cities in ecuador

10 Best Cities in Ecuador (For Your Perfect Trip)

There’s a saying in Ecuador that you can have breakfast on the coast, lunch in the Andes, and dinner in the Amazon. This isn’t just a saying – within this tiny country, you’ll find tons of diversity, every climate you can think of, from the tiniest of villages to sprawling cities in Ecuador, all within just miles of each other.

There is so much to see and do that it can make planning a visit challenging. After living in Ecuador for more than two years, we had the chance to visit every corner of this incredible country – but if you don’t have that much time to spend here, we’re sharing the best cities in Ecuador worth your time.

In this ultimate guide to the best cities in Ecuador to add to your ultimate Ecuador itinerary, we share the most charming, impressive, breathtaking, and unmissable places to visit in Ecuador and why they’re worth your time. Plus, don’t miss our insider tips about the places you’re best off skipping!

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Best Cities in Ecuador

Ecuador is an increasingly urban country, with cities stretching out at their bounds across the country. You’ll find bustling cities around the country, though Guayaquil on the coast and Quito in the Andes Mountains are the most prominent cities in Ecuador. As an international traveler, you’ll likely travel through one of these cities to enter the country.

This list of the best cities in Ecuador for travelers includes big and small cities of particular interest to visitors. You’ll find everything from small towns in some of the country’s most beautiful and unique spots to the biggest and most bustling cities, with enough to keep travelers busy for weeks.

Let’s dive into Ecuador’s best!

1. Quito

Quito is by far the most impressive city in Ecuador, and one of the best cities in South America for travelers. I might be biased – I called Quito home for more than two years, after all – but there is so much to see and do here that you certainly don’t want to miss this incredible and vibrant city.

Old Town Quito is an impressive living monument to Ecuador’s history and is well known as among the most extensive and best-preserved historic centers in Latin America. You can easily spend at least an entire day exploring this neighborhood – it is one of the best things to do in Quito.

You’ll also want to enjoy the incredible topography of Quito – wedged between high mountains and volcanoes, you can see up to five snow-capped volcanoes from the top of the TelefériQo cable car, and riding to the top of Pichincha volcano via this cable car is a must when visiting.

Make sure you take in the view over the historic center from the Basilica del Voto Nacional and Parque Itchimbia, two incredible lookouts with unforgettable views.

Quito is also an excellent spot to base yourself for a shorter trip to Ecuador, as easy day trips from Quito can bring travelers to some of the country’s most impressive attractions and areas. Within a short distance, you’ll find cities and towns in the Amazon Rainforest, the cloud forest, and the rest of the impressive Andes mountain range.

While you’ll find plenty of hiking options around Quito – Cotopaxi, Pasochoa, and Rucu Pichincha volcanoes are famous climbs – you’ll also find unique markets, waterfalls, cultural events, and much more.

2. Baños

Baños is an Ecuador backpacking haven, though travelers on all different budgets will find something to love about this small town at the base of the rumbling Tungurahua volcano.

Named for the bubbling hot springs, heated by volcanic activity, that surround the city, Baños is both a spa town and a destination for adventure sports, giving travelers the best of both worlds when visiting.

Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Baños, Ecuador

Some of the most popular activities in Baños include canyoning – which involves repelling down a series of waterfalls on a thrilling (though safe!) journey – as well as white water rafting, bungee jumping, and paragliding. You’ll also find countless waterfalls outside of town that you can visit by bike or taxi. 

However you’d prefer to travel, make sure to visit the famous Pailón del Diablo waterfall, known in English as The Devil’s Bathtub, for how the waterfall shoots down into a narrow canyon. It’s the most famous and impressive waterfall in Ecuador.

To reach the waterfall, you’ll need to complete a short and relatively easy hike and cross a suspension bridge over the river; the journey is incredible, but the thrill of the mist from this unique waterfall and the sound of it crashing down into the canyon are unforgettable.

Just around three and a half hours south of Quito, Baños is a popular day trip destination, though you’ll get much more out of a trip if you’re able to spend at least two or three days here.

This will give you plenty of time to enjoy the town’s activities, sample some of the delicious dishes at the many restaurants you’ll find here, and hit the impressive Luna Volcán thermal spa.

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3. Otavalo

Best known as the home to the sprawling Otavalo Market, the tiny city of Otavalo is one of the most popular cities in Ecuador for international visitors. Located just a few hours north of Quito, travelers can easily visit Otavalo as part of a guided excursion to Otavalo – or independently – in just a day.

Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Otavalo, Ecuador

However, don’t write off Otavalo as just a great day trip destination. Nestled in the heart of the highlands, Otavalo is home to spectacular scenery and natural beauty that has enough to keep a visitor busy for days.

The most beautiful spots include the stunning Lago San Pablo (San Pablo Lake) and the nearby El Lechero, a tree on a hilltop outside of Otavalo considered sacred to local indigenous populations.

Don’t forget to visit the stunning Peguche waterfall just outside Otavalo and the stunning Cuicocha Crater Lake. Cuicocha is an ancient volcano – one of Ecuador’s most impressive volcanoes! – whose cone collapsed in a massive explosion centuries ago, leaving a crater with an enormous lake and two “islands” in the center.

Visitors can take a boat ride on the lake or hike the crater’s rim for an unforgettable experience at this unique spot.

What To Pack for Ecuador

Check out our Ultimate Ecuador Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Ecuador and what we never travel without.

4. Mindo

Often overshadowed by Baños for offering similar adventure activities like ziplining and canyoning, the small town of Mindo, just two hours northwest of Quito, is not to be overlooked or underestimated. In fact, after visiting almost everywhere in Ecuador during my two years here, Mindo is the town I most frequently dream of returning to.

What makes Mindo so special? This small town between the Andes Mountains and the coast is brimming with excellent activities, hostels with hammocks by gurgling rivers, waterfalls to hike to, and delicious, fresh food – international and Ecuadorian – served in cool cafes by awesome locals and expats. 

Favorite activities in Mindo include adventure sports, hiking to waterfalls, finding hidden swimming holes, and learning how chocolate is made (and trying your hand at making it!) at a local chocolate shop that sources cacao from the cloud forest.

You can stay as booked and busy as you want, or find a cozy spot in a cafe by the river and pass the day. 

Mindo is an oasis of relaxation, perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of Quito for a few days. The temperature is about 72°F (22°C) year-round, near perfection. Some visitors have loved this little slice of paradise surrounded by lush cloud forest so much they’ve never left.

Read More:

7 day itinerary ecuador

5. Tena

Located on the edge of the Amazon Rainforest, Tena is another one of the most popular cities in Ecuador for backpackers, drawn here by the easy access to the stunning biodiversity of the jungle. From here, many travelers head out on full-day or multi-day treks or excursions into the Amazon.

Read More: Ultimate Travel Guide to Tena, Ecuador

If you’re looking for a trip to the Amazon Rainforest in Amazon and have a bit more to spend, consider heading deeper into the Amazon with a trip to Cuyabeno or Yasuni, two of the best places to visit for a deep Amazon trip.

In our ultimate guide to the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, we cover how to travel to this incredible region of the country. 

Most visitors that head deeper into the Amazon stay at a lodge, rather than in a small city like Tena. Many private lodges, such as the popular Sacha Lodge, have their own ecological reserve surrounding their property – Sacha Lodge has over 5,000 protected acres surrounding it. 

Looking for the feeling of a lodge on a backpacker budget in Tena? Stay at Hostal Pakay – this charming hostel and boutique hotel on the edge of Tena is conveniently located to access the rest of town while making you feel like you’re immersed in the jungle. Hostal Pakay also offers incredible jungle tours for small groups and can organize specialized trips with private guides.

Tena is also an adventure sports hotspot in Ecuador, particularly known for being the white water rafting capital of Ecuador. Tours embark daily for rapids of all levels, meaning everyone from beginners to more advanced rafters will enjoy tours here. 

6. Guayaquil

The sprawling port city of Guayaquil is Ecuador’s biggest city and significant capital in South America. Here you’ll find the center of Ecuador’s business and finance sector and one of the major international airports in the country.

What does Guayaquil have to offer travelers? Well, not much. While there are a few attractions worth visiting if you find yourself in town, like the Malecón 2000 river walk or the charming and historic neighborhood of Las Penas, there isn’t enough to draw visitors here. With so much else to see around the country, only plan a visit to Guayaquil if necessary. 

So why even add it to this list of the best cities in Ecuador? Well, Guayaquil is an important transportation hub for exploring the coast of Ecuador or the Galapagos Islands

If you’re headed to the incredible beaches in Ecuador, you’ll likely pass through Guayaquil – whether at the airport or the bus station. Thankfully, the bus station here is relatively clean, quite safe, and has buses to every corner of the country and every tiny beach town that is calling your name.

best city in ecuador

7. Loja

Often overlooked by travelers to Ecuador, most of whom don’t travel south of Cuenca on their trip to Ecuador, Loja is a hidden gem city near the Peruvian border. Surrounded by national parks, rolling hills, and charming small towns, this lovely city in Ecuador is well worth considering as you plan your itinerary.

Loja is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador and has a lot of history to show for it. The city is packed with charming plazas, churches, and colorful buildings. Don’t skip the lovely and vibrant Lourdes Lane, lined with colorful storefronts – though a bit touristy, it has plenty of shops and cafes worth checking out. 

You’ll also want to pay a visit to the stunning Basilica de la Virgen del Cisne. Just outside of Loja, this is one of the most important religious destinations in Ecuador, and people make pilgrimages of multiple days to visit this stunning and significant site.

Most travelers will head onward from Loja, about 45 minutes south to the town of Vilcabamba. This tiny town is home to plenty of long-term travelers and expats, drawn here by the lower cost of living, perfect year-round temperature, and natural beauty. You’ll find plenty of cute cafes and restaurants, breweries, yoga studios, spa retreats, and much more. 

While Loja and Vilcabamba aren’t top on most travelers’ lists of best cities in Ecuador, taking a trip down to this part of the country is well worth it! You’ll quickly learn why so many travelers stay here for the long term. 

8. Salinas

Head out of Guayaquil and directly to the coast as soon as possible – Salinas is a great first stop and one of the favorite cities in Ecuador on the beach. While there aren’t many true cities (rather than towns or villages) along the coast in Ecuador, Salinas is one of the largest and nicest, making it an extremely popular beach vacation spot for Ecuadorians. 

Visitors can enjoy the many amenities here for tourists and travelers: you’ll find countless places to stay – at all price ranges – great restaurants, and of course, the charming malecón walkway along the ocean. Salinas is busy during the high season, from November through April, though it empties out the rest of the year.

If you’re looking for more of a beach town rather than a small city like Salinas, there are countless great options in Ecuador – doing a proper tour of them all would take at least a month or two! 

Favorite beach towns in Ecuador include Canoa, Mompiche, Ayampe, and Puerto López, though you’ll find each backpacker who has taken their own trip up the coast will hotly debate the best coastal towns and villages. 

cotopaxi national park tour

9. Latacunga

Located just a few hours south of Quito, Latacunga isn’t a tourist hotspot by any means. There isn’t much to Latacunga as a city in Ecuador to draw visitors and keep them in town, other than a few pretty and historic buildings around the town’s main square and market.

However, Latacunga is the perfect base for exploring some of Ecuador’s most beautiful natural wonders.

Latacunga sits just south of Cotopaxi Volcano, one of Ecuador’s most stunning natural spots and a must-visit destination for travelers to the Andes. Though my top recommendation for Cotopaxi visitors is The Secret Garden Cotopaxi (by far my favorite hostel and boutique hotel anywhere), Latacunga makes an excellent base for exploring the National Park, or an overnight after climbing the volcano.

Latacunga is also the start of the famed Quilotoa Loop, one of South America’s most famous and scenic multi-day treks.

The first leg of the journey starts with a bus ride from Latacunga into the mountains to either Sigchos or Quilotoa, the tiny town on the edge of the caldera of the massive Quilotoa Crater Lake, easily one of the most impressive natural sites I’ve ever witnessed.

Read More: Ultimate Guide: Quilotoa Crater Lake + Quilotoa Loop

You’ll find popular backpacker hostels in Latacunga (Hostal Tiana) packed with trekkers readying to head out or recuperating from Cotopaxi and Quilotoa journeys – it’s a friendly community.

While visiting Latacguna isn’t right for every traveler, it’s an excellent option for adventurers and those looking to get off the typical tourist path in Ecuador. Spend your days here eating local food, visiting the market – or the indigenous market in the nearby town of Saquisilí – and exploring the natural beauty surrounding the city.

10. Cuenca

Last but certainly not least on this list is Cuenca, the charming and historic city that is a hands-down favorite among many visitors to Ecuador.

Located towards the south of the country, Cuenca is chock full of lovely colonial architecture, has some excellent day trips nearby you won’t want to miss, and has enough delicious food and fascinating cultural activities to keep any traveler busy. 

In addition to touring the beautiful Cuenca Cathedral, one of the country’s most beautiful religious spots, visitors can spend hours wandering the charming and historic center of town. 

You’ll also want to visit Cajas National Park – this stunning and dramatic national park just a short ride from the city looks like a Martian landscape. Plus, nearby Incan ruins at Ingapirca make for another excellent excursion from the city. 

Now for my two cents about visiting Cuenca. Though Cuenca is often beloved by visitors, I don’t recommend visiting Cuenca if you don’t have much time in the country. Visit Quito instead.

Quito has all the history and culture of Cuenca – and on a much larger scale – plus, it is much more conveniently located to enjoy the rest of the country easily. 

While you can take easy day trips or overnights from Quito to the Amazon, the cloud forest, and many other incredible spots in the Andes, Cuenca is much further from these spots, making exploring harder. 

Whether you visit Cuenca or not, you’re sure to enjoy these lovely spots in Ecuador on your vacation. Have a memorable trip to this special corner of South America!