There are many places in Ecuador that you may want to include in your itinerary when you visit. I started with descriptions of the largest cities first. While I wouldn’t want to live in these metropolises, they are fun to visit and offer plenty of excitement and diversions.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador and will most likely be your first stop if you arrive by plane. It’s a long and narrow city, precariously clinging to the steep cliffs and utilizing every suitable piece of land available for expansion. One of the great places to visit in Quito is Calle La Ronda. This is a street in historical Quito that has been completely restored.
Guayaquil is Quito’s rival to the south, a hot, languid city that has been refurbished and re-designed to make it a destination well worth visiting.
Cuenca is the colonial jewel of Ecuador, a city of art and artisans, music, culture and fine architecture.
Cotacachi is north of Quito, a small town known for its leather craftsmanship and the home of Ecuador’s participatory democracy. It’s the music capital of the country and one of those places in Ecuador that expats find most appealing.
Vilcabamba is a tiny town known the world over as the Valley of Longevity. It’s 4 hours from Cuenca and an hour from Loja. Locals reportedly live past the century mark. The sleepy town has become a mecca for forward-thinking expats.
Ibarra, the White City, is three hours north of Quito and 45 minutes from Cotacachi, an attractive Ecuador destination for those who want to stay off the beaten path and enjoy lots of outdoor activities.
Otavalo, the huge indigenous market town, bustles with commercial life and creativity all week long. Saturday is the big market day, when you can find indigenous crafts, textiles, art, paintings and souvenirs and plenty of good street food. Go early for best selection or later for better bargaining power.
Banos is a small town up in the mountains, a great place in Ecuador for enjoying a soak in the hot springs or thrilling to the antics of Tungurahua, an active volcano.
Atuntaqui is between Ibarra and Cotacachi on the Pan American highway. Although there is nothing particularly remarkable about this town for its textiles and clothing industry, the New Year’s Parade is a startling expose (literally) as men dress up in skimpy women's costumes and strut their stuff. Not many places in Ecuador offer you such a raunchy good time.
Caranqui - a few kilometers south of Ibarra is a small village with plenty of historical interest. It is the birthplace of Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, and the site of several Inca ruins and a museum/temple of the sun to Atahualpa.
San Antonio de Ibarra - a small town whose major artisan streets run parallel and uphill to a central square. You’d swear every shop in town belongs to a woodcarver. The woodworkers carve everything from inexpensive wood trinkets to exquisite sculptures and religious art.
Chachimbiro is the name of a hot springs area about 30 minutes from Ibarra. The route takes you through several picturesque villages, past an old hacienda and ends at several spas where you can soak in the healing waters. About an hour from Cotacachi, it’s a favorite hangout for Gary and me.
Laguna Yahuarcocha is a few kilometers from Ibarra. There is a race track around the lake, as well as restaurants and hostels. It’s a pleasant place to spend the day.
Peguche is a small village with artisans who specialize in hand-woven textiles and musical instruments. Stay at the charming adobe hostel Casa Sol and visit the nearby waterfall, where you can picnic, hike and laze away the day in a pastoral, unspoiled natural setting.
Ecuador beaches in the north of the country include Atacames, Tonsupa and Same, up near the Colombian border. These destinations have fine beaches and are tranquil during the week but packed full of partying Ecuadorians on weekends and holidays.
Ecuador beaches down south are Puerto Lopez, one of the best places in Ecuador from which to reach Isla de Plata, an island off the coast which is called the Poor Man’s Galapagos. Also, the Ruta del Sol heading north to Ayampe, Montañita and Olon, easily reachable from either Guayaquil or Manta.
Montañita is a popular surfing beach and Olon is one of the top places in Ecuador where the wealthy of Guayaquil congregate for fun in the sun and sand. There you’ll find their large beach and vacation homes.
The Galapagos Islands are in a category by themselves. These rare and unique islands are home to some of the world’s most unusual animal and bird species.