If you enjoy traveling, then consider adding Ecuador to your list of places to visit. The South American country rests along the coast of the Pacific Ocean on the northwestern side of the continent. It is a small country, but full of geographic and biological diversity. From the Andes Mountains, the Amazon jungle, and the Galapagos Islands, the country has something for everyone.
Ecuador has several national parks and within the Machalilla National Park is one of the oldest indigenous civilizations in the country: Agua Blanca. Tourists can visit this private community which includes a museum, riverbed trail, sulfur lagoon, and guided campgrounds. The national park is a few kilometers north of Puerto Lopez and can be accessed by bus or moto taxi.
It is easy to make Agua Blanca a short day trip. It is life-changing as it takes you away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and gives you an opportunity to see a different way to live. The mud from the sulfur lagoon is excellent for massages, so be sure to schedule one when you arrive.
Cotopaxi National Park
Ninety minutes from Quito is the Cotopaxi National Park, which is home to the several sights including the Quilatola Volcano and the Cotopaxi Volcano, which is the second-highest peak in Ecuador.
There is an ecological park within the National Park and it is worth the trip there. If you do not choose to take on a mountain climbing expedition, the flat terrain around the eponymous volcano makes the park a destination for everyone. Cotopaxi is filled with fauna like pumas, rabbits, wild horses, and wolves along with typical flora found in a pine forest.
El Chato Tortoise Reserve
Within the Galapagos Islands, one of the must-see spots is the El Chato Tortoise Reserve. This life-changing reserve is loaded with some of the oldest creatures on the planet. The giant tortoises were alive when World War I was happening – as some could be close to 100 years old. The tortoises will not put on a show for you, but that’s not the point of visiting the reserve.
Quito’s Skyrail is the highest in the country and it more than just a unique form of transportation. For a small fee, you can ride Teleferico from its starting spot on Amulfo Araujo and Avenida Occidental to the Pichincha Volcano atop Cruz Loma. This is a prime spot for hiking and mountain biking to see the sites from above.
The view from the sky is fetching as you can see the Andean landscape and Quito in a most unexpected way. The quietness of the Skyrail lets you escape the noise of the city and the cooler temperatures at the moor of the Volcano is a refreshing getaway from the heat of Quito.
If you take the time to travel to Ecuador, you must take a side trip to the Galapagos Islands. Hire a tour guide to take you properly through the islands as this page can explain why tour guides are the best choices. You do not want to miss out on any special places because you didn’t have a tour guide to help you.
Ecuador was once home to the Incas and they left behind their relics in a place now known as Ingapirca in the southeastern quadrant of the country. The best-known structure within Ingapirca is the Temple of the Sun which was built around a massive rock with precise construction.
The site has an elaborate aqueduct system as well as rocks that were designed to keep track of the days, weeks, and months of the year. It is easy to reach Ingapirca by bus and the affordable prices make it a great day trip for the whole family. It is life-changing to consider that you are walking in the footsteps of the ancients and to think about the ways that they lived their lives in these beautiful places. It is worthwhile to pay for a tour and to visit the museum to the artifacts found at the site.
Mindo Cloud Forest
This is a protected area in the mountains outside of Quito. The biodiversity of the area is the reason you visit the Mindo Cloud Forest. Here, you can see butterflies, tree frogs, primates, and more. Many of the species native to this area are endangered or threatened species and visitors are asked to treat the area with extreme care.
Most of the life-changing locations on this list are geographic or historical, but this one is cultural. The Otavalo Market happens every Saturday and everything under the sun is available for sale. It is the largest open-air market in South America. Otavalo is a two-hour drive from Quito and the colors of the Andean world are on full display.
This isn’t a life-changing experience because of the views and the history, but because of the full assault of the senses. The colors, smells, sounds, flavors, and textures are almost overwhelming – but in a good way. While shopping the market, you get to interact with the beautiful people who work hard to sell you their food, arts, clothing, textiles, and anything they can fit into their booths.
For a nominal fee, you can climb to the top of a hill that features a statue of the Virgin Mary. This hill, in Old Town Quito, has significance to the Incas who called it the Hill of the Heart. It was where the Incas worshipped before the Spanish arrived and built a fort.
It’s a great way to escape the city and enjoy the spirituality of Ecuador. All you need to see this site is about 30 minutes unless you plan to spend some time pondering your existence in the world.
A life-changing hike that all backpackers must take in Ecuador is the Quilatola Loop within the Andes Mountains. The hike does not involve any campsites, rather overnight stays in hostels and hotels along the way. The highlight of the hike is the Quilatola Crater and lake within the caldera.
There are several towns along the loop; Latacunga is the largest and often used as the trailhead. The rest of the towns are tiny and barely fit the description of being actual towns. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime hike that traverses through cloud forests and unforgettable vistas.