The Andes run the spine of mainland Ecuador from north to south. They are home to beautiful towns where historic Spanish colonial buildings, indigenous cultures, and modern architecture showcase the uniqueness of each community. These 11 are must-visit destinations.
Due to its proximity to the Colombian border, few international tourists make it this far north in Ecuador. Tulcán is famous for its cemetery full of intricately pruned yew trees, many in the shapes of archways, animals, and people.
In northern Ecuador, Ibarra lies next to Yaguarcocha, the lake where indigenous tribes fought incursions against the invading Inca. The Spaniards settled in this region in the late 16th century, building many of the historic structures that give Ibarra its modern nickname, The White City.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee named Quito a city of patrimonial heritage in 1978. Since that time, the city has undergone historic renovations and maintains the best preserved colonial center in all of South America.
The road leading to the tiny town of Sigchos passes some of the most attractive countryside in all of Ecuador. The town itself is simple, with an appealing central plaza and charming church. The highlight landmark is a statue of the Archangel Michael brandishing his sword high overhead; it stands on a hillside, which is an excellent picnic spot, above the town.
Riobamba was nearly the capital of Ecuador. Today, Riobamba is home to a well-maintained historic center with one of the oldest churches in the country holding court in the main plaza. Other gorgeous buildings, many still waiting for renovation, dot this pedestrian-friendly city.
Farmers still walk cattle from field to field using roads along the borders of Azogues, located in the Cañar province. This small Sierran city is tied not only to its agricultural roots but its Catholic ones, with quaint churches around every corner.
Both a town and an Incan archaeology site, Cojitambo is a must-visit destination for ancient history buffs. The view from the timeworn ramparts of the Incan fortress looks out over the modest streets of modern-day Cojitambo.
Cuenca is the second UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cultural Patrimony in Ecuador. Its cobblestoned streets and pedestrian walkways lead to 16th-century to 18th-century historic churches, homes, and government buildings.
The small town of Saraguro is famous for its indigenous community. Locals wear traditional hats made from blocked and felted wool. The hats are painted white, while the under brim features black markings, often looking like cowhide.
Loja is the heart of the southern Ecuadorian Andes. Home to two major universities, Loja has modern touches yet retains its colonial, small-town roots. With many picturesque city streets and plazas, Loja will likely become the next expat center of Ecuador.
Vilcabamba has been an international center of spiritual and meditative pilgrimage for decades, due in large part to the belief that the local water has led to the longevity of its residents. Despite expat influence, the town retains many Ecuadorian features, including a central plaza with gardens and a small, brightly colored church.