Our round-up of the top things to do and see in Ecuador
1 Colonial Quito and around
The capital’s treasure trove of religious art and architecture is the heart of a vibrant city, offering many urban delights. It also
provides access to outstanding natural areas nearby, such as Mindo and the cloudforests of Pichincha volcano, a nature lover’s paradise.
Best known for the largest craft market in South America, this town is also home to a proud and prosperous indigenous people. They have made their name not only as successful weavers and traders, but also as symbols of cultural fortitude.
3 Parque Nacional Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi (5897 m) is one of the world’s highest active volcanoes and it resumed activity in 2015. The surrounding national park is closed to visitors until volcanic activity subsides but the mountain’s perfect snow-covered cone and impressive plume of ash can be admired from Quito and surrounding areas.
4 Quilotoa Circuit
This 200-km loop includes an emerald green crater lake and many indigenous villages known for their authentic markets and distinctive crafts. Depending on your time and stamina, the circuit can be done by bus, bike, horse or on foot.
A traditional Ecuadorean highland resort known for its thermal baths, Baños offers adventure and relaxation at the foot of active Volcán Tungurahua. It is a good base for trekking, horse riding, mountain biking, waterfall watching and watching the world go by.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most congenial city in Ecuador, Cuenca’s cobblestone streets, flowering plazas and pastel-coloured buildings make it a pleasure to explore. Its many charms have attracted the largest expat community in the country.
Once a fabled fountain of youth, this small town is the rainbow at the south end of Ecuador’s gringo trail. It offers access to the hinterlands of Parque Nacional Podocarpus and everything from great horse riding to a colourful café scene.
Famed for its surf scene, this seaside village-turned-resort attracts many Ecuadoreans and foreigners. Easily reached from Guayaquil, it is packed with hotels, restaurants, surf shops, tattoo parlours and craft and jewellery vendors. There are also more tranquil beaches nearby.
9 Puerto López
A very popular base for whale watching from June to September, this seaside town provides year-round access to the gorgeous Los Frailes beach and Parque Nacional Machalilla, which protects tropical forests, a marine ecosystem and Isla de la Plata.
10 Reserva Faunística Cuyabeno
This 603,000-ha wildlife reserve is filled with jungle rivers, lagoons and an extraordinary variety of Amazon wildlife. Paddle your canoe beneath the canopy to take in one of the finest protected natural areas in the country.
Relaxed and friendly, Tena is Ecuador’s most important centre for whitewater rafting. It offers ethno-tourism, with visits to indigenous communities, as well as jungle tours. It also makes a good stop when travelling overland between the highlands and Oriente jungle.
12 Galápagos Islands
Here, in one of the world’s foremost wildlife sanctuaries, you can snorkel with penguins and sea lions, watch 200-kg tortoises lumbering through giant cactus forest, and enjoy the courtship display of the blue-footed booby and frigate bird, all in startling close-up.