10 Top Tourist Attractions in Ecuador

Ecuador is a land of rich cultural and historical attractions, all set within a backdrop of natural wonders, with landscapes that range between lush, tropical rainforests and glaciated volcanoes. Whether exploring the exquisite churches of the nation’s capital, Quito, or whether whitewater rafting down pristine tributaries of the great river Amazon, visitors to the nation that straddles the Earth’s equator will come away with great travel memories. Here are the top tourist attractions in Ecuador not to be missed.

10La Compañía, Quito

Located in the heart of Quito, the Church of the Society of Jesus, or “La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús,” is perhaps the best known of the capital’s famed cathedrals. Built in the early 1600s, the church’s design is considered a premier example of Baroque architecture in the New World. The expansive use of gold leaf throughout the central nave of the church is breathtaking.

Where to Stay in Quito

9Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi is the second highest summit in Ecuador, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft). The volcano has one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world, which starts at the height of 5,000 meters (16,400 ft). Its snow covered peak is clearly visible from Quito. Cotopaxi is also one of the highest active volcanoes in the world with more than 50 eruptions since 1738, although its present activity is limited to a few steam fumaroles.

8Nariz del Diablo
Nariz del Diabloflickr/ironmanixs

The Nariz del Diablo, or “Devil’s Nose,” describes the train line between the towns of Alausi and Sibambe. The track gets its name from the great cost of human life that it took to complete the train line. One of the most astounding engineering projects ever undertaken in the mountainous Andes, the stretch of track offers visitors sweeping panoramic views of the countryside. A series of switchbacks slowly takes the train up a steep ascent to Alausi.

Where to Stay near the Nariz del Diablo

7Baños
Bañosflickr/dn lpnsk

The small city of Baños lies at the foot of the active volcano Tungurahua. Named after the hot springs fed by the thermal waters of the volcano, Baños is one of the most popular tourist spots in Ecuador. Known as the “Gateway to the Amazon,” Baños is a favorite departure point for jungle tours. Waterfalls cascading thousands of feet down deep river gorges attract sightseers as well. The thunderous Pailon de Diablo waterfall, surging over a gorge where the Rio Verde and Rio Pastaza meet, is the most impressive.

Where to Stay in Baños

6Tena
Tenaflickr/Drriss

Situated in the Amazon rainforest region of Ecuador, for tourists, Tena serves as a launching point for jungle adventures. Missionaries founded the town, and a cinnamon industry helped the city survive. The Tena River joins with the Masahualli River, and then with the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon. Adventure enthusiasts cite Tena as one of the best places in the world for whitewater rafting and kayaking.

Where to Stay in Tena

5Montañita
Montañitaflickr/WadihAnton

Ecuador’s southern coastal region boasts scenic shorelines and world-famous beach resorts, including the popular Montañita. Montañita Town was a sleep fishing village until the international surfing community discovered the area’s exceptional surfing conditions. Montañita is known for its nightlife as well, with nightclubs, bars and cafés to entertain locals and visitors alike.

Where to Stay in Montañita

4Catedral Nueva, Cuenca

The colonial city of Cuenca is the third largest in Ecuador, popular for its year-round temperate climate. The New Cathedral of Cuenca, or “Catedral Nueva,” is the city’s most-recognizable landmark. Construction of the church began in the late 1800s and continued for nearly a century. With a façade crafted from alabaster and marble, the Catedral Nueva is most notable for the its three immense domes, each covered in blue glazed tile imported from Czechoslovakia.

Where to Stay in Cuenca

3Otavalo Market

Part of the fun of traveling in Ecuador is exploring the handiwork crafted by local artisans, and there’s no better place to see and purchase local arts, crafts and clothing than at the markets in the small town of Otavalo. The city is known the world over for the handiwork of its indigenous people, the Otavalos. Every Saturday, in the city’s Plaza de Ponchos, a broad array of jewelry, wood and stone carvings and woven clothing are offered for sale.

Where to Stay in Otavalo

2San Francisco Church, Quito
San Francisco Church, Quitoflickr/350.org

Located in Quito’s Old Town district, the Iglesia y Monesterio de San Francisco features several masterpieces, including a sculpture of a winged Holy Virgin by Legarda. Construction for the church began in 1550 on land where the palace of the Incan ruler Atahualpa once stood. The church complex is massive, covering nearly two blocks, and includes an adjoining museum. San Francisco Church and the surrounding Old Town area are considered one of the most important cultural centers in Latin America and are one of the main tourist attractions in Ecuador.

Where to Stay in Quito

1Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are a small archipelago of volcanic islands belonging to Ecuador in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The islands are quite remote and isolated, lying some 1000 km (620 miles) Ecuador. The Galápagos are world renowned for its unique ecosystem which was the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. Giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins, marine iguanas and different bird species can all be seen and approached. Strict controls on tourist access are maintained in an effort to protect the natural habitats and all visitors must be accompanied by a national park-certified naturalist tour guide.

Where to Stay in Galapagos Islands | Galapagos Islands Guide

More Ecuador tourist attractions can be found in the Explore Ecuador page.

Map of Tourist Attractions In Ecuador

Elsewhere on the Web

1 comment

  1. Great list, happy to see we have visited most of these places during our 2 month stay here in Ecuador. Such an amazing country! For anyone traveling with young children and looking for a quiet beach, I’d also like to recommend Ayangue, a little fishing village about a half hour south of Montañitas. Our family recently spent a week there and had a blast. You can read about our experience here:

    http://monkete.com/camperclan/2014/02/02/ayangue-beach-a-hidden-gem-on-the-ecuatorian-coast/

    Again, great list of top sites, love the site!
    Happy Travels!

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