From the snow-capped peaks of the Andes mountains to the idyllic beaches of the Pacific Coast and the colorful colonial architecture of Quito, Ecuador is a country brimming with natural and cultural wonders. To help you plan your trip, we’ve selected the best destinations to visit and things to do in Ecuador.
At 2,850m (9,350ft), Quito is the world’s second-highest capital city and contains many of Ecuador’s most important religious landmarks. Within its Unesco-listed historic center, the Church of La Compañía de Jesús, the Presidential Palace and the San Francisco Church and Monastery display some of South America’s most beautifully preserved colonial architecture. For superb aerial views, climb up the Basilica del Voto Nacional or ride the TelefériQo gondola to Pichincha – the volcano which overlooks the city. At the Intiñan Museum, north of the city center, you can snap a photo at the equator.
With Culture Trip, you can enjoy a guided walking tour of Quito and visit the equator as part of our exclusive eight-day Ecuador adventure, led by our Local Insider.
Are the Galápagos on your travel bucket list? Consider joining Culture Trip’s express five-day overland Galápagos Islands trip, which includes Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and a visit to one of the uninhabited islands.
Quilotoa is a volcano within the Illinizas Ecological Reserve, on the westernmost edge of the Ecuadorian Andes, renowned for its turquoise crater lake which formed around 800 years ago following its last major eruption. In roughly five hours, you can hike around the rim of the crater while admiring panoramic views of the lake itself and the surrounding nature. If you fancy a longer adventure, follow the Quilotoa loop (accessible by bus from the nearby city of Latacunga), which takes three or four days to complete and passes through the remote mountain villages of Quilotoa, Chugchilán, Isinlivi and Sigchos.
Known as The Pearl of the Pacific, Guayaquil – Ecuador’s most populous city – is within relatively easy reach of some of the country’s best beaches, such as Salinas, Montañita and Puerto Lopez. Not just a convenient hub for exploring the coast or flying to the Galápagos, there’s plenty to see and do in the city itself: admire free-roaming iguanas in Parque Seminario, learn about Guayaquil’s heritage at the Parque Histórico, or take a stroll along Malecón 2000 – the lively promenade which runs along the Guayas River, lined with gardens, monuments, museums, bars and restaurants.
Ecuador’s adventure capital and gateway to the Amazon, Baños de Agua Santa is named after its mineral-rich hot springs (geothermally heated by the Tungurahua volcano), which are said to have myriad health benefits. Although compact, the town has a fairly extensive selection of budget and luxury accommodation and is an excellent base for venturing into the nearby nature. Go whitewater rafting on the Pastaza River, rent bikes and cycle the Ruta de las Cascadas (Waterfall Route) to Puyo, or ride the iconic Swing at the End of the World – one of South America’s most Instagrammable spots.
Otavalo, two hours’ drive north of Quito, in the Imbabura Province, is a mountain town of around 40,000 people – who are largely indigenous to the region. The town’s market – locally known as Plaza de los Ponchos – was designed and built by Dutch architect Tonny Zwollo in 1970, and has since flourished to become one of the largest in South America. You’ll find everything from woolen blankets and jumpers to handcrafted jewelry and traditional street food in the kaleidoscopic labyrinth of stalls. It’s open every day from 7am-6pm, and tends to be busiest on Saturdays.
Cuenca, established in 1557, but not connected by paved road to the rest of Ecuador until the early 1960s, is Ecuador’s third-largest city. Often labeled the Athens of Ecuador due to its rich cultural and architectural heritage, Cuenca is split into old and new districts by the Tomebamba River. Its Unesco-listed Old Town features an array of colonial buildings, including the Old Cathedral, the Church of San Francisco and the Church of Santo Domingo. Meanwhile, the blue-domed New Cathedral (constructed between 1885-1975), is striking inside and out and offers magnificent views from the top.
Stretching all the way from the Colombian border in the north to the Peruvian border in the south, Ecuador’s Pacific Coast is often overlooked by travelers but offers a refreshing change of scenery from the mountainous and jungle-covered interior. Salinas and Playas are two of the most popular resorts, while Montañita, slightly further up the coast, is renowned for its nightlife and outstanding surfing conditions. For peaceful, golden sand beaches without the crowds, Bahía de Caráquez, Los Frailes (part of the Machalilla National Park) and Mompiche are worth considering.
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meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
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Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.