Top 15 Places to Visit in Ecuador

by | Dec 4, 2023 | Ecuador, Travel

Are you planning a trip to Ecuador but you’re not sure where to go?

In this post, I’m going to share with you my ranking of the 15 BEST places to visit in Ecuador. I’ve divided these 15 destinations into 3 categories based on how much you should visit them. In that way, you’ll be able to know which places to add to your itinerary depending on how long you’re staying in Ecuador.

This list is based on my 6 months traveling around Ecuador and working remotely from Quito and the Coast. I’m a sucker for historic cities, rich cultural experiences, beautiful architecture, local food, stunning scenery, and wildlife. If that’s what you’re also into, then grab a cup of tea or coffee and read on!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate and a Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  Please see this website’s Disclosure for more info.

First-Tier Destinations in Ecuador

The following 7 destinations are must-stops on ALL Ecuador itineraries regardless of how long you’re staying in the country.

  1. Galapagos
  2. Quito
  3. Cuenca
  4. Mindo
  5. Cuyabeno National Reserve (Amazon)
  6. Yasuni National Park (Amazon)
  7. Cotopaxi National Park

1.      Galapagos

a blue footed boobie is standing on a rock

The Galapagos is one of the top 5 places in the world I’ve visited. So, it’s a given that it’s my #1 destination in Ecuador.

Located an hour-long plane ride from the mainland of Ecuador, the Galapagos is made up of around 20 islands and numerous islets. I visited 12 of the 20  on a 12-day cruise aboard the Anahi Catamaran. They also have 5-day Galapagos cruises and 8-day Galapagos cruises.

The Galapagos is all about the wildlife—giant tortoises, iguanas, penguins, sea lions, Blue Footed Boobies, frigate birds, and more. The animals are special because of how unafraid they are of humans. The birds will literally peck the ground around your feet as if you’re not even there. When you experience this, it’s hard not to change the way you see the world.

The other reason to visit is for what you can see under the water—the colorful fish, sea turtles, iguanas, sea lions, seals, manatees, and sharks. It’s the PERFECT place for snorkeling or scuba diving.

If you go, make sure to get a good camera for the Galapagos. It’s one thing you don’t want to skimp on.

Then there’s the natural scenery—the ancient volcanoes, the moon-like emptiness of the lava fields, and the white sandy beaches. The climate is tropical yet it’s nothing like the Caribbean.

The Galapagos is not cheap, but a visit is so worth it even if it’s for only a few days.

Top Places to Stay in the Galapagos

$ – Under US$40 | $$ – US$40 – $100 | $$$ – Over US$100

  • Anahi Galapagos Cruise ($$$) – This is a great first-class boat with a fabulous crew and amazing itineraries! (Anahi Website)
  • The Isabela Beach House ($$$) – This beautiful hotel is located right on the beach of Isla Isabela! RATING: 9.6/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Hostal Cattleya ($$) – A great option on San Cristobal Island; fabulous views and an amazing location! RATING: 9.1/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Posada Del Mar ($$) – A great hotel on Santa Cruz Island with AMAZING views of the ocean! RATING: 9.3/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Casa Playa Mann ($$$) – Close to Mann Beach on San Cristobal; Amazing views and location! RATING: 9.6/10 ( | Agoda)

PRO TIP: For those heading to the Galapagos, make sure to make smart packing decisions. Here are my must-pack items for the Galapagos: (1) rash guard (2) sunscreen that’s reef friendly (3) a hat (4) a good camera (5) good walking shoes. Check out my complete Galapagos packing list here!

2.      Quito

Large white two-story buildings surrounding a plaza filled with trees and people

My #2 favorite place in Ecuador has everything culture, history, architecture, and food lovers could want in a travel destination! You should spend at least 3 days in Quito.

It also has a special place in my heart. I stayed in Quito for 6 weeks and thus, I got to know the city pretty well.

What makes Quito so special is its geography. It’s located in the Andes Mountains at 2,850 meters (9,350 feet). Surrounding the city are mountains and volcanos. When the sky is clear, you can even see the snow-capped volcano of Cotopaxi.

The highlight of the city is the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a maze of narrow cobblestoned streets lined with ornate colonial buildings dating back to the 1600s. The best part, though, is the grand and spacious plazas. Some are like little parks–full of trees and fountains. Others, like San Francisco, are vast, stark, and empty. To immerse yourself in the history and culture of the city, book a place to stay in Quito’s Historic Center.

Quito is a great introduction to Ecuadorian cuisine. You can find pretty much all the traditional and popular dishes of Ecuador here. Plus! The city has some great food tours that you should take!

Do not be scared of going to Quito because of stories of crime. Yes, there has been an increase in crime lately in Ecuador–mostly scams and pickpocketing. But if you take certain precautions, Quito can be as safe as most European cities. Taking one of Quito’s great tours gives you an added sense of security and safety.

Top Places to Stay in Quito

$ – Under US$40 | $$ – US$40 – $100 | $$$ – Over US$100

  • Viajero Quito Hostel ($) – The BEST hostel I stayed at in Quito; located in the historic center; beautiful building; great facilities with an outdoor garden and game room! RATING: 8.8/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Friends Hotel and Rooftop ($$) – Perfect location in historic center; breakfast included, rooftop restaurant with incredible views. RATING: 9.3/10 (
  • Hotel Casa Gangotena ($$$) – This beautiful and historic hotel is perfectly located right on Plaza San Francisco!  RATING: 9.1/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Check out this list of the 25 BEST places to stay in Quito. It includes tips on booking a hotel with a rooftop terrace so you can get spectacular views.

3. Cuenca

2 people walking along a narrow pathway between two buildings

Cuenca is one of those cities that it’s REALLY hard not to like. It’s beautiful, historic, culturally rich, and laid-back.  During my week in Cuenca, I kept on saying to myself: I could live here—it’s so easy and pleasant.

The crown jewel of Cuenca is the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its streets are cobblestoned. The buildings are ornate and made of beautiful sandstone and its plazas are inviting. The skyline is dotted with steeples, towers, and a bright blue dome.

Cuenca is also an excellent place for buying Ecuadorian handicrafts. Although the Panama Hat didn’t originate in Cuenca, the city has become the center of its production. You’ll also find street vendors and shops specializing in Ecuadorian traditional sweets.

Cuenca is also the safest large city in Ecuador. It’s supposedly (according to my hotel) safe enough to walk around alone at night.

The other reason Cuenca is such a must-visit in Ecuador is that it’s a great base for exploring even more tourist destinations located outside the city. The most important Incan ruins in Ecuador, Ingapirca, are an easy day trip from Cuenca. For those of you wanting to do some hiking, Parque Nacional Cajas is an easy bus ride from Cuenca. You can also get off-the-beaten-path and explore the beautiful countryside with trips to Bibilain, Azogues, Canar, and Banos.

I highly recommend adding Cuenca to any Ecuador itinerary.

Top Places to Stay in Cuenca

$ – Under US$40 | $$ – US$40 – $100 | $$$ – Over US$40

  • Guillerminas Hostel Boutique ($) – Very popular hostel – dorms and private rooms; clean and comfortable; centrally located! RATING: 9.7/10 (Hostel World)
  • Pepe’s House Cuenca ($ – $$) – Excellent location; Wonderful breakfast; I stayed here for a week! RATING: 9.2/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Hostal Suite Le Fabrique ($$) – Beautiful hotel in an amazing location. Wonderful breakfast. Access to kitchen. RATING: 9.9/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Itza Hotel Boutique ($$$) – Beautiful hotel centrally located! Rooftop restaurant! RATING: 9.3/10 ( | Agoda)

3 Popular Cuenca Tours

4. Mindo

a cock-of-the-rock bird sitting on a branch

Mindo is one place where I wish I had stayed longer. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan enough time for this quiet, laid-back town in the Cloud Forest. There’s so much to do, especially if you’re into birds, chocolate, and adventure sports.

Plus! It’s only two hours and a half by bus from Quito.

The area around Mindo is a world-famous bird-watching destination. Mindo’s cloud forest is home to over 500 species of birds like the colorful, exotic, and hard-to-spot Quetzal, the Toucan Barbet, and the Plate-Billed Mountain-Toucan.

Mindo is particularly good for birdwatchers who are also solo travelers. There’s a tour agency in town called Bird Paradise Tours that’ll hook solo travelers up with a birdwatching tour. The tours for solo travelers are much cheaper than what you’d find in most South American and Central American destinations. I did a tour to see one of Ecuador’s most unique birds—the Andean Cock of the Rock (the above photo).

If your budget isn’t that big and you still like birds, Mindo is teeming with hummingbirds. There are two spots (one that is within walking distance from the center of town) where you can watch AND feed the hummingbirds. Yes! Feed! You hold out a stick of nectar and the birds just come to your hand and eat it.

The other things to do in Mindo include hiking, tubing, rafting, and ziplining. All for a VERY affordable price.

If you travel to eat or just like chocolate, Mindo has two chocolate businesses that offer chocolate-making and tasting tours.

Top 5 Places to Stay in Mindo:

  • Casa Divina Ecolodge ($$$) – Beautiful eco-lodge on the outskirts of Mindo. RATING: 9.2/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Saguamby Mindo Lodge ($$) – Magical place near a river. Amazing view! RATING: 9.3/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Cinnamon House ($) – Stylish hostel in town. RATING: 8.8/10 ( | Agoda)
  • La Casa Cecilia de Mindo ($) – Great Budget accommodations with dorms and affordable private rooms. RATING: 9.2/10 ( | Agoda)

5.      Cuyabeno National Reserve (Amazon)

A white-tailed titi monkey sitting in a window

My #5 best place to visit in Ecuador is the Amazon.

These are the 3 most popular places to explore Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest:

  • Cuyabeno National Reserve
  • Yasuni National Park
  • Tena and the Upper Napo River

I’ll talk about each of these 3 destinations in this post, but I’m starting with Cuyabeno National Reserve because that’s where I went.

Cuyabeno is ideal for those on a budget. I booked with Guacamayo Lodge and paid $280 for a 4-day/3-night tour of the Amazon that included lodging, all meals, and a guide.

Napo Saki monkey sitting in a tree

Cuyabeno National Reserve is located in the eastern part of the Oriente region of Ecuador. The closest city is Lago Agrio (aka Nueva Loja). There are 5 indigenous groups living in the Cuyabeno: Siona, Kichwa, Copan, Shuar, and Secoya. These groups technically own the land in the reserve. They then lease the land to hotels that build lodging and offer Amazon tours along the Cuyabeno River.

Your lodge will take care of all your activities. You’ll be doing jungle hikes during the day and at night. On your hikes, you will most likely spot monkeys, snakes, caimans, capybaras (only in rainy season), pink dolphins, tarantulas, bullet ants, frogs, and lots of other creepy crawlies.

Other activities include swimming, fishing for piranhas, and visiting indigenous villages.

My favorite part of my trip to the Amazon was the birdwatching. We saw so many colorful and exotic birds—Macaws (the blue and yellow ones!), toucans, parrots, parakeets, and trogons.

Top Places to Stay in Cuyabeno

  • Guacamayo Ecolodge – Very affordable lodge with basic but clean accomodations. Great guide! A variety of ages and nationalities.
  • Jamu Lodge – Popular lodge with higher quality lodging and a bit higher priced but still affordable.
  • Nicky Amazon Lodge – Very highly rated lodge with basic but clean accommodations.

6. Yasuni National Park (Amazon)

a set of luxury bungalows surrounded by trees in Yasuni National Park in Ecuador

For those of you who can tour the Amazon on a bigger budget, head to Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Yasuni is located south of Cuyabeno in the far eastern part of Ecuador. The Napo River runs through the park.

Here the lodges are super luxurious and will cost you one arm and one or two legs. Expect to pay at least US$550 but most likely around $1,600 for a 4-day/3-night tour that includes lodging, meals, and guided tours. Everyone I know who has stayed in Yasuni has raved about their experience.

You can pretty much do the same things in Yasuni that you can do in Cuyabeno: birdwatching, jungle hiking, fishing, visiting indigenous villages, swimming, and learning about the Amazon.

According to my guide in Cuyabeno, the two parks have the same wildlife. Besides the luxury and price tag of the lodges, the other major difference between Yasuni and Cuyabeno is that the lodges in the former come with extremely tall towers for the ultimate birdwatching experience. If you’re an avid birdwatcher, then Yasuni might be a better place to visit in Ecuador than Cuyabeno.

Top 4 Lodges at the Yasuni National Park?

$ – Under US$40 | $$ – US$40 – $100 | $$$ – Over US$40

  • Napo Wildlife Center ($$$) – Popular luxury lodge. all-inclusive. My roommate on my Galapagos Anahi cruise stayed here and loved it.
  • La Selva Lodge ($$$) – Sustainable luxury lodge. All-inclusive. Includes a spa.
  • Sacha Lodge ($$$) – Beautiful luxury lodge. All-inclusive.

7. Cotopaxi National Park

a snow-capped mountain with clouds covering its top

I did not expect to like Cotopaxi as much as I did. My expectations were so low that I only booked one night. The cozy lodge I stayed at and the views were so amazing that I wish I had booked at least 2 or 3 nights.

Located about one hour from Quito, Cotopaxi National Park is home to the second highest mountain in Ecuador: Cotopaxi at 5,897 meters (19347 feet).


Cotopaxi is an active volcano.

That sounds cool, but it does put a bit of a damper on visiting it.

Since it’s active, people are often not allowed to climb very far up the mountain. When I was there, you could only hike to the Refuge. I believe as of February 2024, you are now allowed to climb to the summit.

You can visit Cotopaxi National Park tour on a day trip from Quito or stay overnight at one of the lodges inside or near the park. If you’re just visiting for the day, you can drive yourself (make sure it’s an SUV) to the park or join an organized tour.

Tours from Quito usually include hiking to the Refuge or horseback riding around the park.

However, I recommend staying overnight in one of the cozy lodges inside or near the park. If you stay overnight, you’re more likely to see the volcano because it’s covered up by clouds for most of the day. The mountain is often only visible early in the morning or late afternoon.

Second, staying overnight allows you to do other hikes around the park that are even better than Cotopaxi.

I stayed at Secret Gardens Cotopaxi. This is the BEST place to stay if you don’t have a car because they have a daily shuttle service that takes guests to their lodge and back to Quito and even onward to Latacunga or Banos.

Top 4 places to stay in or near Cotopaxi:

$ – Under US$40 | $$ – US$40 – $100 | $$$ – Over US$40

  • Tambopaxi Lodge ($$$) – Amazing place right inside Cotopaxi National Park; Huge windows with views of the park. RATING: 9.2/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Hacienda El Porvenir ($$$) – Beautiful hotel owned by a wonderful family. Great location! RATING: 9.1/10 (
  • Secret Gardens Cotopaxi Hostel ($ – $$) – Hostel dorms and private rooms! Great location and great views! Transport to lodge from Quito. (Secret Garden Website)
  • Balcon al Cotopaxi Hosteria ($$) – Affordable hotel with great views of Cotopaxi from your room. RATING: 9.5/10 ( | Agoda)

Devil’s Nose Train Ride

Devil’s Nose Train (La Nariz del Diablo) was a breathtaking ride through the Andes Mountains (between Alausi and Sibambe) It used to be one of the top things to do in Ecuador! Sadly, the train was a victim of the pandemic. The train company went bankrupt, thus closing down the route. I’ve heard that the government is trying to revive it. Hopefully, it will be soon.

But be aware that scammers on social media are telling people that the train has reopened. The scammers then try and sell you tickets for the ride.

Second-Tier Places to Visit in Ecuador

This next group of places to visit in Ecuador belongs to the second tier. Add them to your itinerary if you have more than 2 weeks in Ecuador or if you want ideas for day trips from Quito. They’re wonderful places but they’re not as unforgettable as the previous seven Ecuador destinations on this list.

8. Baños – possible day trip from Quito if you join a tour

9. Quilotoa – easy day trip if you join a tour

10. Papallacta – easy day trip from Quito

11. Otavalo – easy day trip from Quito

8. Baños

an aerial view of a city in a valley surrounded by mountains

Baños is one of those places in Ecuador that get a mixed reaction from people. Some love it while others are turned off by its crass mass tourism.

I loved Banos’s beautiful scenery, stunning waterfalls, and affordable hot springs.

It’s also a great place for adventure travel. There are lots of opportunities to go canyoning, ziplining, white water rafting, and rock climbing.

Baños is located in the Central Highlands about 3.5 hours by bus from Quito and 10 hours from Cuenca. The town is small—you can pretty much walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes. But what makes it so special is the mountains that tower over the town.

One of the most popular things to do in Baños is to bike along the Rutas de las Cascadas (The Road of the Waterfalls)—a road that runs along the Pastaza River. It passes by several waterfalls (along with countless ziplining businesses) and ends at one grand-daddy-of-them-all waterfall, Pailon del Diablo (The Devil’s Cauldron). If you don’t want to do the route on a bike, you can also get on a party bus.

One other must-visit Baños attraction is the miradors (lookout points). Perched up high on the mountains that hang over Banos are several viewpoints that offer the Instagram stunning views of the mountain range and valley below. The BEST viewpoint BY FAR is Pasarela Diamante (Google Maps).

Top Places to Stay in Baños

Baños has loads of affordable places to stay—good value for your money!

$ – Under US$40; $$ – US$40 – $100; $$$ – Over US$100

  • Hosteria Llanovientos ($) – I stayed here during my time in Banos. Very inexpensive especially for solo travelers, clean, and comfortable! Friendly staff. RATING: 9.2/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Casa del Balcon ($$) – Excellent hotel in the center of the city, great views, includes breakfast! You can use the hotel’s hot springs outside of city for free. RATING: 9/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Spa Hosteria Miramelindo ($$) – Outstanding hotel with spa located outside of Banos next to a river and walking distance from The Devil’s Cauldron Waterfall. RATING: 9.2/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Luna Volcan, Adventure SPA ($$$) – The MOST fun hotel you can stay at in Banos and with the most AMAZING views in all of Baños! Situated high above the city. Includes outdoor pool and hot tub! RATING: 8.8/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Samari Spa Resort ($$$) – Beautiful hotel with loads of character. Includes breakfast. Hotel has spa and pool. Amazing views. RATING: 9.2/10 ( | Agoda)

3 Popular Baños Tours

9. Quilotoa

a crater lake surrounded by steep mountains

Whenever I asked people for recommendations on where to go in Ecuador, Quilotoa came up nearly every time.

The crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa with its brilliant blue-green/green-blue water is a jaw-droppingly beautiful sight. If it’s not too cloudy, you can also see the mountains of Cotopaxi National Park in the distance.

For those of you with not a lot of time, you can visit Quilotoa on an organized tour from Quito like this highly-reviewed tour. Usually, the tour includes a hike down to the shore of the lake and a boat ride on the lake. You can also take this tour that visits Cotopaxi in the morning and Quilotoa in the afternoon.

Visiting as a day trip from Quito on your own is doable but the bus ride to Quilotoa involves a bus transfer and it will take around 4 hours to the lake and another 4 hours back. Read this guide on the best day trips from Quito for info on how to get to Quilotoa.

If you want to visit independently, it’s probably best to stay overnight in Latacunga or one of the villages around the lake.

The ultimate way to see Lake Quilotoa is to do the Quilotoa Loop either by bus or foot. You not only get great views, but you also get to explore the culture of the Kichwa indigenous villages. This challenging hike around the lake takes two to four days

Top Places to Stay in Quilotoa

$ – Under US$40 | $$ – US$40 – $100 | $$$ – Over US$40

  • Hostal Cloud Forest ($) – Excellent hostel in Chugchilan; dorms and private rooms. Includes FREE breakfast AND dinner! There’s a spa and a balcony with hammocks. RATING: 9.1/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Hostal Taita Cristobal ($) – Excellent hostel in Isinlivi; dorms and private rooms. Includes FREE breakfast AND dinner! Amazing views; has a balcony with hammocks! RATING: 9.4/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Hostal Café Tiana ($) – Lots of people doing the Quilotoa Loop stay at this hostel because you can store your bag here while doing the hike. RATING: 8/10 ( | Agoda)

10. Papallacta

balneario pools at Papallacta Hot Springs Resort
Balneario hot spring pools

Whenever I asked locals from Quito for recommendations on where to go in Ecuador, Papallacta came up almost every time. Their rave reviews sparked my curiosity and I just had to visit.

Located about 1.5 hours by bus from Quito, Papallacta is a small town high up in the Andes mountains. The town is famous for its hot springs. On weekends, Quitoans flock to Papallacta to relax in its therapeutic waters.

Most people head to the Papallacta Hot Springs Resort (Termales de Papallacta).

The resort has three types of thermal pools as well as a spa with very good massages, wraps, and health treatments. You can visit on a day trip from Quito and pay for the public pools or stay overnight at the resort and get your own private pool in front of your room.

Another thing that makes this place so special is the gasp-inducing setting—the mountains cloaked in fog and mist and the green pastures with grazing cows and sheep surrounding the resort.

The Papallacta Resort is also the location of the back entrance to the Cayambe-Coca Reserve There’s an assortment of hiking trails—some can be done solo while others require a guide. The hiking trails take you past meadows, waterfalls, lakes, and snow-capped mountains.

You can also take a tour of Papallacta from Quito with this highly reviewed tour. Another great tour is this Papallacta + Cotopaxi Tour.

This AMAZING guide to Papallacta will tell EVERYTHING you need to know—how to get there, how to book a room at the resort, what to bring, how to visit as a day trip from Quito, and what to do there.

Top Place to Stay in Papallacta

$ – Under US$40 | $$ – US$40 – $100 | $$$ – Over US$40

  • Termas de Papallacta ($$$) – Fabulous hotel with private and public hot springs. Free buffet breakfast included. RATING: 9.3/10 ( | Agoda)

11. Otavalo

a street market with many bags of food on the ground

Otavalo is the PERFECT Ecuador destination for exploring the country’s indigenous culture and for souvenir shopping.

You can visit the city as a day trip from Quito or stay overnight. I did this tour that also included Cayambe and Cuicocha. Those I’ve met who stayed longer than a day raved about the town even more than the daytrippers! I visited Otavalo on a day tour.

Located 2 hours by bus from Quito, Otavalo is the home of the proud Kichwa people who still hold onto their traditional culture. The most obvious is in their clothing and hairstyles—long black skirt, white blouse, black shawl, colorful belt, and hat.

Most travelers visit Otavalo for its famous Saturday market. Vendors sell rugs, blankets, sweaters, jewelry, hats, hammocks, and carvings. All things are supposedly made by hand by the indigenous residents of Otavalo. The market is a great place to buy souvenirs.

Be careful of pickpockets—one person on my tour got her credit card stolen after taking it out to pay for something.

For me, the highlights of the market were the aisles and stalls selling things locals would buy—fruits, vegetables, spices, grains, beans, bread, and street food. There’s also an area of the market that’s like a food court where you can lunch on traditional Ecuadorian cuisine.

If you stay for several days, there’s more to do than just shopping in Otavalo. Outside of the city are loads of hiking opportunities to lakes and waterfalls.

Top Places to Stay in Otavalo

$ – Under US$40 | $$ – US$40 – $100 | $$$ – Over US$40

  • Hotel La Rosa Otavalo ($) – A great inexpensive hotel that’s located near the bus terminal; clean and spacious rooms! RATING: 9/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Las Palmeras Inn ($$) – A beautiful 150-year-old farmhouse turned hotel on the outskirts of Otavalo! Beautiful views of the mountains. Fireplace in your room! RATING: 9.1/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Intiyaya ($$ – $$$) – Gorgeous hotel with loads of bright colors! Located outside of Otavalo. Amazing views! RATING: 9/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Hotel Otavalo ($$$) – Beautiful historic hotel in the center of Otavalo. 10-minute walk from Plaza de Ponchos where the Saturday market is located. Breakfast is included! RATING: 9.5/10 (

3 Popular Ways to Visit Otavalo

Third-Tier Destinations in Ecuador

This next category of top places to visit in Ecuador belongs to our third tier. Add these destinations to your itinerary if you’re in Ecuador for 4 weeks or more.

12. Ruta del Sol

13. Vilcabamba

14. Tena and the Upper Napo (Amazon)

15. Riobamba and Mt. Chimborazo Reserve

12. La Ruta del Sol

a humpbacked whale jumping out of the water
Puerto Lopez is a great place to go whale-watching

A warning:

Step one foot on the coast of Ecuador, and you might find yourself still there 3 months later.

That’s what happened to me. I planned 2 days on the Ruta del Sol because my first 90 days were almost up. However, I loved the relaxed vibe and the fabulous accommodations so much that I ended up extending my Ecuador visa for another 3 months.

You’ll want to base yourself somewhere between Montañita and Mompiche. I love the areas around Ayampe and Las Tunas—both are laidback and quiet and have some terrific places to stay.

Montañita is an extreme party town—it’s hard to get any sleep as the music goes on all night long!

Puerto Lopez is an ugly and unfriendly town; only good for taking whale watching and Isla de la Plata tours. Manta is for retired ex-pats and there’s not much for travelers to do.

Mompiche is off-the-beaten-track but those who made the long bus journey have raved about it.

Most people come to the coast to surf. There are lots of places that offer lessons and board rentals.

people standing on a beach under an arch made of rock as the sun is setting
El arco del amor in Tasaste, Manabi on the Ruta del Sol in Ecuador

The other reason to come to coastal Ecuador is that it’s known as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” You can see some of the same wildlife here that you can see in the Galapagos but at a cheaper price: whales, Blue Footed Boobies, and frigate birds. If you go snorkeling or diving, you’ll also see some of the same colorful fish, sea turtles, and sharks that you’ll find in the Galapagos.

Finally, the best food in Ecuador can be found on the Ruta del Sol. Because of its proximity to the ocean, Ecuador’s seafood dishes like ceviche, encebollado, and viche are going to taste ten times better here than the same dishes in Quito or Cuenca. Ecuador’s most popular non-seafood dishes also come from the Coast—Bolon and Tigrillo.

If you’re looking to chill out, do some surfing, or can’t afford the Galapagos, Ayampe, Las Tunas or Mompiche are great additions to your Ecuador itinerary.

Top Places to Stay on the Coast

  • Onda Hostel ($ – $$) – Lovely hostel with a laidback vibe. It has dorm rooms and comfortable private suites with kitchens. Includes pool and hot tub. Free breakfast. I stayed here for 3 months. Has fast WiFi and a coworking space. RATING: 9.3/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Ganso and Búho ($$) – Excellent hotel just a few minutes from the beach. Relaxing. Stylish. RATING: 9.4/10 (

13. Vilcabamba

a small town in a valley surrounded by mountains
Vilcabamba Valley

Located in the Southern Andes, Vilcabamba has everything the weary long-term backpacker wants in a destination: A small laidback town surrounded by beautiful mountains, filled with restaurants serving pizza, pasta, and vegetarian fare, and inhabited by friendly and welcoming people. It’s the perfect place to relax and recover from those long Ecuadorian bus rides or before you make your way to Peru.

Over the years Vilcabamba has attracted a fair number of gringos from the U.S., Canada, and Europe who’ve come to the small Andean town to retire. Perhaps they were attracted to Vilcabamba’s claim to fame as being the home of some of the longest-living inhabitants in the world. There’s something about its clean air, clean water, and organic produce that contributes to people living a long and healthy life.

The most popular activities are hiking on the mountain trails, horseback riding, and relaxing at the eco-lodges and spas.

Vilcabamba is a bit out of the way for most travelers, but if you’re spending 4 weeks in Ecuador, it’s a great additional to your itinerary. 

Top Places to Stay in Vilcabamba

  • Avalon Hostal Boutique ($) – Lovely hostel with dorms and private rooms. Amazing views. Comfortable, clean, and centrally located. RATING: 9.7/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Hostería Paraíso ($$) – Great hotel outside of Vilcabamba with pool, hot tub, and sauna. Peaceful and quiet. Breakfast included. RATING: 9.1/10 ( | Agoda)

14. Tena and the Upper Napo River Area (Amazon)

a view from a hill of a river and jungle
A view of the Napo River from Ahuano

The third Amazon destination on this list is Tena and the Upper Napo River area. This area is the easiest of the 3 Amazon spots to get to, but it is also the most developed and least wild.

Located in the western part of the Oriente region, Tena is both a tourism and transport hub as well as the capital of Napo province. It sits along the Tena River and near several other river systems like the famous Napo River, making it a great place for white-water rafting and kayaking. You’ll find plenty of high-quality white-water rafting and kayaking businesses that offer professional guides and quality equipment.

You can also book an Amazon tour at a rainforest lodge along the Upper Napo River or its tributaries. You’ll get to see toucan, parrots, monkeys, sloths, snakes, and other wildlife of the jungle just like in Yasuni and Cuyabeno. A stay at these lodges also includes canoe rides and jungle hikes.

If you want to avoid the hassle of getting to the Amazon but still be in the Amazon, then consider adding Tena to your Ecuador adventure.

Top places to stay in Ten and along the Napo River

  • Casa del Suizo Lodge ($$$) – Top place to stay in the upper Napo. All-inclusive lodge (website)
  • Selina Amazon Tena ($ – $$) – Great budget option on the Napo River. – 8.5/10 (
  • Banana Lodge ($) – On the Misahualli River, a tributary of the Napo River. Breakfast included. – 9.4/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Hostal Pakay ($) – Great budget option in the city of Tena. – 9.2/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Anaconda Lodge ($$$) – All-inclusive lodge near Ahuano. RATING: 9.7/10 ( | Agoda)

15. Riobamba & Chimborazo Reserve

Mt. Chimborazo with vicunas in the foreground
Vicuñas grazing in front of Mt. Chimborazo

Ecuador has so many volcanoes (over 100) that it’s hard to keep all of them straight. However, you should at least know the tallest one in the country. That is Chimborazo at 6,310 meters (20,055 feet).

Chimborazo’s other claim to fame is that because it sits at the equator (the Earth bulges at the equator), its summit is technically the highest point on the planet and the closest point to the sun.

Climbing to the top of Chimborazo is not for novices. To get to the top, you’ve got to have climbing experience, strength, stamina, and a body that’s been acclimatized to high altitude.

Plus! You need a guide and special equipment. All of these things can be obtained in Riobamba or Quito.

If you don’t want to climb Chimborazo, you can just make a day trip from Riobamba to the Chimborazo Reserve (Reserva de Produccion de Fauan Chimborazo). In the Reserve, you can do mountain biking as well as do some easier hikes than Mt. Chimborazo.

The other cool thing to do in the Reserve is to spot a vicuña—an animal that looks like a llama.

Another popular tour from Riobamba is the Devil’s Nose Train Ride in Alausi. Unfortunately, this train is no longer running. The company that owns it went out of business. I have heard that the government is trying to revive it.

For those looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience, Chimborazo is a great option.

Top Places to Stay near Chimborazo

  • Casa 1881 ($$) – Beautiful hotel in the center of Riobamba – 9.7/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Chimborazo Lodge ($$$) – Great views of Chimborazo – 9.6/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Casa de Marmol ($) – Popular budget option – 9.6/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Hosteria La Andaluza ($$$) – Historic hacienda – 9.5/10 (
  • Nomad Ecuador ($$$) – Unique lodging with views of Chimborazo – 9.5/10 ( | Agoda)
  • Villa Bonita Hostel ($)– Great budget option – 9.3/10 ( | Agoda)

PRO TIP: Make your trip to Ecuador even more memorable and pick up one of these FABULOUS books on Ecuador. Here are my top 5 favorite books: 1. Portrait of a Nation 2. Law of the Jungle 3. The Mapmaker’s Wife 4. Queen of Water 5. The Old Man Who Read Love Stories. Check out my list of 25 books on Ecuador HERE!

Final Thoughts on Ecuador

There you have it: the top 15 places to visit in Ecuador.

Quito, Cuenca, and Otavalo are PERFECT for those of you who want to explore historic cities with beautiful architecture, a rich cultural heritage, and great food.

For those looking for wildlife, Mindo, the Amazon, the Ruta del Sol, and the Galapagos are also great options.

Cotopaxi, Vilcabamba, Chimborazo, the Galapagos, Quilotoa, Papallacta, Baños, Tena, and the Ruta del Sol are excellent destinations in Ecuador for those who love outdoor sports like hiking, surfing, snorkeling, white water rafting, diving, and canyoning.

If you’re looking for the best day trips to take from Quito, Cotopaxi, Quilotoa, Papallacta, Otavalo, and Mindo are all options.

For those of you wanting a place to chill and relax, the Ruta del Sol, Mindo, Vilcabamba, and Papallacta are PERFECT!

If you’re planning a trip to Ecuador, what stops are you thinking of adding to your itinerary?

Please feel free to add a comment or ask a question in the Comment Section below. In addition, share on social media if you’ve found this info useful!


Best Resources for Your Trip to Ecuador

Book Your Flight:

Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to Ecuador. They will turn up results for all airlines including major ones and local airlines. You’re guaranteed to find EVERYTHING that’s available and thus get the cheapest price.

Book Your Accommodations:

The best hotel booking sites are and Agoda. They have the most choices and they consistently churn out hotels and hostels with the lowest prices. Another site for backpackers and budget travelers is Hostel World.

Book Your Tours:

Viator has the most tour choices of any site in Ecuador. They’re reliable and trustworthy. I also like using Get Your Guide for Ecuador for their excellent service. Both booking sites are reliable and trustworthy, and if you have trouble with your tour, they’ll quickly help you.

Get an eSIM

The most convenient way to stay connected to the internet is with an eSIM. I like to use Airalo for their excellent prices.

Want More Ecuador Travel Info?

Check out my Ecuador Travel Guide for more ideas, inspiration, and tips on traveling in Ecuador.

Are you on Pinterest?

Hey! How about saving one of these pins to Pinterest to read for later?

And feel free to follow me on Pinterest, where you’ll find lots of travel articles for everywhere around the world.

The 15 Best Places to Visit in Ecuador and 4 photos of Quito skyline, a river in the Amazon, a hummingbird and a church in Cuenca
15 most amazing places to visit in Ecuador with a photo of several vicunas grazing in front of a snowcapped mountain


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

About the Bamboo Traveler

The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

Get Your FREE Japan Itinerary Guide Here!

Subscribe to my newsletter to receive the latest travel tips for Asia and get a free 4-page PDF version of my 3-Week Japan Itinerary.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest