Ecuador is an incredible country to visit. Home to one of the most diverse sections of the Amazon Rainforest, mountain ranges, the famous Galapagos Islands and historic colonial cities, there are some fantastic things to see and do.
Introduction to Ecuador
Although a small country compared to others in South America, Ecuador is one of the top countries to visit. Ecuador is found at the north west corner of South America right on the coast and at the beginning of the Amazon River.
Offering interesting places to visit, Ecuador’s main tourist cities of Quito and Cuenca have beautiful squares and are dotted with colonial Spanish architecture and cobblestone streets. From the cities, enjoy mountainous scenery providing a fantastic backdrop to the beautiful architecture in the historic centres.
The mountains then have their own secrets as you chance upon small villages selling colorful textiles and quality leather products. There are also some fantastic activities to enjoy in the mountain areas, including horse riding, hiking and white-water rafting.
The mountains are then home to the threatened cloud forest, which are some of the world’s most wildlife rich areas. This is where you find the world’s highest diversity of hummingbirds and orchids. This area is especially interesting for bird lovers as there are over 550 different species to find.
As you get down the mountains through the cloud forests, you will find the Amazon Rainforest.
The Amazon covers 50% of South America and the highest amount of animals and plants have been found in Ecuador. The jewel in the crown of Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest is then Yasuni National Park, which is constantly being threatened by oil companies. Explore the wildlife-rich tropical forest from some fantastic rainforest lodges and comfortable Amazon River cruises.
Positioned about 550 miles (900 km) west of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are a main attraction. Enjoy fantastic wildlife, white-sand beaches, and beautiful scenery.
The coast of Ecuador’s mainland is also worth a visit and there are beautiful beaches and protected areas to find.
The different areas of Ecuador
Let’s now go into a little more detail for each of these regions.
Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest
The most wildlife-rich section of Amazonia, more species of animals and plants have been found in Ecuador’s rainforest than anywhere else in the Amazon Rainforest.
The majority of the world records in wildlife were set in Yasuni National Park, which is the jewel in the crown of Ecuador’s rainforest. This park protects around 1 million hectares of tropical forest and all its wildlife.
Offering a fantastic experience, enjoy exploring the rainforest on trail walks, canoe tours, and even canopy towers and walkways.
There are a few different recommend lodges in Ecuador’s Amazon where naturalist guides will take you out on forest walks to find some incredible wildlife.
Enjoy spotting several different monkeys, toucans, macaws, colorful parrots, delicate orchids, giant forest trees, and even head out of a night to see the nocturnal animals.
The lodges we recommend to experience Ecuador’s Amazon all offer a comfortable experience, guided tours and include delicious meals.
We will mention more about these at the bottom of the article. However, to introduce one as an example we have the very comfortable and community-owned Napo Wildlife Center.
Positioned inside the national park boundary, you will notice the incredible location of the lodge immediately on arrival when greeted by lodge staff. No doubt you will hear the sounds of tropical birds and monkeys from the moment you first see the lodge.
Enjoy different canopy towers for observing canopy-living animals, which is a great place for birdwatching.
You will head out with skilled members of the Kichwa Añangu community. Explore the rainforest to find the wildlife and learn a little about the rainforest from those who know it best.
A main attraction in Ecuador for many visitors, the Ecuadorian Andes are an incredible spectacle to see. Enjoy the beautiful scenery, hikes to see beautiful lagoons in the Andes, or head out on guided mountaineering treks.
Ecuador is home to 10 mountains all over 5,000 meters with many areas to enjoy. The most famous mountain here is Cotopaxi and there are many tours to experience this incredible part of the Andes.
Cotopaxi offers a perfect cone-shaped mountain with consistent weather conditions for climbing. Like many mountains in the Andes, Cotopaxi is an active volcano and the last major eruption was in 1940. Note that there was also a steam eruption in 2015.
The title of the highest mountain in Ecuador belongs to Chimborazo. When measured from the centre of the Earth instead of from sea level, this is also the world’s highest mountain.
Most of the mountains are within their own protected areas. Even if you’re not interested in some extreme mountaineering, there are often walking trails through the areas to enjoy beautiful views and alpine flora and fauna.
There are some fantastic cities in Ecuador to visit. Enjoy the fascinating historical centres to see Spanich colonial architecture and absorb some local culture.
Here are two of Ecuador’s favorite cities for visitors:
One of Ecuador’s most beautiful cities, Cuenca is often a visitor favorite. The centre of Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many buildings dating to the 16th and 17th centuries.
Walk the beautiful cobblestone streets to see Incan remains, beautiful churches and cathedrals, monasteries, and courtyards. The wooden balconies on different buildings add to the colonial feel.
There are also different things to enjoy in the city, such as flower markets and museums to learn a little about the city and Ecuador. The surroundings are also spectacular and there are different day trips to enjoy from Cuenca, such as visiting the Mirrored Lake (Lacs en miroir) in the nearby Cajas National Park.
As Ecuador’s capital city, Quito is the city the majority of visitors to Ecuador first visit. Quito’s old town is a World Heritage Site home to fantastic cathedrals and colonial architecture.
Built on the ruins of an Incan city, enjoy seeing the mixture of Incan and Spanish colonial buildings. As Ecuador’s capital, there are also some fantastic cafes, restaurants and museums to visit and to immerse yourself in Ecuadorian culture. Enjoy the cobblestone streets, art galleries and fascinating architecture. You can also visit one of the largest city parks in South America, which is called the Metropolitano Guanguiltagua Park.
There are also some walks to enjoy from Quito. A fantastic areas is the Pichincha volcano, which has a cable car to the top offering some fantastic scenic views.
The Galapagos Islands
Not only a favorite area to visit in Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most incredible travel destinations.
The islands are located 550 miles (900 km) from Ecuador’s mainland and are an archipelago of 20 tropical islands.
The Galapagos Islands are famous for their incredible wildlife, including the giant tortoises, marine iguanas, Galapagos sea lions, and fantastic birdlife.
Enjoy some beautiful beaches and scenery, fascinating landforms, and a tropical climate. The history of the islands is also fascinating and is filled with pirates, whalers and explorers. The most famous visitor to the Galapagos was Charles Darwin due to the explanation of evolution, which you can learn a little about on your visit.
The islands are protected by the Galapagos Islands National Park, which covers an area just under 8,000 km². The national park protects most of the Galapagos Islands with 3% set aside for residents. The waters are then protected by the Galapagos Marine Reserve, which itself covers an impressive 130,000 km².
There are some fantastic tours to enjoy of the Galapagos Islands. To make the most of the experience, we recommend a Galapagos cruise. This means you can travel from island to island visiting some of the most wildlife-rich areas.
Enjoy guided excursions across the islands, visit the main points of interest on the Galapagos, and enjoy snorkeling and kayaking opportunities.
The cruises then offer comfortable accommodation as you travel from island to island, delicious cuisine, modern facilities, and experienced naturalist guides.
There are some fantastic beaches in Ecuador to enjoy.
One of the favorites is called Los Frailes Beach, which is within the beautiful Machalilla National Park. The park itself is a fantastic place to visit and you can spot whales traveling along the coast from June to September.
The Galapagos Islands mentioned above is another fantastic area to enjoy beautiful beaches. There are some beautiful white-sand, crystalline, coral, black and even green beaches to enjoy. Many of these are visited on the different itineraries offered by Galapagos Islands tours and cruises.
Best Time To Visit Ecuador
The name Ecuador is Spanish for equator because of the country’s tropical location. This means Ecuador offers a great place to visit at all times of year and when to visit really depends on when you are available to travel.
Like other areas of the tropics, the most significant temperature difference is between day and night rather than from month to month.
Also remember that the climate changes depending on elevation with cooler temperatures the higher you go. This means Quito at an elevation of 9,000 feet (3,000 m) is a lot cooler than the lowland rainforest and coastal areas.
When to visit the Galapagos Islands
As one of the favorite areas to visit, the Galapagos Islands experience two distinct times of year.
From June to November, you can expect then less rain and a temperature of between 70ºF (21ºC) to 80ºF (27ºC).
From December and June, the temperature is warmer. You can expect between 80ºF (27ºC) and 90ºF (32ºC). This warmer weather is then accompanied by a little more rain.
When to visit the Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest then has the dry season between July to November and the most rain from March to July.
Both times of year are great times to visit.
The wetter months are when the forest fruits and flowers. This is a great time to see the flowers and the rainforests in bloom. The abundant fruit also attracts different birds and monkeys to feed from the plentiful food supply.
The temperature in the Amazon is quite stable from month to month and stays at around 82°F (28°C) during the day. Temperature at night often gets down to around 73°F (23°C).
When to visit the coast
For coastal areas, the best time to visit is over the rainy months as this is when the weather is warm and sunny. From May to November, the coast is often overcast and cool. The warmer weather is from December to May .
Recommended Package Tours in Ecuador
To experience Ecuador, we have selected some recommended package tours to give you our selection of the top 10 vacation ideas.
The Ocean Spray Galapagos Cruise
The Ocean Spray is a luxury-class catamaran for exploring the Galapagos Islands. Built with performance and comfort in mind, enjoy an island hopping experience to explore the best areas of the islands.
The catamaran offers more stability than many other vessels and provides a fantastic experience of the Galapagos. Enjoy the comfortable and spacious suites, social areas and the elegantly styled dining room. There is also the sundeck and jacuzzi to relax when you’re not on excursions.
Each of the suites provides a private balcony so you can keep connected to this incredible environment. The vessel also offers kayaks and snorkeling equipment for exploring different reefs to see colorful fish and tropical marine life.
You will then head out to explore the islands with certified naturalist guides to find the incredible animals and sights of the Galapagos. Visit beautiful beaches, famous landmarks, learn about the islands and see the iconic wildlife.
There are a variety of itinerary options to choose from, which start from the 4-day cruise right through to the 15-day mega cruise to have an in depth experience of the Galapagos Islands.
If you have specific things in mind to see and do, make sure you contact the cruise using their page on TourTheTropics to find an itinerary to suit your interests and time available.
The Napo Wildlife Center
The Napo Wildlife Center is a very comfortable lodge to explore Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest. Because this is a community-owned lodge, the Napo Wildlife Center is actually positioned within the famous Yasuni National Park. This means you will enjoy some incredible wildlife-watching experiences.
Enjoy some fantastic guided tours with members of the Kichwa Añangu community to explore the rainforest. See several different monkeys, colorful birds, and hopefully some rarer animals like giant river otters, agoutis, tamanduas and sloths.
The lodge is composed of a main hall with library, dining room, bar and even the canopy tower to look out over the rainforest. The hall also provides a great place to enjoy delicious food while enjoying the views and sounds of the rainforest.
The canopy tower is a great place for simply observing and enjoying the rainforest canopy, as well as for birdwatching and spotting toucans, parrots, cotingas and other colorful birds.
Your suite provides 24/7 electricity by solar panels, private bathrooms with hot water, ceiling fans, and a balcony for some fantastic views.
You will head with your skilled jungle guide on rainforest trails to find wildlife and to canoe the fantastic Añangucocha lagoon to see different lake-living wildlife. You will also visit the Yasuni Claylick to see many colorful parrots.
The Galapagos Habitat Hotel
The Galapagos Habitat Hotel is a very comfortable hotel perfectly positioned on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos.
Enjoy comfortable accommodation, the in-house Almar Restaurant by Isla Grill, and some fantastic scenery.
Positioned on Puerto Ayora, next to the Galapagos Habitat Hotel you can find the Charles Darwin Research Center. This is where you can learn about the islands and see the work researchers are doing to protect the wildlife and archipelago.
There are also many different attractions near the hotel, including chocolate shops, galleries, souvenir shops and a number of cafes and restaurants.
Enjoy delicious cuisine in the Almar Restaurant, which is voted as one of the best on the islands. Enjoy delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners with beautiful scenery.
You can even enjoy wildlife-watching opportunities from the hotel itself, as sea lions and marine iguanas regularly come to bask and rest on the hotel deck. You can also see frigatebirds and pelicans from the restaurant.
To make the most of the islands, the hotel offers a variety of package tours for guided exploration of the favorite areas on the Galapagos.
The Eco Galaxy Cruise
The Eco Galaxy Cruise is another first-class catamaran to explore the Galapagos Islands and to enjoy the incredible wildlife.
There are eight cabins in total. The cabins are split equally on the upper deck and main deck. Each of the cabins offers a comfortable twin or double bed, private bathroom, hot water, air conditioning and both telephone and internet services.
In addition to relaxing in your cabin when not on excursions, you can also enjoy the social areas and sundeck. This is a great place to enjoy beautiful views and to appreciate the night sky with a delicious cocktail from the bar. Your freshly prepared meals are then served in the dining room.
You will then head out with skilled Galapagos guides to find the iconic and famous Galapagos animals and plants. Enjoy beautiful scenery and beaches, interesting landforms and learn about the history of this incredible region.
La Selva Lodge
A fantastic luxury experience of the Amazon Rainforest, La Selva Lodge offers very comfortable accommodation and is Rainforest Alliance Certified giving you peace of mind that your experience is with a responsible operator.
Head out each day with expert naturalist guides who will help you find the incredible animals and plants of the Amazon Rainforest. Visit beautiful lakes and enjoy rainforest trail walks to see the giant trees, which have to be seen to be believed.
As you walk the trails, your guide will be pointing out troops of monkeys, colorful birds, agoutis, reptiles and delicate tree frogs. You will walk past beautiful lakes and explore this incredible environment learning a little about the rainforest.
You will also visit the Yasuni claylick, which is one of the only claylicks in the northern Amazon Rainforest. Enjoy watching the many colorful parrots that feed from the clay to detoxify fruits and seeds they have eaten in the forest.
La Selva Lodge also offers canopy tower to enjoy the rainforest canopy. Climb the tower to see hummingbirds and other tropical birds, bromeliads and occasionally monkeys making their way through the trees.
You suite at La Selva Lodge offers very comfortable king-sized beds, private bathrooms and balconies, high-quality linen, and rainforest showers.
You can then enjoy a relaxing massage at the lodge spa listening to the sounds of the rainforest.
The Manatee Amazon Cruise
The Manatee Amazon Cruise offers a comfortable cruise on the Amazon River. Enjoy very comfortable accommodation, delicious meals, and head out each day with skilled naturalist guides to find the Amazon’s fantastic wildlife.
The cruise provides guided rainforest tours on small motorized skiffs. Travel up different tributaries and waterways to get deeper into the rainforest scouting for fascinating animals and plants. You will also enjoy canoe tours, night expeditions, forest walks, and the tall canopy tower.
Your rainforest guide will be helping you to find colorful toucans, parrots, monkeys and giant trees. Enjoy exploring the Amazon Rainforest and learning about the animals that call the forest home. You will also visit the Yasuni claylick, which is a favorite attraction to see parrots feed from the medicinal and salt-rich clay.
There are different itineraries on offer for the Manatee Cruise, which include the 3-night, 4-night or 7-night Amazon cruise programs depending on how much time you have available for your cruise.
There are 14 comfortable and modern double-twin and single-twin cabins. All of the cabins offer air-conditioning and ensuite bathrooms complete with massage showers.
The Anakonda Amazon Cruise
The Anakonda Amazon Cruise is the sister vessel of the Manatee Amazon Cruise mentioned above.
Enjoy very comfortable accommodation, delicious cuisine, and some fantastic rainforest tours led by highly skilled guides. On the Anakonda itineraries, you will be exploring the rainforest of the Napo River and the famous Yasuni National Park.
Enjoy exploring the jungle about motorized skiffs, rainforest walks, climbing the canopy tower and on kayaking experiences. Your guide will be helping you to find many animals and plants, including pink river dolphins, colorful parrots, toucans, and many different monkeys.
The Anakonda vessel itself offers 18 suites in total. These include 4 Deluxe Suites that include their own private balcony. All suites offer air-conditioning and modern en-suite bathrooms with hot water.
In addition to comfortable accommodation, the vessel provides a spa room, jacuzzi, a bar and dining room, lounge and solarium. Floor-to-ceiling windows across the vessel then keep you connected to this fascinating environment.
Choose from different itinerary options aboard the Anakonda Cruise, including the 4, 5, and 7 night Amazon River cruises depending on your time available.
The Sacha Lodge
The Sacha Lodge offers a fantastic experience of Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest. The lodge sits in its own private reserve protecting some fantastic animals and plants. Enjoy spotting many monkeys and birds that have become familiar with the lodge over the years. This means the animals show more natural behavior and may even cross the rainforest above your cabin.
Explore the rainforest on guided trail walks and canoe tours. Enjoy spotting water-living animals and birds that live around the lake edge like the prehistoric-looking hoatzins.
A favorite attraction of the Sacha Lodge is the canopy walkway. This stretches 940 feet (275 meters) through the rainforest and offers some fantastic wildlife-watching opportunities. At 94 feet (30 meters) above the forest floor, you can set up a bird spotting scope provided by the guide to see birds, monkeys and have a closer look at the rainforest trees and plants.
The lodge offers two dining areas, including an indoor dining room and an outside seating area for a delicious BBQ overlooking the lake.
The wildlife at the lodge is incredible. There have been 587 bird species recorded on tours from the Sacha Lodge, which is 37% of all Ecuador’s bird species.
Because of this, the lodge can assign a qualified birding guide if you want to devote time to finding as many species as possible. On a more general tour, enjoy spotting several different monkeys, caiman crocodilians, tree frog and head out of a night to spot nocturnal animals.
The Galaxy Galapagos Cruise
The Galaxy Galapagos Cruise offers a first-class vessel for exploring the Galapagos Islands.
The Galaxy Yacht has nine cabins with two on the lower deck, three on the main deck and four on the upper deck. The vessel also provides a comfortable lounge, bar, dining room and sundeck.
Your meals on the cruise includes dishes inspired by the Galapagos Islands, some traditional Ecuadorian dishes, as well as international favorites.
On your cruise itinerary, you will explore the Galapagos Islands with skilled naturist guides. Enjoy a number of activities, including island walks, wildlife watching, kayaking and snorkeling tours to explore the marine world.
The Nemo III Galapagos Cruise
The Nemo III Galapagos Cruise is a little different from the above cruises as this is a motor-sail catamaran. The cruise offers a comfortable and adventurous experience of the islands, including guided tours. The vessel accommodates 15 passengers for a tour focusing on the northern or southern islands.
The Nemo III itineraries are based on two 8-day itineraries. On the cruise, you will explore some of the favorite areas in the archipelago to see the incredible wildlife. In addition to the full 8-day cruise, you can also join the itinerary for a 4 or 5-days if you have a limited time available.
Choose from either twin or double cabins, which all feature private bathrooms with hot water. The vessel then offers social areas, delicious meals in the dining room and a sundeck with jacuzzi.