Underrated Locations in Ecuador You Should Visit

While it may be small in size, Ecuador feels vast once you discover its magnitude of unknown destinations
While it may be small in size, Ecuador feels vast once you discover its magnitude of unknown destinations | © Goran Šafarek / Alamy Stock Photo

Founder, Not Your Average American

Ecuador is one of the smallest South American countries in terms of land area, but there’s no shortage of things to see and places to go. The most famous destinations, like the Galapagos Islands, Quito and Cuenca, are fairly well established hotspots for travelers – but there are plenty of lesser-known natural and cultural attractions well worth visiting. Here, we select the best under-explored places in Ecuador.

1. Loja

Park, Architectural Landmark

© Samu Bético /WikiCommons
Much of southern Ecuador tends to get overlooked, but Loja, in particular, is certainly worthy of more attention. This vibrant city, founded in 1548, contains many historically important government buildings and churches. It’s widely regarded as the music capital of Ecuador, regularly hosting concerts, festivals and other cultural events. Loja also makes a great base for exploring nearby destinations like Saraguro, a proud indigenous town; Vilcabamba, known as ‘The Valley of Longevity’ due to the exceptionally high life expectancy of its residents; and the Podocarpus National Park.

2. Tena

Architectural Landmark

© Eddyl / WikiCommons
With Class I to Class IV river rapids in the nearby Jatunyacu Tiver, Tena is a hugely popular base for adventure-seekers keen to go white water rafting through the jungle. Recently, this medium-sized town in the Amazon Basin has experienced a boom in new restaurants and bars and hotels, making it an ideal launch point for venturing into the rainforest. Many small communities in the area are developing tourism projects so that visitors can explore caves, waterfalls and go wildlife-spotting.

3. Cayambe Coca National Park, Papallacta Entrance

Park

Cayambe Coca National Park, Ecuador | © Carine06 / Flickr
© Carine06 / Flickr

4. Cotopaxi National Park, the Back Roads

Park, Ruins

5. Cochasquí

Natural Feature, Archaeological site

Cochasquí is home to the ancient pyramids of the Cara, a pre-Columbian culture who defied incursions from the invading Inca in the early 16th century. The entire complex includes 15 pyramids and 21 burial mounds over 210 acres of land. These pyramids have yet to be completely excavated, though initial archaeological digs uncovered ancient solar and lunar calendars and many ceramic remains. Local celebrations, including folk dancing and ceremonial cleansings, take place around the Andean New Year, on March 21. A nearby campground rents tent sites and cabins for visitors wanting to stay for more than a day.

6. Agua Blanca

Natural Feature

©Michael Shick /Flickr
The community of Agua Blanca, located near the coastal town of Puerto Lopez, lies in the heart of Machalilla National Park. The people have ancient ties to the land and a visit includes a trip to a nearby archaeology site and accompanying museum which holds many of the uncovered artifacts. This dry, coastal forest is also home to the curious-looking Ceibo—a tree with a bulbous, green base that remains bare most of the year but sends out sprays of cotton like-flowers in season—and over 270 species of birds. At the heart of the Agua Blanca community lies a sulfur-rich pool of cool water. Visitors plaster mud on bare skin, relax while the mud pulls impurities from their pores, and then jump into the deep lagoon.

7. Sumaco

Lodge

The land between the eastern slope of the Andes and the Amazon Basin is rarely visited by tourists. In fact, there are very few places to stay in the Sumaco region. The rich rain forest of these Andean foothills is endangered by illegal logging and increased farming. Enter the Wild Sumaco Lodge, a non-profit that partners with the local community to rent primary forest to add to their own reserve. While bird watchers already visit in high numbers, nature lovers of all kinds should consider a stay. The back porch looks out into the tree canopy where wild monkeys come to eat fruit placed on many of the limbs. Hummingbirds flock to the feeders. Trails lead to hidden forest glens and expansive panoramas. Insect life is rich, especially at night, when headlamps and flashlights spotlight crickets, resting butterflies, and the occasional colorful frog.

WildSumaco Lodge, Pacto-Sumaco, Ecuador

http://instagram.com/p/BUkaJtDjkL9/?tagged=wildsumaco

8. Macas

Bridge, Church, Park

9. Zamora

Architectural Landmark

©Ama La Vida TV /Wikicommons
Located in the far south of Ecuador, Zamora is another city with a foot in the Sierra and the Oriente. It lies on the very edge of Podocarpus National Park and provides some of the easiest access to roads entering this wild destination. The medium-sized town of Zamora is often called the City of Birds and Waterfalls because of the confluence of streams that flow from the high Andes and fall into one of three local rivers, the Zamora, Bombucaro, and Jamboé. Birds are easily seen year round and include the darling spangled coquette hummingbird, which comes to many of the gardens found around town.

10. Manta

Architectural Landmark

©stephen velasco /Flickr
Manta, a town with its own airport, access to great restaurants, good hotels, and excellent beaches, makes a great home base for exploring the Ecuadorian coast. Beautiful beaches are found nearby, including Santa Marianita, famous for kitesurfing, and San Lorenzo, popular with surfers. The nearby community of Montecristi is famous for finely-crafted, handwoven Panama hats. A new archaeology museum recently opened near the inland town of Portoviejo. This region was hard hit by the 2016 earthquake, but is more than ready to welcome international tourism back to their Pacific shores.

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