Ecuador is the second smallest country in South America, with Colombia to its north and Peru to the south. The Galápagos Islands, which lie a little over 600 miles to the west in the Pacific Ocean, are also a part of Ecuador. The country enjoys mild, tropical climate in the coastal areas and the lowlands of the Amazon, and cooler temperatures in the Andean highlands. With the equator passing right through it, Ecuador does not experience temperature fluctuations or very cold weather. Hence, the ideal time to visit would be well, anytime! All you need to know is that you should be well equipped for the rains or the high heat of the sun. Did you know that Ecuador is one of the megadiverse countries of the world, thanks to its amazing ecological diversity? As a tourist, the country will enthrall you with its mix of exotic plant and animal life. With a rich cultural heritage, Ecuador has abundant things in store to satisfy your cultural thirst. And for the adventure freaks out there, the country offers plenty of opportunities for an adrenaline rush.
The capital and the second-most populated city in Ecuador, Quito was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its well-preserved architectural sites dating back to the Spanish colonial era. Nestled in the Andean valley, Quito is at once a city with a quaint charm, as well as a modern, bustling metropolis with high-rises and crowded streets.
- Quito is very well-known for its churches. Visit the Basilica del Voto Nacional, one of the largest churches in the world! The other immensely popular churches are Church of La Compania de Jesus, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Church of El Sagrario, and the Church of Santo Domingo.
- To the north of the city lies the Mitad del Mundo, which stands for Middle of the World. The monument there is built to denote the point over which the equator passes through Ecuador. The place is brimming with tourists who find it exciting to actually walk in both hemispheres at the same time! It is also the best place to buy beautiful souvenirs and taste some local Ecuadorian fare.
- Quito is also home to several parks, with the Parque Metropolitano Guanguiltagua having the distinction of being the largest public park in South America. Parque la Carolina, El Ejido, and La Alameda are some other parks you can visit, not just for nature viewing, but activities such as boating, picnics, and biking.
- True nature lovers should make their way to the Mindo, which is home to a cloud forest and always covered with mist, and teems with an amazing variety of plants and trees endemic to the place.
- The Pichincha province, where Quito lies, also boasts of the Rucu and Guagua volcanoes. The Pulalahua Geobotanical Reserve also has a crater which tourists can view since it is easily accessible by road. This area, interestingly enough, despite being close to a volcano, is still inhabited by humans.
- Quito also boasts a vibrant nightlife, so if you are looking to visit trendy pubs, clubs, and cafes, head to La Mariscal Sucre, a colorful place very popular with international tourists. It is also fondly called gringolandia by the locals, the word gringo meaning foreigner.
- You will definitely not want to miss the aerial tram ride TeleferiQo, which takes you from the city center to Cruz Loma, a hill just outside Quito, where you can find lots of restaurants and shopping stores, and which also offers a breathtaking view of the city from top.
- Take a trip up north to the small town of Otavalo, famous with shoppers, where the indigenous folks of the town manufacture and sell colorful traditional garments, musical instruments, jewelry, local spices, and wooden statues.
The country's largest city, which lies on the banks of the Guayas river, is witnessing a gradual shift, fast emerging as the number one international tourist destination in South America.
- Guayaquil is the industrial capital of Ecuador, and to witness the city's transformation from a small town to an international tourist hot spot, you must visit the Malecon 2000, a river boardwalk, and the best place to see both the historic landmarks and modern high rises of Guayaquil. You can take a leisurely stroll and dine in the eateries lining the pathways.
- Parque Seminario is a huge park in the city, the interesting feature being it is home to several iguanas, and you are allowed to feed them fruit slices which are sold by nearby vendors. A statue of Simon Bolivar on horseback is also a prominent landmark in the park.
- If you are an art lover, you should take a trip to Las Penas, the artistic hub of Guayaquil. There are plenty of art galleries.
- If you are interested in shopping (who isn't?) head to the Bahia, Mercado Artesanal, and Urdesa localities, and remember, these are places where you can haggle!
- A climb to the Cerro Santa Ana will leave you tired, but the trip is worth it. There are over 400 stairs (which are numbered!) leading up to the watchtower from where you can get some beautiful views of the city below. Vividly colored houses and cafes line both sides of the steps, so be sure to stop at one of the eateries to enjoy authentic Ecuadorian cuisine.
- There is no dearth of botanical reserves in Ecuador, and you are sure to come across several of them, whichever part of the country you are in. So head to the Cerro Blanco Protected Forest, situated on the outskirts of Guayaquil, which hosts over 300 plant species and 500 animal species!
This one is definitely for the adrenaline junkie! Extremely popular with international tourists, people from all over the world come here to enjoy outdoor activities. People refer to Banos as the gateway to the Amazon forests, and the town is situated at the base of the Tungurahua volcano.
- You may just want to rent a mountain bike and take a hike in the mountains, or rent an ATV and roam around the place.
- Banos is heaven for those with a sweet tooth, since it is world-famous for the taffy it produces, known locally as melcocha.
- Llanganates National Park, another haven for admirers of wildlife, is located close to Banos.
- A visit to the San Martin Zoological Gardens will give you an insight on the wildlife found in the Amazonian jungles, and is a center for nursing injured animals back to health. These gardens also offer protection to endangered Amazonian species of wildlife.
- Browse the small shops lining the streets for silver jewelry and local handicrafts.
- A short distance from Banos is Puyo, and the roads leading there are dotted with spectacular waterfalls, not to be missed by tourists. Do not forget to ride along the Ruta de las Cascadas (Highway of the Waterfalls), and Pailon del Diablo.
- Cable cars (locally known as tarabitas) are operational over the hills leading to the waterfalls. You can take a ride in them to see the spectacular view of the cascades running below.
- The other highlight of the town is the hydrothermal springs, with the water being heated naturally by the volcano. These are found throughout the city, and people flock to them to enjoy thermal baths.
And finally, we come to the world-renowned Galápagos Islands, where Charles Darwin made his observations, leading him to come up with the revolutionary theory of evolution. Teeming with hundreds of species of flora and fauna, a trip to Ecuador is incomplete without visiting the Galapagos Islands.
- San Cristobal, the second of the largest inhabited island, houses the Frigate Bird Hill, the best place to watch frigate birds in all their glory. The road downhill will lead you to Las Tijeretas Bay where you can enjoy snorkeling!
- Playa Cabo de Horno, another spot on San Cristobal island is a haven for surfers. With some exceptional breakers, you will definitely have a mind-blowing surfing experience.
- For the scuba diving enthusiasts, Kicker Rock is the place! Notable for its scenic beauty, this rock reminds one of a sleeping lion right in the middle of the ocean, and divers from all over the world come here to dive.
- Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Santa Cruz island, named after the islands' most popular visitor. Scientists here are involved with conserving the biological diversity of the area, particularly in the care and breeding of giant tortoises.
- Travelers also delight in visiting the lava tubes, underground tunnels created by molten lava flow.
- Wildlife explorers can enjoy watching animals in their natural habitats, including both land and marine iguanas, Galapagos tortoises, Galápagos penguins, Galapagos green turtles, endemic species of Darwin's finches, and the Galapagos sea lions, which are highly curious.
- Punta Cormorant, on the Floreana island, is bestowed with two vastly different beaches. One is a dark, sandy beach, that is scattered with olivine crystals, remnants of a volcanic eruption. The second one is a virginal golden sand colored beach with crystal clear water, and the surrounding hills carved out of black volcanic rock are a stunning contrast and a delight to watch. The place is ideal for spotting reef sharks, stingrays, bright red sally lightfoot crabs, and a variety of colorful fish.
Ecuador, a relatively small country has something in store for all kinds of travelers, whether it's the warm and inviting Pacific coasts, the Amazonian rainforests, or the Andean highlands, not to forget the splendid Galapagos Islands. So pack your bags and be on your way, because a magical and truly unforgettable holiday experience awaits you in Ecuador.