The majestic Andes highlands cut through Ecuador from north to south with numerous beautiful places for you to see and visit. North of Quito, the avenue of Volcanoes is occupied by ‘fire giants’ consisting of both active and dormant volcanoes. The southern highlands of Cuenca has much to offer. The indigenous communities living there contribute actively to the crafts markets, and stunning colonial architectures paint the town with its charming and intricate facade. Below are specially chosen places that we think you shouldn’t miss out!
No. 1 The Avenue of Volcanoes – Those aiming to summit or explore Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Sangay will have to travel from Quito to Alausí. You can travel at your own pace on this unique path. Besides mountain climbing, visitors can go hiking or horseback riding around the national parks. Please take note of the high altitudes as some people may experience altitude sickness and few can sleep well above 3000 metres. All in all, this iconic region is sure to take your breath away. There is little question as to why it is on the top of our list!
No. 2 UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites – The beautiful cities of Quito, Cuenca and Zaruma in Ecuador easily snatched up the impressive title of UNESCO World Cultural heritage sites. Cuenca and Quito are known for their historic colonial centre, while Zaruma is known as a gold digger town which is famous for its gold mines. Zaruma is located on the off beaten tracks southwest of Ecuador, away from large crowds of tourists. All three cities are worth visiting. We suggest starting your trip in Quito. Ideally, you should stay overnight in one of the small hotels in the historical centre which offers you an impressive view of the city. You can take a morning walk the next day and watch the city slowly comes to life again.
No. 3 Vilcabamba, TheValley of longevity – There are some regions in the world where a large number of people live till a really old age and the lovely Vilcabamba valley in southern Ecuador is one of them. It is a hotspot for retirees and hippies who live by a myth that those who live there will enjoy a long healthy life. With the trend of increasing health consciousness, more people have been migrating to Vilcabamba. Those who have time to visit this cosy valley must surely try the Vilcabamba coffee.
No. 4 Train Rides – For Ecuadorians, the 20th century was marked by the impressive milestone in the completion of the train tracks which travel between Quito and Guayaquil. Unfortunately, a series of earthquakes and landslides have hindered the path. Today, it is once again safe and secure for locals and tourists. A special tourist train travels fortnightly from Quito to Guayaquil at the coast. The most famous and legendary train route goes around the Devil’s nose – a steep rock formation near the town of Alausí. Currently, there are six routes which bring you to various exciting destinations. Train tickets are available for booking on our site. Tickets sell out quickly so grab them while you can!
No. 5 Sky Swings in Casa del Arbol, Baños – While New Zealand has Queenstown, Ecuador has Baños de Agua Santa. It is the best place for outdoor adventure seekers or those who are for a challenge. There is everything here, from rafting, mountain biking, zip lining, bungee jumping, hiking, horseback riding and not forgetting sky swinging! Admiring the tranquil city below on a sky swing is a once in a lifetime experience. The city has 18,000 inhabitants and is located at the foot of the active Tungurahua volcano. The climate is spring-like all year round which is rather comfortable. There are also many spectacular and massive waterfalls lining the city. You can get to the rainforest region in just an hour from Baños. What’s not to like about this exciting and wondrous place?
No.6 Quilotoa & Cuicocha Crater Lakes – Almost everything in Ecuador is formed by volcanoes and lakes are no exception. Quilotoa & Cuicocha are two incredibly beautiful lagoons where you can go hiking, horseback riding or enjoy the scenery. Cuicocha Lagoon (also known as the Guinea Pig Lagoon) is only half an hour from Otavalo. The nature trail offers many physical pieces of evidence of the force of nature which makes the hike both exciting and educational for both adults and children. The Quilotoa Lagoon is located in the west of Cotopaxi. There are also many magnificent lagoons for you to explore at the Cayambe-Coca national park (Papallacta), Sangay national park (Gamot) and Cajas national park (Cuenca). You are pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to lakes and lagoons, so do not hesitate to contact our travel advisors to help you out.
No. 7 El Ángel Nationalpark – This flora paradise is close to the Colombian border. The El Angel Ecological Reserve is located in a Páramo zone with an altitude between 3640 and 4700 meters at Chiles. The arid landscape allows tough and extremely resistant perennials such as Frailejon (Espeletia Grandiflora) to grow. The magical Polylepis forests which grow there are as old as 1500 years old! You can easily get to the national park with a day trip from Ibarra or Otavalo. Alternatively, you can stay overnight at one of the lodges available.
No. 8 Indigenous Markets – While there are many indigenous markets in Ecuador, the most famous ones are in Otavalo, Salisiquí, Pujilí, Guamote, Latacunga and Salcedo. The markets are not homogenous but offer a variety of different products. The markets in Salisiquí and Pujilí are weekly markets for the local population which takes place twice a week. They sell everything from fruits, vegetables, household goods to street food. The famous market in Otavalo is a local market that is only open on Saturdays. On all other days, visitors can visit the “Poncho Plaza” which sells brightly coloured textiles and handmade arts and crafts. The market in Salcedo is a textile market. The markets are hands down the best places for souvenirs!
No. 9 Hot Springs in Papallacta and Cayambe-Coca National Park – Ever since the renewal of roads, Cayambe-Coca National Park is only 90 minutes by car from Quito. On a clear day, a breathtaking view of Cotopaxi, Cayambe and Antisana will greet you at the entrance of the national park. If you are up for it, there are also several hiking trails around the hot springs which are well signposted. The Papallacta thermal baths are located at the foot of the park at an altitude of 3,399 metres. The hot springs provide an unbeatable relaxation session as you soak away all tension while enjoying the panoramic mountain view.
No. 10 Ingapirca – the only remaining major Inca site in Ecuador is a short 90 minutes drive from the north of Cuenca. While it may not be as impressive as the ones in Peru, it is still definitely worth a visit for those who are new to South America. It includes the Temple of the Sun which is a massive oval construction which was once used for rituals and astronomical purposes. The Inca Trail can be completed in several days or just as a short 4 hours hike. There is a small charming hacienda along the trail if you intend to stay overnight.