Top five places to visit in Ecuador

Consider this South American gem as your next vacation destination

By Eva Stelzer

Ecuador is a unique cultural oasis and host to a variety of beautiful landscapes. The country appeals to all types of travelers, offering luxury and backpacker accommodations, soft and hard adventure activities, indigenous cultures and unique species of animals you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Here are the top five places you should visit when travelling through the country.

1. Northern Andes

North of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, you’ll find the vibrant Northern Andes. This mountainous region is known for its majestic peaks, “lake region” and indigenous villages. Many people visit the Northern Andes to see the volcanic lakes, particularly Quiloltoa, or to hike around the craters. When travelling through the region, a stop at Otavalo Market has become very popular. Despite being quite touristy, the market is a good place to find Ecuadorian handicrafts, including hand-woven ponchos, wool sweaters and woodcarvings. Another highlight of the market are the colourful ceramic beads.

inside hotel - Places to visit in Ecuador - WestmountMag.caFor a unique experience, travel to the Northern Andes and the Zuleta region. The original inhabitants of the area were the peace-loving Caranquis. My pick is a three- to four-night stay at the Hacienda Zuleta, where you’ll find remnants of this history from 800 A.D. and the history of the Spanish rule. It is believed that the land was bequeathed to the Jesuits in the 16th century, who introduced Spanish farming methods. The home itself, built during Ecuador’s colonial times, sits on 4,000 acres of land. The family of one of Ecuador’s ex-presidents has owned the property since 1989. Today, Hacienda Zuleta is well known for the Condor Huasi Project, which supports the rehabilitation of the majestic Andean Condor, top rated Andean cuisine, and supporting local community projects. One that I am fond of is bringing back Andean weaving techniques and creating a viable business model for the women who produce the textiles.

2. Galapagos Islands

Famous for its impact on Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the Galapagos Islands are one of the most fascinating regions of the world. The Galapagos are comprised of 19 beautiful islands and the surrounding Pacific Ocean, filled with unique species of animals you won’t find anywhere else in the world, including Darwin’s Finch, the Galapagos giant tortoise and marine iguanas. My favourites are the blue-footed booby and the playful seals.

There are tons of fun activities to enjoy on these magnificent islands including cruises, snorkeling and diving, a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, El Chato Tortoise Reserve and Sierra Negra volcano. You’ll discover animals that are indigenous and endemic to the region as well as enjoy the quietest and brightest night sky imaginable.

3. City of Quito

A visit to Ecuador wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Quito, the nation’s capital. This UNESCO protected capital was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city. Quito was awarded the UNESCO designation for the most in tact example of Spanish Colonial architecture. Despite an earthquake in 1917, it remains the best-preserved historic city in Latin America. Explore the city’s historical links including popular churches Basilica of the National Vow and Santo Domingo, as well as La Ronda, Quito’s oldest street known for its street vendors and entertainment, and San Francisco Square, one of Quito’s largest squares with impressive architecture.

La Compañía de Jesús is a not-to-be-missed architectural beauty. The magnificent church took 150 years to complete.

The exquisite craftsmanship becomes apparent in the intricate stone carvings on the exterior, the elaborate woodcarvings of the interior, and a ceiling that bears seven tons of gold leaf in addition to the gold accents seen throughout. And if you like art, I suggest a visit to the Fondacion Guayasamín. Besides showcasing Guayasamín’s art collection, the museum houses one of the most important collections of pre-columbian art from the late artists private collection.

4. Southern Andes

After visiting the Northern Andes, take a trek down to explore what the Southern Andes has to offer. The region’s cloud forests are a favorite for birdwatchers. Cloud forests forms when rainforests meet mountains, creating a perfect ecosystem for tropical birds. Birdwatchers both novice and experienced will be delighted by the sights and sounds of over 500 species of birds in the Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve. Adventure seekers can enjoy a birds-eye view and fly above the rainforest with an exhilarating zip line tour. The minimalist décor features nature and not furniture as a highlight. Try morning bird watching, night walks in the forest, or just watch the clouds float by.

A luxurious place to stay is the Maship Lodge, built with the latest techniques in sustainable tourism. It’s like a luxury cocoon in the middle of a cloud forest.

5. The Amazon

Ecuador’s Amazon region is a diverse ecosystem and home to many indigenous groups that have inhabited the land for many years. The Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest is always hot and humid with an average temperature of 27º C or 80º F and lots of rainfall. There are many ways to explore this rich forest area including guided tours on foot or canoeing and kayaking. You can also take part in tours that show indigenous cultures and lifestyles. Whichever way you choose to explore, we know that you’ll be thrilled by the rich culture and biodiversity the Amazon offers. I do suggest that the Amazon region is best explored with a guide and in a group or by staying at one of the designated lodges. My pick in this region is the rustic Sani Lodge.

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Choose one of these top five places in Ecuador or do them all. Ecuador is becoming one of South America’s most exciting travel destinations. With historical architecture, colossal mountain peaks, rich indigenous cultures, and diverse animal and plant species, you’ll never get bored in Ecuador!

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eva stelzer

Eva Stelzer, former academic writer-turned-freelancer, specializes in travel, fitness, and anything active. She calls Montreal home, has studied in Paris, France and Cuenca, Spain and has lived in Italy. She speaks English, French, Spanish, and Italian.
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  1. Faye Esther

    Just a few corrections. Mashpi Reserve is not in South Ecuador. Podocarpus National park and the Jocotoco reserves are the ones in south where there is the most amount of cloud forest probably in all of Ecuador. Podocarpus NP has more than 500 species of birds.

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