Best of Ecuadorian Highlands and Amazon: Part 1

Spending time with nature has an incredible way of lifting the spirit. The beautiful scenery, peaceful atmosphere, fresh scent, and clean air all contribute to this good feeling. Looking at the clear blue skies, undulating mountains, cascading waterfalls, or turquoise sea can elicit feelings of awe. 

Yearning for an exciting trip that combines nature, adventure, and culture? Ecuador has many great places to experience all these. What this small country lacks in size, it makes up for its colorful heritage, scenic landscapes, and beautiful culture. Here are some of the best places to visit in Ecuador Highlands and Amazon.


Quito City, Ecuador’s capital, lies 2,850 meters (9,350 ft) above sea level, making it the second-highest in the world following Bolivia’s La Paz. Quito is located in a valley with the stunning Andean peaks as its backdrop including the Volcán Pichincha. It is the first-ever city to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 because of its unique geographical attributes, Colonial treasures, immaculate 18th-century architecture, and well-preserved culture. 

When you visit this Instagrammable city, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Old Town’s cobblestone streets, pastel-colored houses, iconic plazas, and stunning churches. In the heart of Old Town is the Plaza Grande where you can sit on a bench and just watch the city in action. It’s a romantic spot too with the mountain scenery and colonial architecture surrounding you. 

La Basílica del Voto Nacional - Quito

One of the stunning churches you’ll find in this city is the La Compañía with impressive baroque structures. The church is noted for its golden dome, the wooden carved altarpiece, and collection of bronze, gold, and silver objects. Another exquisite church is the La Basílica del Voto Nacional which easily stands out because of a series of mystical gargoyles. For a minimal fee, you can go up the towers of the basilica to experience the best view of the panecillo and Quito. It is also possible to go inside the clock and go up to the second and third tower. 

You can learn more about Ecuador’s ancient indigenous cultures by visiting the La Casa de Alabado, a museum featuring exhibits of pre-Columbian artifacts including displays on the underworld and shamanism.


After exploring Quito, you can head over to Mindo. On your way there, you’ll be fascinated by the change of scenery as white clouds appear and form a blanket over the lush green trees and vegetation. The cloud forest diversity makes it ideal for birdwatching, nature photography, hiking, and even chocolate tasting.

Mindo Cloud Forest - Best of Ecuadorian Highlands and Amazon
Mindo Cloud Forest by Andreas Kay

The town of Mindo in Ecuador’s cloud forest is a bird watchers’ paradise. At an elevation of 1,300 meters above sea level, this town lies at the midpoint between the highland Quito section and the Pacific coast. The area is a haven for more than 550 species of birds. You have a chance to spot hummingbirds, Toucan Barbet, Giant Antpitta, Cock of the Rock, Torrent Duck, and Club-Winged Manakin. The best time for bird watching is early in the morning when birds are the most active.

Adventure lovers will love exploring the cloud forest trails and encountering unique flora and fauna. There are seven accessible waterfalls of different sizes in Mindo namely Cascada Reina, Cascada Nambillo,  Cascada Guarumos, Cascada Ondinas, Cascada Madre, Cascada Colibries, and Cascada de los Maderos. You can take the path called Tarabita y Santuario de Cascadas Mindo or Mindo waterfall hike to see the waterfalls which are all accessible on foot. You also have the option to ride the Tarabita cable car to enjoy the sweeping views.

If you’re a chocolate lover, you can participate in a chocolate tasting tour that includes a mini cocoa plantation. You can taste cacao fruit straight from the pod and learn the process of chocolate making from the tree to a chocolate bar.

Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi is the second-highest peak in Ecuador that towers at a height of 19,347 feet. This stratovolcano has an almost symmetrical cone shape that rises 12, 70 feet from its base. Cotopaxi is one of the tallest active volcanoes around the globe. Its last eruption was January 2016 and it remained closed to visitors until October 2017.

Cotopaxi Volcano


The snow-capped volcano together with neighboring dormant volcanoes, Ruminawi volcano, and Sincholagua create a picturesque volcanic landscape for travelers. These volcanoes which are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire make an incredible subject for nature photography enthusiasts.

Cotopaxi National Park was created to ensure the protection of the second tallest summit in Ecuador for future generations.

Baños de ambato

The town of Baños de ambato is inspired by its famous thermal baths. Its thermal baths are fueled by the bubbling springs of the Tungurahua. The most well-known thermal water pool is “La Piscina de la Virgen”. The site has three swimming pools (cold water, warm and water flowing from the volcano at 50º). The water has healing properties that can help alleviate psoriasis, rheumatism, and other skin problems. 

Baños, Ecuador
Baños, Ecuador by Rinaldo Wurglitsch

Baños serves as a gateway to the Upper Amazon and is located at the slope of the Tungurahua volcano (meaning “Little Hell” in the Quichua language). Its last eruption was in October 1999 which resulted in the evacuation of the entire population. The people were able to return in January 2000.

Watch out for Part 2

These are just some of the amazing places you can visit in Ecuador. We’re coming up with another blog article featuring more incredible sites worth exploring on your next Ecuador surf trip.

Follow this link for the second part of this blog: Best of Ecuadorian Highlands and Amazon: Part 2