The Republic of Ecuador (which literally translates to the ‘Republic of the Equator’) is a Spanish-speaking country located in northwestern South America. It shares its borders with Colombia (to the north) and Peru (to the east and south). The stunning Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador, 1000 km west of the mainland. A land dripping in a culture that is entirely its own and dotted with fascinating historical attractions, with jaw-dropping natural wonders as the vistas on almost every horizon. Landscapes range between tropical rainforests alive with the hum of millions of occupants hunting, evading, and calling (the wildlife, not Ecuadorian folk!) and colossal, glaciated volcanoes. In this article, we detail the top 5 things to see in this incredible country. Be sure to add this to your BUCKiTDREAM list! And without further ado…

Geographical Regions

Ecuador has four main geographic regions: La Costa, or “the coast”, La Sierra, or “the highlands”, containing most of Ecuador’s volcanoes and all of its snow-capped peaks, La Amazonía, or “the east”, consisting of Amazonian jungle and national parks, and La Región Insular, which covers the Galápagos Islands.

Climate

The climate in Ecuador is variable and largely determined by the altitude of each region, so do your research before you start packing! In the mountain valleys, it is mild year-round and the Andean highlands are relatively dry, however, La Costa region has a tropical climate with a severe rainy season. Because of its proximity to the equator, Ecuador experiences little variation in daylight hours during the course of a year. Both sunrise and sunset occur at approximately 6 am and 6 pm respectively.

Biodiversity

According to Conservation International, Ecuador is one of the world’s seventeen megadiverse countries (a group of countries that harbor the majority of Earth’s species and high numbers of endemic species), with the most biodiversity per square mile in the world. Ecuador has over 1,600 different bird species on the mainland and 38 more endemic species in the Galápagos Islands. It also hosts 16,000 species of plants, 106 endemic reptiles, 138 endemic amphibians, and 6,000 species of butterfly.

Now, to the nitty-gritty… the top five things to experience in this diverse country. It was hard to choose from all of the awe-inspiring sites and experiences, but here are our top five things to see in Ecuador.

Pailon Dell Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron), Baños The Pailin del Diablo is a crystal-clear waterfall located on the ‘ruta de las cascadas’ (waterfall route) along the Rio Verde river in the Ecuadorian jungle, only a 30-minute drive from Baños.

The imposing waterfall is a photographer’s dream, surrounded by lush forest vegetation, misty skies, and varied wildlife. The waterfall itself is a magical sight, however, not to be overlooked is the beautiful stone staircase carved into the cliff wall (Canyon Steps). To get the best views of both the waterfall and the stone stairs, visitors will need to climb the steep, slippery path to reach the suspension bridge. The view will definitely not disappoint!

For an even more intimate experience and lower-level view of this thunderous waterfall, you can climb down the Canyon Steps. The cascading water, misty air, and booming surrounds only make for a more thrilling, awe-inspiring experience. Make sure you wear shoes with grip. And bring a raincoat!

Galapagos Beach at Tortuga Bay On the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz lies one of the most spectacular beaches in South America, Tortuga Bay. Tortuga Bay is famous for its expansive and pristine shoreline that gradually descends into the sparkling Pacific Ocean. It is a haven for sea turtles (which gave the beach its name), marine iguanas, sea lions, pelicans, flamingos and lava gulls, which are endemic to the Islands. A snorkel in the beautiful lagoons will reveal the full beauty and expanse of the Galapagos marine life. Don’t forget your camera!

Offering appealing experiences for all kinds of holiday-goers, Tortuga Bay is comprised of two very different beaches. A mile long trail from Puerto Ayora leads to the main beach which has a strong swell and is perfect for keen surfers. If relaxing is more your forte, then head to the west side where the waters are clear and serene. If you walk about half a mile further down the beach you reach this calm beach known as Playa Mansa.

There is no charge to visit Tortuga Bay; however, as you do not need a Naturalist Guide for this trip, you will need to register before you enter. Visitors can register at a gate at the beginning of the trail. The beach is open from 6 am – 6:30 pm each day.

Los Tuneles Ecuador (namely the Galapagos Islands) offers up the even more spectacular scenery with the Los Tuneles on Isabella Island. Los Tuneles is an area dotted with naturally occurring underwater stone tunnels and bridges. A series of lava flows have produced these unique geological formations underneath and above the water – a habitat for an array of Galapagos species. Walking over naturally formed lava bridges, surrounded by clear waters and marine life, visitors often feel as though they are immersed in a giant aquarium.

This is a most spectacular site for scuba diving as the water is shallow, calm and very clear – a vast sanctuary for marine life. Look out for turtles, white-tipped sharks, eagle rays, manta rays, sea lions and even sea horses in the crystal waters. The entrance to the site is shallow and the waves can be strong, for this reason, the access can be complicated. The best time to visit the tunnels is between January and May.

Museo Templo Del Sol Pintor Ortega Maila ‘The Temple of the Sun Museum’ is located in the crater of an extinct volcano known as the Pululahua Volcano. It is around 17 kilometers north of Quito. This fascinating museum puts Ecuadorian culture and history on display with archeological and anthropological artwork, as well as stunning portraiture and landscapes by world-famous artist and museum founder, Cristobal Ortega. Master Ortega held the Guinness World Record for the fastest speed painter. More temporary artists also display their pieces, and on weekends there are often dance and music events.

Surrounding the museum are enchanting vistas, stone courtyards, and a large stone tribune. The museum is built on the equatorial line, so the sun illuminates the grounds around noon, creating a magical and serene setting. For many people, it is a spiritual place where rituals of purification and energization are performed.

Laguna Quilotoa Quilotoa This is a two-mile-wide water-filled caldera (crater) and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. This colossal caldera was formed by the collapse of this volcano following a catastrophic eruption approximately 800 years ago. If you are an avid hiker, Quilotoa will be right up your street. The village of Quilotoa, as well as the crater, is a popular destination within the Quilotoa Loop and is a common starting point for the Quilotoa Traverse, a multi-day village to village hiking route. If even the thought of a multi-day hike is leaving you breathless, instead you can take a bus to Quilotoa with the option of a 45-minute hike to the majestic laguna or a four-hour hike around the rim. The view of the laguna will make your trip!

Before you start planning your trip, visit Foreign Travel Advice to check current travel advice/warnings.

Alright, and that brings us to the end of our trip! Ecuador is an endless journey of discovery. This list is just the tip of the glorious iceberg. Now it’s time to head out to fill your eyes (and camera) with unforgettable experiences. Be sure to record your favorites in your BUCKiTDREAM planner and share any snaps on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!