Ecuador is the largest country in the world with approx. 17 million inhabitants and a little more than 256.Ecuador, one of the smaller countries in Spanish-speaking South America, is a pioneer in ecotourism, and thanks to its diverse landscapes and high biodiversity, has some really great sights and destinations to offer travelers.
For travelers and backpackers, Ecuador is a safe destination, with world-renowned natural spectacles and landscapes, it has volcanoes, highlands, the rainforest, the coast, and the Galapagos Islands to offer.
Also, Ecuador is really easy to travel, the infrastructure is good, the costs are pleasant to low, the people are friendly, and the country is quite a viable option for South America first-timers as well.
Overview: Ecuador's landscapes, climate zones, natural highlights
The country is divided into the following four habitats respectively. Climates:
Costa (the coast)
Sierra (the mountains, i.e. the Andes and the highlands)
Selva (the rainforest) and the
Galapagos Islands far out in the Pacific Ocean.
Before I get to the most important Ecuador highlights for me, some basic tips for your trip to South America:
Here in the South America travel blog you will find all kinds of travel tips for the main tourist countries of the continent (Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Brazil), info on the best flights, local safety, traveling in country.
This travel blog celebrates individual travel, slow traveling, individual and self-organized travel, call it backpacking or flashpacking, it doesn't matter, it's about traveling, being consciously on the road in foreign places, slow travel, not about checking off. Or the "making" of countries. I'm interested in culture, nature, history, pop culture, and all of this feeds into my travel tips in my travel blog.
Travel to Ecuador from Europe, flights, air ticket prices
From Germany, Austria, Switzerland there are no non-stop or direct flights to Ecuador or. to the capital Quito or. the port city of Guayaquil. So you have to change. Very good connections from all major airports in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are offered by Iberia (change in Madrid) and KLM (change in Amsterdam).
I like both airlines a lot – good service, everything pleasant, good prices, both airports, i.e. Madrid Barajas as well as Amsterdam Schiphol are more than super to change planes. I recommend to book directly on the websites of the airlines.
The prices for flights to Quito or Guayaquil in Ecuador are between 800 and 1000 Euro.
With Lufthansa you can fly nonstop from Frankfurt to Panama City or. Fly to Bogota and change there (Panama: Copa Airlines, Bogota: Avianca) to Ecuador resp. the airport of the capital Quito, that also works very well.
The most beautiful sights of Ecuador for your trip: Quito – colonial old town and UNESCO World Heritage Site
Most visitors will arrive in Quito, the capital of the country located in the Andes. Quito is located at a sporting 2850m altitude, the old town is indeed very picturesque and picturesque, and a very pretty place to visit in South America respectively. Arrive Ecuador.
There are hotels, hostels, apartments, restaurants and supermarkets in abundant choice and in all price ranges from backpacker to grand hotel. In addition, many small stores, bakeries, pubs where you can get travel items and food at local prices.
Quito is a good starting point for a road trip along the road of the volcanoes. You can rent a car in Ecuador, the big car rental companies are almost all in Quito.
Galapagos Islands – Natural Paradise par excellence
I estimate that the Galapagos Islands, which are approx. 1.The Galapagos Islands, which are located in the Pacific Ocean about 000km from the coast, are the most popular and most visited destination. Sights in Ecuador are.
This archipelago of only three inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal) is indeed a dream destination for nature lovers. Once you have left the somewhat busy town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz behind you, you will find natural options with lots of animals, a great landscape and yet quite little tourism for those who can avoid the main tourist trails.
And this is also my recommendation. You can also go to the Galapagos as an independent traveler or backpacker, you don't have to book a local cruise to get to the remote islands as well. You can also do this from the three inhabited islands mentioned above with locally organized excursions. Long boat trips in small nut shells on rather rough seas can hardly be avoided though!
For me, the Galapagos Islands are indeed the dream destination for nature lovers, and you can see sea lions, pelicans and many birds almost everywhere.
The best time to travel to the Galapagos Islands is actually all year round, the weather is at the equator, I think, not the giant factor. However, if you want to look for certain animals, like the albatrosses on Espaniola, you have to take into account the migratory movements of these species, because some animals of the archipelago are not found all year round.
Arrival Galapagos goes like this: To the Galapagos Islands you fly from Quito or Guayaquil, there are only two destinations there: Baltra and San Cristobal. Baltra is right next to the main island Santa Cruz. San Cristobal is more remote, and much quieter and closer to nature. If you have to choose, San Cristobal would be my recommendation. It's best to book an open jaw flight to Baltra and back from San Cristobal, or vice versa. There are speedboats between the two islands for only 30 US dollars one way. Booking of the boats: On the spot.
All info about costs (the Galapagos Islands are expensive, even for backpackers), what to look for, how to get around, here in the South America Travel Blog for Traveller. Galapagos for backpackers.
Road of the Volcanoes – Chimborazo and Cotopaxi to Riobamba
Between the two mountain ranges that cross Ecuador, the Sierra Occidental and the Sierra Oriental, there is the Andean highland, the Altiplano, and ca. 30 volcanoes resp. Volcanic cone. The highlands are partly at an altitude of 4.000m, the volcanoes are 5- and 6.000s!
South of Quito you can visit the famous volcanoes of Ecuador, like Chimborazo or Cotopaxi, best by rental car or public bus.
Ecuador's volcanoes, which make up the Avenue of Volcanoes, are the country's highest mountain, Chimborazo (over 6200m high), and u.a. Antisana, Cotopaxi, Illiniza, Sanggay, Quilotoa, and Tungurahua. Many of the volcanoes, their slopes, flora and fauna are part of national parks and therefore protected.
The area captivates with its montane climate and Andean culture. Many lodges and eco hostels along the Road of Volcanoes cater to nature lovers and ecotourists. This area can be visited very well individually, a group tour is not really necessary.
Arrival to the road of the volcanoes: best by rental car or local tour from Quito.
Cuenca: Colonial old town pearl in the south of the country
One of the most beautiful sights in the south of Ecuador is the city of Cuenca, founded in 1557. Its colonial old town is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and worth a visit not only for this reason. Cuenca lies on ca. 2.500m altitude in the mountains and impresses with its pleasant climate. The city has more than 300.000 inhabitants, so it is quite large, and offers the independent traveler a good infrastructure, who e.g. on the way to Peru is.
Arrival: by bus from the north of Ecuador. If you have little time you can fly from Guayaquil and Quito to Cuenca. From Cuenca there are buses to Peru.
Zaruma – old mining town in the south
Not far from Cuenca, ca. 250km away, not so high in the mountains, is the old mining town of Zaruma. Since 1539 the Spaniards dug here for gold, and Zaruma had a similar meaning for the European conquerors as Potosi in Bolivia. Zaruma was already known as a mining town by the Incas, and gold is still mined there today. The old town of Zaruma is picturesque and looks like a mix of gold rush western town and classic South American colonial architecture. This is colorful and beautiful and worth a visit, the town would also like to become a UNESCO world heritage site.
Arrival Zaruma: By bus or rental car, from Cuenca (4 hours, ca. 250 km) or coming from the road of the volcanoes. You could continue to Guayaquil, drop off your car there and fly to the Galapagos Islands or Lima.
Ecuador's south: Laguna de Quilatoa – crater lake in the Andes
Ca. 150 km south of Quito, near the town of Latacunga, is the picturesque mountain lake of Quilatoa. Which is strictly speaking a full volcanic crater. If you want to visit the volcano road and you are near Cotopaxi anyway, you can pay a visit to this picturesque caldera. Around the crater lake you can do a nice hike, and the whole thing is photogenic anyway. Access to this sight by rental car or by public buses. There are some hostels near the lagoon, if you drive the road of the volcanoes, you will pass here anyway!
- Arrival: From Quito, by bus or rental car.
Devil's nose Nariz del Diabolo – South America railroad highlight
This is something for train lovers. On a still passable section of the train line between Quito and Guayaquil, you can use the fabulous railroad on this masterpiece of engineering over narrow curves. The trains that run here are purely touristic, they start in the small town of Alausi, where there is a railroad museum, and accommodations. A real highlight of old engineering.
The Ecuadorian Rainforest – Puerto Francisco de Orellana, El Coca
At the confluence of the two rainforest rivers Rio Coca and Rio Napo lies the jungle town of Puerto Francisco de Orellana, or El Coca for short. You can fly there from Quito (35 minutes) or take the bus (8-10 hours, but there is more to see on the way). El Coca or Coca for short can be used as a starting point for excursions into the Ecuadorian Amazon – rainforest. At the Rio Napo there is a nice choice of lodges, and the Yasuni National Park is not far away. Adventurous travelers can cross the Rio Napo in ca. eight hours to the Peruvian border, and then arrive at Iquitos and the Amazon via the border town Nuevo Rocafuerte.
Getting to El Coca: Bus or plane, it's a question of time, not so much of budget. Iquitos in Peru is reached by speedboat.
Mindo – In the cloud forest
I don't understand why this great area gets so little mention in most recommendations for places to visit in Ecuador. West of Quito, on the slopes of the Andes, there is quasi rainforest at an altitude of more than 2500m.
Similar to the cloud forests in northern Peru, hummingbirds can also be seen in Mindo. Only three hours bus ride from Quito separate you from this wonderful place. Here you can hike, see chocolate production, visit a butterfly farm, and zipline over the rainforest.
On the way from Quito to Mindo is also Mitad del Mundo, there you can stand on the equator, so to speak, or at least where it was wrongly measured. I can also fully understand to skip the Mitad del Mundo..
How to get there: By bus from Quito, about three hours. In Mindo you can stay a few days. Especially for birder it is great.
Otavalo – Andean market culture in the northern mountains, fiestas and festivals
Two hours by bus north of Quito is the city of Otavalo, another real highlight of the country. It is known for its Saturday market, which has a great regional importance for the people of the area. This market offers not only clothes, handicrafts and food, but also livestock.
The hustle and bustle attracts tourists like the happy hour in the ham street, well, not that bad. If you need accommodation, especially for the market days, you should look in advance and make a reservation. From Friday afternoon Otavalo fills up with incoming market participants, traders and visitors, during the week it is much quieter.
In addition, Otavalo has a large number of very nice fiestas and festivals, with traditional costume parades and fireworks and the consumption of spirituous beverages. San Juan is on several days around the 24. June. San Pedro will be around 29.6. celebrated, and the Fiesta del Yamor in the first two weeks of September every year. There are beauty contests, bullfights, music, fireworks, and a constant tasting of the namesake yamor, a brew made from maize. Sounds promising!
Getting there: Otavalo is located in the northern Sierra, from Quito by bus it's pretty easy.
Canoa – coast, beach, surf
I have chosen as a travel tip for the coast of Ecuador the place Canoa. which can be reached from Quito, in principle it always goes west out of the mountains.
Canoa has a long sandy beach, and is known for its beautiful waves. So surfing. Accordingly laidback is the clientele in the place, are accommodations and bars and nightlife. So if you're looking for just such a place in Ecuador, this is my travel tip here on the South America travel blog, and closes out the Ecuador sights fittingly. All regions of Ecuador are included, and all natural and cultural areas: coast, mountains, volcanoes and plateau, rainforest, and the Galapagos Islands.
Getting from Quito to Canoa: The bus company Reina del Camino goes in seven to nine hours directly to Canoa, during the day as well as a night bus. Departure from Quitumbe bus station, Quito.