There are so many incredible things to do in Ecuador. From exploring the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands, to bathing in hot springs in Baños and riding on one of the world’s most dangerous railways, ‘Devil’s Nose’, Ecuador truly has something for every adventure-loving visitor. Not to mention the capital city Quito, known for its charming old town and Spanish colonial center, with 16th and 17th century palaces and the ornate Compañía de Jesús Church. So here is what we consider to be the top things to do in Ecuador, certainly worthy of a place on your South America Bucket List that’s for sure.
Here’s our pick of the top things to do in Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands are a bucket-list destination for good reason. This volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean is roughly 1,000km (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador and has remained a closely-guarded natural secret for millions of years. It’s considered one of the world’s foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing and visitors can see playful sea lions and gigantic sea tortoises up close. Each of the 19 islands boasts its own unique landscape, from black, volcanic rocks to white sand beaches. People live on only 5 of the 19 islands of the Galápagos: Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island, is the biggest town and home to 10,000 people.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city and stands at an altitude of 2,850 m, high in the Andes. While here explore Quito’s historic district the Old Town, visit the Virgin atop Quito El Panecillo and the many Churches, ride the Teleferiqo, walk along Quito La Ronda and shop the markets.
Nariz del Diablo
Ride on one of the world’s most dangerous railways called the Nariz del Diablo or “Devil’s Nose”, a mountain with almost perpendicular walls where the devil supposedly left his nose. Connecting the Andes Mountains to the coast, the Devil’s Nose Train was considered one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering when it was built in 1899. Devil’s Nose is a hair-raising train ride down the rocky slopes of the Andes through some of Ecuador’s most breathtaking scenery. The train operates from Tuesdays to Sundays departing from Alausi or Thursdays to Fridays departing from Riobamba.
Hot Springs of Baños
With a name like Baños de Agua Santa (Bath of Holy Water), you can expect that there would be some pretty famous hot springs here. With all this natural beauty, it’s no wonder that Baños, cupped in a small valley at about 5900 feet above sea level, is a thriving tourist town. Nearby Baños, you’ll find mountains, rivers, waterfalls, the famous swing at the end of the world and hot springs. However Baños is most famous for its volcanic thermal baths with waters that range in temperature from 64 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Charles Darwin Research Station
A trip to the Galapagos Islands is not complete without a stop at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Located on the Santa Cruz Island, in Puerto Ayora, the Charles Darwin Research Station is home to both local and foreign scientists who work towards finding the answers the foundation needs to conserve the islands. While here, learn more about the conservation efforts on the Galapagos Islands.
Galapagos National Park
The Galapagos National Park was established in 1959 and is Ecuador’s oldest park. It covers a massive 3087 square miles which is 97% of the Galapagos Islands and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 2007, the National Park has put strict regulations in place that help keep track of the number of visitors that go in and out of the archipelago. All tourists visiting the National Park must now be accompanied by a Galapagos National Park certified guide.
Otavalo is famous for its indigenous population, the Otavalos, many of which travel around the world to sell their famous handicrafts or play in Andean Folk music groups. Otavalo Market is the largest market in Ecuador, and is a great place to buy alpaca blankets and handmade jewelry and get to learn about the people of the Andes. Located in a valley in Imbabura, Otavalo is also a great base to visit the surrounding lakes, mountains, and villages.
Tena, the capital of the Napo Province, is a city in the Amazon rainforest and sometimes referred to as the gateway to the jungle in Ecuador. This upcoming adventure destination attracts adrenaline junkies & white-water enthusiasts! Known as the “cinnamon capital” of Ecuador, and founded by missionary explorers, Tena has emerged as a major commercial center of Ecuador. Most travelers visit Tena for white water rafting and jungle tours but there is so much more besides to explore here.
With it’s long, broad sandy beach and exceptionally calm water Salinas is the most popular beach resort in Ecuador. It’s just a two hour drive to the coastal resort town of Salinas from the international airport in Guayaquil and this is the perfect base for exploring the sandy beaches of the Santa Elena Province. The most popular beaches are San Lorenzo and Chipipe. Near the promenade, the Museo de Ballenas features whales, dolphins and sea lions and migratory humpback whales pass the rocky point of La Chocolatera, which offers panoramic views across the Pacific Ocean.
Swing at the end of the world
About 40 minutes from the center of Baños de Agua Santa, the adventure capital of Ecuador, sits the swing at the end of the world. Deep in the Ecuadorian wilderness is a seismic monitoring station in a tree, known as Casa del Arbol. It has a swing and you can pay a small fee to spend a while swinging over what appears to be the end of the world. Visitors can also opt to hike the Bellavista Cloud Forest to witness some fantastic scenery there too.
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There is so much more to see and experience in this amazing country. Plan ahead so that you can take your time exploring and be prepared to be flexible because sometimes travelers you meet along the way will have the best suggestions for undiscovered gems and awesome things to do in Ecuador.
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