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Top 10 Things to do in Ecuador

Considering Ecuador is exceptionally small on the map of South America, it not only features heavily on travelers itineraries through Latin America but also contains some of the most exciting and diverse activities for those adventurers to indulge in. Inland you have remarkable colonial towns contrasting with epic hillside towns surrounded by the heights of the Andes, then escaping to the sea Ecuador not only has rustic, hippy frequenting coastal towns but it's also home to the world-famous Galapagos Islands, Darwin's setting for the theory of evolution and an incredible natural exhibition showcasing some of the most spectacular biodiversity in the world. This small country certainly packs a punch for those tourists ready to explore its beauties and condensing down a list proves a difficult task with such diversity on offer. Alas, here are, what believe to be, the top 10 things to do in Ecuador:

10. Quilotoa Loop

Mountaineers and Hikers at the ready, the Quilotoa Loop will provide your desired fix.
Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

Quilotoa Lake is a fine example of why trekking in Ecuador is up there with the best! Photo by Warren Talbot.

Set high in the Ecuadorian Andes, Quilotoa Lake was formed when a Volcano erupted and blew its top off over 800 years ago, leaving this majestic crater (pictured). The lake itself looks like a world globe as the surface colors and shapes shift between deep blues and greens as the angle of the sun changes. A walk around the Quilotoa Loop will not only give you spectacular scenery but also an adventure challenge to aim for as you endeavor to complete the 3-4 day high altitude trek. Our Ecuador destination expert, Martin Baumann, believes the Quilotoa Loop to be an essential trek for those who are looking for the best hiking/trekking areas.

9. Montañita

Montañita is that hippy town that everyone-should-avoid-because-it's-touristy-but-it's-actually-too-good-to-miss!
Montanita, Ecuador

A beautiful sunset on the hippy shore of Montañita. Photo by Ryan McFarland.

Whatever doubts people put in your mind over 'touristy', 'hippy-infested' Montañita, I'm urging you to dispel those thoughts because Montañita is, and always will be, an essential stop in Ecuador. A world apart from the bustling cities back home, Montañita is appealing on so many levels. The slow-paced sleepy hippy haven offers great surf and even better beach bars and atmosphere, not to mention the exquisite seafood cuisine.

8. Quito

Offering the charms of a small-town city, capital city Quito is an open-air museum.
Quito, Ecuador

The cgarming colonial houses in Quito's Old Quarter. Photo by lotarsan.

The charm of Ecuador, along with its powerful nature and landscape, lies in its cobbled streets, its colonial architecture and its old fashioned, languid way of life. Quito, for a capital city, showcases this splendor in its beautiful old quarter, where labyrinthine alleyways are met with Gothic churches and monasteries and traffic is guided by whistle yielding policemen. Surrounded by the romance of sporadic Andean peaks, Quito's setting is nothing short of superb, and while it is the old town's museums and architecture that lures its visitors it is also its central location that is its main attribute, being a great base for tours elsewhere in Ecuador.

7. Yasuní National Park

The best opportunity to see Ecuador's impeccable wildlife if you can't afford / don't have time to visit the Galapagos islands.
Yasuni National park, Ecuador

Scarlet Macaw, Yasuni National Park. Photo by Geoff Gallice.

Bordering Peru in the Northwest of the country, Yasuni National Park is yet another example of Ecuador's world class biodiversity and sensational nature treks. A 4 day jungle tour will display Ecuador's remarkable diverse plantlife (25,000 different species of plant) and let you examine one-sixth of the world's bird species

6. Baños

 A rewarding stop on your travels through Ecuador, Baños is filled with exciting activities and relaxing thermal baths.
Ecuador tours Banos

Thermal baths of Baños. Photo by David Holt.

Surrounded by monumental mountains and majestic cascading waterfalls, the scenery around Baños is enough of a reason to visit in the first place. When you finally manage to divert your eyes away from the splendor of the surroundings, Baños has a plethora of adventure activities for you to fill your adrenaline with, from canyoning down steep rock faces and waterfalls to kayaking in white-waters. Fortunately, the soothing thermal baths (which this city is named after) will alleviate any of those aches and pains after a long day of adventures and are a great chance to meet locals and soak in the picturesque scenery all around. Baños really is a dream travel destination.

5. Otavalo Market

From colorful hammocks to wooly llama jumpers, Otavalo Market is the perfect place to stock up on those obligatory travel presents.
Otavalo market Ecuador

Otavalo market showcases brightly colored goods, from curtains to hammocks. Photo by Maja Majika.

Otavalo Marketplace, located around 3 hours north of Quito, epitomizes the small, hidden charms of a South American country that, if stumbled upon (mainly heard about through other travelers when in Ecuador), would feature highly in your reviews of Ecuador. Showcasing an eclectic range of traditional clothing, handicraft goods, wooden sculptures, creative hammocks and colorful house rugs etc, Otavalo Market flourishes with an assortment of great stalls. The best day to experience all the work of the Otavalos and hustle and bustle of the small town is Saturday, when even neighboring towns come and fill every inch of the town with market stalls and handicraft goods.

4. Cuenca

Ecuador's 3rd largest city contains a wealth of colonial charm and a scattering of beautiful religious sites.
Cuenca, Ecuador

Breath-taking gothic architecture in Cuenca, Ecuador. Photo by Theodore Scott.

The Catedral Nueva (New Cathedral) is the stand-out feature in array of dazzling architectural gems that contribute to the charm of colonial Cuenca. Most recognized by its 3 immense blue domes, the Catedral Nueva is a remarkable symbol of Ecuador's cultural capital. Other top attractions include hunting for the best Panama hats; Ostensibly a misnomer that is still a sore point for the locals of Cuenca who, according to much debate, claim the hats to actually be the home of Cuenca and that president Roosevelt, caught wearing a hat in Panama, is to blame for the misunderstanding. The abundance of high quality museums and colonial streets, filled with cool cafes and bars, will keep you occupied for the rest of your stay in Cuenca.

3. Tena - Ecuadorian Amazon

The launching point for Ecuadorian jungle expeditions, Tena is the perfect place to base yourself.
Tena, Ecuador

Tena not only acts as a good base but also provides some of the best jungle activities. Photo by Mikko Koponen.

Tena is the quintessential stop for adrenaline and adventure junkies, with some of the world's greatest white-water and kayak opportunities and the perfect gateway into the wilderness of the Amazon rain-forest. Red Hunt Travel, renowned travel blogger and self-proclaimed wildlife enthusiast, believes that Tena, along with Yasuni National Park, as mentioned before, are two of the finest spots in Ecuador for the tourist to experience the real, authentic Ecuador.

2. Cotopaxi

One of the world's tallest active volcanoes, Cotopaxi volcano offers stunning hikes.
Cotopaxi Volcano

The snow-capped peak of Cotopaxi looks formidable against the backdrop of Ecuador's blue skies. Photo by Neil Rickards.

Cotopaxi, along with having the general draw that volcanoes have for geographers, environmentalists and hikers alike, also has the additional lure of being one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world. With its peak being clearly visible from Quito day trips to this active volcano are easily accessible and there are a number of tours to choose from. Instead of just hiking the volcano another popular option is downhill mountain biking down Ecuador's second tallest volcano.

1. Galapagos

Darwin's land of experiments is arguably Ecuador's most famous site and arguably the world's greatest nature spectacle.
Galapagos Islands

A marine iguana basking in the sun on Ecuador's famous Galapagos islands. Photo by schorsch1982.

If you haven't heard of the Galapagos by now then nature and wildlife clearly isn't for you. That said, I highly doubt anyone would pass up on an opportunity to visit the islands where Charles Darwin developed his theories of evolution. The island is world famous for its unique ecosystem and a biodiversity that contains giant tortoises, sea lions, marine iguanas (pictured), many rare species of birds and many more animals coexisting on a paradise archipelago about 1000 km off the coast of Ecuador.