Ecuador was named as such because when the Spanish conquerors occupied it during the 1500’s the equator passes through the northern part of this country. The Andes region and its snow capped peaks that often hides behind thick clouds generally run through the center of Ecuador. In this forest area, there are more than 30 active volcanoes and low lying plains that are ideal for farming.
Discover not only landscape attractions but also the rich coastal areas that produce the best shrimps, large catches of herring, mackerel and tuna. Learn about the interesting culture where almost half of the population is Native American and there are some groups who still live nomadic lives deep in the rain forest jungles. Here are the top ten not to be missed places when in Ecuador.
Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus
, words are not enough to describe the gold gilded work, luxury, and the most striking religious ornamentation. All the extravagance of luxury from the legacy left behind by its Portuguese conquerors adds the certain charm of this architectural beauty. Gold flowed freely in this unique and memorable building that greatly epitomizes the rich colonial history of Ecuador. The church is located just a few steps from the Plaza Grande. Even the exterior is magnificent, but it is surpassed by its shining and sparkling interior. The decor is stunning and wherever you look, gold leaf filigree work line the church’s interior. You cannot escape the Baroque charm of this beautiful seventeenth-century church, for whose construction used almost seven tons of gold. What a dazzling show where architectural harmony merged pretty well with so much glitz. The guided tour (English and Spanish) allows you to fully learn all the rich history of this church that is amazing and famous for its rich decorations, paintings and religious importance.
Until a few decades, the center of
is limited more or less to the
Historical Old Town
. Today, nearly two million residents of the metropolitan area have ensured that it has become the heart of a 50 kilometer long urban residential strip between the mountain chains. The churches of the Franciscans and Dominicans, as well as the secular palaces and museums are all worth a visit. The historic center of Quito is very beautiful, with wonderful churches and rich cultural heritage. You will be delighted with the Palace of the Government and the promenade square around the building. In the streets you will meet hawkers dressed in costumes selling blankets, scarves, hats and souvenirs.
Cuenca (Azuay Province)
If you’re in Cuenca, you have to go to the El Cajas National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas). It is a wonderful landscape with beautiful lakes and mountains. This park is easily accessible if you hail a bus that runs from the south terminal. With a few hours you can take any bus that goes to Guayaquil that will take you to the park. Do not forget to ask to get off at the entrance of the park. To return just get any bus that goes to Cuenca. Important tip, when you see the bus wave enough because only then will the driver stop. There are different levels of track for the hiking trails along the park. At the park entrance, you will be given all the information and a map of the trails. You can also rent a professional guide so as not to get lost along the trails. The park is 4000 meters above sea level, so you can feel the effects of altitude. There is a restaurant in the park that offers simple good food at a reasonable price, but it seems that it is not always open so do not forget to bring snacks and water.
Plaza Abdon Calderon
is one of the most beautiful squares in Cuenca that is located right in front of the century old
Cathedral de la Immaculada
and serves as a meeting point of the local population before or after every holy mass. Around the ancient Church stand public buildings, restaurants and some bars. Undoubtedly it is one of the most beautiful historical centers of the world. The historic center of Cuenca is something inescapable because everywhere you look you see something wonderful, well maintained and very old.
Guayaquil (Guayas Province)
Parque Historico Guayaquil
is a beautiful tropical garden with a mixture of zoo, botanical garden and open-air museum. It is ideal for a trip with a stay in Guayaquil. The best place to bring (large and small) children because of the animals (including a kind of petting zoo) and plants. It has a small playground and last but not least there is the wide and spacious park with numerous shady spots to protect every visitor from the scorching hot sun. Another good thing about the place is it is absolutely free.
The Parque Historico is a combination of open-air museum and zoo, and in a very successful blend. The special feature of Zoo is that the animals are not separated unlike other enclosed zoos. Animals kept here can walk or fly freely. You can get up close to the most exotic parrots and birds. One feels in the tropical flora and fauna that is almost like a real jungle. It is a small oasis in the otherwise hectic city of Guayaquil and Samborondon. Towards the end of the zoo there is an open-air museum with beautifully reconstructed colonial buildings. Cultural events, concerts, and performances are usually performed in front of these colonial buildings which never fail to draw in the crowd and tourist to appreciate their well rehearsed cultural performance.
Banos (Tunguruhua Province)
To reach the
Ruta de las Cascadas
the tour can be done by car or bike, if you go with children it is highly recommended to tour the route by car. From the main town center of Baños it will take about 20 minutes to get to the final waterfall. But if you want to feel nature and have an unforgettable adventure rent a bike. In the center there are many shops that rent bikes to explore this attraction. It is more or less an hour bike but very worthwhile. Bring comfortable clothes, even if the bike is not going to reach the last waterfall (the largest and most beautiful). You must come down which is approximately a 15 min walk but well worth it. When you get there it is important to get to the viewpoint closer to the waterfall (it has stairs to get there) however, also go to the highest observation deck (must enter through a kind of tunnel and will soil your clothes) but you will be rewarded by the sight of a cool gazebo.
The route leads to waterfalls, beautiful mountain scenery and adventure sports activities like; rappelling, jumping bridge (bungee jumping), crossing over the river, by canyons, and hiking to reach the waterfalls that add hundreds of steps that is all worth the effort.
Puerto Ayora (Galapagos Islands)
This group of small islands, which is about 1000 km from the mainland rightfully belongs to the nation of Ecuador. Galapagos literally means “tortoise” in Spanish. The islands were named after the giant sea turtles that live on them. The other rare and unusual wildlife species that can be found along the
includes; mockingbirds, crabs (red and black) and marine iguana lizards that can never be found anywhere in the world.
The island can be accessed on foot, after registering at the entrance you need to walk about 30 minutes on a well paved road where you will reach the first beach where bathing is not possible if the current and waves are strong. Still, stopping there to sunbathe is one of the best things one can do when in Puerto Ayora. In the second beach, you can observe marine iguanas, crabs and migratory birds.
The second beach is also the best place to enjoy deep sea diving, kayaking and snorkeling adventure. The best part of the adventure is that it does not pay to go up there and just requires good legs to walk along the short trail. The scenery compensates for the path is full of cacti and iguanas. It has very white and fine sand, crystal clear water with mangroves on both ends.
Otavalo (Imbabura Provinces)
is a lake that is in the crater of the volcano. Hundreds of years ago, an earthquake happened that collapsed its landscape and along with the melting of the snow this magnificent lake came to emerge. It is easily accessible by a ferry ride from Cotacachi Island.
After that, you must take a twenty minute ride by boat that will take you to the main lagoon. You can spend a good 4 hours walking along the edge of the crater where you can see many native plants and berries, great view of the mountain side, and colorful orchids.
The beaches of
in the island of San Cristobal is a beautiful beach with warm and translucent waters that is ideal for snorkeling and surfing to advanced surfers. It is a beach with volcanic rocks (as is the formation of Galapagos, which beaches have rocks under all its waters). You have to walk a bit to get to the beach.
Bring water, sunscreen, provisions and everything necessary to spend the day there because there is nothing to buy or eat, no smoking and no littering obviously and almost no shade. You can spend hours snorkeling because it’s super fun to see schools of little tropical fishes and other marine species swimming along as you take a dive. Along the beach coasts, it is a common sight to meet sea lions sprawled out under the sun and the black iguanas.
To reach the
, you must get a few minutes by boat from the port where you will journey through the volcanic rock and lagoons formed by sea entrance. Here, you can see the shark fins, shark or white sharks which are located in a natural shelter and groups itself into dozens that can be clearly seen from the breakwater area. It is recommended to rent a wetsuit if you want to interact with sea turtles, mantas, colorful fish, penguins, etc.
The land is basically composed of dried up volcanic lava and its major attraction besides being a place where iguanas are raised are the penguins, and a variety of birds are the – sharks. Sharks that stays trapped at low tide in the water tunnels that form the promontory. You can also see beautiful lava formations around for some amazing photos.
A visit to the
Lakes of Ozogoche (Lagunas de Ozogoche)
is an unforgettable experience. In this lake you can see the sunrise and the sky reflected in the water of the lagoons and seems it had no beginning or end. It is like a giant mirror full of secrets and mysteries where the mist falls suddenly in the most unexpected moment. If you like fishing , ask the local natives who are more devoted to sheep grazing and farming but will accompany you on where is the perfect spot to have a good trout fishing adventure.
They are willing to leave their day job to accompany any tourist or adventurer and proudly tour them around in their beautiful place. Marvel at the swaying of the waves in the lagoon and the flock of seagulls that roam around its vicinity along with the famous migratory birds known as the “cuvivies” which usually arrive between the months of August to September.
Mariposas de Mindo
is a great place to have a close encounter with the butterflies. See the beauty of dozens of butterflies of various sizes and colors. The amazing thing is watching how the butterflies develop from pupa to full grown. Watch how the cocoon opens and how the butterfly spread its wings as it prepares itself to fly.
This magical place of nature is definitely worth a visit to know and appreciate the importance of these little creatures.