Ecuador’s sway over travelers is legendary as first impressions lead to startling and astonishing discoveries. The culture here warmly welcomes international visitors and the Ecuadorian people are more than happy to show you their country.
Falling in love with Ecuador is easily deceptive-once you see the country you seldom shake the urge to return. Keep reading for where to go to discover the adventure, spirit, and beauty of Ecuador.
One-of-a-kind moments appear here that go beyond the ordinary- leading into the hills, valleys, volcanoes, jungle, coast, and the tropical waters of the Galapagos Islands.
Ecuador is split into four regions. The Amazon contains more flora and fauna than almost anywhere else in the world, and the Galapagos Islands’ volcanic landscapes harbor an inspiring number of endemic animals that show no fear of humans.
Towering volcanoes stand watch over the highlands of the Sierra, shrouded in folklore and occasionally erupting into bright displays of lava and ash. The coast’s collection of beaches offer secluded retreats where surfing, kayaking, kite surfing, and paragliding are daily activities that invigorate and refresh the senses.
The romance of the Galapagos Islands started with pirates who mapped the archipelago. Charles Darwin, Jacque Cousteau, David Attenborough, and countless others have fallen under the spell of the islands. Pristine beaches, clear waters, and sunny skies invite travelers to discover the exotic landscapes and the incredible creatures that live within their borders. This is an incredibly special place where nature has held court for millions of years. Visiting reconnects weary travelers with nature-away from texts, media, email, and the modern world.
The culture of the Galapagos Islands is a mix of influences-European settlers, people from the coast and the highlands of Ecuador, and a healthy population of scientists and volunteers from all over the world have brought their traditions- along with their baggage- with them.
Ecuador’s jungle is a jumping off point into the natural riches of the country that transcends expectations. Traveling the byways of the Napo River by canoe is an adventure.
Hidden under the brilliant canopy of the Oriente are howler monkeys swinging from the trees, thousands of bird hovering above in the bright blue sky, and communities and tribes that have lived in the forest for centuries. Visiting sheds new light on the fragile balance between man and nature-revealing another world where exploring becomes more than just sightseeing.
The southern Sierra in Ecuador runs down the middle of the country-The Avenue of the Volcanoes, named by German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, flanks the sweeping patchwork of green hills and valleys stretching as far as the eye can see.
The Quilotoa Loop is an experience that dives into the culture and natural beauty of Ecuador’s highlands. A three or four-day hike through the rolling hills and lush valleys takes you past hillside farms where locals follow age-old traditions, through villages where open-air markets take place weekly, and to crater lakes and far off viewpoints where the horizon takes your breath away.
Further south past the town of Ambato on a winding road flanked by hills and cliffs is Baños. The international climbing and outdoor adventure center of the Andes attracts outdoor adventurers seeking high cliffs to climb, rapids to raft, waterfalls for canyoning, and trails to the vistas above the valley. Outside of town is the Swing at the End of the World, a treehouse with two swings that soar over the valley below a steep drop off.
In the Northern Highlands, there are new adventures to be had. Imbabura, the Cuicocha and Mojanda Lakes and the Cayambe, Cuicocha, San Pablo, and Mojanda volcanoes attract climbers, while the towns and villages in the valleys below are welcome retreats for adventurers of all shapes and sizes.
Otavalo, a few hours north of Quito, is one of the largest and oldest outdoor markets in Latin America that goes back to the occupation of the Spanish. After Ecuador’s independence, the native indigenous people who were forced to work in Spanish run textile mills turned the tables.
The skills that they acquired during hard labor provided a means to prosper in the new republic. During the 1960s, when travel to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands began to bloom, the Otavalo market became a stop for visitors from all over the world. Brightly colored textiles, hand-made jewelry, musical instruments, Panama hats, stacks of clothes, and original artwork and prints are sold by local vendors dressed in the elaborate, traditional garb of the region.
One of the traditional designs on blankets and textiles found around the market was created based on a book by Escher left by a Peace Corps volunteer.
The small town of San Pablo, the Peguche waterfalls, and the stunning Mojanda Lake take you away from the frenzy of the market and into the nearby natural attractions that have drawn travelers for centuries.
The nearby town of Ibarra, a short bus or scenic train ride to the north, is a low-key colonial city alive with music and culture amid cobblestone streets, plazas flanked by restaurants and coffee shops, and Spanish churches.
The people of the Sierra are a hearty bunch of people. Seen hiking steep hills in the highlands, tending their crops along mountain paths, and herding cattle and other animals along the side of the road. Keep an eye-open for hornado, a pork dish carved from a whole roasted pig, and Cuy, or roasted Guinea Pig, a dish that is considered a delicacy and served on the street and in restaurants.
To the northwest of Quito is the sequestered town of Mindo, tucked in the middle of Ecuador’s cloud forest. Sprawling reserves, community-based lodges, ziplines over the canopy, and early morning, guided bird tours unlock the mysteries of the lavish reserves in the area. An outstanding variety of birds, trails into the forest to a series of waterfalls, and peaceful retreats take you away from the clamor of everyday life and lend themselves to a few extra days in Ecuador exploring and relaxing surrounded by lush forests.
Traveling the route along the coast in Ecuador is an adventure that takes you back to the early days of California beach culture.
Hidden black beaches in peaceful coves, epic surfing spots, and laid-back coastal communities dot the map between bustling fishing villages- coffee, banana, and chocolate plantations- and reserves. The port city of Guayaquil in the south sends visitors and supplies to the Galapagos Islands daily. The northern city of Bahia has been used as a port since before the Inca and was a launching point for Spanish ships headed home or to other parts of the New World during their occupation.
Montanita, Ecuador’s surf capital in the south, is a windswept town with dirt roads and some of the best surf and surfers in the country. Canoa is close behind in the north, a small beach town surrounded by cliffs where the surf, and windsurfing are unparalleled on the right day.
On the central coast and fifteen minutes from the urban city of Manta is Playa Marianita. The small beach has a handful of hostels and hotels and a few shacks on the beach selling fish and ceviche. It’s a kite-surfers mecca-drawing Ecuadorian and international adventurers to the turquoise waters of the short expanse of sand.
Put together, the four regions of Ecuador and their people, culture, traditions and natural beauty paint a picture of a vibrant country that is proud of its heritage. The national identity comes from thousands of years of history and is respectful of the cultures that came before and the natural wonders of the diverse country.
Each day spent in the country makes it harder to leave many an expat came here to travel and ended up returning or never leaving. The weather changes daily-the sunny morning, the rain in the afternoons and the change in climate in different parts of the country keep things interesting.
To see for yourself the amazing diversity and rich natural and historic sites of Ecuador, take the time to do research and try your hand at Spanish classes. For help with itineraries, and vetted options for travel to the coast, the Galapagos, the jungle, and the Sierra, contact a member of our team. We specialize in custom-made trips that showcase the passion and spirit of Ecuador and its people.