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Ecuador’s wide variety of terrain – everything from cities to rainforests to mountainous peaks – translates to an equally wide variety of activities. Visitors come to scale volcanoes, spot wildlife in the rainforest, peruse the wares of brightly dressed Quichua women, and to receive a spiritual cleansing from a traditional shaman. History buffs are just as satisfied as outdoor enthusiasts thanks to Quito’s 25 glorious churches and convents as well as more than 40 museums.

Things to do in Ecuador

Basílica del Voto Nacional

For a bird’s-eye view of Quito's Old Town, climb the 380-foot-high spires of this church, which is perched on a hill northeast of Plaza de la Indepencia. Modeled after Nôtre-Dame, the massive neo-gothic edifice is decorated with stained glass and elaborate, monkey-shaped gargoyles.

At the corner of Carchi and Venezuela Sts., Quito, 011-593-2-228-9428
Tags: views | things to do | architecture | religious

Craft villages

If you find yourself with a bit of extra time in Otavalo, consider venturing out to shop the wares of a few nearby towns, some of which have unique claims to fame. Calderón, for example, is known for masapán dolls (brightly colored bread-dough figurines), Cayambe for bizcochos (biscuits served with cheese and caramelized milk), and Cotacachi is the leather-making capital of the country, with exquisite products at the best prices.

Outside Otavalo,
Tags: things to do | traditional | crafts | market

El Pailón del Diablo

About 600-feet-high, El Pailon del Diablo (meaning “Devil’s Cauldron”) is the largest waterfall in the area. To get there, drive down the road to Puyo until you see the sign for the canyon. From there, park your car and make the 20 minute hike to the wet wonder on foot. Locals say it’s good luck to pass underneath.

On the road between Baños and Puyo,
Tags: views | things to do | outdoors | waterfall

Folklore Olga Fisch

The Hungarian artist who owns this shop works with indigenous artisans to bridge folk art with traditional fine art. Check out the hand-woven rugs, tapestries, and clothing as well as the locally crafted pottery. When you’re finished, relax with a hot tea in the charming garden restaurant.

Colon Ave. E10-53 (at Caamaño St.), Quito, 011-593-2-254-1315,
Tags: things to do | traditional | crafts | culinary

Follow in Darwin's Footsteps

The best way to see all of the islands of the Galapagos is by ship. Opt for a seven-night cruise aboard the Eclipse – an intimate, yet luxurious, 210-foot ship that holds only 48 guests. Packages include daily excursions with naturalist guides to the islands, where you can snorkel with sea lions and mingle with blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises. Cruises leave from Baltra Island in the Galapagos.

Columbus Travel, 877-436 7512 (from the US) or 011-593-2-254 7587,
Tags: cruise | expensive | smart splurge | things to do | wildlife

Fundación Guayasamín

The three buildings that comprise the Fundación Guayasamín are filled with artworks by Oswaldo Guayasamin (1919–1999), Ecuador’s most beloved artist. Replicas of his political protest art – such as mountains aflame and haunting skeletal figures – pop up in shops and markets throughout the country.

Calle Jose Bosmediano 543, Quito, 011-593-2-244-6455, (Spanish only)
Tags: art | things to do | culture | museum

Horseback ride through the Andes

A trip to Ecuador is not complete without a horseback ride through Andean terrain. Hosteria Hacienda Pinsaqui arranges journeys that include stops at Incan ruins and at the emerald-hued crater lake, Laguna Cuicocha.

Hosteria Hacienda Pinsaqui, Panamericana Norte km. 5, Otavalo, 011-593-6-294-6116,
Tags: views | things to do | outdoors | tour | horseback riding

Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco

Dating to 1535, this church is the oldest building in Quito. Visit the museum inside to see masterworks from the Quiteña school, a religious, home-grown theory of sculpture that arose in the 18th century and focused on the anatomical intricacy of the human body. The highlight of the collection is a series of macabre paintings depicting the seven deadly sins.

On the corner of Cuenca 477 and Sucre, Quito, 011-593-2-228-1124
Tags: historic | things to do | architecture

La Compañía de Jesús

This over-the-top baroque masterpiece of a church took more than 160 years to complete and supposedly used seven tons of gold leaf on the interior. Visitors will notice the widespread use of the sun, an important Inca symbol, in the intricate exterior design. Concerts are occasionally held in the church.

On Garcia Moreno near Sucre, Quito, 011-593-2-258-1895, (Spanish only)
Tags: historic | things to do | architecture | religious

La Virgen de Quito

Consider it mandatory to take a taxi up to this enormous, 148-foot-high, winged statue, which sits on top of El Panecillo hill overlooking Quito. The steel statue, which was completed in 1976, is the masterpiece of Spanish artist Agustin de la Herran Matorras.

El Panecillo Hill, Quito,
Tags: things to do | culture | monument

Mirador el Panecillo

For a sweeping view of Baños, try the hike that starts at the southern end of Juan Léon Mera, a main street, and continues for a half hour to the Mirador el Panecillo hill, where a statue of the town’s protector stands sentinel.

southern end of Juan Léon Mera, Baños,
Tags: hiking | views | things to do | outdoors

Mitad del Mundo

It’s touristy, but as long as you’re in Ecuador you might as well visit the Equatorial monument, which is located about 8 miles north of Quito. Here, you can have your photo taken with one foot in the Southern Hemisphere and one in the North. (Never mind that that’s not quite true – the actual equator is a few hundred feet away.)

8 miles north of Quito on Ave. Manuel Córdova Galarza, 011-593-3-295-9632,
Tags: things to do | monument

Monasterio de Santa Catalina

This white-washed monastery and citadel dates back to 1579. Guided tours of the nuns quarters and the monastery are available in English and explain of the mysticism surrounding the nunnery, including the many miracles believed to have been performed here by Sister Ana de los Angeles de Monteagudo. The cloistered nuns are also well-known for the amazing handmade cosmetic potions, health elixirs, and sweets that they sell.

Burgos St., Quito, 011-593-3-295-9632,
Tags: things to do | religious

Mountain bike through the jungle

Bike rides don’t get more thrilling than the one that winds 37 miles between Baños and Puyo, passing scores of scenic waterfalls (including El Pailón del Diablo) and jungle vistas along the way. The mostly downhill trip is best done with the assistance of a tour operator like Isazul, which provides vehicle support along the way and picks guests up when they arrive in Puyo.

Islazul Tours, 011-593-2-222-4393,
Tags: biking | views | things to do | outdoors | waterfall

Museo Nacional del Banco Central

This enormous museum covers art from prehistoric times to the present. Don't miss the Sala de Arqueologia, an exhibit with pieces dating back to 11,000 BC, including pottery reproductions of shrunken heads, and tools and furniture used by pre-Incan people. Plaques throughout the museum describe the displays in English.

Ave. Patria (between 6 de Diciembre and 12 de Octubre Aves.), Quito, 011-593-2-222-3259, (Spanish only)
Tags: things to do | culture | history | museum

Otavalo Market

The indigenous crafts market here is one of the most well known in the Andes, if not all of South America. Although the market has some vendors on weekdays that sell items like woven panama hats and jewelry, get there at dawn on a busy Saturday so you don’t miss the weekly livestock swap. Bring small bills.

Plaza de los Ponchos, Otavalo,
Tags: things to do | traditional | crafts | market

Plaza de la Independencia

Don’t leave Quito without dedicating an afternoon to the Plaza de la Independencia (also known as Plaza Grande) at center of Old Town. Here, you’ll find many important buildings like the Palacio del Gobierno, the Catedral, and the former home of Juan Díaz de Hidalgo (one of the Spanish conquerors who founded Quito).

Tags: historic | things to do | architecture | religious

Scale a Volcano

Climb to the icy top of Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano. Summiting the peak of this 19,347-foot beast requires a spirit of adventure, a sense of endurance (it’s a 6-hour long trek), and the assistance of an experienced guide (we recommend anyone from the Ecuadorian Alpine Institute). There hasn’t been a major eruption since 1904, but rest assured that Ecuador’s volcanologists are consistently monitoring it.

Ecuadorian Alpine Institute; At the corner of Ramirez Dávalos 136 and Amazonas, office 102, Quito, 011-593-2-565-465,
Tags: expensive | smart splurge | things to do | adventure | climbing

Shaman cleansing in Illuman

This tiny village just up the hill from Hacienda Pinsaqui is known for its shaman population. For an authentic evil-spirit cleansing, ask the hacienda’s staff to arrange a visit. There’s a tiny old lady, Luce Otavalo, who is said to be particularly powerful.

Hosteria Hacienda Pinsaqui, Panamericana Norte km. 5, 011-593-6-294-6116,
Tags: things to do | culture | traditional | religious

Soak in natural hot springs

It’s essential to experience the local ritual of soaking in the public thermal baths at La Piscina de La Virgen, where two very hot (120 degrees) pools sit at the base of a lush mountain, just steps from where an ice-cold waterfall tumbles off the rocks. For an invigorating experience, walk beneath the cold water just before you enter the hot springs.

Baños, 011-593-3-274-0462
Tags: hot springs | things to do | traditional | bathhouse

Teatro Nacional Sucre

Fashioned after European opera houses, the 18th-century colonial theater’s once-crumbling Corinthian columns and bas-reliefs have been returned to their former glory as part of an ongoing process of restoration that began in the ‘50s. The glorious, refurbished building stands as a testament to the city’s restoration efforts.

Manabi St. (between Guayaquil and Flores Sts.), Quito, 011-593-2-228-2136, (Spanish Only)
Tags: historic | theater | things to do | culture | architecture


This gimmicky, yet amusing sky tram takes adventurous visitors to the top of Volcán Pichincha for panoramic views of Quito as well as the opportunity to peer into the crater of the volcano. Pichincha has erupted periodically since 1999, when it covered the city with ash, but don’t let that keep you from going to see it – vocanologists monitor it closely and close off the area when volcanic activity seems imminent.

Entrance on Ave. Occidental, Quito,
Tags: views | things to do | outdoors

The Kapawi Ecolodge

Nestled deep in the jungle, the Kapawi Ecolodge is only accessible by air. Visitors come to meet the indigenous Achuar people who run the property, as well as to participate in the excellent daily excursions, which range from bird-watching (the surrounding area is home to 540+ known species) to canoe rides. The brave can even swim in a river teeming with piranha and pink dolphins.

Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve, Kapawi (located 150 miles southeast of Quito), 011-593-4-228-5711,
Tags: expensive | smart splurge | things to do | outdoors | culture | wildlife | adventure

Volcano watching

For a closer look at Tungurahua’s fireworks, sign up with Hacienda Manteles for a trip to the observation station at Las Antenas, which is just 10 miles from the crater. Come prepared for a workout – whether you make the four-and-a-half-hour trek on foot, by bike, or on horseback, it’s a grueling one.

Hacienda Manteles, 30 minutes south of Baños, 011-593-2-223-3484,
Tags: views | things to do | outdoors

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