If you’re a nature enthusiast or an adventure seeker, then Ecuador’s national parks await! There are great parks in all four regions of the country - rainforest, highlands, coast, and the Galapagos islands.
They’re also perfect for active travelers who want their vacation to be more than just a beach getaway: biking, kayaking, camping, rock climbing, zip lining, and white water rafting are just a few activities you might be able to do when you visit one of Ecuador’s national parks. Of course, any one of the country’s national parks is a veritable paradise for photographers and naturalists alike. If you’re hoping to experience the beauty without spiking your adrenaline, then keep in mind that walking tours and sightseeing expeditions are available in all of Ecuador’s national parks as well.
When choosing which parks to visit, consider staying in an eco-lodge to play your part in protecting these fragile ecosystems. Green lodges and hotels play an important role in the conservation of Ecuador’s natural environment.
Here’s a list of our top five choices for national parks in Ecuador you should visit on your next trip:
Galapagos National Park (Galapagos islands)
Just 600 miles off the Pacific Coast of mainland Ecuador, the entire Galapagos archipelago is a National Park. The Galapagos Islands are one of the best-preserved island environments in the world. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of conservationists, the Galapagos Islands have changed very little since Charles Darwin visited back in 1835 and first theorized evolution.
The 200,000 annual travelers lucky enough to visit this sacred archipelago will have the chance to see a “living laboratory” of endemic species like the Giant Tortoises, Galapagos Penguins, Sharks, tropical fish, unique land & sea birds, marine & land iguanas, and countless other species native to the Islands.
The most popular activities in the Galapagos Islands are snorkeling, swimming, diving, bird spotting, hiking, and exploring the diverse highland & coastal ecosystems.
Cruises are the most common way to visit the Galapagos Islands and allow people to maximize their time in this special place; although there are cruises for all budgets, they tend to be more expensive than land-based tours, which are a fair alternative for those who want a bit more freedom in their Galapagos itinerary.
“To travel is to live.”
The Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador’s Amazonia, embodies biodiversity in its most resplendent presentations. Wildlife is at the heart of all visits to the Yasuni National Park, and visitors delight in the colorful mix of species that can be seen (or heard!) at all hours of the day.
Monkeys and other primates range in size from marmosets that are no bigger than your hand to the black howlers that stand tall at around 3 feet. More than 600 species of birds have been identified in the region too. And of course, it all depends on the healthy growth of the trees and shrubs - it is said that in any one acre of the Yasuni National Park, you can find more plant species than in all of North America!
The most popular activities here are nature walks (both day and night hikes, of course), visits to local indigenous communities, canoeing and kayaking down the Napo River, visiting one of the most renowned parrot clay licks in the jungle, fishing for piranhas, participating in conservation projects, ziplining through the canopy, and spending some time on skywalks and observation towers that put you right in the canopy.
The iconic Cotopaxi Volcano lends its name to this highland National Park in Ecuador. The best way to explore this park is either by trekking or horseback. Cotopaxi (along with Chimborazo) is one of Ecuador’s most iconic volcanoes, and notable for its remarkably symmetrical shape. It is also one of the few snow-capped peaks in Ecuador, making it a challenging climb for eager hikers.
Camping is also a fun way to experience Cotopaxi National Park. However, if you don’t want to camp it is conveniently close to Ecuador’s capital city of Quito or a number of highland haciendas that offer a more traditional lodging experience. If you are already planning a trip to Quito, then consider a day tour in Cotopaxi National Park - your morning starts bright and early with a short drive to the park, where you will explore and have lunch in the shadow of the volcano before heading back to your hotel in Quito.
Located on Ecuador’s sun-kissed Ruta del Sol (or “Road of the Sun”), this expansive national park comprises a large portion of the Manabi coastal province. The seafood here is second-to-none in Ecuador - especially the authentic shrimp ceviche - and the adventure is limited only to your own energy! Los Frailes Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, with soft white sand and towering cliffs. Isla de la Plata, just a few miles off the coast, is another top destination, offering explorers opportunities to hike and see the curious blue-footed boobies (the only ones in Ecuador that can be found outside of the Galapagos Islands). If you are lucky enough to snorkel here, you might come face to face with a manta ray, find yourself in a world of tropical fish, or even spot a humpback whale in the distance on its annual migration.
Cajas National Park is the closest one to the colonial town of Cuenca, making it perfect for short one-day extensions to itineraries visiting Cuenca. Classic outdoor activities like fishing, camping, and hiking are great ways to experience Cajas National Park, but it is also popular for wildlife exploration. Its altitude includes territory in both the cloud forest and the highlands, meaning that it has tremendous biodiversity for a mountain ecosystem. Many species of birds, including several species of hummingbirds and the majestic Andean condor, can be spotted here as well.
Refer to our Ecuador Infographic below for more details on the main Ecuador National parks we recommend visiting!
For any additional information on Ecuador’s main National Parks or to get advice or even just talk travel, do not hesitate to get in touch with our expert team of insiders who are always willing to help out! Contact us at anytime!