Ecuador is a prime destination for travelers who like an exciting mix of cultural and natural attractions. In Ecuador’s cities, visitors will find all kinds of ornate cathedrals and unique museums. Beyond the cities, there are national parks and nature preserves to explore, along with ancient volcanoes, wildlife-filled valleys, and historic sites that tell the story of Ecuador’s past. Then there are the Galapagos Islands, which boast a dizzying array of protected animals and marine creatures. This safe and welcoming country has something to offer to travelers from all walks of life. Photo: tcostner/Fotolia

»Galapagos National Park

Galapagos National Park

Thanks to its status as a World Heritage Site, visitors to Galapagos National Park are expected to do everything they can to preserve the unique wildlife and landscape of this special park. The park is the perfect place for spotting some of the island’s most iconic and rare wildlife and marine life. All visitors enter the park with a knowledgeable guide who is authorized to work in the Galapagos. Walking paths wind through the most picturesque parts of the park and give visitors an inside look at all that this unique place has to offer. Camping is permitted in some parts of Galapagos National Park, and fishing is allowed in designated areas as well. All of the Galapagos is governed by strict rules, so travelers should conduct their own research before embarking on a trip to the islands. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: robert cicchetti/Fotolia

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»Yasuni National Park

Yasuni National Park

Known for being the largest protected area in mainland Ecuador, Yasuni National Park boasts a diverse population of flora and fauna. Three large rivers and several important watershed areas converge in this 982,000 hectare park, which was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989. Studies have shown that there are more than 500 species of birds and 173 species of mammals that live within Yasuni National Park. The park is a popular destination for trekking, backpacking, ecotourism, and river cruises. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: kalypso0/Fotolia

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»Agua Blanca

Agua Blanca

The settlement of Agua Blanca is located in one of the oldest archaeological sites in South America. Known for its intriguing mix of culture, natural beauty, and history, Agua Blanca holds a small church, a community center, some houses, and a few other sites. Visitors enjoy traveling to the sulfur lagoon for a soothing soak in the clear mineral water. The town is an excellent place to learn about the culture of the Matenos, the last pre-Columbian era civilization in Ecuador. The Matenos were known to harvest fruits and vegetables and build homes out of straw and palm leaves. Traces of their civilization and past are still evident at Agua Blanca today. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Fotos 593/Fotolia

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»Alabado House

Alabado House

Located in downtown Quito, the Casa del Alabado is a popular museum of pre-Columbian art. More than 5,000 artifacts are on display at the museum, and 500 of these rare pieces are part of the museum’s permanent collection. All of the pieces in the Casa del Alabado are organized thematically instead of chronologically, which helps tell the story of Ecuador’s pre-Columbian peoples. There are eight rooms with eight different themes that represent different parts of Ecuadorian culture. In addition to the exhibition rooms, the museum holds two workshop areas, a gift store, and two outdoor courtyards. Casa del Alabado is open Monday to Sunday from 9:00am to 5:30pm. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: GioRez/Fotolia

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»Cajas National Park

Cajas National Park

Nestled in the highlands of Ecuador, Cajas National Park received its government status as a protected area in 1996. The area is characterized by its swaths of tundra and its jagged hills and deep valleys. The park is home to nearly 300 lakes and lagoons. These natural pools provide drinking water to Cuenca, the nearby capital of the Azuay Province. Cajas National Park is a great destination for hiking, camping, backpacking, and nature watching. There are two well-traveled roads that visitors can use to access the park, and the entrance fee varies between $4 and $10 USD. Visitors who are planning to explore the backcountry are encouraged to purchase topographic maps of Cajas National Park in Quito before their trip. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: NoraDoa/Fotolia

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»Carondelet Palace

Carondelet Palace

Carondelet Palace is the center of all government activity in Ecuador. The building is more than 300 years old and is celebrated for being an architectural masterpiece. A mural of the Amazon River by Oswaldo Guaysamin, a local artist, is the highlight of the palace’s exquisite interior. Carondelet Palace is filled with meeting rooms and reception areas, but the third floor of the building is used as a home for the president’s family. The palace sits in the middle of Plaza de Independencia in downtown Quito. Travelers often pass through the plaza to admire its cobblestone streets, classic architecture, and Spanish-style houses. Carondelet Palace is open for visitors each day from 9:00am to 12:00pm and 3:00pm to 5:00. Address: Carondelet Palace, García Moreno, Quito 170401, Ecuador 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: tyto08/Fotolia

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»Charles Darwin Research Station

Charles Darwin Research Station

Located on the exotic Galapagos Islands, the Charles Darwin Research Station is dedicated to documenting the interesting flora and fauna of Ecuador’s most famous islands. This scientific non-profit organization works alongside the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) to preserve local wildlife and to educate travelers about the history and future of the Galapagos. The station serves as a hub for more than a hundred researchers and volunteers from all around the world. The organization conducts research into invasive species, conservation, and sustainability. Visitors can tour the research station to see the bones of a Bryde’s whale as well as incredible photographs of local wildlife and marine life. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Reinhard Tiburzy/Fotolia

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»Church and Convent of St. Francis

Church and Convent of St. Francis

Located in Quito, the Church and Convent of St. Francis is a well-preserved 16th century Roman Catholic complex. It is among the largest historical structures in colonial Latin America and houses the Virgin of Quito, a sacred statue revered by locals as well as visitors. The complex has evolved over the years because of natural disasters as well as changes in architectural tastes. The complex consists of three special areas: The public square, an urban area where the public is welcome, the courtyard, a space that once served as a cemetery, and the church and its chapels, the crowning gems of the complex. In all, there are nearly 40,000 square meters of buildings to explore in this unique space. There are also 3,500 works of art scattered throughout the complex. Address: Cuenca 477, Quito 170401, Ecuador, Phone: +59-39-92-77-74-87 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: diegograndi/Fotolia

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»Ciudad Mitad del Mundo

Ciudad Mitad del Mundo

The Ciudad Mitad del Mundo contains the Monument to the Equator, a 30-meter-tall statue that sits almost directly on top of the equator. A yellow line extending from the monument denotes the equator, but modern technology proves that the equator is actually about 240 meters north of the designated spot. Ciudad Mitad del Mundo also contains the Itinan Solar Museum, an amusing attraction for tourists. Here, museum guides demonstrate things that can supposedly be done only at the equator, like showing how water flows clockwise and counter-clockwise down a drain and balancing eggs. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: ecuadorquerido/Fotolia

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»Companía de Jesus

Companía de Jesus

The Compañía de Jesús, also known as the Church of the Society of Jesus, is a popular place of worship in Quito. This Jesuit church boasts a massive central nave decorated with gold leaf, gilded plaster, and intricate wood carvings. Inspired by two Roman Jesuit churches, the Compañía is among the most significant examples of Spanish baroque architecture in South America, and it is known for being the most ornate church in Quito. The building took around 160 years to complete. Its complex floor plan forms a Latin cross, and parts of the cross have been rebuilt over the years because of destruction from natural disasters and religious unrest. The church is a popular stop for tourists because of its incredible artwork and design. Address: Garcia Moreno y Sucre, Quito 170401, Ecuador, Phone: +5-93-22-58-41-75 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: PeekCC/Fotolia

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»Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi National Park sits just an hour and a half outside of Quito. Renowned for its beauty, this park contains Cotopaxi Volcano, an imposing snow-capped peak that stands out from the flat landscape that surrounds its base. There are plenty of opportunities in the park for visitors who enjoy climbing, trekking, and backpacking. Mountaineers travel from all over the world to summit Cotopaxi, and there are several day hikes in the area that give visitors stunning panoramic views of the volcano from the valley floor. No public buses run to Cotopaxi National Park from Quito, so visitors need to arrange for a taxi ride or a tour to gain access to the park. There are many local tour outfitters that offer transportation and sightseeing opportunities within Cotopaxi. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: ecuadorquerido/Fotolia

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»Guayllabamba Zoo

Guayllabamba Zoo

Guayllabamba Zoo is the perfect place for getting an up-close look at Ecuador’s wildlife. More than 50 species of native creatures live at the zoo, which is open to the public throughout the year. Visitors can learn all about jaguars, moor wolves, the Andean spectacled bear, sloths, monkeys, squirrels, hedgehogs, pigs, and more in the part of the zoo that houses mammals. The zoo is also home to Andean condor, the national symbol of Ecuador. Lastly, the Galapagos tortoise, known for its massive size and long lifespan, is also housed at the zoo. Guayllabamba Zoo also has an extensive public outreach and education program that is aimed and protecting Ecuador’s wildlife populations. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Gabriel Gonzalez G./Fotolia

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»Machalilla National Park

Machalilla National Park

Located in Manabi Province, Machalilla National Park is home to all kinds of unique animal and plant life. The park is divided into three sectors: The north sector, the south sector and Island de la Plata, also known as Silver Island. The park boasts rainforest-like areas as well as marine areas with sweeping seaside cliffs, lush vegetation, and sandy beaches. On the slopes, there are forested areas surrounded by dry scrub. The Nature Foundation regularly works in the park to preserve wildlife, encourage conservation efforts, and oversee development. Visitors can see the park through guided tours. Paragliding, scuba diving, sea kayaking, whale watching, fishing, and horseback riding are common activities within Machalilla National Park. Address: (139 miles) Noroccidente de Guayaquil., Julcuy, Ecuador, Phone: +59-39-99-84-85-85 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: NoraDoa/Fotolia

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As the largest ruins in Ecuador, Ingapirca is an incredible destination for history buffs and archaeology enthusiasts. The ruins were built after the Incas merged with the Canari people to form a hybrid community. The community became Ingapirca, a distinct civilization marked by two large temples of the sun. Although the ruins at Ingapirca aren’t as grand as other ruins in Ecuador, they provide an insight into how the Incan people lived, worked, and interacted with one another. The ruins are studied by archaeologists to this day because they are constantly revealing new secrets about the Incan way of life. To visit Ingapirca, travelers need to catch a bus from Cuenca, a city that is 2 hours away. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Fotos1074/Fotolia

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»Museum of Aboriginal Cultures

Museum of Aboriginal Cultures

Located in Cuenca, this fascinating museum tells the story of Ecuador’s indigenous people. Artifacts from 11 different cultures are featured throughout the museum, and more than 5,000 objects are stored here for display and preservation purposes. There are multimedia displays, paintings, sculptures, and carvings that depict all aspects of the country’s aboriginal history. Today, around 45 percent of Ecuador’s population is indigenous and close to 75 percent of Ecuador’s foods are produced by indigenous farmers, so the museum seeks to honor and celebrate the traditions and lifestyles of aboriginal people. Visitors can take a guided tour through the museum in Spanish or English, or they can explore the museum on their own. Address: Calle Larga 5-24 y Mariano Cueva, Cuenca 010150, Ecuador, Phone: +59-32-84-15-40 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Fotos 593/Fotolia

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»Cathedral of Immaculate Conception

Cathedral of Immaculate Conception

The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception is one of the most recognizable buildings in Cuenca. Known for its ornate exterior and grand interior, the cathedral boasts massive domes, a breathtaking main entryway, and intricate stained-glass windows. The cathedral dates back to the 1870s, when Juan Bautista Stiehle, a German-born friar, migrated to Ecuador and was asked to create plans for the structure. The cathedral was built on a spot that previously housed a Jesuit church. It took nearly 100 years to complete the incredible building, and the cathedral is actually considered “unfinished” since some of the original plans couldn’t be executed due to construction issues. The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception is open throughout the week. Address: Padre Aguirre 8-27, Cuenca, Ecuador, Phone: +59-39-83-33-52-38 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: diegograndi/Fotolia

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»Otavalo Market

Otavalo Market

Visiting a marketplace is an excellent way to get a taste of authentic Ecuadorian culture. At the Otavalo market in the Plaza da Ponchos, visitors can find crafts, foods, and other unique wares to purchase at various prices. There is also Otalvalon weaving, which originates from the Imbabura Province, on display. Artwork from local creators is also available for purchase, and visitors can find plenty of unique souvenirs to take home to friends and family. Travelers are advised to visit various stalls before making a purchase since prices vary depending on the seller. The market opens at 6:00am on Tuesdays and Saturdays and remains busy all day long. Address: Plaza de los Ponchos, Otavalo 100450, Ecuador 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Kseniya Ragozina/Fotolia

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»Palacio Arzobispal

Palacio Arzobispal

Located in downtown Quito, the Palacio Arzobispal, or Archbishop’s Palace, is the official residence of the Archbishop of Quito. Initially, parish priests lived in different houses around the cathedral in Quito. In 1546 construction began on the stately building, and the plans were modified in 1775 when the Spanish architect Antonio Garcia took over the project. Further modifications occurred in 1978 to make sure the building would be secure in the event of an earthquake. The building contains the office of the archbishop, an archbishop’s chapel, and a library that contains historical religious texts dating back to 1545. The palace is considered a World Heritage Site. Address: Chile, Quito 170401, Ecuador 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: siempreverde22/Fotolia

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»Plaza de la Independencia

Plaza de la Independencia

Plaza de la Independencia, also known as Plaza Grande, is surrounded by four historic buildings that form Quito’s tourist center. One of the buildings, the Quito Cathedral, is known for being the oldest cathedral in South America. The plaza itself is always filled with students, seniors, and vendors selling unique handmade wares. The plaza also holds a monument to the Heroes de la Independencia, a memorial that was built during the 20th century. It depicts the victory of Ecuador against Spanish colonizers. Flowers are laid at the feet of the monument on August 10th each year to commemorate the actions of Quito’s founding fathers in 1809. Travelers visiting Plaza Grande will find plenty of spots for eating authentic Ecuadorian food and for shopping. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Fotos 593/Fotolia

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»Podocarpus National Park

Podocarpus National Park

Sprawled across several provinces, Podocarpus National Park unites four unique ecological systems. The incredible biodiversity at the park makes it a key site for scientific research and exploration. Once considered the “Botanical Garden of America,” the park is home to more than 4,000 species of plants and trees, including the Cinchona, the national tree of Ecuador. Close to 70 species of mammals have been discovered in the park, including the mountain tapir, the spectacled bear, the northern pudu, and the jaguar. Nearly 600 species of birds have made an appearance at Podocarpus National Park, a figure that accounts for roughly 6 percent of bird species worldwide. The park is accessible to visitors from the city of Loja. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Matyas Rehak/Fotolia

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Quilotoa is a beautiful lagoon that formed in the hollowed-out caldera of an ancient volcano. The volcano, which erupted in 1280, has lain dormant ever since. Today, visitors enjoy seeing the gorgeous turquoise waters that fill the large basin. The base of the crater can be accessed via local hiking trails, although visitors have to be careful since some of the trails are worn down. Local buses are available for getting to the lake, but the spot is so isolated that hikers will often find themselves alone at the top of the crater. Quilotoa is accessible from the nearby city of Latacunga. 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Andres/Fotolia

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»Swing at the End of the World

Swing at the End of the World

Located near the mountain town of Banos, the Swing at the End of the World is known for its magical and peaceful surroundings. To reach the swing, travelers need to catch a shuttle or drive from Banos to Casa del Arbol up in the hills. The swing is connected to a treehouse near Casa del Arbol, and for less than $2 you can spend some time swinging over what feels like the edge of the world. After checking out the swing, visitors like to hike to the Bellavista Cloud Forest Viewpoint for more stunning scenery. Address: Casa del Arbol, Banos, Ecuador 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: sunsinger/Fotolia

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The teleferico cable car is a popular attraction for visitors who want to escape city life down in Quito. Located in the hills that surround Ecuador’s capital city, the teleferico cable car climbs more than 2,500 meters in less than 20 minutes. At the end of the ride, visitors find themselves in a peaceful countryside area with a small church, some hiking trails, and a visitors center. There are also secluded areas for camping and horseback riding up in the hills. Tickets for the teleferico cable car are $8.50 for adults and $6.50 for children. Address: Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador, Phone: +59-32-22-29-96 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: Matyas Rehak/Fotolia

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»Tulcan Municipal Cemetery

Tulcan Municipal Cemetery

This incredible cemetery in Tulcan is home to a massive collection of topiary art. Soaring hedges carved out in the shape of humans, animals, and geometric designs are found all throughout the quiet graveyard. Gardener Jose Maria Azael Franco, an early caretaker at the cemetery, had a passion for creating art out of the hedges. He worked to beautify the cemetery until his death in 1985. Today, there are more than 100 pieces of topiary art in the 3-acre cemetery. Address: Avenida Cotopaxi y Avenida El Cementerio, Tulcan 040102, Ecuador 25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador - Photo: anabanana1988/Fotolia

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25 Best Things to Do in Ecuador