Top 12 unmissable things to do in Ecuador

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Top 12 unmissable things to do in Ecuador

Top 12 unmissable things to do in Ecuador
Things to do in Ecuador

Ecuador is an ideal destination for tourism. In its national territory, you can find four well-defined natural regions: Coast, Sierra, Amazon, and the Galapagos Archipelago. Due to its geographical location, it is one of the countries with the most incredible diversity of flora and fauna on the planet. In addition, it is a country with unprecedented cultural diversity and historical wealth. In that sense, Quito is the perfect place to establish a starting point and get to know Ecuador little by little. With the desire to expand your knowledge about this country, we would like to give you a list of 12 unmissable things to do in Ecuador. 

Four Ecuador natural regions

1. Quito – Tour the Historic Center

Things to do in Ecuador - Quito
Historic Center of Quito. Photo by: Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

The capital of Ecuador is the right place to arrive in the country and where you can move to other areas of interest. There are many reasons to position Quito as a unique destination in the country. However, one of the most relevant is that it has the largest, best preserved, and least altered historic center in all of Latin America, a fact for which the city was declared a National Heritage of Ecuador, as well as the first city in Latin America declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1978.

This city, built 2,850 meters (9,350 feet) above sea level and founded in the 16th century, deserves to be visited since in it, you will be able to see the most extensive and best preserved colonial infrastructure of those existing in the Spanish-American capitals, as well as a series of artistic treasures treasured in churches, chapels, monasteries, convents and chapter rooms throughout the historic center. 

Things to do in Ecuador - Capilla del rosario
Capilla del Rosario in Santo Domingo de Guzmán Convent. Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

You can tour the fantastic historical center of Quito in our company, on the only double-decker bus in the city, the Quito Tour Bus. On this tour, you can enjoy the most outstanding places of Quito through several stops that you can go your way using the Hop On – Hop Off for a full day. If you want to get to know the city during the day in a safe and fun way at 5 meters high, the Quito City Tour is the best option. Or if you prefer to tour the historic center at 5 meters high at night to enjoy a panoramic view of the illuminated city, with a one-hour stop on the traditional Calle de la Ronda, Quito at Night is another option. 

Quito, known as “The Cloister of America”, has more than 60 churches, chapels, and monasteries. We invite you to visit them and get to know other treasures of the historical center of Quito in our company, which is why we offer you our secret tours of Quito:

The capital of Ecuador is a city that has a large number of attractions. If you want to know what to do in Quito, read our note: 22 must-do things to do in Quito.

2. Middle of the World – Visit the iconic Equatorial Monument 

Things to do in Ecuador - Middle of the world
City Equatorial Monument in the Middle of the World City.  Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

We recommend you visit the iconic Equatorial monument in the Middle of the World City. It is located in the parish of San Antonio de Pichincha in the Metropolitan District of Quito, north of the city. If you visit Ecuador and go to the Middle of the World City, you will find all the necessary information to know why the country takes its name from the Equatorial line. Remember that in the Middle of the World, the latitude is 0° 0′ 0”. There are few places where you will find a particularity like this, which is why you cannot do without this visit. 

To get to this unmissable site from Quito, we recommend you read our note on how to get to the Middle of the World. There are several ways to do it; however, the recommended way is to take the Middle of the World Tour of Quito Tour Bus; since you will arrive at this tourist destination simply, you will visit the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo tourist complex where you will carry out various experiments on the Equator Line. You will get to know the Equatorial Museum, 30 meters (98 feet) high, built in honor of the Geodesic Mission, the cultural pavilions, and others. We also offer you private tours to the Middle of the World.  

3. Galápagos Islands – Discover one of the places with the most extraordinary biological diversity in the world

Things to do in Ecuador - Galapagos
Galapagos land iguana. Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

Visiting the Galapagos Islands is one of the greatest desires of any traveler because by doing so, you will have an exceptional opportunity to observe wildlife like nowhere else on earth. In this destination, which has intrigued and inspired visitors from around the world since the 16th century, you will understand how these unique and magical islands inspired Charles Darwin’s famous theory of evolution. 

The Galapagos Islands were declared a Natural Patrimony of Humanity on September 8, 1978, by the Unesco Heritage Committee, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1984, and Ramsar Site in 2001. Knowing its variety of pristine and unique ecosystems in the world and its rare creatures that inhabit both land and the surrounding seas is an experience that must be lived at least once in life. So we invite you to look at this unique selection of the best tours in the Galapagos from our partner Viator (Tripadvisor)

4. Cuenca – Meet the “Athens of Ecuador”

Things to do in Ecuador - Cuenca
Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

Cuenca is an Ecuadorian city, the capital of the Azuay province, and its most significant and populous city. It is located in an Ecuadorian Sierra Austral inter-Andean valley at 2,538 meters (8326 feet) above sea level. The city bears the official name of Santa Ana de Los Ríos de Cuenca, as it has a hydrographic system made up of four rivers: Tomebamba, Tarqui, Yanuncay, and Machángara, which cross the city from west to east. Also known as the “Athens of Ecuador”, the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 and is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the country as it has enormous historical, architectural, and cultural wealth. 

Our Cuenca City Tour is the best option if you want to know this city. Enjoy this city surrounded by rivers, pleasant weather, and friendly people, and tour the churches, colonial and republican style buildings, squares, and streets that make up its historic center. Likewise, if you want to know what to do in the “Athens of Ecuador”, we recommend you read our note: 16 unmissable things to do in Cuenca.

5. Baños de Agua Santa – Enjoy the adventure capital of Ecuador

Things to do in Ecuador - Banos
Pailón del Diablo Waterfall. Photo by: Boris G on Flickr. 

Considered the gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon and the adventure capital of Ecuador, Baños de Agua Santa is an unmissable destination in Ecuador. This city is located in the province of Tungurahua, between the central Andes and the Amazon of Ecuador, eight kilometers from the crater of the Tungurahua volcano and approximately three hours from the city of Quito. 

In this complete destination in the country, which won the award called “Baños, a gift for the earth” granted by the WWF, you will be able to: perform extreme activities, enjoy the abundant nature of the area, relax in the thermal water pools, enjoy from the active nightlife and taste the wonderful local gastronomy. 

So that your fun on this site is guaranteed, we suggest you review our note in which we indicate the TOP 30 things to do in Baños. In addition, we recommend you check our article on how to get to Baños and verify all the information related to our different Tours to Baños from Quito

6. Otavalo – Tour the largest indigenous artisan market in South America 

Things to do in Ecuador - Otavalo
Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

Located in the province of Imbabura, to the north of the inter-Andean region of Ecuador, at an altitude of 2,550 meters above sea level, is the famous city of Otavalo. This city is the place of origin of the Kichwa people of the Otavalos, internationally famous for their textile and commercial skills. In fact, Ecuador is famous for the high quality of its textile products, and the textile and clothing industry is a fundamental sector for the country’s social, productive, and economic development.

In Otavalo, you can find the largest indigenous artisan market in South America, Mercado Centenario, also known as “La Plaza de Ponchos”. It is a square that is world famous for its color, and it is characterized by the fact that hundreds of artisans sell handicrafts of all kinds, from wonderful ponchos and an infinity of fabrics to the famous toquilla straw hats, known worldwide as PanamaHats, hats that, worth emphasize, they are originally from Ecuador. 

Visiting Otavalo is another of the things to do in Ecuador that you will surely not regret. For this purpose, we recommend you read our note on what to do in Otavalo. In this way, you can make the most of your visit to this unmissable destination in Ecuador. In addition, we recommend you visit this destination through the Otavalo Tour from Quito, a safe and fun one-day trip in which you will get to know the main tourist attractions of the Imbabura province.

7. Quilotoa – Appreciate one of the most beautiful lagoons of volcanic origin in the world

Things to do in Ecuador - Quilotoa
Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

One of the places you must necessarily visit in Ecuador is the fantastic Quilotoa lagoon, considered one of the 15 most beautiful lagoons of volcanic origin in the world. It is located at 3,914 meters (12,841 feet) above sea level, at 66 km (41 miles) to the south of Latacunga, in the Zumbahua parish of the Pujilí canton, in the Cotopaxi province, in the Ecuadorian highlands. It is part of the Los Ilinizas Ecological Reserve and is one of its main attractions.

Quilotoa “is the westernmost volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes, [and] a caldera with a diameter of almost 9 km (5.6 miles) has formed within its crater. It is the product of the collapse of the volcano, which occurred about 800 years ago. […] In the 250 m deep caldera, a lagoon has formed. The minerals have given the surface a greenish and bluish tone when it receives the impact of sunlight” (Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador, El Quilotoa, considered one of the most beautiful lagoons in the World, 2022).

In our note on how to get to Quilotoa, we provide you with all the necessary information to make the trip to the famous lagoon from Quito. Likewise, we recommend you visit this destination in Ecuador on our Tour to Quilotoa from Quito in which we will not only take you to see the beautiful turquoise lagoon that is located in the Quilotoa crater, but you will also visit a traditional house in the páramo and an artisan workshop in the community of Tigua, where handicrafts from the area are made, and paintings are created that have geometric and figurative forms, typical of the pre-Columbian and colonial eras, respectively.

8. Cotopaxi – Admire an active volcano in Ecuador

Things to do in Ecuador - Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi Volcano and Limpiopungo Lagoon. Photo by: Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano located in the city of Latacunga, in the province of Cotopaxi. It is located 33 km (20 miles) northeast of Latacunga and 50 km south of Quito. It has an elevation of 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) above sea level and is the second-highest volcano in the country, only surpassed by Chimborazo.

If you are wondering what to do in Ecuador, you must go to the Cotopaxi volcano, one of the most famous volcanoes in the world. We recommend you live this unforgettable adventure in our company and through the Cotopaxi One-Day Tour from Quito. We will visit the Cotopaxi National Park, the Limpiopungo Lagoon, the Mariscal Sucre Interpretation Center, and hike to the José Rivas Refuge at 16,000 feet above sea level.

We tell you everything you need to know about how to get to Cotopaxi from Quito in our note on how to get to Cotopaxi. Remember that Quito Tour Bus recommends the Cotopaxi Tour, the easiest and most fun way to get to this majestic volcano and enjoy the surroundings of the Cotopaxi National Park.  

9. Papallacta – Immerse yourself in the thermal waters 

Things to do in Ecuador - Papallacta
Laguna de Papallacta. Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

Papallacta, considered another must-see destination in Ecuador, is a town in the Quijos canton in the Napo province, located at 3,250 meters (10,662 feet) above sea level and in the Andes near the Eastern Cordillera on the road to Quito, between the Cayambe and the Antisana volcanoes. It is a perfect place for those looking to relax in the middle of nature because while you enjoy therapeutic services and treatments that generate relaxation experiences, you will find yourself surrounded by the beauty of majestic mountains and natural diversity. Papallacta is an ideal destination to enjoy the hot springs, known for their medicinal properties.

Although this city is famous for its hot springs, it is essential to note that it also has spas, restaurants, and hiking trails. In addition, it is a destination only one hour from Quito, which is why it is highly desired since there you can rest from the hustle and bustle of city life. Hence, we invite you to visit Papallacta on our Papallacta Tour from Quito. We will see the viewpoint of the Papallacta lagoon, take a walk along the La Isla trail, and swim in the pools of the renowned Termas de Papallacta spa.

10. Mindo – Enjoy bird watching in the cloud forest

Things to do in Ecuador - Mindo
Gallito de las rocas / Andean cock-of-the-rock. Photo by @guywith3cameras on Instagram.

If you widely enjoy bird watching and abundant nature in a cloud forest, you should take advantage of the town of Mindo on your visit to Ecuador. Mindo is located northwest of the province of Pichincha and is the only parish in the canton of San Miguel de Los Bancos. It is part of the Chocó Andino de Pichincha Biosphere Reserve, declared as such by UNESCO on July 26, 2018. It is located about 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Quito. Hence you can allocate one of the days of your stay in Ecuador to know this fabulous town. 

Get to know the Hummingbird Reserve, the Butterfly Sanctuary, Mindo-Nambillo waterfall, and the local Mindo chocolate company. If you feel attracted to this natural and adventure destination in Ecuador, we invite you to discover it in our company. Check in this link for our Tour to Mindo

11. Guayaquil – Discover the port city

Things to do in Ecuador - Guayaquil
Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

Another activity in Ecuador is visiting Guayaquil, the Guayas province’s capital. Guayaquil is the second largest city in Ecuador and the nation’s main port. It’s located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in the coastal region. It is the gateway to many beaches in Ecuador and a recommended place to fly to the Galapagos Islands. 

If you are wondering what to do in Guayaquil, we recommend you visit: the Malecón 2000, the Parque Seminario, the Metropolitan Catholic Cathedral of Guayaquil, the Cerro Santa, the Las Peñas neighborhood, the Diego Noboa Stairs, the Malecón del Salado, the Plaza Guayarte, the Samborondón Historical Park, the Anthropological and Contemporary Art Museum (MAAC), the giant wheel La Perla, among many other attractive destinations in this beautiful city. In addition, Guayaquil is a city that boasts varied and exquisite gastronomy, and among the many typical dishes it has to offer, encebollado is one of the most famous. 

Learn more about all the tourist destinations in Guayaquil, Guayaquil is my destination

12. Cuyabeno – Explore the Ecuadorian Amazon

Things to do in Ecuador - Cuyabeno
Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

The Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve (RPFC) is located in the province of Sucumbíos, northeast of the Amazon region of Ecuador. It is considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, along with the Yasuní National Park. This reserve is part of the National System of Protected Areas of Ecuador and “takes its name from the Cuyabeno River, which overflows in its middle course, originating a complex of 14 lagoons and forming the largest wetland in the Ecuadorian Amazon” (Ministry of the Environment , Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve, 2015).

In this reserve, there are species such as: “dolphins, manatees, alligators, anacondas, otters, and the guarango de agua, the unique tree in the reserve; Thanks to its special adaptations, it can grow on the banks of rivers and lagoons, creating a magical and mysterious environment that attracts thousands of visitors every year. The reserve is also considered one of the protected areas with the greatest cultural diversity in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Here there are communities of indigenous Siona, Secoya, Cofán, Kichwa, and Shuar” (Ministry of the Environment, Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve, 2015).

If you are still wondering what to do in Ecuador, this is a site that you must necessarily add to your list. We suggest you get to know this unique destination in Ecuador through our Cuyabeno Multi Day Tour that departs from Quito. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to travel to Ecuador?

Ecuador is a safe country in general terms. However, primary care and common sense are required if you move on your own, and, as in all countries, there are areas where you have to be more careful. Although if you stay on the routes planned for tourists, you will not be in danger. 

What is Ecuador famous for?

Ecuador is famous because in its small territory, compared to that of other countries in the region, it has very diverse areas: mountains and active volcanoes in the Andes, Pacific beaches in the coastal region, Amazon jungle in the east of the country, and, of course, the island region in the Galapagos archipelago. In addition, Ecuador is distinguished for being an exporter of roses, cocoa, bananas, tuna, and shrimp, highly valued and coveted products in the international market. Another thing that makes Ecuador unique is that the country crosses the Equatorial Line. That is, it is located in the center of the world.

What is the best part of Ecuador?

Ecuador is a country with countless tourist destinations that are worth visiting. On this occasion, we leave you with a list of what we consider the country’s most famous places to visit:

  1. The historical center of Quito. 
  2. The iconic Equatorial monument in the Middle of the World City.
  3. The Galapagos Islands.
  4. Cuenca, the Athens of Ecuador.
  5. Baños de Agua Santa, the adventure capital of Ecuador.
  6. Otavalo and the largest indigenous market in South America.
  7. Quilotoa, a lagoon of volcanic origin.
  8. Cotopaxi, an active volcano in Ecuador.
  9. Papallacta and its hot springs.
  10. Mindo, a paradise for bird watching.
  11. Guayaquil, modern city and the main port of the country.
  12. Cuyabeno, a unique place in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

What I should not miss in Ecuador

Ecuador is an ideal destination because, in its national territory, you will find four regions perfectly marked by their nature, climate, and geography: Costa, Sierra, the East or Amazon, and the Galapagos Archipelago. Depending on your preferences, and since the country is relatively small, you will be able to visit several tourist destinations during your visit. However, what you should not miss in Ecuador are places like the historical center of Quito and the Middle of the World City, located in the same city. In addition, we recommend you visit the country’s mountains and destinations, such as Cuenca, Baños, the Cotopaxi volcano, Papallacta, and Mindo. Likewise, we suggest you get to know the port city of Guayaquil on the Ecuadorian coast, the Cuyabeno in the Amazon, and the only enchanted islands in the Galapagos archipelago.

Do they speak English in Ecuador?

The official language of Ecuador is Spanish. However, in various tourist spots such as high-class hotels, restaurants, event centers, congresses, and conferences, tourists communicate in several languages, and of these non-native languages, English is the most common. If you make your tour of Ecuador accompanied by professionals specialized in tourism, you will be able to communicate, especially in English. However, it is recommended that the visitor have a fundamental knowledge of the Spanish language so that their experience is even more pleasant and functional during the trip. 

How many days are needed to know Ecuador?

Ecuador, despite its size, is such a diverse country that it can take months to explore it fully. However, to obtain a general perspective of the country and to visit more than one of the geographical regions that make it up, we recommend that your stay in continental Ecuador is at least 7 days. However, if you have also decided to travel to the Galapagos Islands during your visit to the country, in that case, your stay should be extended several more days, as we suggest a minimum stay of at least 4 nights and 5 days on the enchanted islands. If you travel to Ecuador, we recommend you spend at least 4 days visiting Quito and the Andean mountains of the country, 3 days to the Ecuadorian Amazon, and 5 days minimum to the Galapagos Islands.

Requirements to enter Ecuador

In this link, you can find information regarding the requirements to enter Ecuador if you are a foreigner. In addition, you will be able to find a list of the countries that require a visa to enter Ecuador.

In addition, you can review the Guidelines for entering Ecuador by air according to the Metropolitan Public Company for Airport Services and Management of Free Zones and Special Regimes (EPMSA).

Finally, in the following link, you can check how long a foreign citizen can stay in the country.

Do you need a car in Ecuador?

Not necessarily. Typically, foreign tourists in Ecuador tend to move to any of the different tourist destinations in the country through private tours. It is not recommended to rent a car because you could find certain roads in poor condition or, sometimes, you will find a lack of signage, which could cause you to get lost. Of course, if you handle georeferencing or positioning tools well, such as Google Maps, you can arrive at your destination without problems. However, private tours continue to be the first option for foreign tourists in Ecuador. 

Things to do in Ecuador - Cotoaxi 2
Cotopaxi volcano and Limpiopungo lagoon. Photo by Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. 

Now that you know what to do in Ecuador and what are the famous destinations in the country, we recommend that you pack your suitcase soon and come to the country. We have a wide tourist offer that will allow you to go to any destination in Ecuador that you have chosen. I assure you that any of them, regardless of the region in which it is located, will surprise you. 

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