Although small, the country of Ecuador has a lot to offer, from the tropical Amazonian rainforest to the snow-peaked Andes Mountains. In the Amazon, travelers can find shamans that use traditional rainforest medicines from the ancient past, while in the Andes, the villages offer rare markets selling everything from textiles to exotic fruits. Adventure seekers won’t have any trouble finding action-packed activities throughout, from rappelling down waterfalls to panic-inducing bridge walks to high velocity zip lining. And of course, the equator line runs right through the country, hence its name, and is one of the major tourist attractions as it’s possible to stand with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere.

Interesting Cities to Visit in Ecuador


The most well known part of Quito is the historic center, which has been kept up and maintained throughout the years. Stroll through the Plaza Grande and view the various baroque churches, palaces and monasteries that line the cobblestone streets. Ecuador translates to ‘equator’ and one of the most popular spots to visit just outside of the city is Mitad de Mundo monument, which has a line drawn on the ground that was made for those epic photos where you can claim to be standing on both sides of the world. Although the monument isn’t the actual site of the equator line (discovered after the museum was constructed) and the official equator museum is just a few blocks away, Mitad de Mundo is still more popular. The best way to see this capital city is by taking the cableway cars. Located on the edge of the city center, the aerial lift takes guests over 2000 feet up to the top of Pichincha Volcano from where you can easily see Quito from one end to the other in addition to incredible views of the Andes Range.


Thrill seekers need to look no further than the small town of Baños. This is the small Amazonian town that tourists flock to for action-packed adventure. Expect to find lots of nature trails leading to gorgeous waterfalls, various tour companies offering everything from bungee jumping to zip lining across canyons to rappelling down freezing cold waterfalls to bridge walks and even climbing the sides of canyon walls. There’s even a very Instagram-famous swing set located at “the edge of the world” that overlooks an active volcano. The town is also home to many, many bars and restaurants geared towards tourists, so don’t expect too much authenticity here, although it should still absolutely make your itinerary.


The most populous city in Ecuador, located on the coast, Guayaquil is the financial capital of Ecuador. Once a city you wouldn’t dare walk in at night, the ambitious city government now has cleaned up crime and transformed the aging port. The newish Malecon 2000 is the main attraction for many residents of the city. During the days, families enjoy the gardens or sit and enjoy a breeze while sipping on a beverage. Tourists come here to snap photos with the statues of historical figures as well as the large Guayaquil sign, each letter about six feet tall and painted in sky blue and white, the colors of the city flag. Another tourist attraction here is the neighborhood of Las Peñas, which transforms into a vibrant bar scene in the evenings. Here you will find 444 steps to the top of a massive hill, with bars and restaurants located along the hike up. The uphill pub crawl is not to be missed, although it might be easier to start at the top and work your way down. Guayaquil is also where flights to the Galapagos Islands either stop or originate, so if you are planning to head there, you can allow for some extra time in Guayaquil.


The bucket list destination of most avid travelers, the Galapagos Islands is rich in wildlife such as playful sea lions and gigantic sea tortoises, which are accustomed to visitors getting up close and personal. This archipelago of about 19 islands and many smaller islets located about 600 miles off Ecuador’s coast in the Pacific Ocean is a double World Heritage site, which means both land and sea are protected. Each island has its own unique landscape, ranging from completely barren spaces littered with volcanic rocks to stunning white sand beaches that meet crystal-blue waters.

Interesting Attractions to Visit in Ecuador


Located near Latacunga in Ecuador, Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world. With its perfect cone-shaped, snow-covered top, the volcano is just screaming to be photographed. The national park is also home to many plant and animal species, such as wild horses, deer, llamas and pumas. Birdwatchers will have a plethora of birds to admire as well, including Andean condors. Inside the park there is a small museum that shares information about the park’s geology.


This very small town in Ecuador is located just north of Quito. During the week, there is not much to see here, but on the weekends, this little town gets colorful and busy, especially on Saturday mornings when the locals begin to display their goods in the market at Poncho Square. Everything here is created by hand with skills that have been handed down one generation to the next. Expect to find carpets, blankets, belts and all other kinds of treasures you never knew you needed.


Another place full of natural wonders, El Cajas National Park is popular for trout fishing enthusiasts. But for everyone else, it’s also a great place for hiking and camping as well as a spectacular place to enjoy nature. The park has more than 275 lakes and waterfalls to enjoy.


This massive cathedral is in the heart of Cuenca and features a series of sky-blue cupolas. The interior of the cathedral is just as incredible as the exterior and features a magnificent altar and a very famous crowned image of the Virgin Mary as well.


Head to the chill beach town of Montanita, a seaside village where surfers dominate, topless sunbathing is tolerated and a more relaxed way of life is widely normalized. In Montanita, it’s not uncommon to hear reggae music in local bars, see same-sex couples openly showing their affection for one another and even find electronic music festivals on the beach. Montanita is first and foremost a suffering town, but it’s transforming into a mini hippy paradise.

Experiencing Ecuadorian Food

Ecuador is made up of four major regions: the Pacific Coast, the Amazon, the Andes and the Galapagos Islands. Gastronomy differs in each region but no matter where you are in Ecuador, the food is always rich, spicy and full of flavor. Be on the lookout for humitas, a renowned Ecuadorian comfort food that are typically made during the colder months and are like Mexican tamales, although they have been around since pre-Hispanic times and are slightly different. Humitas are made of corn, eggs, cheese and cream, and are served wrapped in a corn leaf.

Seafood is very popular in Ecuador, which explains why Cangrejada, another national specialty, is so common during lunch. The dish is made with red mangrove crab that is popular in the coastal regions. More adventurous eaters might want to try cuy, which is actually South American guinea pig, a dish locals consider to be a delicacy. It tastes like chicken, if you can build up the nerves to try it. When it’s time for dessert, try Paila ice cream. “Paila” is the word for the skillet that is used to make this special ice cream that consists of a pureed mixture of sweet fruits, and is one of the more traditional desserts in Ecuador.

Safety Considerations for LGBTQ+ Visitors to Ecuador

What once was an extremely conservative country is now quickly becoming one of the more progressive countries in Latin America. The proof is in the dramatic change in LGBTQ+ legislation over the past 20 years. Until 1997, gay life in Ecuador was difficult and being openly gay in public could lead to issues with the police. But in 1997, the constitution was changed to introduce some of the most progressive gay-friendly legislation in the world. Things like anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation were introduced, the age of consent for both LGBTQ+ people and heterosexuals was equalized and in June 2019, Ecuador’s highest court made an epic ruling requiring the government to recognize same-sex marriages. While the laws of Ecuador are firmly in support of gay rights, public displays of same-sex affection are very rare in the country and LGBTQ+ travelers are advised to use discretion when in public places, especially outside of major cities where people may not have adapted to the new laws as quickly.

LGBTQ+ Travel Tips for Ecuador

Although the law states that everyone has the same rights in Ecuador, this doesn’t mean that homophobia is gone, especially in rural areas. In cities like Quito and Guayaquil, travelers will likely find more open-minded people. Ecuador doesn’t have any gay hotels but there are gay-friendly options. In Quito, the “zona Rosa” is the gay-friendly part of the city. In cities like Guayaquil and Cuenca, LGBTQ+ travelers will have no problem finding hotels, bars and restaurants with diverse crowds with a welcoming attitude. Two large annual LGBTQ+ events in Quito are the Quito Gay Pride Festival (Orgullo) and the Quito Gay Film Festival (El Lugar Sin Limites). Quito has held a pride each year since June 1998 while the film festival is a perfect opportunity to check out the latest in award-winning queer cinema. There are also a few travel agencies in Quito who directly market to the LGBTQ+ community offering tours around the city, into the Amazon and to the Galapagos Islands.


David Duran is a freelance travel writer who has contributed to various publications including Fodor’s Travel, the New York Post, Travel + Leisure, and more. He’s visited all seven continents and more than 80 countries, co-authored a book on travel guides, filmed a travel show pilot currently under development and moonlights as a luxury travel advisor for one of the largest travel agencies in the world.

Featured image by @alec.mcleod.3 via Instagram