Ecuador is off the beaten track, but still features multiple vacation options. The Pacific coast offers relaxing beaches, while the Amazon allows you to combine ecotourism with active sports, from hiking to rafting / kayaking in Tena. Finally, for history lovers, both the old town of Quito and Cuenca give an idea of Ecuador’s colonial past.
Eclipsed by high-profile South American tourist destinations such as Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, Ecuador borders Colombia and Peru. It is a relatively small country, roughly the size of the US state of Colorado. Notwithstanding the latter, Ecuador, with eleven national parks, has a varied terrain from its western coast to the rainforest and majestic mountain peaks / volcanoes, including the well-known Cotopaxi and Tungurahua. In terms of indoor activities, in addition to museums and architectural sites, for those who like to shop, Ecuador, the home of the “Panama” hat, offers a variety of products to buy from silver and leather to local handicrafts.
An Andean nation, the capital of Ecuador, Quito, was one of the original UNESCO World Heritage sites. At more than 9,000 feet above sea level, Quito has a temperate climate that earned it the name of the “city of eternal spring”, although it is only 15 miles south of the Equator. The second largest city in the country, it still preserves a well-preserved old town centered around La Plaza Grande and containing the Government Palace and the cathedral. Nearby is another top view: the Monastery of San Francisco.
Beyond the traditional tourist spots, the city itself includes great views from the hills in the residential neighborhoods. Tucked nearby are many informal neighborhood restaurants.
Ecuador’s Pacific coast is dominated by its largest city and its main port, Guayaquil. With its riverside boardwalk, Malecón 2000, with multiple restaurants and shops, and its contrasting nature and ecological reserves, Guayaquil is more than just the launch pad for points to the west. In addition to its 21st century offerings, its “La Rotonda” adds historical context as it commemorates the meeting of the two most famous liberators in South America, San Martín and Simón Bolívar.
As noted, Guayaquil is also an important starting point for those heading west and mainly heading to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, 600 miles out to sea. Named for the large turtles found there, the islands have a colorful history, having been partially populated by pirates four centuries ago. On the contrary, today they are a popular destination for ecotourism. The number of rare species of animals and plants is the main attraction that motivated Charles Darwin’s visit at the beginning of the 19th century. Restrictions apply based on conservation efforts, so you must plan ahead to join one of the small boat tours.
Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador, still bears the mark of the past with cobbled streets and colonial architecture. However, its most prominent public building dates from more recent times. The large multi-domed “New Cathedral” was completed in the 20th century, while the “Old Cathedral” now serves as a museum.
Near Cuenca is the Ecuadorian Amazon that spans six provinces. Tours frequently begin in Baños for visitors in search of pink dolphins, howler monkeys, three-toed sloths, and large rodents.
Overall, an Ecuador vacation offers something for everyone, from laid-back historical and cultural tours to more active and adventurous outdoor sports and eco tours at an affordable price. In addition, the different climatic zones of Ecuador provide an option for those who like the tropics to go to the beaches or the rainforest or for those who want to escape the heat to enjoy the moderate climate of Quito. Lastly, Ecuador has preserved the distinctive flavor of the Andean region while remaining accessible to international travelers.