Ecuador is one of the most unique and interesting travel destinations I’ve had the pleasure to explore. There’s much to see and do, and the following is merely my personal shortlist of Ecuador travel destinations that you won’t want to miss. Feel free to add your personal favorites in the comments section!
Old Town Quito
The capital city Quito was founded in 1534, and as you stroll through the rough cobblestone streets and gaze upon the ornate churches and ancient public plazas, you will really feel as if you are stepping back into Colonial Ecuador. The narrow streets and Spanish architecture provide much of this “blast-from-the-past” vibe, and the old-school markets and friendly people provide the cherry atop the proverbial sundae.
Get Down In New Town
After a day of sightseeing in the historic old town Quito, you may have a yen to get back to modernity and a night of revelry in the heart of new town might be right up your alley. You can get your fill of bump-bump music and booze at the myriad of westernized bars, clubs and discotheques. While you can have a fun time late into the night in New Town Quito, it is important that you keep your wits about you, as it is a haven for thieves preying on drunk and dumb tourists.
Straddle the Equator
Ecuador gets its name from the imaginary line that segments it, and there are several tourist destinations in which you can get yourself photographed with one foot in the southern hemisphere and one in its northern counterpart. With that picture, you can show up your friends who think their “Four Corners” picture is unique and cool. To get to the equator from Quito will be a bit of a jaunt, but there are a number of public transportation options that will take you the magical line for a modest price.
Vilcabamba’s Phony Fountain
At this small, isolated village in southern Ecuador, you’ll find some amazing scenery and an incredible legend in Vilcabamba. Since the late-1800s, observers have been astounded by what appears to be a veritable fountain-of-youth, as hoards of residents seemed to be living well past the age of 100. Researchers continued to be astonished and puzzled by the phenomenon, and soon enterprising capitalists had flocked to the village to buy land and harvest product to be bottled and sold. Modern scientists have lately determined that there is nothing special in the water there and the only thing amazing about the inhabitants was their propensity to exaggerate their age. Nevertheless, Vilcabamba derives a healthy dose of tourism from the myth, and it is a pleasant destination even if you won’t find a magic elixir there.
Contemporary Anthropology and Art Museum
Guayaquil is home to one of the largest, most immense collections of art and artifacts in South America. El Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo boasts a vast array of archeological exhibits collected from Ecuador and beyond. And another wing is home to contemporary Ecuadorean art, which has grown in acclaim in the art world over the last few decades. Most of the contemporary art exhibits are accompanied by Spanish-language films that describe the artwork and provide some background and a brief bio on the artists.
Climb the Cotopaxi
For the particularly active and adventurous types, scaling the Volcan Cotopaxi is a popular activity. The second highest peak in Ecuador, those that have the health and the heart to make it to the top rise to almost 20,000 feet in elevation, from which the views are said to be stunning. There are also some more modest hikes in the area from which you can witness some amazing spectacles, without worrying about the acclimation issues that come with scaling a massive peak. For those that want to get to the top, there are a number of local operators that will help outfit you with all the proper gear and knowledge necessary.
Last, but most certainly not least in the list of the Ecuadorean “must-sees” are the Archipelago de Caolon aka the Galapagos Islands, 500 miles off the western coastline. As Charles Darwin found over 200 years ago, these 13 islands are home to some of the rarest and most unique plant and animal species on Earth. Aquatic enthusiasts flock to the Galapagos for world-class sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving. The only downside to the Galapagos for the purposes of this article is that they are really a destination in and of themselves and a quick excursion from the mainland can hardly do them justice.
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