Ecuador’s Diverse Distinct Regions

 Amazingly Diverse Distinct Regions in Ecuador

Peguche Waterfall - Ibarra

Peguche Waterfall

Ecuador is tiny. In the diverse distinct regions in Ecuador, you will find extreme beauty from its historic Andean cities to its nature. The nature of Ecuador consists of micro-climates from snow-capped peaks (there are 44 peaks with 14 active volcanoes) to humid jungles to warm coastal beaches.

It is home to:

  • 3,500 orchid species
  • 1,600 of the world’s bird species
  • 4,500 butterfly species
  • 16,000 plant species
  • 106 reptiles and 138 amphibians native to the country
  • and more.

Cultural diversity and the nature’s bounty of Ecuador that drew us.

You can see the distinct regions of Ecuador in a 2-week trip. To do so, go directly from town to town – north to south or vice versa – staying overnight in different towns along the way. However, this will offer only a quick overview of the distinct regions. We chose to split it up, and take our time to see this gorgeous country.


In the Mariscal section of Quito, Ecuador

Cultural Center Quito, Ecuador

Quito, the capitol at approximately 9,000 feet in the Andes, was our base. We traveled in and out of Quito for all of our trips. A great central point, go Quito to the Galapagos, to see volcanoes, go to thermal baths, climb mountains or go whitewater rafting, visit the Amazon, see multiple historic and cultural sites all in and near Quito. The beauty of the Andes surrounds Quito making the views spectacular. Quito has UNESCO historical sites, a major airport, and bus stations that easily connect to the places we wanted to see. Plus we had all of the modern conveniences by staying in a contemporary apartment in Quito. We found everything we needed and lots of culture to explore.

Other cities worth a visit include Cuenca, which is also an UNESCO cultural site with many international universities. Cuenca has a large expat population from Canada, US, UK, Australia, and Germany. Loja is the southernmost city in the Andes at approximately 7,000 feet in altitude and shares a border with Peru. Loja holds a rich tradition in the arts, and for this reason is known as the Music and Cultural Capital of Ecuador.

GALAPAGOS – A diverse and distinct region of Ecuador

Galapagos is easy to access from Quito with regular flights on Tame and Lan.

Galapagos Sea Lion posing under a lava arch

Galapagos Sea Lion

We wanted to see the unique land terrain, animals and sea life. I loved seeing the turtles in large numbers. It was the beginning of mating season in early December, so we watched the mating rituals often. On one of our snorkel trips, we saw many turtles in a small bay-like area where grasses grow (a definite draw for the turtles). Although it was exciting to see so many turtles, because the islands are volcanic rock, snorkeling was quite dark, making it difficult to see in the water.

The birds were interesting too – Penguins, Flightless Cormorants, Blue-footed Boobies, Nasca Boobies, Galapagos Hawks, Darwin Finches, and more. And the Sea Lions were fun to watch, especially the babies, as it was the season for baby sea lions. We saw lots of very different iguanas, and tortoises too.

THE ANDES NORTH OF QUITO – A diverse and distinct region of Ecuador

Taken from Papallacta thermal baths

Antisana in Ecuador

We took 4 different trips north of Quito, some just for a day and others for 3-6 days to see various places and experience Ecuador’s amazingly diverse distinct regions. The landscape leaving Quito going north is exquisite. Highways are cut into the Andes creating beautiful rockscapes.

Indigenous Market on Saturday

Otavalo, Ecuador – Indigenous Market

Visit Otavalo, a town where the different indigenous groups sell their handicrafts – textiles, leather goods, paintings, wood carvings and furniture – and you’ll find spices, fruits, and vegetables.

Other places we visited on our trips to the north included Cotaccachi, where an extinct volcano is located. This is the center of leather production and sales.

Papallacta is the best area to go to for thermal hot springs, and it has beautiful views of a snow-capped volcano. (See the photo above.) Ataualpa, with its many micro-climates, is where many of the fruits and vegetables are now grown. You will find many small cheese producers there too.

Mindo is north and west of Quito, considered jungle, and the place to go for mountain climbing and rafting. Nanegalito, Bellavista and Tandayapa, just outside of Mindo in the Cloud Forest, boast many varieties of hummingbirds, as well as the smallest orchid in the world. It is worth at least a day trip!

THE ANDES SOUTH OF QUITO – A diverse and distinct region of Ecuador

Ecuador lake Quilotoa hike

Hiking Lake Quilotoa

There are so many places to see south of Quito. Quilotoa is one that adventurous travelers often visit and hike. And some hike the whole Quilotoa Loop. The loop runs through many local, indigenous farming towns, some with weekly markets (a must see), and others boasting local crafts. Quilotoa Lake is a mountain crater, and the hike to the lake starts at approximately 13,000 feet. It is exquisite. And it’s cold! Take your warmest clothes, and it may be wet. Hiking back up is difficult.

Some people visit Cotapaxi, a live volcano on the way to Quilotoa, for outdoor adventures around the volcano – horseback riding, ice climbing, hiking. We did not have time, so we looked at Cotapaxi from the road.

Banos is a heavily visited stop on the road south in the Ecuadorean Andes. It gets its name, Banos, because water heated by the volcano runs through the town. The town is also known for its waterfalls (Ruta de Cascadas), thermal baths (don’t go for these – yuk!), biking, climbing, massages, relaxation and overall scenery. It is also a point from which you can access and arrange a jungle trip going out of Puyo, which takes you to the part of the Amazon known for parrot licks.

There are many other areas to see south of Quito, but we did not visit them on this trip. I can provide information if you are interested – please ask below in the comments section, or add your experiences.

THE AMAZON –  A diverse and distinct region of Ecuador

Ecuador's Amazon Region

El Oriente in Ecuador – Ecuador’s Amazon Region

The locals call the Amazon rainforest the Oriente. It is a 10-hour bus ride from Quito, which is how most travelers arrive in the Oriente. You can fly directly, but people compare the $8 bus fare with flight costs and many take the bus.

The draw is the diversity of flora and fauna – the toucans, parrots, pink dolphins, many species of birds. Visiting the indigenous tribes and learning about their way of life is an interesting cultural experience. However, after researching trips to the Oriente while we were in Ecuador, I decided it is not for us. We don’t like 95 plus degree heat and 85 plus percent humidity, tons of rain, deep mud, lots of mosquitos, or accommodations in rustic huts with no air conditioning. Most of the accommodations are on the expensive side too. If you don’t mind these, I believe a trip to the Amazon would be quite interesting!

See my friend’s blog and pictures.

THE COAST – A diverse and distinct region of Ecuador

Coastal Region

Coastal Ecuador

Ecuador’s coast has lots of variety. Going south from the northern border of Colombia on the Ecuadorian Coast, you will encounter:

  • The Esmeraldas
  • Manabi Province – home of Manta, the second largest port city in Ecuador and popular with Expats, and Bahia de Caraquez
  • Central Coast – including the popular surfer town of Montanita
  • Guayaquil – Ecuador’s largest city and main port
  • The Southern Guayas Province with its beaches
  • El Oro Province – known for banana and shrimp production and the city of Machala.

We did not visit the coast on this trip due to El Nino, but we enjoyed it when we went 4 years ago.

Stay tuned for our next posts on specific excursions, sites, accommodations and travel options in these areas, and lots of photos too, so you can experience Ecuador’s amazingly diverse distinct regions. Perhaps you’ll even choose to see them for yourself!

8 thoughts on “Ecuador’s Diverse Distinct Regions

  1. Our family was planning a vacation to the caribbean and decided on Cancun. We turned to Wendy for advice. She listened, heard our interest (quiet; relaxed; all inclusive;snorkeling with turtles; visiting Mayan sites) and she recommended Akumal Beach resort and Spa. WOW! Less expensive than “cancun central” (by the airport) and closer to what we wanted (we droe 3 hours round trip to the resort and SAVED 9 hours in travel to our sites) and the service!!! Quick, gracious, friendly. Perfect beach. amazing spa – Yoga, massage etc. Even the invitation to consider buying a “lo term package” (pseudo time share) was a soft sell with no pressure.

    So here is the punch line. We go to airport and our plane is cancelled! AA gives us two free nights at a typical top 25% all-inclusive resort. Cool – two free days of extended vacation…for a space more expensive than Akumal. Excerpt…food not nearly as good; no service with a smile…hard sell on “time shares”…cheap low end liquor. So American Airlines inadvertently proved that Wendy is the queen of vacations and Akumal Beach is the only smart location for Cancun travelers!

  2. It would be fun to learn more why/where you spent time in Ecuador. We lived in Quito for about nine months in 2010. It’s great to recall all the great hikes and towns and cultures.

  3. Hi Kristin, Thanks for your comment. There is an earlier post on this blog entitled, ‘Traveling Ecuador’ from March 26, 2016 that answers this question. I have also posted 3 other articles on Ecuador, and plan on several more, each focusing on a different part of Ecuador that we visited. Last week I posted on Galapagos. The next post will be on choosing a boat versus land accommodations, and how to make that choice.
    To answer your question about where we spent time, on this trip to Ecuador, our second time there, our base was Quito and we traveled from Quito – 9 trips. I chose it because of the ease of travel to various parts of the country from Quito. I loved the city and all of the cultural sites, as well as meeting and traveling with a mixed group of locals and expats that I was able to link up with. We truly enjoyed the city; the group we were befriended by made it a great time!

  4. We spent three months in the coastal city of Manta in Manabi Province in the fall of 2014 and traveled up and down the coast as well as to the Galapagos Islands. The people of Ecuador are so welcoming and we also enjoyed feeling a part of Manta’s very friendly expat community and making some good friends. Unfortunately, the April 2014 earthquake has decimated much of the area and my last reading included a death toll of 500 plus. So much tragedy in a little country that is amazingly beautiful and diverse!

    • Hi Anita, Thank you for sharing your comments, as we did not get to Manta. The earthquake that you refer to – did you mean April 2016? The devastation of last month’s earthquake is horrible. We were planning to go to Manta in January of this year when we were in Ecuador, but the El Nino threats kept us off the coast. There is still so much to see and do in the Andes. We loved our 2 month visit!

  5. Pingback: Ecuador's Andean Highlands - Part 1 - Otavalo, IbarraAdventurous Retirement

  6. Pingback: Ecuador's Andean Highlands - Cotacachi, Papallacta, AtahualpaAdventurous Retirement

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