Ecuador. A gorgeous country on South America’s west coast, boasting a huge range of sights for the budding tourist; from the Amazon Jungle, volcanic mountain ranges, and the Galapagos Islands, to beautiful basilicas and palaces from the 16th Century. Just Googling Ecuador shows that there is so much to see and do, but to save you the sensory overload, this article narrows down some of the best places for you to visit. The first set of places are nature and wildlife based, to quell the budding explorer inside you. The second set of places are all man-made, highlighting the beauty of the centuries old architecture that landscapes this beautiful country.
Cotopaxi, a volcano that has erupted more than 50 times since the early 1700s, is situated inside the province of Cotopaxi. It is part of the set of volcanoes nicknamed the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, and it’s last eruption was in the August of 2015. The second highest summit in Ecuador is a fantastic one; the bright white of the peak and the typical blue skies of the region make for a beautiful holiday snap for back home.
If you’re a tad more adventurous than I, Cotopaxi is a popular mountain to climb! With up to 100 climbers tackling the summit on weekends, you can see why climbing restrictions have been tightened as of 2012. Don’t be put off, however, if you’re not a seasoned climber; there are mountain guide companies that hire out their guides especially for tourists.
Cotopaxi has featured in art throughout time; in 1862, Frederic Edwin Church painted the volcano, in The Star by H. G. Wells, the volcano makes a feature, and American rock bank The Mars Volta have a song named after the mountain which you can listen to here.
Named after the first president of Ecuador, Floreana Island is an island in the Galapagos Province. Dubbed as having ‘the most interesting human history of all the Galapagos Islands’ by galapagos.org, it is plain to see. It is home to the first postal office, established in 1793, and the first of the islands to be colonized by Ecuadorians. Interestingly, Floreana is also the site of several disappearances, the most notable being an Austrian baroness, who arrived on the island in the mid-1900s.
There are a few visitor sites on Floreana Island, the favourite being Cormorant Point. The highlight of the site is Flamingo Lagoon, where watching flamingos do their adorable thing is a must-see! Putting it into Google reveals the raw beauty of the place; rocky and sandy, and home to a host of flamingos (which stand out so strongly against the grey-blue waters). The Cormorant site has two beautiful beaches: the first being a green sand beach, made green by the olivine crystals, and the second being Flour Beach, made of pulverised coral. Flour Beach is a popular nesting ground for Green Sea Turtles, and many ray species swim through the shallow, shoreline waters. And if you’re a horticulturalist, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the point has a greater diversity than most areas on the Island.
Cajas National Park
Back to the mainland again, Cajas National Park is located in the province of Azuay. The word ‘Cajas’ takes root from the Quichua word ‘cassa’ meaning ‘gateway to snowy mountains’, which makes the gorgeous tundra landscape fit all the better. Alongside the natural world, there are twenty-eight established archaeological sites, Incan and Pre-Incan architecture, and a refuge hut, giving the park a feel of the best of both worlds.
The reason why Cajas National Park caught my eye was, ultimately, the animals that inhabit it. I imaged searched the park and, lo and behold, pictures of adorable alpacas came up- what other reason do you need to visit? Alongside alpacas, there are 44 mammalian species identified, including bats, pumas, foxes, and the Cajas Water Mouse (which is highly endangered). If mammals aren’t your speed, the park is home to an abundance of avifauna (which is made up of 157 bird species), making bird watching a very popular past time. Furthermore, the lagoons are home to at least 17 species of amphibian, including toads and frogs of all different shapes, sizes, and colours. This also means that there are plenty of insects about- so pack that repellent!
Compañía de Jesús
One of the most well-known churches in Ecuador, the Compañía de Jesús resides in Quito. The church itself is mind-blowing; the Catholic Church uses icons to help aid in prayer, but never have I ever seen a place of worship so decked out in gold leaf and gilded plaster. It certainly is something to behold.
Throughout its history, several architects (some of whom doubled as priests) have worked on the Compañía de Jesús, with the first stone being laid in 1605, and the construction being completed in 1765. Mariana de Jesús de Paredes, the patron saint of Ecuador, chose Compañía de Jesús to be her home after being sanctified there in the 1600s. The church also became the headquarters of the Jesuit order, and a school in the 1700s. It has been recorded that, once the Jesuits were forced to leave, many historical tomes were lost, meaning that there is nowhere near as much information left on Compañía de Jesús.
Today, Quito’s old district run tours especially for those travelling to the capital city of Ecuador. The tours are immensely popular and include Compañía de Jesús, as well as many other quaint and beautiful sights. They’re highly recommended, and are incredibly reasonably priced. If you’re saving your money, or just feel like it, you can always grab a street map of Quinto, and take a leisurely stroll around the beautiful city without a tour guide. Either way, you are sure to see some stunning sights, take in the sounds of a city, and smell the street food stalls, bound to draw you off route.
The Ecuador National Museum of Medicine
Staying in Quito, now, this museum caught my interest. Everywhere has that one museum: it’s got art, it’s got history, it’s got natural history, it’s got war history, it’s got an overpriced gift shop. These museums are so standard and uniform in that there are hundreds like them- they’re typical, still interesting, yes, but why visit one of those museums when you could visit a museum soaked in the rich history of the place you’re visiting? So medicine may not be for the faint-hearted, but this museum spans hundreds of years, up until the 19th Century, so not only are you getting a feel for the South American medicine scene, but also the development of it. As a brit, I know that our medicine was definitely lacking up until the Victorian era- wouldn’t it be so fascinating to see how the Ecuadorian’s handled health and wellbeing, and if they had any sense to it? (Or didn’t, like us. I mean, cavemen used to drill holes in people’s heads to relieve headaches- I haven’t got high hopes for old medicine.)
The history of the museum is nearly as interesting as the subject of it. Dr Eduardo Estrella founded it in March 1982, who studied medicine in Ecuador. His goal was to show the world a fuller history of the native and natural medicines of South America, and to help preserve the heritage of the country. I couldn’t think of a better museum, honestly. There’s one thing enjoying the delicious street food, and laughing with locals over a pint, but immersing yourself in the culture of a country will really add depth and knowledge to your stay. Appreciating the culture on a deeper level helps everyone, not just you!
And there we have it, my top five places to visit in Ecuador. All these places captivated me in some way. Whether it will be the views, the anecdotes, or the history, I hope they capture you in some way too. Happy holiday!