Embark on a wondrous adventure when you add these destinations in Ecuador’s Andes Mountains to your travel itinerary. Stretching across thousands of miles of South America, the Andes are an expansive region with so many unique places to visit. So what makes the Ecuadorian sector of this region worthy of exploring?
Boasting a diverse array of wildlife species, bustling cityscapes, and breathtaking landscapes decorated with rare natural phenomena, Ecuador offers travelers a chance to escape into a dreamy fantasy where you can truly appreciate the magic of the Andes. Below are six of the can’t-miss destinations travelers visiting this region should certainly include on a trip to South America.
– Treat Yourself To A Luxurious Getaway In Quito
Ecuador’s historic capital city is known for its well-preserved UNESCO Heritage Site Old Town, its rich cultural experiences, and its unique position in the middle of the world. But it’s also an ideal destination for a luxury metropolitan excursion! With exquisite boutique hotels, photogenic streets around every corner, incredible culinary offerings, and more, this city is a phenomenal backdrop for an indulgent vacation in the mountains.
Stay at one of Quito’s top hotel experiences, the ILLA. Located in the heart of the old town, ILLA offers guests easy access to some of the must-see sites in Quito while providing five-star comfort. This property was the first of its kind, introducing a boutique hotel concept to the city that unites excellent hospitality services with the warmth of a small, local business.
When you’re not indulging in the treatments available at ILLA’s Spa, head out into the city for a walking tour of the historic old town. Do not want to miss an opportunity to snap some photos in front of the majestic Renaissance-style architecture here. Learn about Ecuador’s colonial history as you wander through Plaza Grande, the main square filled with lush greenery in the middle of the spectacular structures on all four sides. For a bird’s eye view of the city, head to Basilica del Voto Nacional, where you can climb the bell towers to enjoy a one-of-a-kind perspective overlooking the entire city! And be sure to enjoy a few of the best restaurants in Quito, including the tasting menu at Neuma which honors traditional Ecuadorian flavors in a beautiful fine dining experience.
– Confront The Majestic Cotopaxi Volcano
With over 100 volcanoes across the entirety of Ecuador, there’s no doubt that this country is filled with imposing yet beautiful landscapes. However, the most popular is Cotopaxi, located in Cotopaxi National Park in central Ecuador. If you’re someone who loves nature and wants to discover the most magical views in the Andes Mountains, a trip here is absolutely essential. Not only will you be able to see the giant volcano in all its glory, but there are plenty of other amazing landscapes to explore in this park!
Obviously, the main event of Cotopaxi National Park is the volcano that gives the park its name. One option for those who want to get active and see the mountain up close is to hike to Refugio José Rivas. This lodge is perched on the side of the volcano and provides hikers with a short yet challenging trek with the reward of some astonishing views of the mountain as it climbs towards the clouds right next to you. Another brilliant viewpoint that requires less physical exertion is down in the valley of the park, where you can go horseback riding through the fields with panoramic views of Cotopaxi to complement the journey.
Another must-see destination within this park includes Limpiopungo Lagoon, a beautiful body of water located on the inactive Rumiñahui volcano. The lagoon is a perfect bird-watching site if you’re interested in seeing some of the park’s unique species!
– Live Like A Local In Cuenca
With over 400,000 inhabitants, the city of Cuenca is one place travelers can roam freely and get lost exploring the history of Ecuador while also enjoying the modern culture that provides travelers an opportunity to get comfortable living like the locals. This city is perfect for long afternoon strolls around the city, casual dinners enjoyed with friends, and spending a few days resting and recharging during your Ecuador vacation.
If you plan to visit Cuenca, you cannot miss the UNESCO Historic Center. As you walk through the city streets, take your time admiring the beautifully designed Spanish architecture. This is a much more relaxed town compared to some of the other historic sites in Ecuador, so you do not need to rush to see everything. Instead, take it easy and allow your feet to take you on a journey across the city, stopping to snap a few photos of sites like the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception.
Cuenca is also a great city to explore the street food of Ecuador. One of the most popular dishes here is the roasted cuy, which for many travelers is an Ecuadorian delicacy that may surprise you with delight if you’re willing to try it. Cuy is a whole roasted guinea pig, and if you’re willing to try it once you may realize that locals enjoy this dish on special occasions!
– Wander The Magical City Of Otavalo
From historic markets to stunning landscapes, Otavalo is a must-see destination in Ecuador’s Andes Mountains for travelers who are passionate about finding the most charming corners of every country. Small by comparison to a place like Cuenca, Otavalo only has 40,000 inhabitants, many of whom still represent their indigenous heritage with traditional garments and accessories. This city is a magical place to spend a few days.
Among the most popular activities to do in Otavalo, visiting the market is certainly a top contender. Known as South America’s largest traditional market, this is a place that’s certainly worth wandering for an hour or two. But, don’t set your expectations too high, as this is also a very touristy part of Otavalo and it is not guaranteed to sell authentic artisanal products. If you’re interested in shopping around the Otavalo market, just remember to be smart about what you’re buying and try going early in the day to avoid big crowds!
If shopping isn’t your preferred activity and you’re looking for something a little more natural, head to the Peguche Waterfall which is only a 45-minute walk from the Otavalo city center. There are several paths and walkways looping around this cascading fixture, but the best is hidden on the right-hand side of the waterfall. If you climb up this path and crawl through a dark, narrow passageway, you’ll emerge in a beautiful cave with an additional waterfall, like a secret oasis within the side of the mountain.
– Discover the Chimborazo Volcano
Stand in the glory of Ecuador’s tallest volcano when you visit Chimborazo, a peak that reaches over 20,000 feet in elevation. To the indigenous population, this mountain is quite sacred due to its size and the flourishing ecosystems that live upon it. For travelers visiting, it may not hold the same sacred meaning but it will certainly leave you in awe of the power and grandeur of mother nature.
Active and adventurous travelers can choose to trek to the mountain’s peak, which takes roughly 12 hours. You will need to acclimate for at least one night, as the high elevation often causes travelers altitude sickness, so be sure to stay hydrated and take things easy if you’re planning to ascend. However, the hike is well worth it for experienced trekkers, and the views reach as far as 90 miles away on clear days.
For a less intense experience of the Chimborazo volcano, travelers can opt for less demanding guided hikes throughout the park, or spend their time here at the Colta Lagoon. Here you can relax, soak up the views of the volcano, and even spot some wildlife like swans, sheep, birds, and fish!
– Explore The Mindo Cloud Forest
Mindo is one of the rare regions of the Andes Mountains where the lush rainforest is situated just right, turning the dense jungle into a misty oasis known as a cloud forest. This destination is perfect for nature lovers who want to experience a one-of-a-kind landscape that exists in very few places around the world. Travelers could easily spend their entire vacation uncovering the Mindo Cloud Forest, but if you want to include it on a larger itinerary there are a few experiences you should add to the bucket list.
Head to Mariposario de Mindo if you want to learn more about the butterflies that live in this forest, followed by an immersive experience exploring the habitat of these beautiful little creatures as they flutter around you on all sides. The spacious greenhouse here provides several different types of butterflies a place to live, with thousands of these colorful animals flying around. It’s a breathtaking destination and the perfect spot to grab some pictures for your friends back home!
A destination like Mindo is also a stunning place for something adventurous, like ziplining through the trees and misty scenery. With one of the local experts as your guide, you’ll be able to access some of the most impressive ziplining courses in Ecuador, and get gorgeous views of the cloud forest!
These destinations in Ecuador’s Andes Mountains are just a few places that allow you to dive deep into the culture and beauty of this region. Talk to a Kuoda travel expert and let us know what your specific interests are! Whether you want to be immersed in indigenous culture or explore the rich natural landscapes of the Andes, we’ll help customize an itinerary that satisfies every need.
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