Traveling is often its own reward, but add in the best of Ecuador tourist attractions, and it gets even better. With no need for flashy attractions to get your attention, Ecuador instead offers the real thing all day, every day. Full of historic town squares, UNESCO heritage sites, mesmerizing nature, and amazing artisan markets, Ecuador vacations have something for everyone. Once you’re in Ecuador what to see will largely depend on your interests and the time you have available to explore. Know your options and add these top 10 Ecuador tourist attractions to your itinerary.
One of the more pristine locations in all of South America is the Galapagos National Park. Established in 1959, this Park encompasses 3,040 square miles and includes both land and sea in the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.
The true draw of visitors to this island park is its endemic wildlife. Here you can admire iguanas, gigantic Galápagos tortoises, blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and various forms of marine life. One of the most significant famous attractions in Ecuador, The Charles Darwin Research Center, is also found here. Visitors can enjoy its exhibition hall, public library, and native gardens. Galapagos is known as a world-class cruising and wildlife destination.
In the seaport city of Guayaquil, stroll along the 1.5-mile-long Malecon, a boardwalk promenade that weaves its way along the Guyas River and takes you past gardens, art museums, historical sites, restaurants, and shops.
The city of Guayaquil offers world-class dining and entertainment in addition to historical and cultural finds. Along the Malecon, restaurants offer both a regional and international menu. Food stalls dot the boardwalk, allowing you to enjoy the scenery as you eat. For shopping, expect to find boutiques, designer stores, artisanal markets, and craft shops. You can even make your way to the docks and enjoy a river tour.
Spread throughout Ecuador are UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites. Two cities, in particular, Quito and Cuenca, are a must-see. They are both popular tourist attractions for anyone interested in the history or culture of Ecuador.
The capital city of Quito is filled with colonial architecture, museums, and history in its Old Town section. Explore the famous cathedrals, including the La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, with its Baroque architecture and beautiful interior. Another one to visit is the Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco and its adjoining museum.
Tucked into the Andes is the colonial city of Cuenca. Filled with Ecuadorean beauty and a touch of European flair, you can spend days enjoying your explorations here. Visit cathedrals such as the Catedral Nueva, and roam through the Remigio Crespo Toral Museum, named after a famous local poet.
Make your way to the cozy, friendly town of Otavalo, where you will find one of the largest and most famous artisan markets in all of South America. Learn about the various indigenous arts and crafts of Ecuador while enjoying a fun shopping excursion.
Perhaps best known for weavings of clothing and Andean textiles, there are also many other items you’ll undoubtedly be impressed by. One unique item you’ll find is tagua nut jewelry. The tagua nut grows on the Ecuadorian Ivory Palm tree and, once ripened, goes through a drying process before being turned into jewelry and figurines. Other items you can find at the market include stone and wood carvings, locally made rugs and blankets, locally produced spices, and of course the famous Panama hat.
Concealed within the cloud forest in Mindo, Nambillo Waterfall Sanctuary is a gateway to the extreme beauty found in Ecuador. Make your way to the Nambillo Ecological Reserve and board the open-air cable car. As the car moves through the tropical forests of the Reserve at almost 500 feet above the ground, you’ll get a glimpse of the cloud forest ecosystem.
The cable car brings you to the entrance of the waterfall sanctuary. The closest waterfall, Nambilo, is just a 15-minute walk and offers incredible views and a pool forming at the bottom where you can enjoy a soak. You can stop here and return to the cable car or continue on to the Reina waterfall, one of the best in the sanctuary.
A favorite choice when it comes to Ecuador attractions is a ride on the Nariz del Diablo, or Devil’s Nose, a restored railway near Alausi in the Andes mountains. You’re in for a thrill on this marvel of engineering feat. Its completion involved strategically laying tracks up the side of a vertical cliff.
A set of switchbacks or zig zags slowly move the train up the near vertical ascent to the viewing platform. From there, you’ll experience incredible panoramic views. When finished, you climb back on the train for the ride back to Alausi.
Papallacta is located approximately 1-2 hours east of Quito and holds a surprise you’ll want to experience. Here you’ll find thermal pools formed as a result of nearby volcanoes. The naturally occurring mix of minerals in the water makes for a soothing, healing soak. Whether your muscles are aching from that hike, you’re experiencing jet lag or travel strain, or just enjoy relaxing, a visit to Papallacta is a must.
In addition to the thermal springs, you’ll find a full-scale spa, outdoor mineral pools, wooded pathways, and a hotel. The thermal pools themselves are open from early morning to late at night. The water temperatures range anywhere from super steamy hot to chilling cold.
Cotopaxi is one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes, so it’s no wonder that it’s included in the top ten tourist attractions in Ecuador. The sight of this conical, snow-caped volcano begins on your flight into Quito, and it stays with you throughout your time there.
See it close up by making your way to the Cotopaxi National Park. From there, you can join an extensive Cotopaxi tour or just take the hike up to the base camp for a better view. The base camp is close to the glacier formation and provides spectacular views of the volcano and surrounding highlands. Another option is to enjoy a ride aboard the Tren de los Volcaos, a railway line between Quito and the Cotopaxi base camp.
Explore the largest set of ancient Inca ruins in Ecuador at Ingapirca. Meaning “Inca wall,” the main building of the ruins is the Temple of the Sun. Built with high precision, the stones of the temple allow sunlight to shine through its main top doorway on the different solstices.
While most of the structures are no longer standing, the Temple of the Sun is worth discovering. The only elliptical-shaped Incan temple in South America, its uniqueness will fascinate. Learn about its history as llamas roam freely about the surrounding ruins.
Enjoy tropical scenery along with spectacular wildlife viewing at the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in Ecuador’s Amazon region. Included within the confines of the reserve are eight ecosystems, including watersheds and rainforests. Expect to see a wide diversity of wildlife and flora here as it is home to numerous species of birds, monkeys, fish, and orchids, among others. You may even catch a glimpse of tapirs, anacondas, or alligators.
With so much to experience here, knowing what not to miss is essential. So, instead of wondering what is there to see in Ecuador, you now know ten of the top tourist attractions to make the most of your travels around Ecuador.
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