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Imagine a country where you can wake up in the highs of the Andes, admire several snowed volcanoes quietly resting under a mild sun. Where you could play jumping over the equatorial line, feeling like an equilibrist on the Earth Belly Button.

Can you feel the humid earth of a vigorous jungle, the most bio diverse on the planet? Or taste the sweet of coconut water on a tropical beach, while surfers do their tricks and far in the ocean some whales jump in a mythic dance. These are just a few of the attractions that Ecuador has to offer.

Winner of top tourism prizes at the World travel Awards in 2017, Ecuador is the thirtieth smallest country in South America, nonetheless one of the richest in natural attractions and cultural sites to discover.

Here is a list of places you can’t miss if you decide to visit this enchanting country.

Gálapagos, the Enchanted Islands.

Black volcanic rocks languish in white-sand beaches, where colonies of sea lions rest in the sun and transparent waters host sharks, gigantic manta ray and penguins. This archipelago composed by more than 15 volcanic islands took its name from their most famous inhabitants, the Gálapagos gigantic turtles.

Probably one of the last places in the world where humans can feel they are tolerated guests by its fauna, it is the perfect destination for animal lovers and adventurers.

Are you curious about this remote and unique place? Read “Floreana”, written by Margrett Wittmer, who in 1933 leaves Germany with her husband and stepson to settle in Floreana, a small island in Gálapagos.

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Cuyabeno, the submerged jungle.

The most bio diverse place on earth, far away from any civilization, is accessible just by canoe. In this lacustrine jungle is possible to observe more than 500 species of birds, monkeys and the pink amazon dolphins. The few hotels that stand on still, immersed in the deep wet jungle, are very ecological: a natural soap is provided and candle’s light will illuminate the dark nights.

Don’t miss the sunset at the Laguna Negra: you will never forget the submerged trees reflecting in the lagoon, where the pink and orange colours of the sky dance on the black waters.

Baños de Agua Santa.

One of the main accesses to the Ecuadorian Amazon, with the faithfully presence of the active volcano Tungurahua, Baños is the perfect spot for those who look for the adrenaline at it’s purest. With its mild weather, impetuous rivers and epic waterfalls, this city offers activities for the most adventurous.

Canopy, canyoning, rafting, puenting are the extreme sports to choose.

The less courageous can opt for bike tours, waterfall sightseeing and thermal waters.

What not to miss in Baños:

  • Pailón del Diablo waterfall. The 80 metres high waterfall is one of the most majestic waterfalls of the country.
  • The Swing at the end of the world. Taste the clouds balancing you on a swing over the amazon forest.

Cotopaxi National Park.

With luck, on you arrival flight to Quito, you may see the peak of Cotopaxi over the clouds, one of the highest snowed volcanoes of the country. In a one-day trip from Quito you will admire the typical flora, the pajonal, and the lagoons that reflects the 5897 metres high volcano in its plenitude. Lamas, birds, Andean bears and wild rabbits inhabit this land.

Tip: Get there by train! Daily departures from Chimbacalle train station in Quito with a guided tour.

The coast.

Affected two years ago by a terrible earthquake, the coast of Ecuador hasn’t lost its beauty and the warmth of its people. More than ever, the need of tourists to reactivate the economy and enjoy the warm Pacific Ocean, the white wild beaches and the exquisite cuisine is present. From north to south don’t miss:

  • Mompiche. Stay in the little hippie village and surf at Playa Negra.

  • Playa Cañaveral. Infinite rows of palm tree and black sand make this place unique.

  • Canoa. A spot for surfers and beach lovers, it has a special drink you should try: the Uña de la gran bestia (the Great Beast’s nail). Better not to ask what it contains… One of the ingredients is a centipede!

  • Agua Blanca. Agua Blanca community, situated in the green inland of Machalilla’s National Park, is a small village, which works entirely in the community tourism. Visit the small museum to admire the exquisite ceramics of the area and get a guided tour in Spanish or English. After that, have a swim in the black sulphur lagoon and cover yourself with black mud: is beneficial for the skin and for a funny pic!

  • Los Frailes. Flowered mangroves caressing the white soft sand, green mountains where palo santo’s trees scent grows in the warmest hours of the day and transparent sea, make Los Frailes one of the most beautiful beaches of the Ecuadorian littoral.

  • Puerto Lopez. From this town start the tours for the whale watching and for the Isla de la Plata (called the Little Galapagos, here you can see hundreds of the typical Blue-footed Booby bird). Best months to whale watching: from June to September.
  • Ayampe. This village, where purple bougainvillaea decorates the dirt roads that brings to the sea, is a place to find peace and rest in front of the ocean. Tip: Ask for the famous restaurant “Los corviches de Ayampe” and taste the famous corviche, a snack made of plantain, fresh albacore and a peanut butter seasoning – a delicatessen you won’t forget!

  • Montañita. One of the hottest spots for surfing in South America, this small hippie village attracts each year national and international tourist. Enjoy the flour textured sand, delicious food and cocktails in front of a vibrant sunset, before dancing all night long in one of the clubs… Ops, I thought you were here to surf!

Quito’s old town.

Declared as First world Cultural Heritage Site in November 1978, the old town sector of the capital is a delight for every tourist interested in architecture, history and mystery. Lost yourself in the swarming narrow streets, enter the gold-leaf covered church La Compañia, and rest on a banc of the major square, the Plaza Grande, where old elegant men give grains to the pigeons and remember a past we are unable to even imagine.

Tip: Have a walk to La Ronda district, a street that remained almost untouched since the Spanish colonization. Cafés, restaurant, galleries and even street artists performances give life to this antique barrio.

Otavalo’s market.

Just 3 hours away from Quito, Otavalo city will make the shopping lovers fall for this place, home of the biggest artisan market in South America. Get there on a Saturday, which is the main market day.

You will find any kind of goods: jewelry from all over the country, fine alpaca jumpers and blankets, tapestry, artworks and antiques. The indigenous people of Otavalo are really proud of their culture and keep wearing their original clothes; women, in particular, use several rounds of gold plated necklaces and antique coral bracelets. ·

Cuenca.

Known as well as the city of the 4 rivers, this colonial charming city attracts tourists for its colonial avenues, old stone churches and museums. It has become a hot spot for American retirees, who find the mild weather and peacefully lifestyle the best option to settle down. Visit the Banco Central Museum to find out more about the city and the region and check an original Panama hat factory – Yes, Panama hats aren’t actually from Panama, but designed and made in Ecuador. During the construction of the Panama channel, the Ecuadorian hats were highly demanded to protect the head from the sun and now a day they are still produced with the antique technique of weaving of the paja toquilla (the natural fibers).

A destination where you will leave your heart.

This is just a starter taste of what Ecuador has to offer. The kindness, the authentic warmth and cheerful spirit of its people will do the rest, converting a trip to an exotic destination into long-lasting sweet memories.

A last advice… Percentage of people who have felt in love with Ecuador is very high: you may want to throw you return ticket and live in the eternal spring country!