foreign visitors and locals to take a soak in the therapeutic waters. The town is located at the edge of the active volcano, which heats all of the baths. Don’t be alarmed if the pools are a shade of yellow—it’s not dirty, it’s just the high mineral content in the water. The town is surrounded by hilly terrain, numerous waterfalls and dense green forest, and the area is also an outdoor hotspot, with hiking, canyoning, rafting and ziplining close by.
This UNESCO World heritage-designated cities is packed with colonial charm and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s home to 52 churches (one for each Sunday of the year!) and is a great place to explore local history through its museums. The Cañari people first inhabited the city, and later became the second largest city of the Inca empire. It’s also become a retirement hub with cultures from across the globe settling here, lending the 16th-century cobblestone-filled town an international vibe.
Yasuni National Park
The amazon is one of the largest regions in Ecuador, and Yasuni National Park is one of the best places to explore the dense jungle terrain and observe wildlife; its biodiversity is incredible. The parksis home to roughly 150 amphibian species (more than the U.S. and Canada combined), about 120 species of reptiles, over 200 species of mammals, and more than 596 of birds.
Charles Darwin formed his theory of evolution on this cluster of volcanic islands, and today it’s home to a variety of species that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet, from the famous Galapagos giant tortoise to the otherworldly marine iguanas that strut their spiky scales on land and shimmy like a bulky snake as they swim through the water. Around 97% of the Galapagos is a protected national park and it offers and exceptional chance to observe the local wildlife endemic to the area and to explore the outdoors, from snorkeling and kayaking to hiking up and around am active volcano.
An easy day trip from Quito, Otovalo is home to an indigenous community known for their intricate weaving skills and colorful textiles sold at the daily local market. The community making and selling their wares dress in traditional costume—embroidered white tops, wool skirts and strands of beads or ponchos and felt hats. A visit here is a fun and lively affair with a dose of cultural and color, and an excellent place to pick up a locally-made souvenir.