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Ecuador

Main attractions

Interior in Santo Domingo Church, Quito
Interior in Santo Domingo Church, Quito / waldopics, / CC BY 2.0

Although Ecuador is somewhat smaller than its neighbors, the country nevertheless has very diverse landscape and high diversity of cultural and natural landmarks.

The highlights of Ecuador are:

  • Late Renaissance and Baroque architecture. This might be surprising - but this faraway South American country has splendid examples of these European styles of architecture! Most amazing are several churches in Quito - Church of the Society of Jesus, Church and Convent of San Francisco.
  • Historical cities. It is possible that Quito has the most beautiful historical centre in South America - thousands of buildings here have valuable architecture. Also such cities as Cuenca and Zaruma are rich with historical architecture. Much local flavour is added by the volcanic landscape around these beautiful cities.
  • Biological diversity. Much explored and much known are Galápagos Islands - one of the wonders of the world. But not less impressive is the incredible diversity of Yasuni Forest - possibly the most biodiverse place in the whole world. Spectacular and unique is the Páramo El Ángel landscape with countless frailejón plants.
  • Archaeological heritage. Ecuador is home to several indigenous cultures, including the very ancient Valdivia culture. In the whole country are made new discoveries of archaeological monuments, but many more might be expected. For example, Wondermondo has seen photographs of enormous stone sculptures in the endless forests around Pastaza River - and could not find any reports about these sculptures in latest decades.

Natural landmarks

Rio Pastaza in gorge
Rio Pastaza in gorge / fabulousfabs, / CC BY 2.0

Rock formations

  • Cerro de Arcos - El Oro and Loja. Eroded summit of mountain with interesting rock formations. Here are located several larger natural arches, towers and columns.
  • Pastaza Canyon - Tungurahua. Beautiful, jungle covered canyon of Pastaza River. A road goes along the canyon, offering a view on 19 canyons along the way.
  • Rumichaca natural bridge - Carchi and Colombia, Nariño. Possibly the only natural bridge in the world, serving as a border check between two countries. Next to it stands Inca built artificial bridge. Here are located two ornate customs houses as well.

Volcanoes

  • Chimborazo - Chimborazo. The farthest point on the Earth's surface from the centre of Earth. The highest mountain in Equador, 6,268.2 m high. The ice near the summit is mined for transport to the nearby cities.
  • Cotopaxi volcano - Cotopaxi. 5,897 m high volcano - one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. The mountain has beautiful, symmetrical cone and contains one of the rare equatorial glaciers in the world, starting at 5,000 m.

Waterfalls

Pailón del Diablo, Ecuador
Pailón del Diablo / Clayre Taylor, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Country is very rich with waterfalls and the tallest ones certainly are not measured yet.

  • Machay Falls - Tungurahua. 45 m tall waterfall on a tributary, falling into the canyon of Pastaza.
  • Manta de la Novia Falls - Tungurahua. Double waterfall in a side tributary of Pastaza River. Free falling cascades are approximately 40 m high.
  • Pailón del Diablo - Tungurahua. Magnificent group of waterfalls in Pastaza Canyon. Total height of cascades - 80 - 100 m.
  • San Rafael Falls - Napo. 131 m tall and 23 m wide waterfall, the tallest in Equador.

Ecosystems

  • Páramo El Ángel - Carchi, north from El Angel. Beautiful montane meadows with tall frailejón plants (mainly Espeletia pycnophylla), creating eerie landscape. One of the largest meadows with frailejónes.
  • Valle de los Frailejones, Llanganates - Napo. An exceptional moor - the southernmost grove of frailejones. Here grows the endemic Espeletia pycnophylla ssp. llanganatensis).
  • Yasuni Forest - Pastaza, Orelana, Napo. Possibly the most biodiverse area in the world. In this rainforest the diversity of amphibians, birds, mammals and vascular plants (with 2,700 - 4,000 species of plants per hectare) reaches their maximum for Western Hemisphere. Uncontacted tribes live in the forest. Endangered and affected by oil extraction.

Other natural landmarks

  • Cueva de los Tayos - Morona Santiago. Large natural cave with three entrances. The largest starts as a 65 m deep shaft which leads into 4.6 km long network of passages. Pseudoscientific theories by Erich von Däniken rised much interest about the cave in 1970ies but less important finds were done here, including a burial from 1500 BC.
  • Puyango Petrified Forest - El Oro. A site with impressive, petrified trunks of giant araucarias. These fossil trees were growing some 5 million years ago. The largest pieces are 15 m long and with a diameter up to 2 m. In this location are found also many other interesting fossils - ammonites, fish, snails etc.

Man made landmarks

Prehistoric settlements

Ruins of Ingapirca, Cañar
Ruins of Ingapirca, Cañar / Marc Figueras, / public domain
  • Cojitambo Cañar Inca ruins - Cañar. Ruins of an abandoned city with impressive walls.
  • Ingapirca - Cañar. Ruins of prehistoric city of Cañari and Inca cultures. Largest ruins of Inca structures in Ecuador. Among the most interesting structures are temple of the sun, palace, underground water supply system. The earlier Cañari structures are round.
  • Loma Alta - Guayas. Early settlement of Valdivia culture. Here have been found small limestone and marble figurines.
  • Malqui - Machay - Cotopaxi. Ruins of an interesting Inca settlement, possible burial site of the last Inca - Atahualpa. Site has sophisticated aqueducts, large stone walls.
  • Pambamarca Fortresses - Pichincha. A complex system of fortresses on the top of eroded volcano. These fortresses mark the border of Inca Empire, where fierce battles took place in late 15th - early 16th century. The largest is Quitolooma fortress with some 70 stone structures.
  • Real Alto - Guayas. Ancient settlement of Valdivia culture from 4400 - 1700 BC with very interesting archaeological finds. Here has been found the earliest proof of the use of maize as primary subsistence crop, as well as small, unusual sculptures.
  • Santa Ana - La Florida settlement - Zamora Chinchipe. Remnants of ancient Amazonian culture from circa 2450 BC. Ruins of circular buildings, tomb with numerous offerings. Characteristic vessels of polished stone with interesting iconography.

Other archaeological monuments

  • Piedra Indimama - Napo, north of Cotundo. One of the countless petroglyph sites in Cotundo valley. Petroglyphs are common throughout Ecuadorian jungle.
  • Yaku Waa - Cave near Charupe - Pastaza. Cave, which starts at the eastern bank of Pastaza. According to recent legends, in this cave was found a large library, which was later attributed to Cueva de los Tayos, another cave. Thus now it is rather a site of legends.

Cities

Quito, Ecuador
Quito / Marcio Ramalho, / CC BY 2.0
  • Cuenca, historical centre - Azuay. Beautiful historical city, established in 1557 in the site of earlier settlement - Tomebamba. Preserved numerous valuable buildings in colonial styles as well as the ruins of pre-European Tomebamba (Tumebamba). Most of the historical architecture in the city is from the 18th century, largely modernized in 19th century, when the city was especially rich.
  • Quito, historical centre - Pichincha. One of the best preserved and most interesting historical city centres in Americas. The city is founded in 1535 in its current location. Contains more than 130 monumental buildings, rich with art values and some 5,000 listed buildings.
  • Zaruma, historical centre - Zaruma. Beautiful colonial town, founded in 1560. City has irregular, picturesque planning, numerous ornate buildings.

Renaissance and Baroque churches and monasteries

Church of the Society of Jesus, Quito
Church of the Society of Jesus, Quito / Dr. Carlos Costales Terán, / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Church and Convent of San Francisco, Quito - Pichincha, Quito. The largest historical church building in Americas, built in 1550 - 1680. This beautiful structure represents a harmonious blend of Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque styles. Interior is sumptuous, with much gold and other precious materials.
  • Church of the Society of Jesus, Quito - Pichincha, Quito. One of the pearls of Baroque architecture in Americas, built in 1605 - 1765. Very ornate building with gold coated interior.
  • Metropolitan Cathedral with El Sagrario, Quito - Pichincha, Quito. Main church in Quito, built in 1562 - 1877. Beautiful is El Sagrario - a Renaissance styled chapel from the late 17th century with beautiful frescoes.
  • Riobamba Cathedral - Chimborazo. Beautiful, cathedral in Baroque style with ornate facade. Rebuilt after the earthquake in 1810 - 1835.
  • San Agustín Church and Monastery, Quito - Pichincha, Quito. Baroque style church, built in 17th century. Monastery has a cloister. Sumptuous interiors.
  • Santo Domingo Church, Quito - Pichincha, Quito. Ornate church, built in 1580 - first half of 17th century in Renaissance and Baroque styles. Interesting, rich interior with valuable sculptures.

Newer churches

  • Basílica del Voto Nacional - Pichincha, Quito. Enormous, ornate church - the largest church in Neo-Gothic style in Americas. Built in 1892 - 1909, not entirely finished up to this day. Towers are 115 m high, basilica is 140 m long.
  • Guayakquil Metropolitan Cathedral - Guayas. Enormous and impressive cathedral in Neo-Gothic style. Church has been built here already in the 16th century, but the current one was built in 1924 - 1937. Beautiful stained glass.
  • Our Lady of El Cisne Church - Loja. Beautiful Neo-Gothic basilica, built in 1934. This church is modeled after a similar basilica in Harlungenberg, Germany. Here is located a miraculous sculpture of Madonna.
  • New Cathedral of Cuenca - Cañar. Enormous and ornate cathedral, built in Neo-Romanesque style. Construction started in 1885 and lasted almost for one century. Three enormous domes rise above the structure.

Monuments

Madonna of El Panecillo, Quito
Madonna of El Panecillo, Quito / Adn Montalvo Estrada, / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Madonna of El Panecillo - Pichincha, Quito. Giant, 45 m tall sculpture of Madonna, built in 1976. Located on the top of volcanic hill.
  • Monument in La Mitad del Mundo - Pichincha. 30 m high monument built in a supposed site of equator, built in 1979 - 1982. The exact equator is located some 240 m north from the monument. Inside the monument is a small museum of indigenous Equadorian culture.

Other man made landmarks

  • Carondelet Palace - Pichincha, Quito. Government seat, an ornate palace, gradually built since the late 16th century. Largely rebuilt in Neo-Classicism style in early 19th century, with ornate interiors.
  • Tulcán cemetery - Carchi. One of most unusual cemeteries in the world, with beautiful topiary plantings - scrupulously sheared bushes in a form of grotesque humans, arcs and different symbols.

List of described attractions by provinces

Ecuador is divided into 24 provinces:

Azuay
Bolivar
Cañar
Carchi
ArrowPáramo El ÁngelEcosystems
Chimborazo
Cotopaxi
El Oro
Esmeraldas
Galápagos (reviewed separately)
Guayas
Imbabura
Loja
Los Rios
Manabi
Morona Santiago
Napo
Orellana
Pastaza
Pichincha
Santa Elena
Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas
Sucumbios
Tungurahua
Zamora Chinchipe

Map of Ecuador