Ecuador, the small country in the north of Latin America, is the pearl of the continent. Ecuador provides the perfect playground for a lifetime adventure with several climate zones and biodiversity that has no equal. Though the country is not much bigger than the state of Nevada, it offers a variety of must-see places you should not miss out on. Here are the best ten places to visit in Ecuador.
The Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador, but due to its position near the equator, it is known as the closest point on Earth to the Sun. The volcano last erupted 1400 years ago and is very popular with climbers. You can drive up the volcano to the first refuge (4800 metres) and then start hiking to the second one, which is 5000 metres high. Hiking up the Chimborazo is a genuinely spiritual and fantastic experience.
You can find the most extensive Inca ruins in Ecuador, only 40 minutes away from Cuenca, known for its historical city centre. The buildings were almost made without mortar at all and each stone was carefully chiselled and fashioned to fit together perfectly. The most significant building is the temple of the Sun, which is roundly shaped and sits on top of a small hill.
The capital of Ecuador was recently awarded the title of South America’s Leading Travel destinations in 2013 and is also named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, most people concentrate their visit around the city’s historical core, often referred to the as old town.
Here you’ll find the Palacio de Gobierno, many historical buildings, the Cathedral and the Palacio Presidential. It is also home to the majestic gold-ornamented church, considered the most beautiful church in Latin America.
Twenty minutes outside the city, you can walk the equator by visiting the Mitad del Mundo (centre of the Earth). Next to it is a very informative museum that teaches you about the time before the Spanish conquistadors came to Ecuador.
Almost 50 per cent of the country is covered with the humid tropical area of the Amazon (also referred to as el Oriente), but only 5 per cent of it is populated. As a result, the Amazon offers an incredible diversity of wildlife and nature. More than 15,000 species of plants and over 500 species of tropical birds call the amazon their home, as well as freshwater dolphins, monkeys, anacondas, boras and jaguars. To get the ultimate jungle experience, you can stay overnight in one of the many jungle lodges.
The Cotopaxi is the second-highest summit in Ecuador. With 5.897-metre elevation, the stratovolcano enthrones over the national park. Only one hour away from Quito, Cotopaxi is a popular tourist attraction. A road leads up to a 4500-metre altitude. From there, you can hike up to the first refuge (4.810 metres) and enjoy a majestic view over the Andes, Ecuador’s highlands.
Isla de la Plata
The province of Manabí not only provides perfect surf spots and incredible long broad beaches and possesses a small island 17 kilometres offshore. La Isla de la Plata (The silver Island) has its silvery surface and has similar flora and fauna as the big brother Galapagos Islands. However, it is much cheaper to get there.
A day trip usually goes for $30 – $40. Therefore, the island is also often referred to as the poor man’s Galapagos. Boat trips to the island start in the sleepy fishing village, Puerto Lopez.
The island offers a variety of wildlife—the famous blue-footed boobies nest on the island. When snorkelling along the shores, you’ll be able to see multi-coloured fish and sea turtles. In addition, it is very likely to encounter humpback whales between July and September as they mate in this area.
Nariz del Diablo
Nariz del Diablo “The Devil’s nose” is a train ride you won’t forget. In the highlands of Ecuador is a railway that made history by being “the most difficult railway in the world”.
During the construction of the railway, the indigenous engineers faced a problem which was a nearly-vertical wall of rock. So they cut steep serpentines into the mountain’s wall and created a network of zigzags which allows the train to climb 800 metres with a gradient of 1-in-18. As a result, riding the train will reward you with breathtaking scenery over the Andes, especial when sitting on top of the train and not inside.
The coastal metropole Guayaquil is famous for its long broad walk called Malecon 2000. The famous artists quarter Cerro Santa Ana, which was once the worst area in the city and blossoms with a vibrant commercial area and several restaurants and bars lining the 400 plus step staircase to the top. You should consider a great stop, the Parque de las Iguanas, a nice place to take a break and watch iguanas hanging out in the trees free of any cages.
The city of Riobamba represents the perfect hub to be active and get out there. Countless bike and hiking trails surround the town. The famous Nariz del Diablo is only minutes away and the highest summit in Ecuador – the Chimborazo volcano. When strolling through the city, make sure you check out Calle 10 de Agosto/ Calle Daniel Leon Borja, the perfect place to get all kinds of food for more than affordable prices.
The Galapagos are the country’s many attractions and prove that Ecuador is worth the title “megadiverse country.” The Islands can only be reached by plane plus a short boat ride and offer an incredible scenery of beaches, deep blue water, and non-forgettable experience with the local wildlife. Of course, the famous blue-footed boobie, giant tortoises and dolphins are very likely to cross your path.
The country also offers excellent alternatives to the Galapagos Islands. For example, the province of Esmeraldas in the North of Ecuador offers cheap getaways, incredible culture and food, and white sandy beaches. The beach of Samé is the closest to the capital Quito (3.5 hours), and is one of the most exclusive beaches in the country. We recommend staying in one of the small Hotels such as the Rampiral.