#01 Otavalo market
Even hardened skinflints won’t be able to resist bagging a few of the fabulous handicrafts and weavings on offer at one of the largest and most colourfull artesanía markets on the continent.
A mixture of church spires, tiled roofs and skyscrapers glinting in the sunlight against the brooding backdrop of Volcán Pichincha, the second highest capital in the world is an enthralling blend of urban and traditional indigenous cultures.
Ecuador is a big draw for experienced climbers, but even novices, if fit, fully acclimatized and under professional guidance, can have a crack at Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.
#04 Laguna Quilotoa
This glittering green crater lake sits at the heart of the Quilotoa loop, a popular scenic diversion through the beguiling landscapes and villages of the rural central highlands.
#05 Malecón 2000
A triumph of urban renewal, this landmark transformation of a dangerous and dilapidated riverside walkway into the cultural and recreational heart of the city, has been a leading force behind the renaissance of Guayaquil.
One of the country’s best-loved festivals features a carnival of dazzling costumes, dancing troupes and marching bands parading through the streets of Latacunga.
The bright, zesty flavours and tender textures of ceviche, seafood marinated in lime juice, have made it a national obsession, especially on the coast, where it makes the perfect accompaniment to sun, a cold beer – and a bowl of popcorn.
#09 Colonial Cuenca
Pristine colonial architecture, cobbled streets, illustrious churches and flowering plazas give Cuenca a distinguished air and the well-deserved reputation of being the country’s most enchanting city.
#10 The páramo
High-altitude grassland wildernesses rolling uninterrupted for miles between lonely, mist-shrouded lakes in many of the country’s highland reserves, the páramo is bleak, cold and wet, but hauntingly beautiful. For more information, see The northern sierra, Trails from Oyacachi & Reserva Ecológica El Ángel.
#11 Nariz del Diablo train ride
Experience one of the world’s greatest train journeys as it descends the Andes over the “Devil’s Nose” in a sequence of thrilling switchback turns.
#12 Galápagos wildlife
The fearless creatures ekeing out an existence on a few scarred volcanic islands that inspired Darwin still give an unparalleled insight into the mechanics of nature at one of the world’s most treasured wildlife destinations.
Brought by the conquistadors, horses may be late arrivals to Ecuador, but they are uniquely suited to in-depth exploration of the country’s sweeping highland landscapes.
See the riches of more than five thousand years of Ecuadorian culture at the country’s top museum, which features some of the oldest ceramics discovered on the continent, exquisite pre-Columbian worked gold, and masterpieces of colonial and modern art.
#15 Whale watching
The heart-stopping sight of a 36-tonne humpback breaching and flopping back into the ocean amid towers of spray can be experienced between June and September, when they come to the Ecuadorian coast to breed. For more information, see Súa, La Libertad and Punta Carnero & Ruta del Sol.
#16 Contemporary art
Ecuador’s great modern artists are like the conscience of the nation, influential social commentators whose work, on view at several impressive galleries, shouldn’t be missed. For more information, see Mindalae, Capilla del Hombre, Guayllabamba and El Quinche & Zumbahua.
Whether it’s nibbling on the local specialty, melcocha (a sticky toffee made in shop doorways), wallowing in thermal baths, or hiking, biking or rafting in the surrounding countryside, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in this charming spa town.
Perched on a hillside overlooking serene pastoral countryside, Ecuador’s best-preserved Inca ruins exhibit the fine stonemasonry and trapezoidal doorways that were the hallmarks of the empire’s architecture.
#19 La Compañía
Quito’s centre is packed with magnificent churches, monasteries and convents, but few can match La Compañía’s outstanding Baroque facade and sumptuous interior.