Top 5 Best Places to Visit in Ecuador for New Travelers

By Lily Evans | America

Sep 28
Best Places to Visit in Ecuador

Ecuador might be one of the tiniest countries in South America, but that doesn’t mean it scrimps on tourist spots and activities. Sitting on the equator and bordered by Colombia, Peru, and the Pacific Ocean, the “light of America” is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world.

Boasting some 530 miles of coastline, perfect spring temperature all-year-round, vibrant cityscape, and buzzing nightlife, Ecuador lures tourists from all over the world. So for those of you who have yet to visit this wonderful country, here are the best places to visit in Ecuador​.

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#1 Galapagos Islands

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The Galapagos, a World Heritage Site, is one of the most famous destinations in Ecuador. It's actively volcanic islands are home to different species of animals, drawing scientists and tourists alike. Its most famous visitor thus far is Charles Darwin whose landmark work was inspired by his experiences here.

​Being a popular tourist destination, accommodations are fairly easy to come by in the islands. Transportation is likewise convenient. The islands have two airports serviced by regular flights from mainland cities. Public boats and planes, meanwhile, allow you to move around the islands.

Galapagos Islands 2

If you really want to enjoy the islands, I highly suggest going on guided boat tours. This will allow you to see more of the islands’ beautiful landscape. It will also allow you interact more with the animals in the region, most of which are incredibly used to tourists and visitors.

​If you’re feeling a little fancy and willing to spend a bit more, then a luxury cruise around the Galapagos is definitely for you. You can also try island-hopping if you don’t want to be onboard for the duration of your trip. You can do this by taking speedboats between inhabited islands and staying overnight.

#2 Cuenca

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If you are all about that Old World charm, then Cuenca, Ecuador will undoubtedly straight-up floor you. This UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site is filled with colonial-style architecture. With 52 churches, the city proves to be a feast for the eyes and a haven for architecture buffs.

Cuenca’s most notable landmark is Catedral Nueva, an imposing structure built in the 1800s for the duration of almost a century. Its marble and alabaster façade, coupled with its three immense domes covered in blue glazed tiles, give this astounding structure a very regal vibe.

Owing to its Cañari and Incan heritage, the city has numerous museums featuring Cañari and Incan artifacts. The city has also preserved the remains of pre-colonial structures. The intermingling of Cuenca’s pre-colonial and colonial past gives the city its distinctive allure

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​Due to the city’s safety, low cost of living, and pleasant climate, Cuenca has become very popular among expatriates. The city’s proud intellectual tradition, as reflected in its museums and architecture, has also attracted artists from all over the world.

​But make no mistake, Cuenca is more than just its conservative traditional culture. In fact, the city is very hip and metropolitan. At night, the city comes to life with its numerous bars and restaurants offering international cuisine at a very reasonable price.

Nightclubs in Cuenca range from the bohemian to upscale, catering to all sorts of people. Note, however, that the city remains largely conservative and the music gets turned down rather early.​

#3 Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve

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Given its extremely bio-diverse location, Ecuador has no shortage of national parks. In fact, it has around 45 national parks and protected areas. La Reserva de Producción Faunista Cuyabeno, commonly known as the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, is the second largest reserve in the country.

This reserve boasts an incredibly diverse flora and fauna, with over 500 species of birds. Among the notable fauna in the reserve is the Harpy eagle. This species of eagle is one of the largest in the world, with talons as big as those of grizzly bears. Anacondas, jaguars, and pumas can also be found in the area.​

Covering an astonishing 1.5 million acres, the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is a complex system of lagoons, swamps, flooded areas, and terra firma. It was created in 1979 and has been an ecotourism hotspot since.

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​Aside from its biodiversity, what makes this reserve unique is its location. The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is one of the few protected areas in the world which is located precisely at the equator. Although also a part of the Amazon, Cuyabeno is a lot more accessible.

​From Quito, one can a half-hour flight to Lago Agrio, the port of entry to the Amazonas. From there, you only have to drive along an asphalt road for an hour and a half to the park. No wonder the Cuyabeno Wildlife Park is regarded as the most convenient park for an Amazon Tour.

#4 Quito

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Quito is easily one of the most compelling cities in South America. On the one hand, it is a big metropolitan city with amazing restaurants, large shopping malls, and first-class infrastructure. On the other, Quito is a picturesque city cupped between two towering Andean peaks.

​This city is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site capital city. Built on the foundations of an ancient Inca city, Quito is filled with colonial buildings dating back to almost 500 years. With its architecture and low cost of living, it’s easy to understand why it’s a leading destination in South America.

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​When in Quito, you wouldn’t want to miss the Dynamic Centro Historico. This complex is the melting pot of traders, religious people, and public servants. This complex is considered as the biggest and best conserved in the entire Latin America.

True to its rich history, Quito is home to delectable mestizo cuisine. Its cuisine is a fusion of pre-colonial and colonial dishes. The city also has a lot of artisans and numerous workshops. If you want to try something authentic and traditional, this city is a must-see.

​But Quito is more than just a buzzing metropolis. It also has beautiful scenery. While in the city, you might want to take advantage of the plethora of day trips and hikes offered by tour operators.

#5 Montañita

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Montañita has come a long way, having evolved from a quiet beach destination to a surfing and party hotspot. Ecuador has a lot of beaches, but this beach destination is especially famous. In fact, it is frequented by tourists and locals alike.

One of Montañita’s primary attractions is its challenging waves. It's strong, consistent waves are present even in summer. During the rainy season, the waves can be as high as 6 ½ feet. This destination’s waves have earned it a spot on the international surfing circuit.

Aside from being a great surfing spot, Montañita’s safe environment has also made it extremely popular among party-goers. In contrast with the rest of Ecuador, you wouldn’t have any problems carrying valuables in the area even in the wee hours​.

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​True to its party hotspot reputation, this town keeps the party going well into the morning. Its streets and shores teem with bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. People are extra friendly and accommodating. It’s a great place to mingle with foreign and local party-goers.

If you’re not into hard partying, no worries! Montañita still has something for you. This beach town is also a haven for adventure-seekers. Whether you're into bird-watching, scuba diving, hiking, or horseback riding, this town will certainly not disappoint.​


In Summary

Ecuador is a wonderful country which beautifully combines metropolitan chic with old world charm. It’s a feast for the senses, especially with its imposing architecture and picturesque scenery. And don’t get me started on the food! Ecuadorian cuisine is affordable as it is heavenly.

Did you like this list? If you do, please share this article. Think we missed an exceptional destination in Ecuador? Let us know your favorites in the comments below. We’d love to know about your favorite places in this beautiful South American country.

About the Author

I'm Lily Evans and I’m here to share with you pieces of travel advice, as well as handy tips and tricks, which I have accumulated over years of travelling and exploring the globe.