Top Ten Places to Travel in Ecuador
Travelling to Ecuador? Lucky You!
Ecuador is an amazing country, rich in history (see Ecuador Facts below) and geographical diversity (see Ecuador Maps below in each section). Ecuador travel is generally safe and efficient, with well-serviced travel routes between all of the major cities, including Baños, Quito, Montañita, Guayoquil, Cuenca and various other larger ports and inland cities.
We visited Ecuador during the winter season, and have compiled our list of the top ten locations to experience while you are there, based on the accessibility, safety, value for money, wow factor and downright fun. While we didn't get to see everything, we did get to see most of the country, from the high Andes regions to the tropical coast.
Below is our list of the top ten locations in Ecuador, with some additional information about each. We hope you find this helpful in your trip planning!
1. Baños, Ecuador
This little town lies in the Sierra region, among the Andes mountains. It is a town of just under 10,000 people and is named after the numerous mineral baths that contain heated water from the lava-rich Tungurahua volcano - an active volcano looming above the small town. The town sits at 5,000 ft and boasts stunning views of the peaks and valleys of the surrounding hills. The hills and the town are often covered in clouds that rise during the morning and dissipate somewhat during the afternoon.
Baños is delightful, picturesque, friendly and clean. The town itself is tiny, but the inhabitants have settled up the side of the volcano, with many farms and cozy boutique hotels. The views are stunning, especially from the side of the volcano. Be aware that since the volcano is active, you may have to be prepared to evacuate if the activity reaches a certain level.
In town, check out the mineral baths and cascading twin waterfalls. Around the town are plenty of outdoor adventures, including zip lining, river rafting, rock climbing, hiking and ATVing. If you are interested in tours or physical activity, there is certain to be something for everyone.
2. La Casa del Árbol, Ecuador
Halfway up the Tungurahua volcano above Baños is a lookout post built by the gentleman who is responsible for alerting the appropriate authorities when volcanic activity reaches a certain point. The tree house he built has now become a tourist attraction, as on a clear day one can see all the way up to the top of the active volcano, and all the way across the valley to the next ridge.
As an added bonus, the gentleman who owns the land has built swings onto the tree house such that they swing out over the edge of the hill and over a large gully. The swings go high in the air and are exhilarating, but hang on tight because they are not government-issue safety certified. Definitely one of the most memorable experiences in Ecuador!
Taxis will take you up the hill to the Casa del Arbol for a mere $4 USD. Be careful when negotiating a price, though - some cabbies like to take advantage of tourists and can quote up to $15 USD for the trip!
Bonus: If you're really into adventure, the property owner also has built a little zip line on his property but it pales in comparison to the swing, and you have to dodge the crazy cows that seem to live all over the place in rural Ecuador.
La Casa del Árbol, Ecuador
3. Quito (Old Town), Ecuador
The capital city of Ecuador, Quito is divided into two regions - the Old Town and the New Town. With nearly 2.3 million residents, the city spreads over a high plateau in the Andes Sierra region. At 9,350 feet above sea level, it is the highest capital city in the world, and you can feel it!
Typically, travelers will fly into the airport near Quito and spend a few days in the city to acclimatize. These are the perfect days to putter around the historic Old Town (Centro) and marvel at the incredible historic architecture of the many churches and the Basicila del Voto Nacional - one of the largest in the New World.
The Old Town boasts steep cobbled streets, artisan villages such as La Ronda, the Plaza Grande with the Carondelet Palace and, of course, the Panecillo - the iconic metal structure standing watch over the Old Town (don't walk up the steps, though! It's a hot bed for crime in an otherwise very safe city).
Fact: Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, declared in the 1970s.
Quito (Old Town), Ecuador
4. Quito (New Town), Ecuador
The more northernly part of Quito is the New Town, and it is chock full of new retail establishments, hip and modern hotels and restaurants and lots of tourists. The difference between the two areas of the city was noticeable. The New Town is alive and active, particularly in the evenings, and can be quite loud and rowdy.
Within a few blocks of the main core of the New Town (Plaza Foch) is a large, bright, modern shopping mall with high-end brands, eateries and access to conveniences. On the way to the mall, have a peek at the street art on the long pedestrian walls lining the roadways.
Tip: Ecuadorians don't speak much English, not even in the large city centers, so bring your translation book or apps!
Quito (New Town), Ecuador
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5. Montañita, Ecuador
On the southern central coast of Ecuador lies Montañita, a gorgeous little town right on the water, with beaches that go on forever, a vibrant night life and fabulous little vendors throughout the town. In the off season, the town is still busy on the weekends, with vacationers travelling from the more southern cities to relax on the beaches and listen to the live music that pours out from the street performers and open-air bars and restaurants.
Montañita is one of the more developed small towns on the coast but is still just starting to see its tourism potential. With new developments popping up everywhere, travelers who are seeking more upscale accommodation will find one or two options in town, with more being developed just north of the city.
Montañita has character and natural beauty and will definitely be a destination to watch in the coming years.
6. Dos Mangas Jungle Hike, Ecuador
About a half hour from Montañita, Dos Mangas is a teeny tiny little community at the end of a dusty, bumpy road, and surrounded by jungle wilderness and agriculture. From the tour hut, travelers can walk for up to five hours through jungle trails and trail-less bush, stopping to view monkeys in the trees, or pineapple plantations. Fruit trees grow abundantly with offerings from papayas and bananas to coconuts and guanabana.
The terrain varies from close-knit lush and green jungle paths to wide-open meadows, and if you are extra lucky you will find the Diez Piscinas - ten waterfalls with ten pools in the heart of the jungle, most large enough to swim in if you are willing to hike all the way up through slippery and muddy trails.
Tip: Don't be alarmed by the six-inch water spiders! Though they are large, they are harmless and scurry away if you get too close.
Dos Mangas, Ecuador
7. Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
Isla de la Plata is a small island roughly 50 km off the central coast of Ecuador, dubbed the "poor man's Galapagos" because it can be reached in a short period of time and boasts some of the natural beauty and creatures that the Galapagos Islands are famous for.
The island (named for the silver color of the leeward side) is a national park and is the breeding ground for the Blue-Footed Booby - a hilarious sounding bird with a drunk walk - as well as for the grand Albatross. The birds nest all over the island and are visible from all of the trails and pathways (they even nest right in the middle of the trails!). The island is tightly controlled and visitors must stick with guides and to the trails as the birds' nesting can be disrupted by contact with humans.
Tip: Take a tour boat that will stop in the bay near the approach to the island and spend an hour snorkeling with large, brightly colored tropical fish and massive turtles. Amazing!
Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
8. TeleferiQo (Quito), Ecuador
TeleferiQo is a gondola lift that rises steeply up the side of the Pichincha volcano, climbing to just under 13,000 feet above the capital city of Quito. The gondola opened in 2005 and is a major tourist attraction for locals and visitors. At the top of the mountain are walking trails and paths, a restaurant, coffee shop and a quaint little chapel. Oftentimes there is a live entertainer proving background music for the passersby, marveling at the stunning geography and vistas.
Below the gondola is a loud and garish amusement park with fairgrounds rides and vending stands, and a fun little go-kart track. While the fairgrounds seemed largely out of place compared the the natural and magnificent surroundings, it seemed popular with the locals and children. Taxis and buses arrive and depart frequently and the trip from the city center should only take 20 minutes or so.
Tip: Don't go on a national holiday. The queue for the gondola lasted at least two hours on Dia de las Muertes.
TeleferiQo (Quito), Ecuador
9. Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador
Also in the province of Pichincha, Mitad del Mundo is, literally, the Middle of the World. This piece of land lies about 26 km north of Quito and is situated right near the actual Equator. Don't be fooled though - the main monument and buildings are actually just slightly off the actual Equator as measured by some scientists with proper equipment, many years after the construction of the monument.
While the entire area is very touristy and developed, it is quite breathtaking to look up and see the sharp peaks of the surrounding volcanic range climbing above the monument, and the buildings in the park contain some interesting tidbits and displays explaining local culture, history, geography and artisans.
Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador
10. Puerto Lopez, Ecuador
Puerto Lopez is a small village on the central coast of Ecuador, thriving mainly on fishing and tourism. While it may not differ much from the other coastal towns, with its beach side shopping and restaurants, marina and long beaches, Puerto Lopez is the headquarters for the Machalilla National Park (the jurisdiction of Isla de la Plata - see above) and is a hub of ecotourism.
The painted boats and seaside fish market give the town a quaint and iconic feel, and the bars and restaurants downtown host a buzz of activity on weekend nights. The marina is a hub of tourism activity, with boat tours to the various surrounding islands and tours to the neighboring indigenous villages.
Puerto Lopez, Ecuador
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4 (La Sierra, La Costa, El Oriente, La Region Insular)
Oil and Bananas