Beyond the Galapagos Islands: Best Ecuador Experiences

Beyond the Galapagos Islands_ Best Ecuador Experiences

So often mainland Ecuador is simplified in the eye of the traveler as the gateway to the Galapagos Islands. However, a trip to the unique archipelago is not necessary to live many of the best Ecuador experiences. In fact, Ecuador travel experiences selected by Kuoda will bring you to the nation’s vast natural wonders and varied terrains, be it the coast, jungle, or highlands.

And while the Galapagos Islands are a spectacular destination, consider extending your vacation time so as to include a few of the following Ecuador travel experiences.

Quito

Quito

The Middle of the World Monument marking equatorial line in the city of Quito.

Flanked by Inca ruins and perched in the Andean foothills at 2,850 meters (9350 feet) above sea level, Quito is the world’s second-highest capital (after Bolivia’s La Paz). Many international travelers will fly into the capital city of Ecuador’s airport, Mariscal Sucre, and head straight to Quito’s historic center.

The square is a showcase of preserved colonial heritage, as noted in the picturesque 16th- and 17th-century churches and facades and cobblestone streets. In fact, in 1978 the old town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Be sure to check out the Middle of the World City monument where you can straddle both sides of the equator.

Avenue of the Volcanoes

Avenue of the Volcanoes

View of the Cayambe Volcano at 19,000 feet (5,790 meters) above sea level, being the third important on Avenue of the Volcanoes.

Located just 1.5 hours outside of Quito, in the highlands of Ecuador, lies the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Stretching south along the Andes for nearly 200 miles, the series of volcanoes, canyons, and lush lands is one of the most scenic and popular areas in Ecuador. A mesmerizing mix of glacial and tropical climates, Avenue of the Volcanoes is considered among the best Ecuador experiences for its hiking opportunities as well as archaeological and cultural riches.

Be in awe of the snow-capped volcanoes (some of which are still active) along trails that lead to turquoise lakes and vistas of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, the tallest peaks in the area.

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Horse riding in the Cotopaxi National Park at 15,091 feet (4,600 meters) above sea level.

Protecting the second-tallest summit in Ecuador and one of the highest volcanoes in the world, the Cotopaxi National Park gifts visitors with pristine landscapes that are nowadays hard to come by.

The nearly symmetrical volcano, Cotopaxi, stands at a towering height of 19,347 feet (5,897 m) and features a mammoth crater as well as one of the few glaciers along the equator. Though it is situated about a half-hour drive outside of the capital city, Cotopaxi can be seen from Quito on a clear day.

It’s a challenging 6-hour trek to the top of Cotopaxi that requires much acclimation due to elevation change. Alternatively, an easy-going hike that is incredibly picturesque is the 1.6-mile Laguna Limpiopungo Trail, which presents views of Cotopaxi.

Baños

Baños

Dare to get on the swing at the End of the World in front of Baños’ misty mountains.

Experience the adventure capital of Ecuador in Baños, the gateway to the Amazon Basin. This small city is located between the Ecuadorian Andes and Amazon rainforest, resulting in lush landscapes that are prime for outdoor and adventure excursions. Just a few hours by bus from Quito, Baños sits at the base of the active Tungurahua volcano.

Soak in the naturally-heated thermal baths, dare to sit on the so-called Swing at the End of the World, rock climb, horseback ride, mountain bike– the Ecuador travel experiences made available in Baños are seemingly countless.

Once you’ve had your fill of adventure, be sure to check out the stalls of handicrafts in the center of Baños. Try your hand at haggling, but keep in mind the value of a unique, handmade piece. Afterward, sip on a delicious cup of Ecuadorian hot chocolate at a local coffee shop!

Mindo

Mindo

Enjoy bird watching in the deep forests of Mindo.

An Andean village, Mindo is located in the cloud forest of Ecuador. The lush natural surroundings of this quaint town are what makes it an attractive travel destination. Similar to Baños, Mindo offers plenty of adventure activities; however, these are well-balanced with slow and tranquil excursions such as bird-watching and trails walks through its rich biodiversity.

It is easy enough to find hiking trails in Mindo that will lead deep into the forest and even to waterfalls. You’ll certainly spot a variety of winged creatures (birds as well as butterflies), but it makes for a more enriching experience if you are accompanied by an experienced guide who can give you information about each species. If you want to pick up the pace, consider renting a mountain bike to cut through the trails.

Kids will love to ride the Tarabita cable car, which locals will proudly state is one of the best Ecuador travel experiences. The quick ride crosses the Nambillo River and hovers above the cloud forest.

Cuenca

Cuenca

The Cathedral in Cuenca is considered one of the largest churches in South America.

Located in southern Ecuador’s Andes mountains, Cuenca is a charming city with a consistently pleasant climate. Unbeknownst to many, Cuenca is the origin and production center for what we refer to as Panama hats! You can pick one up as a souvenir at numerous shops around the city.

Explore the cobblestone streets of the city’s historic center, including the blue-domed Catedral Nueva, considered one of the largest churches in South America. After admiring the interiors of gold leaf, marble, and stained glass, climb up the cathedral’s towers via a spiral staircase.

Nearby the historic center, you can walk, bike, or simply picnic along the grassy and tranquil Tomebamba River waterfront. For more outdoor fun, ascend some 500 steps to the MIrador de Turi lookout point or take your travel group to the small adventure park, Parque Extreme Turi.

While visiting this Andean city you will want to be sure to visit the Pumapungo archaeological site. This stone fortress is believed to have belonged to the indigenous Cañari people before the Incas overtook it. Pair this with a visit to the adjacent Pumapungo Museum to witness a collection of relics from indigenous cultures.

Guayaquil

Guayaquil

The gateway to the Galapagos Islands offers an exciting experience of architecture, culture and food.

The gateway to the Galapagos Islands, the port city of Guayaquil is an exciting destination to explore as it provides some of the best Ecuador experiences in architecture, culture, and food. Guayaquil in itself is a breathtaking city and has even been nicknamed the Pearl of the Pacific.

Take in some breathtaking views of the city by climbing the staircase up to Santa Ana Hill (a 20-minute urban hike). Perched atop the hill are a small chapel and an impressive lighthouse. This is a great activity in the evening to catch the sunset!

Head to Centennial Park, a colonial plaza in the heart of the city, to absorb Guayaquil’s history. The 5-hectare park is full of gardens and monuments, including the Liberty Column, an 88-foot statue depicting Ecuador’s founding fathers.

Architecture fans will geek out at the gothic ceilings and interiors of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Guayaquil, while foodies will salivate at the traditional plates offered at the Central Market. Just be sure to save time for a stroll along the city’s malecón (a waterfront pathway).

Experience Ecuador with Kuoda

No matter how many cities you are able to visit on your journey, we can ensure you partake in some of the best Ecuador experiences according to your interests. Immerse in traditional culture, try authentic flavors, and witness some of the most stunning natural environments on this planet while traveling in Ecuador with Kuoda. Book your trip today with Kuoda, and get ready for unforgettable Ecuador travel experiences.

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