Cruise the Galápagos Islands where Darwin developed evolution theory
One of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, the volcanic archipelago of Galapagos is a wildlife travel experience like no other. The collective of 21 islands has been Ecuadorian territory since 1832, but elements of Spanish influence still remain in the culturally rich centres like Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. In between the creamy sun up and sun down, explorers on the island might find themselves swimming with schools of hammerhead sharks, admiring prehistoric looking land iguanas, and chuckling at the comical waddle of the blue-footed booby.
Explore the Amazon Jungle
Nothing says jungle quite like the word Amazon, home to an unfathomable ecosystem swarming with 2.5million types of insects. Visiting Ecuador’s portion of the Amazon Jungle could see you camped out in an eco-lodge, sharing stories over chicha amidst indigenous tribes and marvelling at toucans, sloths, and giant river otters. Much of Ecuador's Amazon falls over the Yasuni National Park, home to the magnificent San Rafael Waterfall and sparkly lakes that sit urging visitors to jump aboard a wooden canoe.
Trek the Quilotoa Loop
The water-filled volcanic crater of Quilotoa is an oasis of natural beauty, often reflecting the kind of colours reserved for the aurora borealis. Trekking around the caldera of Quilotoa Loop is not just about the stunning lake. You'll be able to frolic with llamas, go kayaking, and take a break at the wooden viewing platform of Mirador Shalala. The complete walk to the water's edge can prove tiring and tricky, but the satisfaction of touching the pool of a volcanic crater will make it all worthwhile.
Shop at Otavalo Market
Surrounded by volcanoes and mountain peaks, the province of Imbabura stands some 2,500 metres above sea level, home to the tiny handicraft town of Otavalo. Here in Otavalo's market you'll find all manner of handicrafts, from electric coloured ceramics and beaded jewellery to ponchos and woven blankets. Beyond being a great place to pick up souvenirs it is also an immensely cultural experience, and an insight into the region's mythology and history.
Learn to Surf in Montanita
With a large portion of its border straddling the Pacific coastline, Ecuador has a surprising surf culture on offer for saltwater hungry travellers. The most surf-centric town is the sunny hub of Montanita, which sits a few hours drive east of Guayaquil. Clean, consistent waves make it a great place for beginners, with the nightlife scene and laid-back culture satisfying those who don't find their place in the ocean. With a serious evolution over the past decade you'll meet swarms of backpackers and expats in Montanita; it's not a place for someone trying to escape their fellow travellers.
Walk Cuenca's Historic City Center
For a little slice of Spain in Latin America there is no place quite like Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site city thanks to its colonial buildings built during the Spanish era of the 16th and 17th centuries. Saunter past the City Hall in Bolívar Street and venture through the blue domed Catedral Nueva, stopping in any of the many galleries and cafes that line the cobblestone streets. Nestled in the Andes mountains with the Tomebamba River flowing through it, this is a city for both urban folk and nature enthusiasts.
Things to do in Ecuador
Culture & Food
The Inti Raymi Festival of the Sun has been passed down from the Incas, celebrated in gratitude of Mother Nature to mark the new agricultural year. Timed with the summer solstice the Inti Raymi is a ritualistic and family affair, filled with colour, festivities and appreciation.
Dia de la Raza
Celebrating the fusion between the indigenous and the colonisers, Dia de la Raza is a multi-cultural affair celebrated in many Latin American countries under various names, as well as Spain and the USA. It is held in Ecuador on October 12 involving parades, good cheer and festivities.
Day of the Dead
Culture & Food
Known locally as Día de los Difuntos or “Day of the Deceased”, Ecuadorians honour their ancestors on this special day with plenty of sweet food and drinks as well as a trip to their local cemetery to cover their beloved’s graves and tombstones in flowers, photos and trinkets.
While world hype gets shined onto Rio’s carnival, Ecuador’s obscure variety goes largely unnoticed. A traditionally catholic affair that precedes the disciplined fasting of lent, Ecuador’s carnival involves ritualistic throwing of foams and liquids. Once a slightly brutal affair that has recently calmed, it is now evolving into a more Brazilian style event of parades and colour.
Culture & Religion
Beginning on Palm Sunday and continuing for the week before Christmas, the most dramatic and interesting spectacle of the holy week of Santa Semana occurs during the procession of Jesus of Great in Quito. Over 1,000 devotees dress in purple and lead the way, with many baring a cross, draped in poison ivy, or walking barefoot on steaming hot asphalt.
Top 5 Festivals in Ecuador
If you needed just one word to sum up the festivals in Ecuador it would inevitably be ‘colourful’, followed closely by 'spiritual' and 'ancient'. Still honouring traditions of the Incas and boasting their own unique Catholic traditions, Ecuadorians do not hold back when it comes to celebrating their special days.
Intinan Solar Museum
Jump from northern to southern hemisphere in a matter of seconds at Intinan Solar Museum, the so-called home of the “true equator.” Here at latitude 0° you can take the equator water test to discover which way will it drain down a sink, and stroll around dioramas and interactive demonstrations portraying Ecuadorian life.
Astronomic Observatory Museum
Set in a mustard coloured building of architectural beauty, the Astronomic Observatory Museum offers visitors a library, night-time telescopic observations, and glimpses into the history of astronomy. As the oldest observatory in Latin America it is a time capsule of our dealings with outer-space, and a highlight of Quito not to be missed.
Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana
An amalgamation of art, history, literature, film, music and more, Casa de la Cultura is perhaps the most all-encompassing portrait of Ecuador from past to present. Making a regular appearance in Ecuador travel guides, this Quito museum is worth dedicating an entire day to.
Museo Casa del Alabado
Ancient mythology and artistic history run deep in Quito’s Museo Casa del Alabado, where a privately-owned collection of pre-Columbian era art and relics feature throughout the 8 rooms of a 17th Century colonial house. With a quaint courtyard and an elegant interior Alabado is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Ecuador for art lovers.
Diving into the 400-year history of Museo Pumapungo offers a glimpse into the lives and rituals of the nuns who lived in the Convent of the Immaculate Conception. Built around a thriving central garden, the well-maintained religious building holds art works, photos, relics and statues that closely depict times gone by.
Top 5 Museums in Ecuador
Packed with ancient history and plenty of culture, the museums in this country are a highlight of Ecuador travel. Amble through a 400-year-old former convent and visit Latin America’s largest observatory, before satisfying your curiosity with the ‘water challenge’ sitting on the line of the equator.
Arroz con Pollo (or Camarones)
A sibling of the much-adored paella dish, arroz con pollo is a simple chicken and rice meal that comes in many variations across Latin America. The Ecuadorian edition often features peas, carrot, garlic, and a side of ripe fried banana. It’s best sampled on the island of Santa Cruz at Cafe Hernan.
Best eaten at Cafe Hernan, Av. Baltra y Charles Darwin, Puerto Ayora 200350
No longer a word known by Spanish speakers alone, ceviche has become popular the world over in recent years. Raw seafood like seabass, black clams and mahi-mahi are served with sides of corn tostado, plantain chips, lime and chilli. Lupini bean ceviche exists in Ecuador as a vegetarian variety, also handy for those afraid of raw seafood.
Best eaten at beach of the surf town Montanita
Corn smothered in butter or garlic and topped with parmesan cheese, so simple yet so, so delicious. Occasionally served as kernels but more often on the cob, it can be enjoyed from street vendors the country over or restaurants like La Tortilla Restaurant in Quito. Simply delicioso!
Best eaten at La Tortilla Restaurant, 161 y Gonzalo Salazar, Quito 170150
Cuy (Guinea Pig)
Not for the faint of heart, spit-roasted guinea pig known locally as 'cuy' was once the staple meat of Ecuador and a symbol of wealth. Ecuadorian guinea pigs are large in size and offer a surprisingly strong taste, and locals will encourage you to get in and chomp it down with two hands.
Best eaten at Fallon & Guajibamba Cuyes, Luis Cordero 12 – 32 Y Gaspar Sangurima
Once you’ve recovered from the slightly nauseating concept of eating guinea pig it’s time to dive into librillo, known more bluntly as cow’s stomach lining. Often served simply with creamy sauce and rice, it’s most commonly enjoyed in mountain towns like Banos.
Best eaten at any street market in Banos
Food in Ecuador
Immerse yourself in Ecuadorian culture and test the flexibility of your taste buds, sampling ‘cuy’ roasted guinea pig and raw black clams doused in lime. It can all be washed down with the ‘colada morada’ berry drink, or some cinnamon spiced rum for good measure. Experimentation is the name of the culinary game in Ecuador.