There’s a lot more to Ecuador than the Galapagos Islands and the capital Quito. While both are absolute must-dos, other more unusual places are worth your attention. Wander off the main roads far enough and you’ll get a peek into one of the most biodiverse countries on Earth few travelers get to know. Here are 10 of my favorite off the beaten path places to visit in Ecuador!
Let me introduce you first to Loja. Known as the music and cultural capital of Ecuador, the small city is located in the Cuxibamba valley in the Southern Ecuadorian Andes. Not only is the climate ideal, averaging 17°C year round but the city also counts with a beautiful well preserved historic center with restored colonial houses. Don’t miss out on the castle-like city gate!
2. Mica Antisana
Antisana is the fourth highest volcano in Ecuador and is located only 50 kilometers south of Quito. While summiting the volcano does require technical climbing skills, you can walk around La Mica Laguna, right next to the volcano. There are various trails of different difficulty levels. Keep an eye out for wildlife and in particular the vicuñas.
3. Playa Tortuguita
Los Frailes is commonly referred to as the most beautiful beach in Ecuador… But I have to disagree. In my opinion, Playa Tortuguita is the most stunning beach in mainland Ecuador. Located literally off the beaten path and just a short walk away from Los Frailes, don’t miss out on this gem in Machalilla National Park. The rocks, white sand, and cacti will make you feel like Robinson Crusoé on a deserted island!
Visit the small town of Machachi for a local experience. The picturesque town is located south of Quito and surrounded by no less than 5 volcanoes! Low hanging clouds set in the valley in the afternoon and give the surrounding mountains a mystical feel. Have lunch at one of Ecuadorian’s favorite restaurants, Cafe de La Vaca, and enjoy the view over Corazon and Iliniza Norte and Sur on the road.
5. Laguna Cuicocha
I doubt you will leave Ecuador without stopping by Otavalo’s infamous market on a Saturday morning. If you do, take advantage of the afternoon to go visit neighboring Laguna Cuicocha just a short drive away. Enjoy the view from the viewpoint, take a boat ride in the crater lake or hike around it for the ultimate experience! (Read more: Hiking Lake Cuicocha: A Complete Guide)
Tena is a city in the rainforest. Yes, it’s actually located in the rainforest! How crazy is that? Before heading deeper into the jungle, spend a night or two in town to get a feel of what life is like in the Amazon. Visit San Rafael Waterfall and go rafting on the Napo river!
Arriving shortly before the Spaniards in Ecuador, The Incas rule didn’t last long in the country. One of the biggest and best-preserved evidence of their presence is Ingapirca. The archeological complex is the most important pre-Colombian and pre-hispanic ruins of the country and had many functions including being a fortress and the most significant site, the temple of the sun.
8. Cloud Forest
From the Galapagos to the Rainforest, Ecuador is known for its wildlife and biodiversity. Yet, there is a place located North West of Quito that seems to remain under the radar… The Cloud Forest! Don’t let the low-lying clouds cover fool you, the area is home to its own endemic wildlife including howler monkeys, pumas, hummingbirds, and butterflies. A nature lover’s (and adrenaline addict) p
Cotopaxi and Chimborazo are undoubtedly the most visited volcanoes in the country but if you want a different experience, head to Cayambe and hike up to the Refugio of the snow-capped volcano. Located at 4,600 m, you’ll get a taste of what walking at high altitude is like while also getting mighty close to the volcano’s glacier. Bonus: the road to get there from Quito is very scenic.
Ayampe is Santa Elena’s best-kept secret. The small tranquil village is located south of Puerto Lopez. Getting lost in the town’s alleys surrounded by blooming flowers on the soundtrack of the waves couldn’t be more relaxing. It’s a shame there’s no great spot of soft sand to lay down on the beach but it is still, in my opinion, the ultimate destination for a relaxing beach escape. (Read more: Relaxing in Mompiche: A Complete Guide)
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