Why Ecuador?

For information about the current situation in Ecuador, see here.

Nested in the heart of South America and the center of our planet, Ecuador is a unique country with so much to discover. In fact, it is one of the most environmentally diverse countries on Earth, from the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the lush Amazon rainforest, and from the colonial streets of Quito to the pristine beaches of the Pacific coast, this country offers a diverse range of experiences for travelers of all kinds. Need some more information? Here are 5 reasons why Ecuador is a must-visit destination:


  • Biodiversity

Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world: “home to 18% of the world’s bird species and orchids, 10% of the world’s amphibians, and 8% of the world’s mammals” (TEEB, 2022). It is also important to mention that many of them are endemic to the country. It all depends on which part of the country you are visiting. 


  • Beautiful Scenery

Ecuador can be divided into 3 main regions: the Amazon, the Highlands, and the Coast & Galápagos Islands. Every region has a unique stunning natural scenery, including the Andes Mountains, volcanoes, beaches, and lush rainforest, along with our very own highlight: a volcano-based archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean: the Galápagos Islands. 


  • Adventure activities

Ecuador is a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts, you can enjoy various activities, ranging from a calm hiking to an out of the world snorkeling. It just depends on your choice. Ecuador is ready to meet all your expectations! 


  • Cultural diversity

Ecuador is home to around 14 different nationalities and 18 indigenous groups, each with their own unique customs, traditions, and languages. Plus, our colonial history has left a mark on architecture and cultural traditions. In fact, Quito has the largest and best conserved historic center in all Latin America!


  • Delicious Food

Ecuadorian cuisine is varied and flavorful, every region has its own traditional dishes ready for you to taste. Some of them include ceviche, empanadas, locro de papa, and many more. Of course, ingredients are grown locally, so you bet they are fresh at their very best!

Overall, Ecuador is a fantastic destination for anyone looking for a unique cultural and natural experience. If you are looking for specific places to visit, here are some ideas.


Amazon Region

The Amazon region spans over 100 000 square kilometers in the eastern part of the country. Its diverse ecosystem, mostly tropical rainforest, is home to not only a vast array of flora and fauna, but to different indigenous communities. These communities, including the Waorani, Shuar, Kichwa (and many more), have a deep connection to the land and have lived sustainably in the region for generations.

It is also important to mention the significant challenges for this region due to deforestation, oil extraction, and mining. Nowadays, the hope is set on the new generations and the promotion of ecotourism.



Dressing Tips

This region is known for its hot and humid climate, with temperatures averaging around 26°C (78°F) throughout the year. Therefore, it’s important to dress in lightweight and breathable clothing to stay comfortable. 

Use light-colored clothing, quick-drying fabric, comfortable footwear, rain gear, and don’t forget sun protection!


Napo Province

The Napo province is located in the eastern region of Ecuador, and it is known for its diverse and rich natural environment. The province is named after the Napo River, which flows through the region. 

This province is home to several indigenous communities like the Kichwa and Shuar, who have preserved their culture and traditions for generations, and they are opened to share with visitors their customs, crafts, cuisine, and even hunting techniques. 

The Napo province is also known for its ecotourism opportunities. It is a great place to practice some extreme sports such as rafting, kayaking or tubing. Following the Napo River, you will be able to interact with diverse flora and fauna. It is also a great place to take walks and reload your energy levels.

Some of the best spots at this province are:

  • Puerto de Misahuallí (4 hours by car)
  • Cavernas de Jumandy (1h15 by car)
  • Cascada de San Rafael (4 hours by car)


Recommended lodging


Orellana Province

The Orellana Province is another great destination if you are looking to explore the Amazon rainforest. Although this province’s economy is primarily based on oil production, it is also known for its rich biodiversity and ecological importance. It is home to several protected areas, including the Yasuní National Park, which is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. It is home to thousands of species, including several endangered species such as the giant otter, the jaguar, and the giant armadillo. No wonder, in 1989 it was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. 

One of the most unique features of Yasuní National Park is its high concentration of uncontacted indigenous communities (like the Tagaeri and Taromenane), which have chosen to remain isolated from the outside world. 

It is important to mention that it might be a long trip to drive by car (more than 8 hours!), but don’t worry! You can take a short 25-minute flight to Coca, the province capital, and then take a boat or car to your final destination. 


Recommended lodging


The Highlands

The Highland region is located in the central part of Ecuador, and it is mostly known for its stunning landscapes, vibrant culture, and rich history. In fact, this region is situated in the Andean Mountain range (the longest in the world and the highest outside Asia!), so high peaks, valleys, and fertile farmland are all over the area.

Although the Highlands are a great place for outdoor enthusiasts, it can also be an amazing destination to learn about Ecuadorian history, especially in the biggest cities (including Quito and Cuenca), due to Ecuador’s pre-colonial and colonial period.

Dressing Tips

When visiting the Highland Region, it is important to keep in mind the cool, temperate climate of the area. It might be a good idea to use layers since the temperatures can vary depending on the altitude and time of the day. The higher you go, the more layers you need, as well as a warm hat and gloves if you are visiting a volcano like the Cotopaxi. Another key aspect are shoes, bring comfortable shoes suitable for walking on uneven terrain (especially if you are going hiking). Finally, be sure to bring some rain gear and sun protection!



Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978. It is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture at the Old Town, including baroque style churches such as the Basílica, La Merced, and La Compañía. Other popular tourist attractions in Quito include the Mitad del Mundo monument (which marks the equator line), the cable car, the botanical garden, among others. Due to its central location, Quito is a great place to start your trip around Ecuador.



If you are looking for a short trip from Quito, undoubtedly Papallacta is a must-visit location. This small town is mostly known for its natural hot springs, so it’s a perfect place to have a relaxing time. These hot springs are fed by natural geothermal water heated by the Antisana Volcano, and visitors can enjoy soaking in the hot springs while taking in the beautiful mountain scenery that surrounds them. 

In addition, Papallacta is also a great place to do some outdoor activities like hiking and birdwatching. 

Recommended lodging



Otavalo is a small city around 1 hour away from Quito (by car). Its most famous attraction Is the indigenous market and traditional textiles. This is a great place to buy some souvenirs since you will be able to find a variety of handicrafts, alpaca wool sweaters, blankets, hats, scarves, and many more.

Otavalo is also surrounded by amazing mountains and landscapes (like the Peguche Waterfall), so it is also a popular destination for outdoor activities like hiking, horseback riding, and birdwatching. 

By the way, a good stop for this Otavalo trip is the San Pablo Lagoon, a perfect place to enjoy nature and grab some lunch!


Recommended lodging

  • Cabañas del Lago: 


Baños is a small city around three hours south from Quito. This is a popular location among tourists because of its adventure activities such as rafting, kayaking, canopying, and tubing. Baños also has a unique natural beauty since it is situated at the foot of the active Tungurahua volcano.



Mindo is around 1 hour and a half from Quito. It is known for its cloud forests, which are home to a diverse variety of flora and fauna, including 450 species of birds (perfect place for birdwatching). 

It is also a popular destination for outdoor activities like hiking, zip-lining, or tubing. This beautiful place is full of waterfalls, butterfly and orchid farms, and chocolate factories in which you can learn about the process of making chocolate from cocoa beans.



Cuenca is located in the central region of Ecuador, surrounded by the Andes Mountains. It is known for its beautiful colonial architecture, full of colorful buildings, churches, and plazas like the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the Church of Santo Domingo. This city is also famous for its traditional dishes such as hornado, cascaritas, and locro de papas. 

If you want to visit this amazing city, the best option would be to take a short 45-minute flight and rent a car to move around.


Coast & Galápagos

The Coast & Galápagos region are located on the western side of the country, stretching the Pacific coast. They are both known for their natural beauty and delicious cuisine, including ceviche, encocado, and different shrimp preparations. In here, water sports are a must since the stunning beaches and rugged cliffs are found everywhere. 


Dressing Tips

Temperatures in both continental coast and the Galápagos Islands can get hot and humid. Therefore, you should bring comfortable, lightweight clothes to keep you cool. It is also important to find the correct waterproof shoes, especially if you are traveling to the Islands, since you might be walking a lot on rocky terrain and wet conditions. Other important articles might include a hat, sunglasses, sun protection, and most of all, a swimsuit.


Continental Coast

Manabí Province

Manabí is a coastal province in the western region of Ecuador. It is known for its beautiful beaches, exquisite cuisine, and cultural heritage. Its capital city, Manta, is an important port with a vibrant culture. The best option to get here is to take an hour-flight from Quito. After that, you should rent a car to move around the city and its beautiful beaches like Playa Murciélago and El Aromo. If you want to learn some history, don’t forget to go to Manta’s archeological sites, including the ruins of the ancient Manteño culture, which dates to 800 AD.

Since you are in Manta, two awesome places you should visit are the Machalilla National Park and the Isla de la Plata.

This National Park covers an area of approximately 55000 hectares and is known for its diverse ecosystems, including tropical forests, beaches, and coral reefs. The Los Frailes beach is considered one of the most beautiful in Ecuador, and it is a great place to swim, sunbathe, and do some water sports. 

Near this beach you can visit Puerto López, a very popular tourist destination from where you can take a tour and go watch some humpback whales, which can be seen off the coast during the annual migration. 

Finally, Isla de la Plata, or Silver Island, is a small island which got its name from the silver sheen that appears on its rocky cliffs when the sun shines on them. It is famous for its natural beauty, crystal-clear waters, and abundant marine life. It is a great place for snorkeling, diving, hiking, and birdwatching. In fact, this island is home to various species of sea birds, including the blue-footed booby, Nazca booby, and red-footed booby (That’s right, boobies exist outside the Galápagos!). 


The Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands are a group of volcanic islands located around 1000 km (520 miles) off the coast of Ecuador. The islands are known for their unique and diverse wildlife, which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

This Ecuadorian National Park is home to many endemic species like the Galapagos tortoise, the marine iguana, and Darwin's finches. The islands are also located at the confluence of several ocean currents, which create a rich and productive marine ecosystem. 

If you wish to travel here, you need to take an airplane. There are two options for traveling from Quito: you can make a Quito-Guayaquil-Galápagos flight or a Quito-Manta-Galápagos connection. It is important to mention that there are two main airports at Galápagos, located at Baltra Island and San Cristóbal Island. Once you arrive there, you can take a boat or a small plane to the other islands. Also, it is important to mention that there are a variety of tours offered for the island, you can take a daily tour or a long-stay tour. It is up to you to choose the option you like better.

There are a total of 21 islands and more than 100 islets in this archipelago, the three most popular among tourists are detailed below, but feel free to visit other islands, each one of them is unique!


Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island is a must-visit location at the Galápagos. One of the top attractions is the Charles Darwin Research Station, which is dedicated to the conservation and study of the Galápagos Islands. This is a perfect place to learn about the various projects conducted on the islands, as well as giant tortoises up close.

Another beautiful location on Santa Cruz is the Tortuga Bay, a stunning white sand beach with clear blue waters. It is the perfect place for swimming and snorkeling.

San Cristóbal Island

San Cristóbal Island is home to unique wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. Attractions here include the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado, a breeding center for giant tortoises; and the Cerro Tijeretas if you are looking for a place to hike. Also, you can go to Kicker Rock for a snorkeling spot. Here, you can swim with a variety of marine life, including sea turtles, marine iguanas, sharks, and different kinds of fishes.

Isabella Island

Isabella Island is the largest island of the Galápagos. It is a popular destination for travelers because of its beautiful beaches and unique landscape.

One of the main attractions here is the Sierra Negra Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the archipelago. This is a great location for hiking since the top of the volcano offers spectacular views of the island and surroundings.

In addition, beautiful beaches such as Playa del Amor and Playa de los Perros are also popular for visitors to swim, sunbathe, and snorkel.

If you wish to visit Isabella, you can take a boat from Santa Cruz Island or San Cristóbal Island.


Security tips for traveling around Ecuador

  • Be aware of your surroundings: pay attention to your surroundings and be alert to any suspicious behavior. Try to stay in well-lit and populated areas, especially at night. It is not recommended to stay out at night after 10pm.
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash: Carry only the cash you need for the day and keep it in a secure place. 
  • Keep your valuables secure: Do not leave your belongings unattended in public areas and avoid carrying expensive jewelry or electronics. If you are carrying a professional camera, please always keep it close to you.
  • Use authorized taxis: Use only authorized taxis with official identification (yellow cabs), and avoid using unofficial taxis, especially at night.

Ecuador is a beautiful country with amazing landscape, ancient traditions, and stunning wildlife. It offers various experiences, depending on what kind of activities you are looking for. Ecuador has four worlds in one place, so do not miss the chance to discover them all. If you have any questions, or would like some more information or recommendations, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to help you!


Thomas Evans, tevans@estud.usfq.edu.ec  

Gabriela Larreátegui, gabrielalarreateguif@gmail.com