Fantastic natural landscapes, beautiful colonial cities, the magical Andes with majestic volcanoes, the heritage of the ancient Incas and the picturesque shores of the Amazon — all this is Ecuador.
Things to do in Ecuador
The small country of South America combines four natural zones: the tropics, mangrove forests, mountains and plains — and all this in a relatively small area. Here you can walk along the mountain paths in the Andes, swim in waterfalls, watch animals in the wild or the life of small local villages. Travelers come here willingly to swim with dolphins off the coast of the Galapagos Islands and see the jungle from a boat in the Amazon.
Ecuador is a paradise for bird watchers. One sixth of all bird species on the planet live here: brightly colored hummingbirds, blue and red-footed boobies, flightless cormorants and other exotic birds.
Those wishing to get acquainted with the indigenous tribes, see and feel the life of the local peoples, the country offers acquaintance with the tribes of the natives, carefully guarding the traditional way of life.
Those who wish can live in a community of Salasaki Indians living at the foot of the Tungurahua volcano. The community was brought to Ecuador by the Incas from Bolivia to guard the gates to the rainforest. Salasaki are excellent weavers who have preserved their national costumes, traditions, original political and cultural organization.
Ecuador offers fearless thrill-seekers climbing the ridges of high mountains and a trip along sheer cliffs on the Devil’s train. The route connects Quito, the capital of the country, with Guayaquil, the main port city of Ecuador. It allows you to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the magnificent landscapes of Ecuador.
Secluded and calm beaches provide an unforgettable vacation away from the hustle and bustle of cities. And if you want entertainment, you can visit one of the many beach parties. Surfers will love Ecuador, and during the summer months, divers can spot humpback whales that come close to shore to feed their young.
The tallest active volcano in the world rises proudly in the Andes. Cotopaxi (meaning “neck of the moon”) rises to a height of 5,897 meters above sea level. Its crater is over 700 meters wide. The first recorded volcanic eruption was in 1534, during the Spanish conquest. Then the volcano spewed ash, equally frightening the conquistadors and the local population. The last major eruption occurred in 1877.
Near Cotopaxi is the national park of the same name. The ecological reserve of 36,000 hectares is covered with typical vegetation of the Andean wastelands. There are llamas, deer, rabbits, frogs and lizards. Birds include gulls, ducks, several species of hummingbirds and, if you’re lucky, condors.
The Galapagos Islands are famous for their rare and exotic nature. This is the only paradise on the planet where animals do not experience fear of humans. Giant tortoises, marine iguanas and Darwin’s finches live here.
On the island of San Cristobal, the westernmost point of the Galapagos Islands, there is La Loberia beach, where a large colony of sea lions lives. In coastal waters you can meet sharks, rays and dolphins.
The island was chosen by surfers and divers — because of the good waves and the rich underwater world. It was in the Galapagos Islands that Charles Darwin noticed the development of species and began to study evolution.
The Puyango Petrified Forest is a unique site of marine fossils and petrified wood. The remains of living beings have been stored in the geological layers of the earth’s crust for more than a hundred million years. This forest is located in the south of the country, in the provinces of El Oro and Loja, near the border with Peru.
Once upon a time, there was a coastline here. The ocean washed ashore marine animals, shells and crabs, and fallen trees were soaked in salt, literally preserved. In addition, there were several active volcanoes on the coast, periodically covering the area with ash and sulfur. As a result, organics petrified.
The pressed remains of wood turned into stones under the influence of time, although some of them still look like branches and trunks. The 2,658-hectare reserve has been declared a cultural heritage of Ecuador — it is the only area of its kind in the world.
This is the name of the Amazon River and everything surrounding its territory within the country. The river is home to huge otters, manatees, turtles and pink dolphins, which are endangered mammals. On the banks of the river you can see monkeys jumping on tree branches, sloths and a huge number of bright tropical birds.
More than a hundred aboriginal tribes live in the Amazon, who have never seen the miracles of progress, but have retained their original culture. You can travel through the Amazon on a motor canoe.
The volcano is located in Central Ecuador, 150 kilometers southwest of Quito. The majestic peak, covered with eternal glaciers, rises 6,310 meters above the surrounding highlands. Chimborazo did not erupt for a long time. The volcano is depicted on the coat of arms of Ecuador, as it is considered a sacred mountain, the patroness of the Andean peoples.
Yasuni National Park
The Yasuni Nature Reserve is a 4‑hour drive from the capital of Ecuador, Quito. Kilometers of dense primeval forests are inhabited by exotic plants, animals and insects. The largest national park in the country is recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve.
The reserve is protected by international law, as this is the only way to preserve the diversity of biological species that exist on the territory of Ecuador. A visit to the park will bring a lot of impressions, because many insects and animals inhabiting Yasuni live only here.
At the foot of the volcano of the same name is a protected ecosystem created to preserve the habitat of Andean camels: vicuñas, llamas, guanacos and alpacas.
In 1960, due to uncontrolled poaching since the Spanish conquest, only about 6,000 vicunas remained in the wild. Today, their population numbers 125 thousand individuals, but these animals are still endangered, so they live in the reserve.
Sumaco National Park
Sumaco Volcano is located away from other volcanoes in Ecuador, in the heart of the wild jungle. The national park around it offers an amazing variety of wildlife. 522 species of birds, several species of monkeys, sloths and a spectacled bear live here.
The reserve has hiking trails for observing animals and birds, and adventurers can try to reach the top of the volcano and admire the fantastic view from the mountain.
Paramo is a characteristic formation of the tropical Andes, located between the upper line of the forest (about 3500 meters in height) and the permanent snow line (5000 meters). The ecosystem consists of glacial valleys and plains with occasional patches of forest, lakes, peat bogs and wet meadows. It stretches along hills, valleys and the ancient volcanoes of Chimborazo and Carihuairazo.
Paramo is a variety of mammals and birds, as well as a multi-colored flora: spongy vegetation, bromeliads, mosses and trees such as puma maquis, polyleps and gynoxis. Deer, rabbits, wolves and a huge number of birds live here — from the smallest hummingbird to the majestic condor, the largest flying bird in the world.
This beautiful place is located in Southern Ecuador between the provinces of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe. Here, tourists are offered to appreciate the incredible diversity of flora and fauna, hiking along forest paths, swimming in waterfalls and, of course, taking beautiful photos.
The park is named after the podocarpus trees that form small forests. Among them grow some of the most beautiful flowers on the planet — labios de rumbera orchids, painted in bright colors.
Reserve Cayapas Matai
Giant mangroves with an area of 49,000 hectares are located in the very north-west of Ecuador, near the border with Colombia. The park is home to 26 Forest Indian communities who belong to a minority Afro-Ecuadorian group.
In the mangrove reserve, there are areas that are constantly flooded, which makes the ecosystem very interesting. In this amazing place you can meet water opossums, jaguars, dolphins and otters.
The mangrove conservation policy, launched in 1995, enables Ecuador to conserve endemics — animals that live only here. These include blue crab, whose meat is considered a delicacy. And in the reserve there are many fruit trees, beautiful plants and birds.
Sangai National Park
The park has an extinct volcano Altarnaya Gora with a height of 5139 meters, and two active ones: Tungurahua with a height of 5016 meters and Sangay with a height of 5230 meters. The national park itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sangai has lakes, rivers, swamps and rainforests with established hiking trails. Tapirs, cougars, guinea pigs and Andean foxes live in the mountains. In the foothills — spectacled bears, jaguars, ocelots, white-tailed deer, pudu and giant otters. Also in the park there are 10 species of endemic birds and 15 species with a limited range of distribution.
Hill of El Panecillo and Virgin Mary
The most picturesque view of Quito opens from the observation deck at the foot of the statue of the Virgin Mary on the hill of El Panecillo. Visitors can enjoy magnificent views of the central and southern parts of the city from here. Looking towards the colonial center, one can appreciate the colorful domes of several colonial churches, as well as the reddish-brown tiled roofs.
The top of the El Panecillo hill is located at an altitude of 3000 meters above sea level. Previously, a military fort was located here to protect the city. On a clear day, tourists can see several snow-covered volcanoes in the distance.
Statue of the Virgin
In addition to amazing views, visitors can appreciate the statue of the Virgin, located on the hill of El Panecillo. It is considered an architectural and artistic masterpiece and is a mosaic of seven thousand metal pieces. This is an exact copy of the statue of Bernardo de Legard, kept in the altar of the church of San Francisco. The Mother of God stands on a ball with a snake chained to her feet.
Inside the monument, on the way to the observation deck, which is located about 11 meters above the base of the statue, there is a small museum. It tells the story of El Panecillo and details how the Virgin Mary was built. There is a cafe and a handicraft shop on the territory of the museum.
Cities of Quito and Cuenca
The colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca abound with colorful colonial architecture. Not surprisingly, they were one of the first ten sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978.
Visitors can walk along the beautiful cobbled alleys, people-watch in the squares and in the park, and visit the quaint local churches. It is worth taking a couple of days to explore the cities of Quito and Cuenca.
Alameda was founded on March 8, 1596, making it the oldest park in Quito. It is a popular place for a quiet and relaxing holiday. There is a small lagoon where you can ride a boat and feed the birds, the El Churo observation deck and many monuments. One of them is a monument to President Eloy Alfaro, the man who approved the law to respect indigenous and forest dwellers.
Basilica del Voto Nacional
The Basilica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-gothic church in America. According to local legend, the end of the world will come if the construction of this basilica is ever officially completed. In fact, “only” 105 years passed from the emergence of the idea to the opening of the church. And 1988 was not the end of the world.
In the interior of the church, two smaller ones adjoin the central nave — with a dome and stained-glass windows. Around are 24 small chapels, each of which is dedicated to one of the provinces of Ecuador. The crypt and pantheon also adjoin the basilica. Outside, there are a number of stone statues of animals endemic to Ecuador, including iguanas, turtles, armadillos, and condors.
Cathedral of Nueva, Cuenca
The new cathedral is named after the Immaculate Conception. Construction work began in 1885 and lasted almost a century. This building combines many architectural styles, but Romanesque Revival prevails.
The cathedral is topped by three gigantic domes covered with striking blue and white glazed tiles from former Czechoslovakia. A staircase of 160 steps leads to the top, climbing which you can get to the observation deck and admire the panorama of the city of Quito. Opposite is another old cathedral, which now houses a museum.
Palace of Carondelet
In Quito, brimming with architectural masterpieces, Carondelet Palace stands out as one of the finest historical sites. By visiting it, tourists will learn about the presidential history of the country, will be able to wander around the rooms, take pictures of the works of famous artists and watch the solemn changing of the guard.
The front rooms and reception rooms of the palace are decorated with antique furniture. There are expositions of antiques and gifts to the president, as well as works by famous Ecuadorian artists. Most notable is the fresco by Oswaldo Guayasamin, which depicts the navigation of the Amazon River by Francisco de Orellana in 1542.
The palace was built over 300 years ago and is the official residence of the President and Government of Ecuador. The building has a whitewashed neoclassical façade, a colonnade and a large balcony. Nearby is an elegant flower courtyard with a fountain and a two-level arcade. The Presidential Balcony offers stunning views of the Plaza Grande.
Historical sights and museums
Capilla del Ombre Museum
The idea of creating a museum of man belongs to the Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamin. He initiated the construction of a space dedicated to the Hispanic living in conditions of injustice and discrimination.
The museum combines architecture, paintings, murals, sculptures, outdoor areas, and they all send a message of commitment to human rights, peace and solidarity. In the center of the structure is an eternal flame. The museum does not leave anyone indifferent — the expositions so subtly convey all the pain and hopelessness of the oppressed peoples of Latin America.
The ruins of the majestic building of the Inca civilization are located in the province of Cañar, 60 kilometers from the city of Cuenca. Ingapirka has an area of 4 hectares, so it takes more than two hours to inspect the structure. The fortress was an important religious, political, scientific, military and administrative center during the existence of the Inca civilization.
Astronomical observatory in Quito
In 1873, the construction of an astronomical observatory began in Alameda Park, which managed to withstand the test of time, remaining in its original state. Today it is the oldest astronomical observatory in South America. Its equipment has survived to this day, and in the last century it was supplemented with modern telescopes.
The building with arched doorways and large arched windows is surrounded by a well-kept garden and includes not only a medieval observatory, but also a museum where visitors are told about the stars and the history of their study by the peoples of Ecuador.
Civilizations living in Ecuador before the Incas were already aware of the constellations and the power of the equator when they built their pyramid. There is a monument in the north of Quito that commemorates the French mission to determine the exact lines of the equator. And at the nearby Intignan Museum, guests can learn a lot about this imaginary line.