There are some beautiful places in Ecuador. The country is one of the main tourist destinations in South America and offers a diversity of attractions.
Here, we present our recommendations of the top 15 places in Ecuador. These include beautiful places, cities, beaches, rivers, lodges, hotels, and environments.
Here is a summary guide and overview of the best places to visit in Ecuador.
The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are the world’s most famous archipelago. One of the world’s top tourist destinations, enjoy seeing some incredible wildlife and beautiful places. Enjoy spotting the different animals, such as the giant tortoises, blue-footed boobes, marine iguanas, sea lions, sea turtles, and more.
In addition to incredible animals, enjoy beautiful beaches, turquoise waters, island cruises, and adventure. Walk different trails, see hidden lagoons, and enjoy kayaking and snorkeling with sea lions, sea turtles, and friendly reef sharks.
The Galapagos are located just a short flight from Ecuador’s coast where you can learn about the fascinating and unique history. Hear stories of pirates, whalers, and explorers. Famously, this is where Charles Darwin noted down observations of island wildlife. These notes would help him develop the theory of evolution by natural selection.
For the best experience of the Galapagos Islands, we recommend a luxury cruise aboard some of the select catamarans. Choose different itineraries suited to how long you have available to make the most of your experience. Recommendations include the Ocean Spray, Cormorant, and Petrel cruises.
Santa Cruz (Galapagos Islands)
To single out one of the Galapagos Islands, Santa Cruz is a fantastic place to visit. This is also a great base to explore the other islands on day tours if you’re not choosing to take a Galapagos Cruise.
Centrally placed, Santa Cruz is one of the main Galapagos Islands and there are some fantastic things to do. Enjoy walking in the highlands with iconic giant tortoises and visit Fisherman’s Wharf to see locals going about their day, including residents, but also sea lions, pelicans, and large frigatebirds. From this one island, you can see some of the favorite Galapagos tourist attractions.
Santa Cruz is home to some of the best restaurants, cafes, spas, and shopping opportunities on the islands. This is also where you can find the Charles Darwin Research Center, which is positioned next to the fantastic Red Mangrove Hotel. The Red Mangrove Hotel is also where you can enjoy some delicious lunches and dinners.
Enjoy kayaking with sea turtles at Tortuga Bay, spot the Sally Lightfoot crabs, walk with the marine iguanas, visit hidden lagoons, and see some impressive lava formations. For the adventurous, you can also head out to see a population of land iguanas.
La Selva Lodge (Amazon Rainforest)
La Selva Lodge & Spa is positioned in Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest just outside the incredible Yasuni National Park. Enjoy comfortable suites, delicious cuisine, and incredible wildlife. As this is also a spa, enjoy a range of relaxation treatment surrounded by pristine rainforest.
The award-winning lodge offers a very comfortable base for guided tours into Amazonia. With your professional rainforest guide, explore Amazonia to find a diversity of animals and plants.
Nestled at the edge of the beautiful Lake Garzacocha, the lodge offers some incredible views. You can even spot monkeys and different colorful birds from your suite or lodge restaurant.
The nineteen spacious cabins are made from traditional bamboo, which offers natural ventilation. In addition to the cabins and suites, La Selva Lodge offers the restaurant and bar, a gift shop, comfortable lounge area, and a canopy tower. The tower provides some spectacular views over Amazonia.
Offering one of the most wildlife-rich places on Earth, enjoy expeditions with your professional guide to find different monkeys, parrots, toucans, caiman crocodilians, turtles, delicate tree frogs, and fantastic scenery.
The Napo Wildlife Center (Amazon Rainforest)
Owned and operated by members of the Kichwa Añangu Community, the Napo Wildlife Center is the only rainforest lodge located actually inside the fantastic Yasuni National Park. A beautiful part of Ecuador and definitely one of the best places to visit, the Yasuni National Park continues to set records for wildlife.
Enjoy being guided through the rainforest by members of the Kichwa Añangu themselves who will teach you about this incredible forest. You will also visit the incredible Yasuni claylick to see different parrots gathered at the clay in a fantastic spectacle of colors.
The lodge itself offers some beautiful views of the Amazon Rainforest and Añangu Lake. You can even spot many colorful birds from the lodge itself.
The Napo Wildlife Center provides 16 private cabins, including 4 luxury suites. In addition to the accommodation, the lodge offers a canopy tower, dining room, bar, lounge area, and a small library.
From the comfortable lodge, head out with your expert guide to explore the Yasuni National Park. Spot toucans, colorful parrots, different monkeys, and more. Enjoy exploring the rainforest on forest walks, guided kayaking tours, and boat rides.
The Napo Wildlife CenterEl Coca, Ecuador
Currently, TourTheTropics.com cannot help you book this experience. However, you can visit the tour operator's website for more information.
Ecuador’s Cloud Forest
The cloud forest is one of the world’s most threatened and most wildlife-rich areas. The environment is defined as forest at such a high altitude that it’s penetrated by cloud cover.
The area offers a different environment to lowland rainforest with a cooler temperature, new species, and many more hummingbirds, orchids, epiphytes, and beautiful butterflies.
The cloud forest offers a mystical looking environment with lush green plants clinging to the trees. There are a variety of different cloud forest lodges in Ecuador that allow you to experience this fascinating place.
You can enjoy some fantastic guided tours in the cloud forest to learn about this fascinating and lesser known habitat. There are over 400 different birds to find in this small area of forest, including the colorful tanagers, cotingas, toucans, and more hummingbirds than anywhere else on Earth.
You can reach Ecuador’s cloud forest on a two hour drive from Quito to the town of Mindo. From here, you can enjoy heading out for the day to explore different trails or choose to spend a few nights at one of the excellent cloud forest lodges.
The Napo River
The Napo River weaves and winds through the Ecuadorian rainforest before joining with the Amazon River in Peru. As one of Ecuador’s most beautiful places, you can enjoy some beautiful scenery on river cruises in addition to spotting many different animals and plants.
The Napo RIver also runs between the Yasuni National Park and the Cuyabeno Reserve, which are the famous protected areas of Ecuador’s Amazon.
In addition to fantastic scenery and beautiful sunsets, you can find the mysterious pink dolphins in the river. These are often curious enough to approach swimming or canoeing visitors.
The best way to enjoy the river is to enjoy a cruise aboard the Manatee Explorer or luxury-class Anakonda Amazon Cruise.
The Manatee Cruise offers guided exploration into the Amazon Rainforest on a comfortable vessel. Visit the Yasuni parrot clay lick, enjoy the canopy tower to gaze out over the Amazon Rainforest, and have a go at glamping in the jungle.
For the only luxury cruise in Ecuador, the Anakonda Cruise provides a similar experience to the Manatee but in more comfort. Enjoy spacious seating areas, a large observation deck, an outdoor jacuzzi, and an al fresco lounge for relaxing, cocktails, or reading. Each of the eighteen spacious suites offer large, comfortable beds, modern ensuites, and private balconies.
The Anakonda Cruise also provides large panoramic windows to keep you connected to this fantastic place.
The Cotopaxi Mountain
An iconic landmark in Ecuador, Cotopaxi is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and one of the world’s highest active volcanos. With its almost perfect volcano shape, Cotopaxi creates some beautiful scenery.
This is the most famous volcano in South America and is found just outside Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. Cotopaxi reaches 5,897 m (19,347 ft) into the sky and is located in one of Ecuador’s most popular protected areas.
Surrounding the volcano are some enjoyable hiking trails to explore the region. There are also some fascinating animals and plants, including the famous Andean condors.
You can also hike up the volcano itself and if you would prefer, you can also make the journey on horseback. Not just an iconic and attractive volcano, the views you will enjoy makes this one of the most beautiful places in Ecuador.
The Machalilla National Park
The Machalilla National Park sits on Ecuador’s coast and offers a very beautiful area. Enjoy fantastic views of the forest, ocean, and coastline as you walk different trails.
The Machalilla National Park is a 55,000 hectare area of tropical dry forest. Enjoy diverse wildlife and some fantastic scenery that make this one of Ecuador’s favorite places.
Inside Machalilla National Park, you can find a diversity of different birds and 300 different species have been recorded so far. These include hummingbirds, trogons, and parrots. As a fantastic feature of the park, you can see humpback whales passing along the boundary from June to September.
In addition to the wildlife, you can find some archaeological remains. The most well known is remains of settlement from over 20,000 years ago. Cultures that called this region home include the Machalilla and Manteña.
To visit the park, you can choose from accommodation options in Puerto Lopez, which is also a great place to enjoy different tours, whale watching, and diving opportunities.
Los Frailes Beach
Within the Machalilla National Park and just south of Machalilla town, about 12 km from Puerto Lopez, you can find Los Frailes Beach. Free of crowds, the smooth, white sand beach offers picturesque views and welcoming, crystal-clear water. However, do note that there can be strong undertows so be careful if swimming.
The beach itself is a great place to simply relax while taking in the beautiful views. As mentioned above, Ecuador’s coast is a great place for whale watching between June to September. Remember to bring your binocular if traveling during these months as there is also a well-placed lookout near the beach.
The Sacha Lodge & Reserve
The Sacha Lodge sits in a private reserve of Amazon Rainforest near the Napo River. Because of the reserve’s private nature, the wildlife only comes into contact with lodge workers and tourists. This means the wildlife has better habituated to people than some other areas.
Enjoy troops of squirrel monkeys or capuchins crossing over the lodge as they would naturally. Tamarins frequently come and catch food or play near the lodge boardwalk as you walk between the different Sacha buildings.
Sacha Lodge is composed of comfortable cabins with ensuite bathrooms, two different restaurant locations, and a relaxation area.
The main attraction at Sacha Lodge is the 940-foot (275-meter) long canopy walkway that takes you on a fantastic walk 94 feet (30 meters) above the forest floor. This is often a much-loved area for bird enthusiasts and hundreds of species have been seen on the lodge grounds.
The entire area is nestled beside the beautiful Pilchicocha Lake, which you can explore on guided canoe rides to find wildlife. You will also enjoy guided tours through the rainforest to find a diversity of animals and plants. Spot several different monkeys, colorful birds, fascinating reptiles, delicate orchids, and giant rainforest trees.
Baños de Agua Santa
Baños is a favorite area in Ecuador and is commonly on the tourist route for visitors. Named after the natural hot springs, Baños is also a draw for adventure travelers. Enjoy a range of activities, including rafting, horse riding, rock climbing, and kayaking.
Of course, there are also the hot springs themselves with warm welcoming water and fantastic views of the landscape. You can also see some of the 60 different waterfalls, including one seen from La Virgen hot springs. The largest in the region is named Pailón del Diablo after the pool below the falls, which is thought to resemble the devil’s face.
Although the town itself is a little disorganized with different tour operators, the area around Baños is very scenic. Enjoy forested foothills, gorges, and the mountainous views. In addition to relaxing in the thermal baths, you can choose from different treatments in spas.
Note that Tungurahua is still an active volcano and eruptions are seen as a regular part of life. However, the scenic valleys, walking trails, and many waterfalls make Baños another of Ecuador’s most beautiful places.
Cuenca is possibly Ecuador’s most beautiful city. The center of Cuenca is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. You can enjoy the Spanish colonial architecture that dates from the 16th and 17th century.
In the city, enjoy beautiful churches and cathedrals, Incan remains in some building foundations, different museums, and a fantastic flower market. Walk the cobblestone streets to admire the wooden balconies, monasteries, and courtyards. However, what makes Cuenca even more special are the surroundings.
Located in Ecuador’s highlands, in the area surrounding Cuenca you can enjoy some fantastic day trips. One of the most popular and attractive natural wonders is the Mirrored Lake (Lacs en miroir) in the nearby Cajas National Park.
The Cajas National Park
As mentioned above, the national park is located just outside of the beautiful Cuenca city. The park is full of beautiful sights, including lakes, lagoons, rivers, cloud forest, orchids, bromeliads, and hummingbirds.
There are many other animals to find as well, including a number of species not found anywhere else on Earth. Enjoy spotting different toucans, Andean condors, and woodpeckers.
Covering 29,000 hectares, in addition to the natural sights, enjoy finding a few Incan and pre-Incan remains, such as different Incan roads. However, even the road to reach the park is impressive as you will pass through some fantastic Andean scenery.
Throughout the park are many different walking trails, which you can enjoy on guided treks. Enjoy different routes that take you past some of the park’s most attractive features.
Ecuador’s capital city, Quito’s Old Town is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quito was built on the ruins of a defeated Incan city and offers some fantastic architecture to enjoy as you walk the cobbled streets. Being the capital, there are also many great restaurants, cafes, and interesting museums.
Named after the equator, a favorite thing to do in Ecuador is to visit La Mitad del Mundo, which is located near where the equator crosses the country. This is a monument in Quito dedicated to the equator. Around the monument, you can enjoy some great views, good food, and even different museums.
While in Quito, you can visit the different cathedrals, churches, galleries, and the different city parks. One of the favorites is also one of the largest city parks in South America and is called the Metropolitano Guanguiltagua Park.
There are also some trail walks and hiking opportunities around the city. The nearest volcano is Pichincha, which has a cable car to the top for some great views of the city and surroundings.
The Quilotoa Loop
One of Ecuador’s most loved multi-day walks is called the Quilotoa Loop. Enjoy some beautiful scenery, interesting villages, markets, and the crystal-blue Quilotoa Lagoon itself.
The track is found about three hours from Quito city and is a favorite walk for visitors who like to get off the beaten track. There are not many facilities for visitors and requires a few days to complete if you’re interested in walking the entire 200 km trail.
On the trail, you can enjoy impressive scenery of lakes, rivers, valleys, and the volcano. While at the edge of the Quilotoa Laguna, you can also see the famous Cotopaxi Volcano.
The Laguna Cuicocha
Known as the lake of guinea pigs, Laguna Cuicocha is a crater lake at the bottom of the Cotacachi Volcano. Protected at the southern part of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, you can see a number of different animals and plants in the region.
You can enjoy a walk around the lake that takes around 4.5 hours to have the best lake views and to experience the area. At some points you can see on the track, you may see evidence that that the volcano is still active as occasional vents release their steam.About the Author: Ash Card is a frequent visitor to the Tropics and has a passion for helping visitors get the best experiences from tropical locations. Ash is a contributor to both TourTheTropics.com and ThinkJungle.com writing about tropical destinations, rainforests and wildlife. Feel free to contact Ash for tour help in the tropics. When not helping tourists with tours and info, Ash can be found salsa-ing the night away or posing near waterfalls.