Extend your Galapagos journey with any of these five destinations in Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands are a fantastic standalone destination for cruises, but if you are hoping to experience even more of Ecuador on your trip, then consider adding on a few days in one of these top Ecuadorian destinations.
The Amazon rainforest is the most popular complement for Galapagos trips. A trip to the rainforest acquaints explorers with Ecuador’s brilliant biodiversity, including several top predators (like the jaguars and caiman), monkeys of all shapes, colors, and sizes, hundreds of bird species, thousands of insect species and tens of thousands of plant species. Rainforest tours immerse visitors in the dense jungle and offer activities like day & night hikes, bird & monkey-watching excursions, canoeing and kayaking, swimming in blackwater lagoons, and sometimes even an exploration of the largely undiscovered canopy via ziplines, canopy walks, and observation towers.
Ecuador’s historic capital city hosts a number of exciting sites for visitors hoping to learn a bit more about the country’s roots. The colonial neighborhood is one of the best-preserved neighborhoods in South America, boasting cobblestone streets and buildings that have been painstakingly preserved in their original colonial design. The cathedrals are also a sight to see, including the gilded La Compania Church, San Francisco Church and Monastery, the Gothic-style Basilica del Voto Nacional, and El Sagrario. A trip up to the Panecillo offers travelers a panoramic overlook of the whole city and a chance to climb up inside the aluminum “winged virgin” statue of Mary. A free tour of Carondelet Palace at Independence Square will take you through the presidential residence and teach you a bit more about the country’s conquest and establishment as a colony of Spain and its fight for independence.
This tiny mountain town is the undisputed adventure capital of Ecuador. It has everything thrill-seekers could hope for – ziplines across canyons, bungee jumping, a treehouse and swing on the side of a mountain cliff, bike rentals, ATVs, a mountainside zoo, and whitewater rafting. It’s also home to its namesake public hotsprings and open-air bus tours of the active Tungurahua Volcano.
Breathe in the small town vibes of Cuenca, one of the top cities for US expats in the world. This colonial town is built around four rivers and features a tremendously preserved colonial town. Walking tours of the city will take you to the most prominent cathedrals and up to the Turi Overlook. Soak away your troubles at Piedra de Agua Hot Spring and Spa, which offers blue and red mud baths, hot springs, steam boxes, and full spa treatments. Nestled high in the Andes, Cuenca is also a great base for exploring the highlands, especially on horseback or hiking in nearby Cajas National Park.
If you haven’t quite gotten enough beach time by the end of your cruise, consider extending your stay with some time on the Ecuador’s coast. These are the most popular destinations along the “Ruta del Sol.”
- Manabi: This province is known for its nice beaches, excellent food, and stunning coastal wildlife.
- Machalilla National Park: Ecuador’s most notable national park along the coast, with a lot of marine wildlife.
- Puerto Lopez: A perfect beach for whale watching and spotting shorebirds.
- Isla de la Plata: A great little island just offshore from mainland Ecuador, where you can see more blue-footed boobies and get in some extra snorkeling.
- Manta: A relaxing beach town.
- Salinas: This rapidly growing beach city is reminiscent of US resort towns, with miles of golden beachfront backdropped by towering hotels and many restaurants and stores.
- Montanita: This is a much more laid back town, with many inexpensive hostels, street vendors, bumping nightclubs and karaoke bars, and a great beach.
- Guayaquil: Although it is on the coast, it is Ecuador’s main commercial/ port city, so there are no beaches. If you’re passing through Guayaquil, be sure to visit Iguana Park, the Cathedral, the Boardwalk 2000 and Las Penas colonial neighborhood, and the salt marsh estuary on Isla Santay.
Other top Ecuador destinations:
- Mindo: A cloudforest town famous for its biodiversity, especially butterflies, hummingbirds, and other avian species.
- Papallacta: Luxurious hotspring resort secluded in the Andes Highlands.
- Otavalo: South America’s largest artisan craft market.
- Tren Crucero: The premiere tour train that traverses the Andes down to the coast.