Do you fancy trying something exotic, and experience nature at its zenith? Then Ecuador is just what you need! Ecuador is known for its pristine natural beauty, and is considered as one of the world’s top countries in biodiversity. It is located on the equator line, and has amazing geological sites, featuring active volcanoes, dramatic mountains such as the Andes, and the dense Amazonian forest!
Not to mention, a myriad of cultures with its rainbow population consisting of mestizos, and a large minority of Amerindian, African and European descendants, which is why it is regarded as a microcosm of South America.
Moreover, you will certainly get to discover the Andean villages which are renowned for their colourful textiles and sprawling markets. On the Amazonian side, you will encounter the shamans who still practice traditional medicines, whereas in some towns you will get the chance to taste meals of fresh seafood, and experience incredible sunsets!
So you don’t want to think twice, just plunge into this list of top 5 amazing places to visit in Ecuador!
QUITO-CAPITAL CITY OF ECUADOR
Known for its rich cultural heritage, Quito or San Francisco de Quito is the capital of the country. It is the highest city in the world with an elevation of 2,850 metres (9,350ft) above sea level.
The city is flanked by magnificent volcanoes, some of which are partly covered by snow. On the eastern slopes, you will spot the Pichincha, an active strato-volcano in the Andes Mountain.
Quito is a densely populated city, as it is considered to be the second most populous place in the country, after Guayaquil. The population contains a majority of Hispanic mestizo which carry a Spanish, Amerindian, and African influences.
The capital draws a good contrast between old colonial, and modern architectures. You will likely get to see modern apartment buildings, modest concrete homes, shopping malls, overflowing market stands, and vibrant nightlife!
OLD TOWN OF ECUADOR
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old Town is the largest centre in the Americas. It extends over 320 acres, and it encompasses restored colonial buildings, churches, chapels, mansions, museums, and plazas which burst with life!
The plazas feature some of the best restaurants, and you can come across some skillful street food vendors. Some of the mouth-watering Ecuadorian cuisine consists of pork, chicken, beef, cuy (guinea pig), rice, corn and potatoes. Typical dishes include, Arroz Con Pollo (rice with Chicken), Arroz Con Camarones (rice with shrimp), and Ceviche (a mix of raw seafood and shellfish cooked in citrus juices).
One of the famous church in the Old Town is the majestic Iglesia y Monesterio de San Francisco, which was constructed in 1550, on the land of the Incan ruler Atahualpa. The church features several masterpieces including, a sculpture of a winged Holy Virgin by Legarda. You can also explore the adjoining museum which is full of interesting artefacts.
COTOPAXI VOLCANO IN ECUADOR
If you are seeking to explore ecstatic nature scenery through trekking, bird watching, camping or mountain biking, then you should consider visiting Cotopaxi, which is located about 50 km southeast of central Quito.
This active strato-volcano is nearly some 5,900m in height, and is snow-capped at the height of 5,000 metres, clearly visible on skyline during a clear day from Quito. The local Andean people revered the summit as the abode of Gods, and is much honoured as a ‘Sacred Mountain’, as they believed it helps in bringing the rain.
Since Cotopaxi is an active volcano, it has caused much nuisances to the locals living nearby. If you are planning to climb the mountain peak, you should consider using crampons, ice axes, and aluminium ladders to cross one or two of the crevasses. Though, it sounds too amazing, it is mandatory to bring along a licensed guide.
While exploring the mount, you will notice the well protected park zone, which is above 3,500 m in altitude, consisting of the typical vegetation of the tropical high Andes. You will also get to see the scrubby woodlands in the protected valley areas, and open grasslands covering the lower slopes of Cotopaxi and other peaks.
Moreover, you will spot animals such as wolves, spectacled bears, foxes, white tail deers, rabbits, wild horses, muskrats and many other interesting species.
There are many incredible places on the vast park, such as the landscape of the Paramo, an important feature, since it has a natural water filtering system for the streams coming off Cotopaxi’s glacial areas, providing water supply to Quito.
There is also, the emerald green Limpiopungo Lake, extending to 200 hectares, and is currently in danger of disappearing. Located at the foot of the Mount Cotopaxi, the lagoon provides an excellent site for bird watching and observing the volcanic landscape.
This exceptional site is known for its diverse variety of bird species such as the frequently visited Condor of the Andes, Carunculated Cara Caras or curiquingues, owls, Andean gulls, Highland quails, and quilicos a small falcon (falco sparverious).
Besides admiring the beauty of the place, you will experience the snowy climate about 4,500 metres, and in most of the popular areas of the park the highest temperature rarely exceeds 20 degrees; whilst at night the temperatures fall below the freezing point. You should expect rainfalls during the summer seasons which is in late December to March.
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS -WORLD HERITAGE OF ECUADOR
Discover this incredible haven of the diverse and colourful animal species in the Galapagos Islands! The Galapagos archipelago consists of eighteen main volcanic islands, lying some 600 miles from the West of Ecuador.
The largest of the archipelago is the Isabella, which measures 5,827 kilometres. The Volcán Wolf on Isabela is the highest point, with an elevation of 1,707 metres above sea level.
World renowned for its exceptional ecosystem, the Galapagos archipelago was taken as an inspiration for the Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. First discovered in 1535 by Tomas de Berlanga (a Spanish Bishop of Panama), the Galapagos islands are today a popular destination amongst natural scientists, photographers, and tourists, because of its stunning animal species!
The most famous reptiles include, the Giant Tortoise and the three iguana species, as well as, lava lizards and snakes. There are also, interesting bird species such as the Galapagos Penguin, Waved Albatross, Galapagos Hawk and Flightless Cormorant. The most famous endemic mammals in the islands are the Galapagos Sea Lions.
Another interesting fact about the archipelago is the strange mix of both tropical and temperate climates, which influence the inhabited animal and plant species in the islands. The hot and rainy seasons are usually in the months of December to June, when humidity is high and average temperature varies from 26°-30° C. But as from June to November, there are cool winds, with occasional light misty drizzle, called as ‘garúa’. You will experience average temperatures ranging from 20°-24°C during the day and lower at night.
Classified as one of the World Heritage Site, the archipelago is well protected and strict controls on tourist access are maintained in an effort to protect the natural habitats. Visitors are advised to be accompanied by a national park-certified naturalist tour guide.
So what can you do? There are so many fun activities such as snorkelling and diving with the sea lions or sea turtles. Just to mention, the best season for snorkelling is from January to April. You can also hike by the adorable animals such as the finches, flamingos, and iguanas along the Darwin Trail, admire the Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabela, or visit the island’s National Park. It goes without saying, that visitors are encouraged to develop a sense of awareness towards protecting the environment of the islands, while indulging in activities.
PAILON DEL DIABLO WATERFALL
Located just 30 minutes from the popular town of Baños, Pailon Del Diablo or the Cauldron of the Devil, is a majestic waterfall (located on the Pastaza River) of approximately 100 feet high. This spectacular towering waterfall is surrounded by luxurious green vegetation and is swept by mountain clouds. The waterfall tumbles down a cliff into a pool, with a series of slippery stone steps, where you can get up close to the dramatic scenery!
Not like any other waterfall, the Pailon del Diablo is considered to be one of the biggest attractions in the area. It is inhabited by a myriad of bird species like ducks, gulls, Andean condor, curiquingue, congos, pilco real or chicken and Hummingbird flowers. In addition to the birds, you can see species such as bear, glasses, tapir, jaguar, puma, hedgehog, and bot pangolin. And this is not all, you will also get to discover the flora like pumamaqui, yagual, Ramos, gentians, grass, frailejon Bromeliaceae, Anthurium, Heliconia and Palm which also adorn the beauty all around. Mosses and ferns are omipresent around the thundering waterfall, which further add to the beauty of the site.
You can trail from Rio Verde, either from below a soccer field, or by crossing a bridge east of the city. The hikes down to the falls will take you approximately 45 to 60 minutes of round-trip. You will undoubtedly experience the damp environment, while crossing the amazing suspension bridges, and the wicked in-cut trails that cut behind the waterfall. Be ready to get drenched!