Ecuador, whose name translates from Spanish as ‘Equator,’ lies on the Equator line in South America. Colombia borders it to the north, Peru to the southeast, and the Pacific Ocean to the west, and is a country well known for its natural diversity and world-famous islands. It is known for its diverse landscape, which features the Andes Mountains, which run through its center, the Amazon Rainforest to the east, and the Pacific Coastline to the west.
The unique location of Ecuador and its varied terrain add to the country’s rich biodiversity, so much so that the Galapagos Islands, located 1000km (620 mi) off the coast, are a dedicated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ecuador offers a remarkable variety of attractions all across the country, from incredibly blue crater lakes to pristine beaches that hug the Pacific Coast. Still, the country attracts many visitors because of its fascinating history and culture.
This must-visit destination in South America is perfect for adventure seekers, wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers, and history buffs, making it a country that ticks all the boxes. Here, we will dive into some of the most famous landmarks in Ecuador so you will not miss a beat when visiting on your next vacation.
Be prepared to be inspired by this awe-inspiring country!
The 12 Famous Landmarks In Ecuador
There is no doubt that when people think of Ecuador and its incredible landmarks, the first thing that comes to mind is the Galapagos Islands. This remarkable destination is the hub for unique and diverse wildlife and is one of the leading destinations worldwide for ecotourism.
Many who want to visit some of the world’s most incredible regions place these islands high up on their bucket list, and it is a destination that blows people’s minds repeatedly.
Because of its variety of wildlife, such as the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoise or the Galapagos penguin, over 150,000 tourists visit the islands annually. Because of its unique ecosystem, it was recognized by UNESCO as a Natural World Heritage Site in 1976, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1984, and a Ramsar Site in 2001. UNESCO regards the Galapagos islands as one of the ‘world’s truly exceptional places,’ so it is no wonder everyone with an appreciation of nature wants to experience this for themselves.
Cotopaxi is one of the most famous landmarks in Ecuador for many reasons. Its perfect cone shape makes it a spectacular sight, but it is also the second-highest peak and one of the most active in Ecuador.
As part of the notorious Pacific Ring of Fire, Cotopaxi last erupted in 2016 and continues to shape the landscape around it, making it alluring to visitors and thrill seekers. This picture-perfect volcano combines the beauty of a snowcapped peak with the open grassland at its base, which makes it one of the most iconic photo stops in the country.
Another reason Cotopaxi is so famous and frequented by over 200,000 visitors per year is because it is regarded as one of the highest active volcanoes on earth. With that in mind, it is fascinating to know that since October 2022, there has been an ongoing eruption at Cotopaxi, which has produced over 8,000 earthquakes since then.
Another incredible feature of Cotopaxi is that it boasts one of the very rare equatorial glaciers that exist worldwide, and it is because of these combined alluring features that many adventure seekers attempt to climb to the summit with the use of crampons and mountain axes, albeit it being an extremely technical climb.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is one of the most famous places to visit and is generally the central hub for visitors arriving and departing the country. This incredible city was built on the ruins of an ancient Inca city and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978.
It is the second-highest capital city after La Paz, Bolivia, at 2,850m (9350ft) above sea level, making it a fascinating city to explore for many reasons. The historic center of Quito remains one of the best-preserved historic centers in Latin America despite the devastating earthquake of 1917.
Incredibly, Quito is located on the slopes of an active Andean stratovolcano – Pichincha, whose last major eruption was in 1998. Within the city, there are a host of inspiring buildings like Palacio de Carondelet, Quito Metropolitan Cathedral, Basílica del Voto Nacional, Basilica of San Francisco, and Plaza de la Independencia, all of which attract many tourists annually.
Quito also features a wide range of museums that vary from classical to modern art museums to history and archeological museums. Still, one of the most fascinating is the National Museum of Quito, which is a must to learn more about the culture.
One of Ecuador’s most mind-blowing and famous landmarks is El Cajas National Park, located in the highlands of Ecuador. Not only is this national park a haven for diverse wildlife and plant species, but it also boasts oms stunning lakes, which make this a must-visit for nature lovers.
Since it lies just 30km from the famous city of Cuenca, the park is easily visited as part of a day trip. This UNESCO-recognized area is a beautiful hiking destination, and you can spend time exploring the Tereodora area, the Polylepis Forest, and the moor-like Paramo ecosystem, which are truly spectacular.
The park has four significant ecosystems, including Páramo, Montane Forest, cloud forest, and mangrove; each has unique features, making it an exceptional region of Ecuador to immerse yourself in, especially in between city visits.
The El Cajas National Park boasts an astounding 70,000 protected areas, as well as nearly 790 bodies of water, and the beauty of this area captivates those who visit the area. This has to be one of the must-see natural landscapes of Ecuador that cannot compare to other regions in the country, so of course, it is a top destination for visitors.
The Amazon Rainforest is known as the lungs of the earth, and nine countries in South America have a share of this incredible region, with over half of it being contained within the borders of Brazil. Many who visit South America are eager to tick an authentic Amazonian experience off their bucket list since it is often considered a once-in-a-lifetime and genuinely unique experience where wildlife encounters and true wilderness can be discovered.
While countries like Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru are popular for Amazon Rainforest excursions, so is Ecuador, and the journey often starts in Quito.
Ecuador might just have a 1% share of the Amazon, but this region is consistently explored by many who visit the country. From Quito, you can take a flight to the small Amazonian town of El Coca, and from there, the adventure begins. Over 42,000 sq miles of Amazon Rainforest exist within the borders of Ecuador, and visiting this section offers an authentic glimpse into the most diverse ecosystems in the world, thanks to its underdevelopment.
You cannot visit a country like Ecuador without delving into its rich history and heritage, which dates back Centuries. One of the leading attractions in the country is Ingapirca for this very reason since it is often regarded as one of the most significant pre-Colombian archeological sites in Ecuador. As well as being a haven for history enthusiasts, Ingapirca, which means ‘Inca walls,’ is Ecuador’s largest known Inca ruins.
This incredible site is a fascinating place to learn more about the history of the Canari culture and its amalgamation into Inca rule. Since it is one of the most visited sites in Ecuador and makes an easy day trip from Cuenca, informative guided tours are readily available.
Ecuador is a country that is steeped in history, and those who visit want to delve deeper to learn about the people and tribes that shaped the country we see today, so Ingapirca is often said to be like a time capsule that allows visitors to see what live during the Inca period was really like.
One of the most famous landmarks in Ecuador is the Devil’s Nose Train, which got its name due to the many deaths that occurred during the construction of this section of treacherous railway.
This hair-raising route, which takes passengers through some of Ecuador’s most incredibly scenic regions in the Andes Mountains, is an absolute must-see for anyone who wants to experience one of the most remarkable train rides in the world while learning the history and how this unfathomable track was built in the first place, with little technology.
Featuring 500m drops and countless switchbacks, this is a wild ride, to say the least, but it is one that any visitor will remember, so it is no wonder that everyone wants to experience this journey.
One of the most intriguing things about the construction of the track is that it took thousands of men to build, including 3,000 Jamaicans and 1,000 Puerto Ricans, resulting in over 2,000 deaths. Even throughout the years, when the rest of the tracks were closed, the Devil’s Nose section remained open since it was one of the most popular and frequented attractions for visitors keen to experience this unbelievable journey.
One of the great things about Ecuador, and one of the reasons it is a popular and alluring destination for many, is its diversity. On one trip, you can witness steaming volcanoes, marvel at crater lakes, discover the Amazon Rainforest, and dive into its historic side with a visit to Inca ruins and historic centers.
In addition, we cannot forget the incredible stretch of coastline that Ecuador boasts. With 2,237km of the Pacific coast, there are several excellent beaches to visit and panoramic views to witness, with one of the most popular beach cities being Salinas.
Salinas is one of the most visited destinations on the Ecuadorian coast because of its five-star hotels, nightlife, and abundant water sports activities. The canon of Salinas has plenty of excellent things to see and do, including La Chocolatera, which is the furthest point on the continent and named after the watercolor.
San Lorenzo Beach is ideal for calm surfing, while Mar Bravo Beach is known for its stunning sunsets and wild waves. Other notable places in Salinas are Punta Carnero Surf Beach, the Chipipe neighborhood, and the upscale Port Santa Lucia.
Just like the capital of Ecuador, Quito, the historic center of Cuenca, has also been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for many reasons. The city is known for its historic buildings and historical significance as an agricultural and administrative center.
Cuenca is situated at an elevation of 2,560m (8,400ft), making it one of the highest cities in the world, along with other Ecuadorian cities such as Riobamba, Tulcan, and Quito. Cuenca was added to UNESCO in 1999 because of its ‘outstanding universal value,’ ‘authenticity,’ and ‘integrity,’ and the city is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.
One of the most exciting facts about Cuenca is that the famous straw hats known worldwide as ‘Panama Hats‘ come from here. This city is well known for its crafts and textile industry, and the city also exports flowers to various corners of the world, including the United States and Europe.
Within this beautiful city, there is a wide range of architectural marvels that entice visitors, and some notable buildings include both the old and new cathedrals, the Monastery of El Carmen de Asuncion, and the Monastery and Museum of La Concepcion. Cuenca is one of the most popular cities for visitors to embark on day trips from due to its proximity to major Ecuadorian landmarks like El Cajas National Park and Ingapirca.
Ecuador, which translates as Equator in English, is a country that is so named because it is situated in the Middle of the north and south hemispheres. The Middle of the World City, or Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, is one of the most famous landmarks in Ecuador for this very reason: visitors love the idea of getting their photo taken with one foot on each side of the Equator Line. Located at latitude 00°00’00, the Middle of the World City is one of the most visited attractions, especially if this is your first time standing in this region of the world.
The Middle of the World monument is the iconic feature here, and visitors can explore a fascinating timeline to get to know the main events throughout the years. This is a common day trip from Quito. While here, there are several fun, family-friendly, and pet-friendly attractions to explore, including a planetarium, several museums (including a craft beer museum and cacao museum), and traditional buildings.
In addition, this site is the first place in Ecuador to have a planetarium with virtual reality, and the Oswaldo Guayasamín pavilion is an unmissable attraction for art enthusiasts since it exhibits the works of the famous Ecuadorian artist and sculptor.
If you thought the landscape of Ecuador couldn’t get any more diverse, just wait until you visit Puyango Petrified Forest, the largest of its kind on the continent, with the area estimated at 500 million years old. This incredibly unique area of Ecuador exists near the Peruvian border, four hours from Loja city, and consists of 2569 hectares (6570 acres) of petrified forest. As well as witnessing these ancient natural wonders, a range of rivers run through the region, and plenty of hiking trails allow you to explore the area’s diversity.
One of the most intriguing things about the Puyango Petrified Forest is the mystery it holds, and it is rare to find anything quite like this in the world, so it is no wonder scientists are very interested in learning more.
As well as nature lovers and scientists, wildlife enthusiasts are also drawn to the region since it is home to 130 different bird species and plenty of other animals that thrive in this unique environment, a designated National Heritage Treasure. From fossilized rocks to million-year-old tree trunks, the Puyango Petrified Forest is where you can discover fascinating wonders around every corner.
12. Laguna Quilotoa
While plenty of these landmarks listed are mind-blowing, Laguna Quilotoa is truly picture-perfect, if not only for its vibrant greenish color. This water-filled crater lake was formed when a volcano collapsed, and its green color came about because of the rich variety of dissolved minerals.
Plus, one of the interesting things is that there are hot steam vents on the floor of the lake as well as hot springs on the eastern side. Despite its allure, swimming in the lake is a big no-no, but taking photos is one of the main draws for tourists since this lake offers a stunning backdrop.
One of the top albeit serious hikes that passes by Laguna Quilotoa is the Quilatoa Loop Trail, which is considered challenging but a must for an off-the-beaten-path adventure. The 35km trail is a 3–5-day hike, depending on fitness level, and can be done as part of a tour with an experienced guide.
For those who prefer a shorter walk, the trail around the caldera takes between 4-5 hours and has stunning views, and there are a few varied hikes, which you can also embark on to explore the area. Visiting this iconic lake is a must for nature lovers and adventure seekers, and day trips from Quito are common.