Top Things to Do When Visiting the Diverse Country of Ecuador

Ecuador is such a wonderful country in South America with so many different places to see and explore. It is a country made up of three distinct ecosystems from the coast, the peaks of the Andes Mountains, and the dense Amazon Rainforest. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is centrally located, making it the perfect location to start any adventure. Ideally, any visit to Ecuador would last for at least two weeks, but if you don’t have that much time, you’re going to have make some difficult decisions. During our trip, we made sure to make the most of our time there, but we had to decide whether we wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands or spend time in the Amazon Rainforest as we didn’t have time to do both. For an ideal trip to Ecuador, here are the top places to see during your time there.

Front of the Basilica in Quito, Ecuador
Inside San Francisco Church and Monastery

Quito – The city of Quito has a wonderful, old-world feel that will almost make you feel as if you are in Europe. There is the Basilica del Voto Nacional, San Francisco Church and Monastery, and an old town area that is very walkable. Even if you are heading the coast or the rainforest to see the wildlife, you should certainly allocate several days to spend in Quito.

Scarlet Macaws in the Jungle
View from the Top of the Lodge Deck in Ecuador

 Napo Wildlife Center – For an experience in the Amazon Rainforest that you will never forget, staying at the eco-lodges of the Napo Wildlife Center cannot be beat. From giant river otters, hundreds of birds, monkeys, sloths, caiman, and more, there is so much to see during time in the jungle. Also, visiting an indigenous village as well as seeing hundreds of parrots at the parrot clay licks is extremely impressive. You will need to spend at least four to five days in order to really make the most of your time in the Amazon.

Middle of the World Monument
No Experiment, Just Us at the Equator 🙂

 The Equator – Going to the middle of the earth is a fascinating experience and the Intiñan Museum at the true equator has a variety of interesting science experiments. It is fun for adults and children alike. There is also a very interesting museum, La Mitad del Mundo, that is at the location previously thought to be the equator and it can be seen during the same trip to the real equator.

The Bottom of the Trail
View of the Quilotoa Caldera and Lagoon in Ecuador

 Laguna Quilotoa – Visiting this lake in the crater of a dormant volcano is one of the most spectacular sights within Ecuador. It is certainly worth taking the time to hike down to the lake itself or you can ride a donkey down and back up if you want as it is quite steep. You can also kayak out onto the sulfur lake, but you can’t go swimming.

View of Quito
Amazing Peaks as We Hiked Above the Teleferico

 The Teleferico – Located on the outskirts of Quito, the Teleferico is a cable car that will take you up the side of the Pichincha Volcano with amazing views of the city. There also several hiking trails after the cable car drops you off at the viewing station. It is at a very high elevation, so it is wise to pace yourself if you do decide to go hiking. It is certainly worth the effort as the views are absolutely amazing.

Driving Towards Cotopaxi Volcano
Walking the Nature Trails Below the Volcano

Cotopaxi Volcano – Hiking on an active volcano may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but is certainly a very interesting experience. At this time, you can only climb to the mid-station on the side of the volcano due to the fact that it is an active volcano and the risk for an eruption remains high. There is also a park with nature trails located at the base of the volcano that is certainly worth taking the time to hike as well.

Sea Lion – Provided by Happy Gringo Tours
Hammerhead Sharks – Provided by Happy Gringo Tours

 The Galapagos Islands – Unfortunately we had to choose between spending time in the Amazon or going to the Galapagos Islands, so we’ll have to return at a later time to see the amazing wildlife that is there. The tour company that we used provided us an interesting article on the animals of the Galapagos that certainly has us wanting to return.

When we first decided to go to Ecuador, we were surprised at how little we actually had seen or read about this fascinating country. There is certainly an abundance of things to see in Ecuador and we used Quito as our home base for our time there. From an abundance of wildlife and dramatic scenery to the historic city of Quito, Ecuador definitely has something for everyone and is a gem of South America.

Exploring Ecuador from Quito

When we planned our trip to Ecuador, we decided to stay in Quito and use it as our launching pad to visit sites in the Andes Mountains as well as the Amazon Rainforest. We had a little less than two weeks to spend in the country and we knew from our previous trip to South America that we wanted to make the most of our time. We contacted the Happy Gringo tour company to assist us in ensuring that we saw the best that Ecuador has to offer. We decided to break our trip up into a variety of day trips with one longer trip to the Amazon Jungle in the middle. Although it was quite busy, with tours almost every day, it allowed us to see so many wonderful sights. It turned out to be one of the most memorable trips that we have ever taken.

Amazing Peaks as We Hiked Above the Teleferico
Napo Wildlife Center in the Yasuni National Park

The first of our day trips was probably one of the most spectacular. Our guide picked us up at hotel and drove us from Quito to Quilotoa Laguna, which is a dormant volcano with a sulfur lake in its caldera. As we drove through the countryside toward the volcano, we passed through a village where shepherds were guiding their sheep along the narrow road as well as stopping to view a gorgeous gorge surrounded by the peaks of the Andes. We had the choice to either hike down to the lake or hike around the rim, but since we were on a private tour, we decided to do a little of both. We began by hiking down the sandy trail that took you down the steep sides of the volcano to the lagoon where you can rent a kayak to paddle out onto the lake. If you decide to hike all of the way down, you can rent a mule for $10 to carry you back up to the top, which is probably worth the money. Since we only hiked down about two-thirds of the way, we had to hike back up the dusty trail, our feet sinking into the sandy dirt. Once we returned to the rim of the volcano, we went to one of the several restaurants at the volcano for a well-deserved lunch. We then hiked about half of the way around the rim, enjoying spectacular views of Quilotoa Laguna. Our trip couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.

Hiking Around the Rim of Quilotoa in Ecuador
The Start of the Trail at the Quilotoa Volcano in Ecuador

The following day was a full day of adventure that included hiking on yet another volcano, plus a trip to the center of the world. Once again, our driver picked us up from the hotel and drove us to the Teleferico, which is a cable car that takes you up the side of the mountain where you enjoy amazing views. We arrived early and were able to see amazing views of Cotopaxi, an active volcano that sits outside of Quito as well as Cayambe, another snow peaked Volcano outside of the city. After enjoying the beautiful views, we started hiking the trail up Pichincha, which is also an active stratovolcano. The full hike takes two to three hours and ends at Bear Cave, but the altitude got the better of us and we stopped about half way and returned down to continue to visit the equator. Visiting the equator actually consists of two stops, one for the Equator Monument, which was considered the actual equator at one time, but with the invention of GPS technology, it was determined to be just south of the true equator. Regardless, the monument is well worth seeing. From there we continued on to the actual equator, which is at a cultural museum that existed prior to determining that it was also the center of the world. We enjoyed doing science experiments that demonstrated the uniqueness of standing on the true equator, such as water spinning in opposite directions in the northern and southern hemisphere as well as balancing an egg on a nail.

Quito with the Active Cotopaxi Volcano in the Distance
No Experiment, Just Us at the Equator 🙂

We knew that we wanted to spend time on the Amazon River and stay in an eco-lodge in the jungle, so we had arrangements made to stay at the Napo Wildlife CenterNapo Wildlife Center in the Yasuni National Park for four days. We flew from Quito to Coca, where the guides from the lodge met us and transferred us to a motorized canoe. After a couple of hours on the Amazon River, we beached the motorized canoe and settled into smaller canoes where we could paddle the small tributaries that lead to the lake where the lodge sits on the shore. For those four days, we woke up early and took canoes through the jungle, climbed to the top of the canopy, and saw over 50 species of birds, 5 different species of monkeys, two and three toed sloths, caiman, and the rare river otters. We also visited the village of the indigenous tribe of the Amazon who actually own and operate the lodge where we were staying. There was so much to see and do during our time in the Amazon Rainforest that it was the highlight of our entire trip.

Scarlet Macaws in the Jungle
Indigenous Tribe in Napo, Ecuador

We returned from the Amazon completely exhausted, but totally fulfilled. Our adventure, however, wasn’t over yet. The day after we arrived back in Quito, our guide picked us up to take us to the Cotopaxi Volcano. Because it is an active volcano, you can only hike up to the shelter, which sits about half way up the towering volcano peak. The views of the volcano were absolutely amazing, but after six straight days of early mornings and long days, we didn’t have the energy to climb to the shelter, so we opted for a nature hike around the lake that sits at the base of the mountain. We saw wild horses and a variety of birds as well as flowers and plants while our guide explained the history of the area. On our way back to Quito, we stopped at a locally owned restaurant where we enjoyed a traditional Ecuadorian meal.

Cotopaxi, an Active Volcano
Hikers on the Trail around the Lake at Cotopaxi

We spent the remaining days in Quito, enjoying the beautiful architecture, historic churches, and picturesque plazas. It was the perfect opportunity to unwind and immerse ourselves into the local culture. We enjoyed visiting the markets with an endless variety of food, art, clothes for sell. Everywhere you go in the historic old town of Quito, the Apocalyptic Virgin Statue on the peak of El Panecillo, watches over you. When looking for a wonderful meal, including the famous Cuy, the Mariscal District offers a wide variety of choices. Although we only had three days in Quito, we really enjoyed spending time in the capital of Ecuador.

Clock Tower at the Basilica in Quito
Beautiful Courtyard in the San Francisco Convent

Ecuador will always be a special place for us after seeing so many wonderful places. We hope to return someday to spend time in the Galapagos, but our time in the Andes Mountains and Amazon Rainforest made for an incredible adventure. The history and culture of each of the unique locations that we visited during our time in Ecuador made our trip even more enjoyable.

Artisan and Craft Market in the Beautiful Parque El Ejido in Quito, Ecuador

In order to walk to the old town quarter of Quito in Ecuador from our hotel, we had to walk through Parque El Ejido. It is a lovely park that has a nice artisan and craft market as well as plenty of open space. Located right in the city, it can be quite busy at times as families gather to have a picnic or play a game of soccer. There is also an interesting arch located in the park, simply called Arco de El Ejido with a statue of two men battling one another.

Arco de El Ejido
Unique Statue at the Park
Colorful Artwork for Sale in the Park
Open Green Spaces Away from the Crowds

We love finding markets where we can buy local arts and crafts whenever we travel to places. We typically try to bring something home with us to remember our trip, especially if it is something that we can display. While we were in Quito, we found a local artist in the market that sold watercolor paintings and we couldn’t resist buying an original piece of art. Whether you want jewelry, clothing, or art, there are an abundance of options.

Our Painting of Quito, Ecuador
Walking Amongst the Stalls
Crowds Amongst the Artwork
Walking Through the Park and Shade Trees

Even if you aren’t interested in the market, just enjoying the shade of the trees, the open grassy areas, or even getting something sweet from a food vendor makes visiting the park worthwhile. Since we walked through the park both ways to and from our hotel in Quito, we had plenty of time to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. We have been to many wonderful parks during our travels, but this one is truly one of our favorites.

Looking Through the Arch at the Statue
Leisurely Stroll Through the Park’s Vendors
More Artwork for Sale
Large Park with Room to Escape the Busy Market Area