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Top Ten Places to Travel in Ecuador

Updated on December 13, 2014

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

A view from the hills above Baños in Ecuador.
A view from the hills above Baños in 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.

Baños, Ecuador

2. La Casa del Árbol, Ecuador

This treehouse features two swings that fly out over the gully with views up to the Tungurahua volcano. Not for the faint of heart!
This treehouse features two swings that fly out over the gully with views up to the Tungurahua volcano. Not for the faint of heart!

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 Old Town in Quito, Ecuador is full of historic architecture and amazing little artisan shops like these in La Ronda.
The Old Town in Quito, Ecuador is full of historic architecture and amazing little artisan shops like these in La Ronda.

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

Quito New Town, Ecuador at night, on a Wednesday! Ecuadorians like to party!
Quito New Town, Ecuador at night, on a Wednesday! Ecuadorians like to party!

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

Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands is your passport to all the most relevant and up-to-date advice on what to see, what to skip, and what hidden discoveries await you.

The most comprehensive guide to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, this is the perfect tool for those planning to both explore the top sights and take the road less traveled.

 

5. Montañita, Ecuador

Dramatic light on the ocean on one of Montañita's many beachfront locations.
Dramatic light on the ocean on one of Montañita's many beachfront locations.

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.

Montañita, Ecuador

6. Dos Mangas Jungle Hike, Ecuador

Lush green meadows in Dos Mangas, Ecuador.
Lush green meadows in Dos Mangas, 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

Funniest little birds you'll ever see - Blue-Footed Boobies on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador.
Funniest little birds you'll ever see - Blue-Footed Boobies on 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

Long walking paths above TeleferiQo in the Andes, 13,000 ft above sea level looking out over Quito.
Long walking paths above TeleferiQo in the Andes, 13,000 ft above sea level looking out over Quito.

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

The view from the monument at the middle of the world, on the Equator.
The view from the monument at the middle of the world, on the Equator.

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

Pretty beach town of Puerto Lopez with painted boats on the mid-coast region of Ecuador.
Pretty beach town of Puerto Lopez with painted boats on the mid-coast region of 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

Spanish Translator (Offline)
Spanish Translator (Offline)

Don't get stuck without translation services when you're travelling!

This offline Spanish translation app ensures you are able to navigate through Spanish-speaking countries without wireless or cell service.

 

Ecuador Facts

 
 
Official Language:
Spanish
Population:
15.2 Million
Currency:
US Dollar
Political System:
Presidential Republic
Capital City:
Quito
Independence:
1830
Regions:
4 (La Sierra, La Costa, El Oriente, La Region Insular)
Major Exports:
Oil and Bananas
Ecuador Facts for Travelers

Where Will You Go?

Which location in Ecuador would you most like to visit?

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    • Beth Bennett profile image
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      Beth Bennett 3 years ago from Vancouver, British Columbia

      Thank you for your comment, Kelsey. I hope your visit is enjoyable. As you may know already, I highly recommend Montanita Estates as a wonderful place to stay while in Montanita. The owner, Robert, is accommodating and friendly, and the property is beautiful. The investment potential is great.

    • profile image

      kelsey 3 years ago

      Ecuador is on my list of places that I want to visit someday. It is nice to know what I need to see when I plan my visit. This way I can make sure to find a place to stay in the general area. http://www.montanitaestates.com/real-estate.html

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 3 years ago

      I had never seen a blue footed booby. So their feet actually are blue!

    • Beth Bennett profile image
      Author

      Beth Bennett 3 years ago from Vancouver, British Columbia

      I didn't notice the altitude that much in Quito, where we were at the highest point. Maybe a little bit, but not too crazy. My friends did, however. I have heard that there are ways to acclimatize more quickly but we adjusted without a problem. If you go up to the higher places like Teleferiqo, you may feel it more and you just need to slow down a little bit.

    • profile image

      sarina Eliyakim 3 years ago

      I plan to print all the above and read it at my leisure time on hard copy.

      Thanks for your input. Did you feel the altitude while in Ecuador? What would you suggest to do prior to land there?

    • profile image

      Hamil 3 years ago

      The treehouse looks like fun! Did you go in to the amazon?

    • profile image

      latitudecuador 3 years ago

      Nice places on your list, Isla de la Plata is a place I would like to visit, I never been there. Also I would recommend the jungle, it's great! Cuyabeno Reserve is a beautiful place to visit.

    • Trip-Hobo profile image

      TripHobo 3 years ago from Pune, India

      What a wonderful and informative article :-)

    • Beth Bennett profile image
      Author

      Beth Bennett 3 years ago from Vancouver, British Columbia

      Oh, I can assure you, they are for real! Funniest little things ever. I hope she had a great time!

    • profile image

      Craig S 3 years ago

      My daughter and her friends just returned from Ecuador. Isla de la Plata was one of her favorite places. We thought she'd made up "blue-footed boobies" as a joke until she showed us her photos.

    • Beth Bennett profile image
      Author

      Beth Bennett 3 years ago from Vancouver, British Columbia

      Awesome country. Wish I had had more time there, and would like to go back and see the areas we couldn't, such as Otavalo and the Amazon. Have an amazing trip!

    • profile image

      Sandra West 3 years ago

      Fabulous article! My friends and I are planning a trip to Ecuador in the coming months and this gives us lots of ideas for places to go.

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