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Top Destinations in Ecuador’s Andes Mountains

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Ecuador straddles the Equator and features a 400-mile stretch of the Central Andes mountains. Steeped in culture and history dating back to pre-Columbian civilizations, the highland region of Ecuador is home to ancient ruins, colonial cities, and breathtaking natural landscapes. Here are the best places to visit in Ecuador’s highland region.

 

Top Travel Destinations in the Ecuadorian Andes

  • Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and one of the most popular destinations among travelers. At 9,350’ above sea level, this is Ecuador’s most iconic colonial city, featuring the best preserved “old town” in the country. Highlights include:
  • La Mitad del Mundo & the Intiñan Museum: A giant monument marks the equator line, as calculated by the 18th century French geodesic mission. Improvements in mapping equipment after this mission showed that the actual equator line is several hundred meters away from the monument and is now recognized at the Intiñan Museum, also on site. Here, you’ll find interactive exhibits, cultural presentations, restaurants, and a number of souvenir shops.
  • El Panecillo: This hilltop monument overlooks the entire city of Quito, offering fantastic panoramic views. Crowning the hill is a 30m aluminum monument known as the “Winged Virgin” or the “Virgin of Quito,” inspired by sculptor Bernardo de Legarda’s 18th century model. For an even better view of the city, pay a few dollars to climb inside the monument.
  • Old Town: This is one of the best preserved colonial districts in all of South America, with hotels, cafes, shops, streets, and other buildings preserved just as they were built hundreds of years ago while Spain was colonizing the region.
  • Carondelet Palace:Tours of the presidential palace will show you important meeting rooms, various artifacts and pieces relevant to the presidential administration, and even the balcony overlooking the Plaza de Independencia, where the president gives many addresses.
  • TeleferiQo & Vulqano Park: A gondola style lift takes you right up the side of the scenic Pichincha Volcano, where you can rent horses or hike even higher up this iconic peak that overlooks Quito. At the bottom is a small theme park with rides and arcade games.
  • La Compañía de Jesús Church: Considered the most beautiful church in the country, this Jesuit cathedral is gilded inside and offers free tours in Spanish and English. The gold-leaf finish highlight the Baroque architecture of the 17th century when construction started.
  • La Basílica del Voto Nacional: Another impressive church is this impressive Gothic cathedral, situated on a promontory directly opposite El Panecillo. A guided or unguided tour will leave you in awe as you explore the intricately carved stone towers and walkways.
  • El Ejido & Carolina Parks: These big urban parks are a great place to relax on the highland grass and perhaps listen to a local music artist playing a song or enjoy a picnic.
  • Cotopaxi National Park: Just outside the city is an expansive national park where hiking, horseback riding, and trekking are popular ways to see the paramo ecosystem. This is definitely one of the best sites for trekking in Ecuador.
  • Otavalo: The largest indigenous market in South America is about an hour north of Quito, featuring a rainbow of textiles and all manner of handicrafts that make for the best souvenirs.

 
  • Cuenca As the 3rd-largest city in Ecuador, Cuenca is considered one of the country’s best preserved colonial towns. Comparatively quiet and relaxed next to metropolitan Guayaquil and Quito, this is an ideal destination for travelers looking for a bit of a mountain retreat. It’s also one of the top residential destinations of US expats.
  • Churches: While no churches quite compare to the daunting cathedrals of Quito, the charming churches of Cuenca are a sight to behold, including the Old Church of Cuenca, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and the Church of El Carmen de Asuncion, among others.
  • Cajas National Park: Great for camping and hiking, Cajas National Park is one of Ecuador’s largest national parks and features a good example of the paramo ecosystem as well as sweeping landscapes and powerful Andean waterfalls.
  • Piedra del Agua Hot Spring & Spa: This is perhaps one of the premiere spas and hot springs in all of Ecuador. It features hot springs, Turkish baths, red and blue mud pools, underground contrast pools, a Japanese pool, and steam boxes.

 
  • Mindo Less known than most tourist destinations in Ecuador, but just as beautiful, is the town of Mindo in the cloud forest of the Andes. The tranquil natural scene is highlighted by:
  • butterfly gardens
  • zipline excursions
  • A mountain valley cable car
  • Excellent access to the nearby Amazon rainforest

 
  • Baños Considered the adventure capital of Ecuador, Baños has it all for the thrill seeker:
  • Activities include ziplines, hiking, bungee jumping, mountain biking, quad/ ATV tours, open-air bus tours, and more, all for prices that are unbeatable.
  • In the shadow of the Tungurahua Volcano, you can also trek the slopes of the mountain or even dare the swing on the edge of the world at the renowned Casa del Arbol (treehouse) or traverse the mountain valleys in cable cars.
  • A tour of the waterfalls will acquaint you with several of the most impressive cascades in Ecuador, including Manto de la Novia (Bride’s Veil Falls) and Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron Falls). Plus, the charming hostels and cafes here are some of the nicest in the country.
By Ecuador & Galapagos Insiders
By Ecuador & Galapagos Insiders
Ecuador & Galapagos Insiders is a leading travel company based in Ecuador and run by local tour guides and travel specialists, we are happy to provide expert and free trip planning advice, no commitment fee involved.