The Wanderlust Guide to the best of Ecuador

Ecuador has the wildlife, the mountains, the rainforest and even the Inca heritage – all in easy reach. Here’s your guide to South America in a bite-sized package

8 mins

Small but perfectly formed, Ecuador might be one of the smaller countries in South America but it packs a whole lot of attractions into its dramatically beautiful landscapes.

Bordered by the Pacific to the west, Ecuador’s coastline offers sandy beaches, great surf and fascinating wildlife: watch whales and sea lions galore in Machalilla National Park. Once dangerous, the city of Guayaquil has been thoroughly gentrified, with pastel-coloured buildings and a host of new restaurants, and is a good starting point for drives up the coast.

Moving inland in Ecuador you soon hit the Andes, where snow-topped peaks reach to over 6,000m. This is where you'll find the capital, Quito, a majestic colonial settlement with churches and cathedrals, threaded with little alleyways and dotted with Indian market stalls.

South of Quito a line of volcanoes, many still active, run down the Andes past the hiking centre of Banos to the colonial city of Cuenca. North is the pretty little colonial town of Otovalo, with probably the best Indian market in South America. From here a network of trails thread past fields tacked onto impossibly steep slopes to reach remote mountain farming villages far off the grid.

Cross the Andes to the east and you're into the Oriente, Ecuador’s hunk of the Amazon basin. The Andes squeeze rain from the sky to feed a biodiversity hotspot, crawling with wildlife and dense, tropical growth. Indigenous tribes are now exerting direct control over this wild, remote region: stay at an ecolodge owned by the locals to learn the area's secrets.

Quito ( (Shutterstock)

Looking for inspiration?

Just how inspirational is Ecuador? Well, 21 years ago it inspired Lyn Hughes to start a travel magazine. You might have heard of it. It’s called Wanderlust...

Lyn recently revisited Ecuador, running the gauntlet of ash clouds and flight cancellations to find the country – and it’s capital, Quito – as beguiling and beautiful as ever. She also recommends checking out Chimborazo, the world’s tallest peak. (If you measure from the centre of the earth: the earth bulges around the Equator, you see, giving the Ecuadorian mountain bragging rights over its more famous Himalayan cousin, Everest.)

The long-derelict railway linking Ecuador’s coast and capital – via the looming Andes – has reopened and Anthony Lambert says it’s the world’s wildest ride. It’s also the easiest way to check out each of Ecuador’s nine climate zones, he says, and if you go from the coast to Quito, it's the perfect way to acclimatise yourself to the high altitudes of the Andean mountains.

Those various climate zones are home to a dizzying array of flora and fauna, making it one of the best wildlife destinations in the world. Indeed, Will Gray says it is the ultimate wildlife destination, especially if you’ve got kids.

If you’re looking for a destination where you can give something back for a change, Ecuador ticks all the right boxes there too. Ed Stocker joined the country’s famous book bus as a volunteer, touring the countryside and teaching local children English and says it was an experience that changed his life – as well as the lives of the children he taught.

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Revisiting Quito, Ecuador – Lyn Hughes

The ultimate … Mountain – Lyn Hughes

Traversing the Devil's Nose, Ecuador – Anthony Lambert

Wildlife adventure a natural high – Will Gray

Teaching English on the Book Bus in Ecuador – Ed Stocker

Banos ( (Shutterstock)

Ecuador’s secrets revealed

Ecuador boasts the largest number of bird species in the world per square metre. And they’re a pretty weird and colourful bunch as well. Here’s ten of the strangest for birdwatchers who like twitching on the edge.

Ecuador is also home to some of the most innovative – and beautifully set – eco-lodges in the region. Sarah Gilbert ventures into the Ecuadorian Amazon and lists her favourites.

If colonial architecture and bustling, high-altitude street life are more your scene, make sure you check out the report sent back from Quito by the winners of the Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year Competition. They uncovered a side of the city that very few travellers get to see.

Chances are you’ll go loco for locro when you’re in Ecuador. The classic cheese and potato soup is a staple and the perfect way to warm up on those chilly Andean nights. It’s a dish that works well in winter back home as well. Lyn Hughes tells you how to knock the dish up.

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Ecuador's Top 10 Eccentric Birds

Ecuador's Amazon eco-lodges – Sarah Gilbert

Quito: On assignment

How to make Ecuadorian locro – Lyn Hughes

Cotopaxi reflected in lake ( reflected in lake (Shutterstock)

Capturing it all on film

Mountains don’t move much, but that doesn’t make their majesty easy to capture. Steve Davey helps you take better peak pictures in his guide to mountain photography.

If it’s inspiration you’re after, then look no further than the photos taken by our readers on their travels in Ecuador. They are well worth a look...

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Photography tips: mastering mountains – Steve Davey

Readers' photos of Ecuador

Farmer on horseback watching volcano erupt ( on horse, watching volcano (Shutterstock)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Ecuador Travel Guide is a great starting point. Make sure you drop by the Ecuador Essential Info page as well, for more everyday (but equally vital) information. And we’ve rounded up the latest travel news from Ecuador too.

If you have a particular question about Ecuador, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about Ecuador. The answer to yours might already be there.

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Ecuador Travel Guide – The Wanderlust Team

Ecuador Essential Info – The Wanderlust Team

Travel news about Ecuador

Forum posts about Ecuador

Community content about Ecuador

Andean Indian playing traditional instrument ( Indian playing traditional instrument (Shutterstock)

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From Amazonian odysseys and volcanic adventures to Latin-flavoured city breaks, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.

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Our Trip Finder can help you find adventures in Ecuador

Main image: Indian lady selling fabrics in Otavalo (Shutterstock)

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