18 Jul 6 Beautiful Places to Visit in the Ecuadorian Andes
While the Galapagos and the Amazon might have the best name recognition in Ecuador, the most visited area of the country is actually the Andes Mountain region – and we’ve seen why! The mountains, volcanoes, and valleys are stunning. We found travel through the Andes to be relatively easy and affordable, and we highly recommend it.
Ecuador’s Andean region, also known as the highlands or the Sierra, is full of striking panoramas and approachable cultural experiences. Most visitors fly into Quito and can then take a short domestic flight to destinations like Cuenca. Alternatively, bus travel is very common throughout the country, and long distance fares average less than $1.50 per hour. Whereas trips to the Galapagos or the Amazon tend to come in a packaged tour, travel throughout the Andes is often done more independently (especially if you know a bit of Spanish).
Where to Go in Ecuador
Here are six destinations we recommend for travel in the Andes of Ecuador. (Disclosure: we visited the first five ourselves and though we didn’t quite make it down to Vilcabamba, we heard great things from numerous travelers.)
Quito, the capitol of Ecuador, where we arrived and departed, sprawls amazingly amidst the cracks and crannies of steep mountains. Highlights include the historic center of town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Mitad del Mundo – or Middle of the World – which marks the equator not far outside the city.
- See more things to do in Quito
- Browse accommodations in Quito or find a cool apartment to rent on Airbnb (get $30 off your first booking with our link)
- Experience Quito with a local
Cuenca was our primary destination in Ecuador and we happily stayed there for about six weeks. Not only is the city center a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s one of the safest parts of the country where many Ecuadorians and expats enjoy an active retirement. We found great places to practice Spanish; eat three-course lunches for $2.50; get fresh, affordable produce; and take lots of fun day trips.
- See more things to do in Cuenca
- Browse accommodations in Cuenca or find a cool apartment to rent on Airbnb (get $30 off your first booking with our link)
Baños is best known for adventure sports, but even if you aren’t interested in zip lines or mountain biking, it’s still one of the most beautiful little valleys. The town itself seemed pretty touristy but even still, we are so glad we stayed there to explore the incredible valley and see all the amazing waterfalls.
- See more things to do in Baños
- Browse accommodations in Baños or find a cool apartment to rent on Airbnb (get $30 off your first booking with our link)
Otavalo is a small city a couple hours North of Quito, in a region made famous by its indigenous artisans. The streets and squares of Otavalo fill with with textiles, woodworking, other handicrafts, produce, and livestock, creating one of the biggest and most popular indigenous markets in South America.
- See more things to do in and around Otavalo
- Browse accommodations in Otavalo or find a cool apartment to rent on Airbnb (get $30 off your first booking with our link)
- Tour Otavalo with a local (this day trip leaves from Quito)
To truly experience the mountains and dramatic rural farmlands, head to this hiker’s paradise surrounding the Quilatoa crater lake. Bring a backpack and take a multi-day journey on foot from one small mountain town to the next. Or take a retreat and stay put to just enjoy the remote, natural beauty for a while. If you’re around on Thursday, make sure to check out the huge indigenous market at Saquisili.
- Learn more about staying in Isinlivi and the Quilatoa area
- Browse accommodations around Quilato (we highly recommend Llullu Llama) or find a cool apartment to rent on Airbnb (get $30 off your first booking with our link)
Slow down and enjoy nature in this beautiful southern region where the inhabitants are known to live exceptionally long lives. With a bit of a “hippie” flavor in town, accommodations range from budget hostels to spa resorts.
- Browse accommodations in Vilcabamba and Loja, or find a cool apartment to rent on Airbnb (get $30 off your first booking with our link)
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If you have recommendations of your own, or questions for us about travel through the Ecuadorian Andes, please leave a note in the comments below.
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