From the andes mountains to the amazon rainforest to the pacific ocean to the galápagos islands, Ecuador is a small country that celebrates life in South America. The major cities have the most gorgeous mountains, yet jungles, coastline, historic sites, and colonial cities are sprinkled throughout their lands. In fact, Ecuador is a nature lovers dream and a great place to visit as a popular tourist destination. So many times it gets mentioned as having the most beautiful and best cities in Ecuador.
The small country of Ecuador in Latin America offers travelers just about everything they could want to explore: From the historic city centers to the towering volcanoes to the animals of Galapagos Islands, or even the Amazon Rainforest — they have it all. In fact, Ecuador is considered a fantastic vacation spot for those who like to explore.
Best Cities in Ecuador
The Top 16 Cities for Tourists to Visit
You must remember that Its towns and cities should not be overlooked, as they are well worth visiting for their cultural heritage and gorgeous colonial architecture. If you love surfing then go to Montañita, if you are an adventure lover, Baños is for you, and the art lovers love to go to Cuenca. If you love churches, you should visit Quito, the capital city. But if you are a climber or hiker you will love to admire the highest mountain which is Mount Chimborazo. All the villages have plenty to offer a vacationer and you will have a different experience depending on where you go.
Discover the Top and Best Cities to Visit in Ecuador:
#1 Galapagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands are a chain of islands, or archipelago, in the eastern Pacific Ocean. They are part of the country of Ecuador, in South America. Of course, the #1 best destination in Ecuador is the Galapagos Islands, but first, you have to land in Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. A simple 3-hour flight and soon you will see the blue-footed booby birds, playful sea lions, and a visit to see the giant tortoises. I believe this could very well be one of the best Vacations you have ever had.
The Galápagos are best known for their diverse array of plant and animal and bird species. It has many endemic species, which means they are not found anywhere else in the world. While there are many incredible things to do in the Galapagos, the key is to respect the wildlife you are lucky enough to get to see.
The Galapagos is home to many bird species, including albatross, frigatebirds, penguins, and flightless cormorants. They also have marine iguanas and lava lizards scurrying about. With the cloud forest in the background, you will certainly enjoy your time spent here, especially in the Charles Darwin exhibits.
If you prefer being in the water, then take advantage of kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, and swimming. In fact, snorkeling is like scuba diving without the gear! You are going to LOVE this trip!
Once you arrive in Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galapagos, you will be whisked away to your cruise ships or other accommodation. Be sure to visit Puerto Ayora for its restaurants and stores. With its laid back atmosphere and delightful waterfront, this is a place where you can grab a meal and relax before heading out or coming back.
#2 Amazonian Rainforest
Now when we talk about the Amazonian Rainforest, you know that we really mean it. Besides the Galapagos Islands, this is another top destination. A visit to the Amazon is one of the best things you can do in all of South America. While it is not as large as the Peruvian Rainforest or the Brazilian one, it is still home to a great biodiversity. They have literally hundreds of animals and plants that call this jungle home. Plus, the Guayas River is a major river that is the most important river in South America that does not flow into the Atlantic ocean!
Wildlife is much more diverse and active in Coca. Diverse wildlife lives along the Napo River and within the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and Yasuni National Park
Here there are two cities, Coca and Tena, that are both the main hubs for the Amazonian Rainforest. You can get a short flight at a reasonable price from Quito to Coca in about 35 minutes. But to reach Tena, you have to drive for almost 4 hours!
Both are worth the journey. Tena is a secondary forest, where there is less wildlife, but this is completely an adventurer’s paradise. Here you can do things like ziplining and river rafting. Or head to the nearby waterfalls or caves to connect to the land.
Next and high up on the list of best places to visit, we have one of the largest cities in Ecuador; Guayaquil. Despite being the capital city of Ecuador, the city of Quito falls 2nds to Guayaquil when it comes to geography and overall population. The city of Guayaquil can be found resting on the Guayas River banks, which connect directly to the Pacific Ocean.
Being located near the Pacific Ocean, Guayaquil has a rather disorderly history of Spanish colonizers, pirates both french and English, and the army of Peru. It was also hit by a horrifying fire in the year 1896. But all that is in the past, as the city is now a successful commercial center, tourism, and trade. Some attractions in Guayaquil are restaurants and cool leather shops that are easy to access along the roads of Cerro Santa Ana. Those who reach the hilltop will be greeted by a breath-taking view of the whole of Guayaquil.
Now going back to the sea, one of the best things to do in the city of Guayaquil is to go to Parque Historico, a park that is home to a zoo, playgrounds, nature reserves, monuments, and green space as far as the eye can see for you to relax.
There is also the Malecon 2000, a family-friendly esplanade at the River of Guayas that is 1.5 miles or 2.4 kilometers long. You can enjoy dining, modern entertainment, and a bunch of shopping selections when you go on a vacation to Ecuador.
Right outside Guayaquil, you will also find the towns with beautiful beaches in Ecuador. These towns are Montanita and Salinas. Get your beach game on the best beaches, scuba dive, surf, and have fun under the sun on the Pacific shores. Guayaquil is the biggest city on the list.
#4 Cuenca, a Small Town
Cuenca is many people’s favorite town in Ecuador to visit. Cuenca certainly makes up for its small-town size mostly because of its rustic charm but in fact, is the third-largest city in Ecuador. This magical city resting in the highlands has its closest beaches along the Pacific Coast. The charming historic downtown has earned recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its rich architecture. Two of the most fascinating constructions are the Old Cathedral, Iglesia de El Sagrario, and the new cathedral, Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción. Both are great for a visit, especially on the hop-on-hop-off bus.
Some of the best things to do in Cuenca are to visit the markets of Cuenca to shop for souvenirs, to watch people, and to try authentic local cuisine. You can also go horseback riding. Cuenca is also one of the best places to buy a Panama hat, which contrary to popular belief, is actually from Ecuador. Head to Mirador Turi, a lookout point south of the city that will give you unforgettable views.
Cuenca is much calmer and the perfect place to eat street food. It is much better than the buzzing capital city of Quito and the rhythm of life is slower here. I even think the people are friendlier. Rich in beautiful colonial buildings, a trip to Cuenca can often feel like you are stepping back in time. Cobblestone streets, gossiping nuns, and ladies in traditional dress are all common sites. While not great for a week, Cuenca certainly makes for a lovely day trip or overnight stay.
#5 Cotopaxi National Park
Cotopaxi is known worldwide as the home to wild horses, vibrant blooming flowers, and of course, the ever towering Cotopaxi Volcano high up in the mountains. It is one of the highest, if not the highest active volcano in the whole world. Not only that, it is the second-highest volcano in Ecuador at 19,347 feet (5,897 meters) above sea level!
In fact, Cotopaxi erupted more than 50 times since 1738. The most violent historical eruptions of the Cotopaxi volcano were in 1744, 1768, 1877, and 1904. This majestic, snow-covered, symmetrical stratovolcano is located on the eastern Cordillera of the Ecuadorian Andes, about 37 miles south of Quito. At the moment, it has been dormant for over 70 years, which is an unusually long interval given its recent history.
Visiting Quito? You could easily make a day trip to go see Cotopaxi National Park. The best time to go is during the dry, windy season from mid-July until early October. Don’t go during the rainy season. Here you can hike to the summit or bike down the mountain. You may want to get a tour guide or find out about tour operators in the area.
#6 Quito, the Capital City of Ecuador
Quito is the second-highest capital city in the world at an altitude of 9350 feet (or 2850 meters) above sea level. With a population of over 1.6 million people, Quito has the best of both the modern and the traditional worlds for good reason. It has a rich history of the Inca Empire, yet you can buy a coke on almost every corner of the streets! It has a rich architectural beauty and you will find in the “old town” literally hundreds of historic churches and beautiful colonial buildings in its historic city center. If you take the gondola to the Pichincha Volcano on a clear day, you will have a viewpoint that is unparalleled to be the best viewpoint of the city.
This city’s old town is the place where most Ecuadorian vacations begin and end at the international airport. It is largely praised as one of the most authentic and best-preserved areas in all of South America. The area even earned the title of a Unesco world heritage site in 1978. Plus it has the most famous cathedral in Ecuador: Basilica del Voto Nacional. It is a top attraction due to its panoramic views of Quito, religious significance, and architecture.
I find the best things to do is to visit the Plaza de La Independencia, museums, shops, and monasteries. Want pre-Columbian colonial art? Go no further than the Museo del Banco Central, which is one of the best places to visit around a museum.
#7 Mitad del Mundo
If you landed in the beautiful city of Quito, just North of there is a fun place for travelers to go for a day trip or a short bus ride. This is one of the most famous landmarks in all of Ecuador: the equator line. It literally translates to the “middle of the world,” or “Mitad del Mundo”. Which if you can believe it is now in two separate locations!
One monument was built where they thought the equator line was and the other one is only about 800 feet away! Both are fun. While this monument is not on the actual equator, it sits where the French Geodesic Mission believed the line was in the 1700s. The other one is where the actual line is! The exhibits show a glimpse of the indigenous communities in Ecuador. Whether scientifically accurate or just for show, they are certainly both entertaining.
#8 Otavalo Market
Famous as Ecuador’s most well-known market town, Otavalo Market is just a short bus ride from the capital city of Quito. Those in search of textiles, leather goods, and handcrafts can find some here. From textiles to silver jewelry, musical instruments to leather shops, and art, there is something special for everyone. All purchases you make in the Otavalo market are supporting the indigenous communities dressed in their traditional dress. It is typically high up on most tourist itineraries and is a great place for an overnight stay.
Trading has been taking place in these streets since pre-Incan times and still today this remains one of the biggest and most important markets in the country. The weekly Saturday market brings an eruption of color and things bargain hunters won’t want to miss. The busiest days are Sundays when market stalls fill about 1/3 of the town with indigenous people. But you can come any day of the week, just remember to bring small bills and coins, as they don’t take credit.
Mindo is situated within a beautiful cloud forest just a couple of hours’ drive from Quito. It is a popular retreat for nature lovers, bird-watchers, and backpackers wanting to take a day hike on the gringo trail. In fact, Mindo, Ecuador, is one of the premier birding destinations in the world! The biodiversity of the Mindo Cloud Forest is also known for its numerous bromeliads, butterflies, and orchids.
Mindo is a tiny town (small city) where you can walk through butterfly farms, go mountain biking, and enjoy horseback riding. You will feel the wind through your hair on at least one of these activities. Of course, for those looking for a more sedentary lifestyle, Mindo is good for passing the time lying in a hammock!
#10 Montanita – Hippie and Surf Spot
This coastal city or town is known for its laid-back atmosphere and great surfing and is known as a popular destination among backpackers and young people. In fact, our family went for a visit, because each of my boys wanted to learn how to surf. They enjoyed every minute of it as we stayed at the Balsa Surf Camp near the beautiful beaches. It was an oasis of fun, relaxation all on a clear day!
Each summer Montañita bursts into life with a fairly even mix of sun-worshiping foreigners and sea-loving locals. It is a trendy spot, where there are always a lot of 20-something backpackers around. Many stay much longer than they had planned, as they enjoy the surfer lifestyle. An ideal destination for taking a break from the fast-paced lifestyle and taking some time out to enjoy walking around barefoot and discovering your inner hippie. The food was great, the atmosphere was interesting and there is always something to do, like shopping or street fairs.
#11 Puerto Lopez
Have you heard of Puerto Lopez? In fact, this list would be incomplete without Puerto López, It is a favorite destination for whale watching. It is not exactly the most picturesque town, but it certainly has plenty to offer the person who loves the seaside. I also think that a great time to go whale watching is between the months of June and September, this is when you will see them jumping into the sky! Plus this is around the time they mate and give birth. Also, while you are there, you should enjoy the Parque Nacional Machalilla, the only coastal national park in the country of Ecuador. Plus it is home to the last dry rainforest.
#12 Banos, a small city known as Baños de Agua Santa
A thrill-seeker’s paradise, the adorable city of Baños lies at the foot of the active volcano Tungurahua. No trip to Baños is complete without a bridge jump or afternoon’s white water river rafting. This city is named after the hot springs from the thermal waters of the Tungurahua Volcano. Known as the “gateway to the Amazon”, it is one of the most popular cities to visit in Ecuador and an excellent place to visit.
It is immensely popular with backpackers, as well as mountain bikers. The bikers love the downhill route from Baños to Puyo passing the Devil’s Cauldron Waterfall. And if you love a safari, Banos is a favorite departure point for the jungle! Bungee jumping, zip-lining, river rafting, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cable cars soar over the Pastaza River. You can also visit the swing at the end of the world at the Casa del Árbol or the Tree House.
There are many waterfalls cascading thousands of feet into the river gorges. The Pailon de Diablo waterfall surges over a gorge where the Rio Verde and Rio Pastaza meet. The site is almost unbelievable and very impressive. With trickling cascades and luxurious thermal waters, there’s plenty of sightseeing and relaxing activities to do.
More incredible views await as there are hundreds of waterfalls in the area. One of the most incredible is the Mantle of the Bride waterfall or El Manto de la Novia, which got its name as it looks like a bride’s veil. Or take a staircase down to the dramatic Pailon del Diablo, the Devil’s Bowl Waterfall. This is one of the top things to do.
We head to the south of Ecuador to our next best city to visit, the small city of Loja. Loja is a city close to the border, along with Peru. The city is known for its calm and tourists are greeted with friendly locals. Loja is a city famous for its rich culture of vibrant music, with small bars and clubs often playing live music.
While Loja city is fun when you want to spend a clear day going around looking at the majestic city gates and colonial streets, it is also a starting point to get to Southern Ecuador’s gems.
One of these gems is the town of Vilcabamba which is famous for its longevity and rich ex-pat community of modern and indigenous people from different corners of the globe. Loja also gives easy access to a hotspot for nature lovers and bird watchers known as the Podocarpus Natural Park.
Next on the list of the best places in Ecuador is the lovely town of Vilcabamba. This place is a hotspot for retirees and those looking for a relaxing and peaceful vacation.
Why do you ask? This is because many of the locals here in Vilcabamba believe they live so long because of the fresh mountain air and hassle-free lifestyles, giving the town the nickname “town of longevity”.
The town is one of the best places that have mountains that are appealing to adventurous, young people who love to go on relaxing walks.
The nature park is also there and has social activities such as horseback riding for those looking for a little fun, even during the rainy season.
Vilcabamba also houses a handful of tourist services and offices which are a plus for tired hikers who want to end their day with a relaxing foot massage or a trip to the spa. All of which comes at a reasonable price.
Next on the best cities with the best places list, we have the top mountaineering and trekking spot in the whole of Ecuador, Riobamba. The city of Riobamba is definitely a city you shouldn’t miss when on a trip to Ecuador.
The town is the closest town to the volcano Chimborazo, making it a starting point for most able and young people who love to go trekking. Aside from the breathtaking mountains, there are loads of activities that one can do when in Riobamba. Because of the altitude and the location of the volcano is on the equatorial bulge, Chimborazo’s summit is undeniably the highest point in the world.
The point is one of the best places for mountaineers and is the farthest from the surface of the earth, trumping even the renowned Mount Everest. The volcano should only be submitted by the most experienced of hikers, as it is one of the most challenging climbs in the world.
Despite that, a lot of travelers prefer going the easier route when hiking or mountain biking over at the Chimborazo reserve. Riobamba also has a handful of churches and museums that hold astonishing history. If you are looking for historic sites, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart or the Santa Barbara Cathedral should be your pick.
You can visit Parque Maldonado and other parks to get a taste of Riobamba’s modern life. You can also find the famous Nariz del Diablo in Riobamba.
#16 San Antonio de Ibarra
Last on the list but definitely not the least, we have the city of Ibarra or SanAntonio de Ibarra. The city used to be a vital outpost for the Incas when they built cities within Ecuador. The city is famous for its leather goods and white houses, giving it the name “the White City.” It sits north of the Andean villages and mountains.
The city is home to art galleries and restaurants where most of the university students loiter. The churches and city plaza are also the main attractions for tourists going around.Ibarra is also home to the liberty train or Tren de la Libertad. The train goes out of Ibarra station on a day trip on Sundays and Thursdays weekly, traveling down to the town of Salinas where you will see fine Afro-Ecuadorian culture at its finest.
You can also venture into Laguna Yahuarcocha, a relaxing place for you to unwind, or Carangui village, which was rumored to be Atahualpa’s birthplace. Atahualpa was an Incan ruler. The village also houses the Inka Huasi Museum. Then, just a bit afield, you’ll be in Otavalo and witness its beauty which includes the Otavalo market where you will find delicious street food, and the Peguche waterfalls.
You can also find majestic towns in Ecuador such as Puerto Ayora where you will find the Charles Darwin research station, home to giant tortoises and many other fascinating animals. This town, along with Puerto Lopez, is from Galapagos Island, also known as Santa Cruz Island.
Cities that were not in the list but still great options include La Paz, Azuay; the home of Cajas National park, Santo Domingo de los Colorados, and Bahia de Caraquez.
There’s No Place Like Ecuador
Whether it’s an overnight stay or a day trip, you can bet that your trip to Ecuador will be something you won’t regret, and for good reason!
The Pacific Ocean’s Ecuador has some of the most mesmerizing and beautiful places in the world from the Galapagos Islands to the Amazon Rainforest. Best of all? There is always something new to enjoy in Ecuador!