17 Places We Enjoyed Visiting or Revisiting in Ecuador

Our second time in Ecuador was shorter than we had planned, but we still had time to enjoy revisiting some old favourites, and discovering new places. Here’s a list of those places we enjoyed visiting or revisiting, and would recommend to you. Also included are a few we really enjoyed visiting on our first trip in 2008, but didn’t get back to this time.

Ecuador has a lot to offer: colonial cities, coastline & natural beauty. We really enjoyed returning to Ecuador and revisiting known or visiting new places.

Ecuador has a lot to offer: colonial cities, coastline & natural beauty. We really enjoyed returning to Ecuador and revisiting known or visiting new places.

Places we visited in 2008 and revisited this time

1. Loja & Vilcabamba

When we left Ecuador for Peru in 2008 , we took a route from Cuenca, via Loja and Vilcabamba, to the border town of Macará. This time we followed the same route in reverse. The road from Macará to Loja was beautiful and relaxing. It passes through green forested mountains; there were no crazy drivers; and no rubbish alongside the road. We also caught our first sight of the beautiful, green-stemmed bottle trees (ceiba trichistandra). There was a lot of water damage, with landslides and large parts of the road missing, but that didn’t disturb our optimistic mood.

We first spotted these green stemmed bottle trees (ceiba trichistandra) on the way from Macara. They appeared again on the coast of Ecuador, just north of Manta.

We first spotted these green stemmed bottle trees (ceiba trichistandra) on the way from Macara. They appeared again on the coast of Ecuador, just north of Manta.

Loja surprised us with beautiful street art . After seeing very little in Peru, it was a welcome sight. There are also some impressive and well-restored colonial buildings.

From Loja it’s a short trip to Vilcabamba. It also has interesting colonial buildings, although some are in a rather decrepit state. There are lots of expats living there, many wanting to chat on the streets and in the cafés. The beauty of the natural surrounds is a big part of what attracts people to this quaint, little town.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


2. Cuenca

The Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca has been on the World Heritage list since 1999. Cuenca is definitely our favourite city in Ecuador , from this visit and the previous one. It’s a place that we really enjoyed visiting and revisiting.

Revisiting Cuenca: The new cathedral is an impressive building, with amazing domes. But this view looks a bit unfinished, as the original foundations couldn't support the planned towers.

Revisiting Cuenca: The new cathedral is an impressive building, with amazing domes. But this view looks a bit unfinished, as the original foundations couldn’t support the planned towers.


3. Ingapirca

We stopped at Ingapirca on our way from Cuenca to Pujilí. Ruin sites of any kind are always interesting to visit. Imagine our surprise when we discovered we were actually revisiting this site – we were also there in 2008, but hadn’t remembered until we saw it again. It’s very interesting because it’s a place where the Inca lived side by side with the local Cañaris, rather than actually conquering them. Alas, it is still often named, ‘Ecuador’s most important Inca site’ .


4. Baños

After an exciting weekend in Pujilí, we needed a place to recuperate a little, so we decided to revisit the tourist town of Baños. By accident, rather than design, we ended up overnighting in exactly the same spot as in 2008.

The thermal baths are the main attraction, but this small town also has many good cafés and restaurants, which are all very popular with foreign tourists and locals alike. It’s a pretty town, with many colonial buildings, and is adorned by a lot of colourful, provocative and interesting street art. We enjoyed the restful days of our return visit.

Revisiting Baños: A busy tourist town, with thermal baths and surrounded by beautiful nature.

Revisiting Baños: A busy tourist town, with thermal baths and surrounded by beautiful nature.


5. Avenue of the Volcanoes

Avenida de los Volcanes follows the Pan-American Highway from Quito, 200Km south to Riobamba. If you are lucky enough to have clear weather, you can see up to 14 volcanoes along there. In 2008 we travelled the length of this route, and have a great photo of Cotopaxi taken from the side of the road. This time we only drove the section between Latacunga and Riobamba. We were very fortunate to have a wonderful view of several volcanoes, including Chimborazo at 6310m.

Revisiting Avenida de los Volcanes: Just one of the incredible views you get from this part of the Pan-American on a clear-ish day.

Revisiting Avenida de los Volcanes: Just one of the incredible views you get from this part of the Pan-American on a clear-ish day.


6. Ibarra

After following the coast of Ecuador north as far at Manta, we were tired of the grey weather and decided to cross the mountains to reach Ibarra. One reason for choosing the town was to revisit the great overlander camping spot provided by Graham, a fellow Australian. The other was that we had been in Ecuador for more than 2 months and planned to apply for a visa extension, and had heard that others had managed it relatively easily in this small city.

It didn’t work out that way for us: due to high level of bureaucracy and lack of time, we decided to give up the idea of getting an extension, and took a holiday at Graham’s instead, until our visa expired. It’s a nice city to visit and relatively easy to get around in, even with Berta. And Graham’s place was very relaxing.

Revisiting Ibarra: it's a quiet and pretty little city.

Revisiting Ibarra: it’s a quiet and pretty little city.

Revisiting Ibarra: a sunset view of the city from the beautiful property of Graham.

Revisiting Ibarra: a sunset view of the city from the beautiful property of Graham.

 

New places we discovered this time

7. Pujilí

Although we drove right past this small town in 2008 when we drove the Quilotoa Circuit, we didn’t stop. Pujilí is famous, right across Ecuador and into neighbouring countries, for its Corpus Christi fiesta , but is relatively unknown to tourists from outside of the country. We are happy to have discovered it through a fellow overlander. The weekend of processions, full of dancers in amazing costumes, was a great experience.

Visiting Pujilí: a taste of what to expect if you visit Pujilí during the Corpus Christi Festival.

Visiting Pujilí: a taste of what to expect if you visit Pujilí during the Corpus Christi Festival.


8. Alausí

On our way from Cuenca to Pujilí, we spent a night at the plaza of this small town, which has some nicely restored colonial buildings. It was a convenient place to spend a quiet night, but it also attracts local and overseas tourists. They come to board The Devil’s Nose Train, which takes them over La Nariz de Diablo, down to Sibambe. We didn’t take the trip but it has a reputation for being spectacular.

Visiting Alausí: join this tourist train and you will enjoy a very scenic route.

Visiting Alausí: join this tourist train and you will enjoy a very scenic route.


9. Oriente along the Troncal Amazonica

Sometimes we like to take the long way around to get from one spot to another. After the Pujilí festival we decided to return to Cuenca. Instead of following the Pan-American, we took a detour through the Oriente. We travelled along part of the Troncal Amazonica through the Amazon basin in the east of Ecuador.

Revisiting Ecuador: we saw these almost perfectly shaped trees in the south of Ecuador.

Revisiting Ecuador: we saw these almost perfectly shaped trees in the south of Ecuador.


10. Zaruma

Gold brought the Spanish to Zaruma in the southern province of El Oro. Now it’s a place to visit, not only for its mining history, but for its architecture and coffee. We went there following a recommendation from an expat living in Cuenca. We arrived just in time for one of the city’s most important celebrations, Virgen del Carmen Festival, held in July each year. It also incorporates the National Coffee Festival, and other social, cultural and sporting events.

Visiting Zaruma: some of the impressive colonial buildings around the plaza in the gold-mining town of Zaruma.

Visiting Zaruma: some of the impressive colonial buildings around the plaza in the gold-mining town of Zaruma.

Zaruma is built on a very hilly terrain, which was difficult to navigate in Berta, but it’s very compact and you can walk to all the interesting places. We would recommend this very attractive town to you if you are travelling in a smaller vehicle, or by public transport.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


11. Salinas

In 2008, we didn’t visit coastal Ecuador, so this time we decided to explore it a little. We started in Salinas and drove north to just pasta Manta.

Salinas is a tourist city, right next to the most westerly point of Ecuador. It is actually like a mini Miami, with not so tall high-rise apartment blocks. We spent a quiet night in a suburban cul-de-sac, right next to the beach and a high-rise. In the morning we were surprised by a German/Ecuadorian couple, who lived in the adjacent building. Peter, a man in his 80s, was so happy to find someone to speak German with. He and his wife, Maria, took us on a tour of the La Chocolatera, the most westerly point, where there is a small light house, and a group of sea lions on an off-shore rocky outcrop. Afterwards they invited us for lunch. Meeting hospitable locals is always a great experience.

Visiting Salinas & La Choclatera: sea lion colony on Ecuador's most westerly point.

Visiting Salinas & La Choclatera: sea lion colony on Ecuador’s most westerly point.

Visiting Salinas & La Choclatera: Peter & Maria de Lourdes, our lovely guides for the day.

Visiting Salinas & La Choclatera: Peter & Maria de Lourdes, our lovely guides for the day.

 

12. Montañita

From a hippy beach in the 60s to a surfing hotspot today, Montañita is a pleasant place to spend a few days – as long as you can find somewhere away from the party places. We luckily found a quiet parking lot north of the town, and from there walked the beach to the centre. Although, we did visit in the slow part of the year – it seems that from Christmas to Easter there would be no quiet places to be found.

Visiting Montañita: this beach on Ecuador's coast is a surfing hotspot.

Visiting Montañita: this beach on Ecuador’s coast is a surfing hotspot.

Visiting Montañita: pelicans over the beach - note the moorish influenced hotel building in the background.

Visiting Montañita: pelicans over the beach – note the moorish influenced hotel building in the background.

 

13. Puerto Lopez

Situated on a bay, this town’s main industries are fishing and tourism. We found yet another quiet spot on the coast to park Berta, and spent a few days here. It was whale watching time so we took a boat trip to see the amazing humpbacks that travel this coastline.

Visiting Puerto Lopez: up close and personal with the humpbacks on a whale watching boat trip.

Visiting Puerto Lopez: up close and personal with the humpbacks on a whale watching boat trip.

The town itself was reasonably quiet because, even with the attraction of the whales, we got the impression that it wasn’t peak tourist season. We spent some interesting time at the fishing port watching the unloading of boats into large refrigerated trucks.

Visiting Puerto Lopez: a small fishing village on a tranquil bay.

Visiting Puerto Lopez: a small fishing village on a tranquil bay.

From Puerto Lopez, it’s a short trip to the Comuna Agua Blanca. This is a private community inside the Machalilla National Park. It has the remains of an ancient civilization (the Monteño). When you arrive you will be met by a guide, who will take you along a nature trail, which ends at a sulphur lagoon. Here they offer various treatments involving the local mud. Or you can just relax in the pool with a complimentary cup of mud to make your own facial. There is also a museum holding various artefacts from the Monteño.

Visiting Puerto Lopez & Comuna Agua Blanca: the thermal pool, just the place to relax after a guided walk along a nature trail.

Visiting Puerto Lopez & Comuna Agua Blanca: the thermal pool, just the place to relax after a guided walk along a nature trail.

Visiting Puerto Lopez & Comuna Agua Blanca: just one of the amazing pieces to be seen in the museum in Comuna Agua Blanca.

Visiting Puerto Lopez & Comuna Agua Blanca: just one of the amazing pieces to be seen in the museum in Comuna Agua Blanca.

 

Places we enjoyed visiting in 2008, but didn’t get to this time

14. Quilotoa Circuit

A circle route, which leaves the Pan-American Highway at Latacunga, enables you to visit the vast crater lake of Quilotoa, along with interesting villages and a Saturday market at Zumbahua. The scenery is spectacular. Travelling a route like this, at your own pace, is certainly one of the advantages of overlanding.

Visiting Quilotoa: a beautiful lake in the caldera of Volcano Quilotoa.

Visiting Quilotoa: a beautiful lake in the caldera of Volcano Quilotoa.


15. Mindo

It takes a couple of hours to reach Mindo from Quito, along winding, mountain roads through lush, green vegetation. It is situated in a cloud forest and is primarily a destination for bird watchers. There is also a butterfly farm, Mariposas de Mindo, where you can walk around a huge green house full of the beauty of butterflies. It makes you feel so good. This is one of the places we would have really liked to revisit.

Visiting Mindo: bird-watching in Mindo in 2008.

Visiting Mindo: bird-watching in Mindo in 2008.


16. Galápagos Islands

Visiting the Galápagos Islands are a once in a lifetime experience. When we visited in 2008 , we spent our time on a week-long cruise on the Angelito, booked through Cometa Travel . It’s a 16 berth boat, operated by the owners. We often recommend them to anyone heading to the Galapagos, as it is small and personal.

Visiting Galápagos Islands: the Angelito - our home for the week of our cruise of the islands in 2008.

Visiting Galápagos Islands: the Angelito – our home for the week of our cruise of the islands in 2008.

My sister and her husband took a 3 day cruise with them in January this year, and reported that the boat has had a complete overhaul. Photos speak louder than words when describing our Galapagos experience!

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.


17. Quito

We would have liked to really revisit Quito – especially the World Heritage listed old city. We were there in 2008 , but this time we only managed to stay a couple of nights in Parque Carolina, and spent the day searching fruitlessly for spare parts. When we left, we fully expected to return. However, we did leave with some excellent bread from the nearby Jürgen Cafe, and some organic produce from a Saturday market, which set up right next to our truck.

Visiting Quito: we are so happy we spent time visiting the old city of Quito in 2008. The Plaza de San Francisco is one of the reasons it's on the World Heritage list.

Visiting Quito: we are so happy we spent time visiting the old city of Quito in 2008. The Plaza de San Francisco is one of the reasons it’s on the World Heritage list.


Ecuador is a small country, with lots of places worth visiting. It has 5 World Heritage sites: City of Quito, Historic Centre of Cuenca, Chapaq Ñan Andean road system, Galápagos Islands, and Sangay National Park. There are other sites, which could conceivably join this list in the future. We really enjoyed visiting and revisiting all these places in Ecuador.


Are there any special places in Ecuador you would like to add to this list?
Please send us your recommendations via our ‘comment’ form below!


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Ecuador is a fascinatingly diverse country: you find colonial cities, tall Andean mountain passes, a long varied coastline, and much natural beauty. Don't forget to explore Ecuador's World Heritage Sites and National Parks. In this post we sum up 17 of the most interesting places we have visited in this easy to travel country.

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Yasha

dare2go's human navigator (we're not lost because there's nowhere particular we have to be) alongside our Nexus 7 tablet, writer and editor of our blog, first cook and loving wife. Teaching English as a second language when possible.

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2 Responses

  1. Renada says:

    Whenever I think “Ecuador”, I think “Galapagos”. Thanks for a post that helps expand that. I want to go to Zamura! Coffee festival? Yes, please!

    • Yasha says:

      Glad to have given you something else to consider on a trip to Ecuador. For a small country, it certainly has a lot to offer. But the Galapagos are really a once in a lifetime experience. Absolutely fabulous.

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