Diverse and mysterious, Ecuador will not fail to surprise you with its beauty and adventure possibilities. Despite being one of the smallest countries in South America, Ecuador has it all. The Andes, rainforest, tropical beaches and cherry on top, the Galapagos Islands offer various landscapes that will fill your soul. Here are the absolute 10 best places to visit in mainland Ecuador!
Unless you land in Guayaquil, the economic capital of the country, you will probably start your journey in Ecuador in its beautiful historic capital: Quito. Sitting at 2,850 m, the city is not only the highest capital in the world but also holds the largest historic center in South America. Its colonial architecture, beautiful churches, and cultural patrimony made it a UNESCO World Heritage site… and I can see why!
After spending a few days in the city, you will not be able to resist the call of the mountains that surround the Andean capital! Cotopaxi is an active volcano located about 50 kilometers south of Quito and is the second highest summit in Ecuador. Although climbing the volcano is temporarily prohibited since the last eruptions last year, you will still be able to wander around the national park and may encounter guanacos or spot an Andean condor!
This 3-kilometer wide crater lake is an absolute must see! Not only for its astonishing beauty but also for the experience that getting there represents. Located in one of the wildest parts of the country, you will zig-zag through beautiful mountains to get to this Andean treasure. Once there, you can either hike down to the bottom of the crater or for the most adventurous of you, go on a four-hour hike along the caldera rim. Beware that the hike gets at times quite steep and is overall tough on the legs but well worth it!
At the foot of the very active Tungurahua volcano, Baños sits between at the limit between the Andes region and the Amazon basin. Known for its hot springs, the town offers a wide range of adrenaline activities such as bungee jumping, paragliding, kayaking, and rafting!
Thanks to its charming historic center and its beautiful colonial buildings, Cuenca is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Spanish tile roofs and the blue domes of the New Cathedral of Cuenca give the city a Mediterranean feel. Cuenca’s slow pace and relaxing atmosphere will invite you to unwind while enjoying the city’s rich cultural heritage!
6. Cajas National Park
Cajas National Park doesn’t figure on most traveler’s Ecuador itinerary. Yet, located 20 km northwest of Cuenca, the natural reserve is a land of unspoiled beauty and will fix your adventure cravings! Take the time to do some birdwatching on your hike and if you’re lucky enough you might run into a herd of alpacas!
Home to one of the biggest artisanal market in South America, on Saturday mornings Plaza de los Ponchos is buzzing with activity. Otavaleños and indigenous people from the surrounding villages install their stands as tourists are arriving, eager to buy Andean artistry. Make sure to bargain!
A few kilometers away from Otavalo lies Cuicocha crater lake or Guinea Pig Laguna in Kichwa. Created following a volcanic eruption, the lake was named after the guinea pig shape of the largest island in the middle of the lake. At the foot of Cotacachi Volcano, you can hike around the caldera rim and on clear days, you will be able to contemplate Cayambe, Ecuador’s third highest volcano, and Imbabura. Amazement is guaranteed!
Surrounded by jungle-covered hills and sitting between Río Tena and Río Pano, Tena is your gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon. But fear not, if like me you can’t afford yet a trip into the Amazon, then Tena will give you the feel of being in the rainforest while being able to enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and rafting.
If you’re looking for family-friendly adventures and a jungle atmosphere near the capital then Mindo is for you! The town feels more intimate than Baños while offering a wide range of activities from zip lining to rafting!
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