Ecuador things to see
What to See and DoGalapagos Islands
Home to famed sea tortoises and the location that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, the Galapagos Islands mesmerize visitors with their stunning natural beauty. Located about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the 13 large and 6 small Galapagos Islands have become a popular tour destination for travelers to the country, earning a reputation as a must-see attraction.
Plan to visit here via a tour - it's the most convenient - and expect to be dazzled by the Galapagos Islands’ native wildlife species, including penguins, sea lions, iguanas and albatrosses, which have thrived thanks to the islands' remote location and warm climate. Tourists can often swim alongside many of the animals, and it's wise to consider snorkeling as well for optimum sea-life viewing.
Hit the Beach at Montanita
Head to the freewheeling beach town of Montanita, a seaside village where some of Ecuador's hottest surfers congregate, topless sunbathing is tolerated and smoking marijuana happens openly. Like wandering into hippie heyday, visitors to Montanita will encounter bars blasting reggae music, same-sex couples walking hand-in-hand and electronica music festivals on the beach - all anomalies in rather conservative Ecuador. Still Montanita serves primarily as a surfer haven; strong waves have lured in surfers, bodyboarders and windsurfers for years.
Jorge Andrade, flickr
Mitad del MundoStraddle the Equator
Have some goofy fun taking photos of yourself straddling the equator line at Mitad del Mundo. Located just outside of Quito, it's the very spot where in 1736 explorers calculated the equatorial line, representing the middle of the planet and proving that the Earth is indeed round. Today, visitors have the option of visiting what has become a thriving tourist complex, complete with a museum, planetarium and a monument dedicated to the equator, and a painted yellow line depicting the point at which the equator would lie. Of course, as technology improved, it was discovered that the actual equator would lie just north of the Mitad del Mundo line. Still a visit to Ecuador - meaning "Equator" in Spanish - wouldn't be complete without a stop at La Mitad.
Devil's Nose Train Ride
Should you find yourself in Riobamba, a quaint town in central Ecuador, hop aboard the Devil's Nose train ride, an attraction that's quickly become an iconic Ecuador experience. The train ride zig-zags up a precipitous 330-foot cliff face, from Riobamba to the town of Sibambe, a hair-raising journey by all accounts. The Nariz del Diablo, or Devil's Nose, is actually a giant rock jutting from the slope, located between the 2 points. Trains leave at 7 a.m. and return around 5 p.m. Pro tip: Sit on the right side of the train for the best views.
Just north of Quito lies what might be Ecuador's most photographed body of water, the dramatic Cuicocha Lake, a 2-mile wide crater lake tucked into the caldera of the Cotacachi Volcano in the equatorial Andes. This stunning lake's bright blue waters will startle tourists with its unexpected beauty. Visitors can reach Cuicocha Lake via bus from the tiny town of Otavalo, then take a taxi from the town of Quiroga. Upon reaching the lake, it's possible to take a boat ride inside the caldera or hike the rim. Hikers beware, though: The terrain can be tricky and the elevation is high at 10, 000 feet, which could make breathing a bit difficult.
Cotopaxi National ParkCotopaxi Hike
Adventurous travelers to Ecuador will likely find their way to Cotopaxi National Park, 17 miles south of Quito, to climb the still-active, 19, 347-foot Cotopaxi Volcano. Many tour agencies in Quito offer multiday trips to climb to the summit. These tours typically drop hikers off at a parking lot located around 14, 700 feet, with a guided hike first to the "refuge" base camp 1, 000 feet up. That’s where you'll stay overnight, and then head to the summit from there.
For novice climbers or simply those not interested in reaching the summit, consider one of the many tours that drop you off at the parking lot then take you on a guided hike to the refuge. Additionally, many companies offer bike tours that take you to the parking lot, guiding you down the volcano via bicycle.
Get Steamy in Banos de Agua Santa
The town of Banos de Agua Santa, located 100 miles south of Quito, lies adjacent to the Tungurahua Volcano and a jungle, giving it a stunning background setting. The area is also located in the midst of some of Ecuador's best adventure sports opportunities, as well as a number of natural hot springs and thermal pools.
Take a soothing dip in the mineral-rich waters, which have been heated by the volcano's springs, at popular spots such as La Piscina de La Virgen, Balneario Las Penas or Piscina El Salado. If soaking your cares away in hot springs gets dull, sign up for one of many adventure tours, including canyoneering, or climbing waterfalls, bridge jumping, hiking the volcano, white-water rafting or horseback riding.