Ecuador is a land of rich cultural and historical attractions, all set within a backdrop of natural wonders, with landscapes that range between lush, tropical rainforests and glaciated volcanoes. Whether exploring the exquisite churches of the nation’s capital, Quito, or whether whitewater rafting down pristine tributaries of the great river Amazon, visitors to the nation that straddles the Earth’s equator will come away with great travel memories. Here are the top tourist attractions in Ecuador not to be missed.
La Compañía, Quito
Located in the heart of Quito, the Church of the Society of Jesus, or “La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús,” is perhaps the best known of the capital’s famed cathedrals. Built in the early 1600s, the church’s design is considered a premier example of Baroque architecture in the New World. The expansive use of gold leaf throughout the central nave of the church is breathtaking.
Cotopaxi is the second highest summit in Ecuador, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft). The volcano has one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world, which starts at the height of 5,000 meters (16,400 ft). Its snow covered peak is clearly visible from Quito. Cotopaxi is also one of the highest active volcanoes in the world with more than 50 eruptions since 1738, although its present activity is limited to a few steam fumaroles.
Nariz del Diablo
The Nariz del Diablo, or “Devil’s Nose,” describes the train line between the towns of Alausi and Sibambe. The track gets its name from the great cost of human life that it took to complete the train line. One of the most astounding engineering projects ever undertaken in the mountainous Andes, the stretch of track offers visitors sweeping panoramic views of the countryside. A series of switchbacks slowly takes the train up a steep ascent to Alausi.
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The small city of Baños lies at the foot of the active volcano Tungurahua. Named after the hot springs fed by the thermal waters of the volcano, Baños is one of the most popular tourist spots in Ecuador. Known as the “Gateway to the Amazon,” Baños is a favorite departure point for jungle tours. Waterfalls cascading thousands of feet down deep river gorges attract sightseers as well. The thunderous Pailon de Diablo waterfall, surging over a gorge where the Rio Verde and Rio Pastaza meet, is the most impressive.
Situated in the Amazon rainforest region of Ecuador, for tourists, Tena serves as a launching point for jungle adventures. Missionaries founded the town, and a cinnamon industry helped the city survive. The Tena River joins with the Masahualli River, and then with the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon. Adventure enthusiasts cite Tena as one of the best places in the world for whitewater rafting and kayaking.