Are you looking for a way to experience the best of South America without having to constantly cross borders? If so, you’re in luck. Ecuador, although smaller in size, remains big on variety. You just need to know how and where to look. Vacationing in Ecuador provides a unique opportunity to explore various types of regions, including the Ecuadorian rainforest, the snow-capped Andes highlands, the raging Pacific coastline, and a pristine island archipelago. Each of these natural features affects and creates the many places you’ll want to see first-hand. To assist you in getting started, here are seven of the best places to visit in Ecuador this year.
Along the western coast of Ecuador, you’ll find a variety of tropical beaches for both relaxing and staying active. The landscapes along the coastline include various rocks, cliffs, and forests, with beaches carved out in sections. Among the most popular spots are Salinas and Los Frailes. Salinas is a beach resort city and a popular coastal area for yachters and surfers. High-rise condominiums dot the coastline, resembling its nickname of Little Miami Beach. Nearby, in a less crowded area, you’ll find La Chocolatera, a beach where turtle egg-laying takes place in a protected section.
Another popular location is Los Frailes Beach. Its white sand gives way to forest trails and provides a birdwatcher’s paradise. Cliffs and dry forests surround the beach area, creating a dramatic background to the powerfully churning Pacific Ocean. There’s also the black sand beach of Playita Negra. Both of these beaches are enclosed within the National Park of Machalilla.
Immerse yourself in the colonial city of Quito for historical and cultural experiences you’ll long remember. Built upon Inca ruins, this capital city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and full of fascinating things to see and experience during your time here. Wander along the narrow streets in Old Town, the historic town center, and explore 17th-century buildings, colonial architecture, historical landmarks, cathedrals, museums, and lively plazas. Learn about local art and culture at the many museums, including the Casa Museo Guayasamin or the Museo Nacional.
Explore its Sunday markets and take time out and enjoy slower moments in the Metropolitano Guanguiltague Park, one of the largest parks found in South America. The more modern section of the New Town area offers Art Deco villas, internet cafés, restaurants, hotels, banks, and many other modern conveniences you may need during your stay. At night, venture to the Casa de la Cultura, the national center of the arts, for a taste of classical music, theatre, or dance performed by both local and international talent.
Located in Ecuador’s highlands is the 16th-century city of Cuenca. Slow down your pace here in this pedestrian-friendly city and explore the many things it has to offer. The third-largest city in Ecuador, Cuenca sits on a plateau and is surrounding by mountains. Running through its center is the Tomebamba River, creating a relaxing environment to visit and stay awhile.
Impressive architecture, historical buildings, and landmarks can be found in its historic city center, another UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. Stroll along narrow, cobbled streets as you take in the sights in this part of the city. Outside the historic center, you’ll find New Town, a modern suburb of sorts, full of shopping centers, restaurants, condominiums, and cinemas.
Cuenca is famous for its remarkable textiles, fine leather goods, ceramics, jewelry, and even custom guitars. You can enjoy browsing through the many handicrafts in markets and shops throughout the city while also experiencing traditional Ecuadorian dishes at the various restaurants. Built on ancient Inca ruins, nature surrounds the city, and day excursions allow you to experience many of its offerings. Enjoy the year-round mild weather here and celebrate with the colorful festivals if visiting in January or February.
Home to monkeys, jaguars, and even anacondas, the Amazon Rainforest is the most diverse and wildlife-rich ecosystem on the planet. In the Ecuador Amazon region alone, you can find over a thousand different animal species, including mammals, reptiles, and birds, as well as a thousand species of trees. Expect to invoke all your senses as you embark on a river cruise or make your way to a rainforest lodge.
The Ecuadorian rainforest remains mysterious, with untouched landscapes still in existence. It is also home to four of Ecuador’s national parks, including the Yasuni National Park and Biosphere Reserve, the largest of its kind on earth. Here you can observe wildlife while also learning about the surrounding nature.
At the bottom of the active volcano Tungurahua sits the small city of Baños, one of the more popular places to visit in all of Ecuador. Often referred to as the “Gateway to the Amazon,” it is where people gather to join the various jungle tours available and also submerge themselves in the mineral-rich Baños thermal hot springs. Another popular attraction is the Pailon del Diablo, or Devil’s Cauldron waterfall, a short distance from Baños. You’ll be mesmerized as you watch the roaring water cascade down into the deep river gorge below.
While there are a lot of adventure activities available in and around Baños, you can also choose to simply stay in the city and enjoy relaxing strolls, delicious meals, and local arts and craft shopping. Look for the carved balsa parrots as a unique reminder to take home with you. Also, stop in a shop for a sweet treat, such as melcocha, the locally-made candy.
The Andes highlands in Ecuador are one of the best places to experience a high-altitude cloud forest. Here you will find yourself in the clouds while exploring a unique environment unlike any other. Fast-moving rivers, diverse wildlife, and unique plants abound in every direction. The lush slopes of the Andes mountains create wildlife-rich areas, including spaces for many endangered species. You can take a tour of the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, a 2,000-acre conservation area, and learn more about these remarkable biodiverse ecosystems.
While many of the wildlife you see will be similar to those found in the rainforest, others will not be. When it comes to flora, you can expect to see a wider variety of bromeliads and over 400 species of orchids, as well as many other beautiful flowers. You can also visit artisanal chocolate factories in the cloud forest as well. Picturesque towns dot the stunning landscapes here also. Venture to the town of Mindo for a pleasant stay and visit the expansive orchid farm located there. You’ll need to bring a sweater or jacket when visiting the area as the temperatures are often cooler at such high altitudes.
The Galápagos Islands positioned off the coast of Ecuador are a true treasure in more ways than one. Consisting of 19 islands of various sizes, you can explore the surrounding nature and geological spectacles then relax on the beautiful sandy beaches. Scuba diving and snorkeling are also available aboard several cruise ships operating in the Galapagos. Protected within the confines of the Galápagos Islands are indigenous and rare wildlife, including the blue-footed booby and the famous Galápagos giant tortoises. Sit back and watch frolicking sea lions, diving marine iguanas, and fascinating flamingos. The Galápagos penguins are also a sight not to be missed.
It was here also that Charles Darwin formulated his theory of evolution and natural selection. You can learn more about his discoveries at the Charles Darwin Research Center located on the island of Santa Cruz. In South America, when it comes down to the best places to visit Ecuador may be your perfect choice. You’re sure to find something to please and inspire everyone, whether that be the islands, beaches, forests, mountains, hot springs, or cultural centers. You can experience all South America has to offer in this one small, amazing country. Aren’t you ready to get started?
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