Amazingly Diverse Distinct Regions in Ecuador
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.
ANDEAN CITIES OF 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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!