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8 best things to do in Ecuador

For many, Ecuador is simply a gateway to the Galápagos Islands, but there is so much to discover on the mainland as well. Here are eight of the best things to do whilst travelling in Ecuador

Explore the Galapagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands consist of 13 major and 12 minor islands off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. In 1835, Charles Darwin wondered at the unique wildlife here, which led to his theory of evolution. Visitors today continue to marvel at species that developed without influence from the mainland and are found nowhere else in the world.

Contact with humans and the absence of predators have acclimatised the island wildlife to visitors, allowing you to get relatively close to the animals here – one of the most extraordinary features of this unique destination. Apart from the varied wildlife, these relatively young volcanic islands offer distinctive geography and geology.

Visit Quito

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is a colonial-era city located high up in the northern Andes surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. On a clear day, there are magnificent views of the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano. Explore the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its elegant mansions, beautiful churches with golden interiors, and magnificent plazas. North of the city, visit the Middle of the World monument that marks the equatorial line.  

Journey through the Avenue of the Volcanoes

The fertile valleys, deep gorges, and soaring snowy peaks of the Avenue of the Volcanoes stretch south of Quito. Take a day trip to the Cotopaxi National Park, home to the highest active volcano in the world and the enormous Quilotoa crater lake, or stay longer in a historical hacienda. You can also visit small towns and their colourful weekly markets, such as the lively trading town of Riobamba where Andean traditions are preserved.

Discover Mindo-Nambillo cloud forest

For bird lovers, the Mindo-Nambillo cloud forest – a two-hour drive west of Quito – is a must. The region's biodiversity is superb, and the cloud forest has one of the largest concentrations of bird species in the world, as well as an abundance of orchids, bromeliads, and butterflies.

Experience the Amazon Rainforest

The lodges in the Ecuadorian Amazon give perhaps the most authentic Amazon experience in South America, as many of them are only accessible by light aircraft or by river. They offer a huge variety of excursions, from early morning walks, river trips, and visits to the parrot clay-licks, to canopy walkways and observation towers which take you up through the treetops. Spot a wide variety of wildlife including howler monkeys, frogs, caimans, and many parrot and parakeet species.

Visit Cuenca & surrounds

The charming town of Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with cobbled streets, colonial houses, flowered plazas, and elaborate churches. Beside colonial heritage, there are also some of the best Inca ruins near Cuenca at the Ingapirca archaeological site. A visit to some of the little towns of the Gualaceo valley is highly recommended as they produce beautiful shawls and scarves, traditional Panama hats, and gold and silver jewellery.

Explore Loja

The remote, southernmost province of Loja is still relatively off the beaten track. Stay in the charming colonial university town of Loja. From here, visit the picturesque valley of Vilcabamba, a pretty patchwork of corn and sugar cane fields, orchards, and cattle pastures. Nearby Podocarpus National Park is home to 600 bird species and spectacular scenery, including pristine Andean lakes and waterfalls. There are also distinctive local communities, such as the indigenous Saraguros community, who maintain centuries-old traditions, dress, and customs.

Relax on the Pacific Coast

Combine exploration with relaxation on Ecuador's mid-Pacific coast. The coastline around Manta offers long stretches of soft sand beaches, beautifully blue waters, and sunshine – the perfect place to round off an active holiday.

Stays in this region also offer a wealth of nature excursions but with the benefit of fewer tourists than in the Galápagos Islands. South of Manta is the coastal wildlife refuge of Machalilla National Park, which comprises a number of habitats as well as several offshore islands such as Isla de la Plata where you can spot blue- and red-footed boobies, sea lions, and iguanas. South of Guayaquil are the mangrove forests of the Manglares Churute Ecological Reserve.

Tailor-made tours to Ecuador

Interested in travelling to Ecuador? Speak to one of our travel consultants who can help reveal the highlights and hidden depths of Ecuador better than anyone. Call today on 020 7873 5000

Alternatively, fill out our enquiry form, and one of our experts will get back to you shortly.

Recommended itinerary: Ecuador & Galapagos Experience

10 Days & 7 Nights

Experience the Galápagos islands and observe their remarkable wildlife at close quarters. This private journey includes a 4-night cruise on an expeditionary catamaran with opportunities to spot giant tortoises, sea lions, land iguanas, boobies, and other fascinating birdlife. Combine with a visit to the old colonial centre of Quito and the 'Middle of the World'.

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