If you love dramatic mountains and valleys, good hearty food, and affordable, independent travel, then the Ecuadorian Andes Region is beckoning. While the Galapagos and the Amazon might have the best name recognition in Ecuador, the most visited area of the country is actually the Andes Mountain region.
The Ecuadorian Andes Region, also known as the highlands or the Sierra, is full of striking panoramas and approachable cultural experiences. Most visitors fly into Quito and can then take a short domestic flight to destinations like Cuenca. Alternatively, bus travel is very common throughout the country, and long distance fares average less than $1.50 per hour. Whereas trips to the Galapagos or the Amazon tend to come in a packaged tour, travel throughout the Andes is often done more independently (especially if you know a bit of Spanish).
Otavalo is a small city a couple hours North of the capital, in a region made famous by its indigenous artisans. The streets and squares of Otavalo fill with with textiles, woodworking, other handicrafts, produce, and livestock, creating one of the biggest and most popular indigenous markets in South America. Top things to do in Otavalo include market shopping and outdoor activities.
Quito, the capitol of Ecuador, sprawls amazingly amidst the cracks and crannies of steep mountains. Things to do in Quito include the historic center of town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Mitad del Mundo – or Middle of the World – which marks the equator not far outside the city.
To truly experience the mountains and dramatic rural farmlands of Ecuador, head to this hiker’s paradise surrounding the Quilatoa crater lake. Bring a backpack and take a multi-day journey on foot from one small mountain town to the next. Or stay put in a tiny town like Isinlivi to enjoy the remote, natural beauty for a while. If you’re around on Thursday, make sure to check out the huge indigenous market at Saquisili.
Baños is best known for adventure sports, but even if you aren’t interested in zip lines or mountain biking, it’s still one of the most beautiful little valleys you can imagine. The town feels a bit touristy, but there’s a good reason it’s so popular. There’s plenty of things to do in Baños, whether you’re there for a day or a week.
Not only is the city center of Cuenca a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s one of the safest parts of the country where many Ecuadorians and expats enjoy an active retirement. It’s a great home base to practice Spanish; eat three-course lunches for $2.50; get fresh, affordable produce; and take lots of fun day trips.
Ecuador’s Andean region has been one of our absolute favorite areas to visit. In the travel world, it still flies below the radar but its beauty and low-key, friendly culture has captured our hearts!
For more posts about Ecuador, you can find them all here!
This is a guest post by Michelle and Jedd of Intentional Travelers. This 30-something couple left their full-time jobs to join the Peace Corps, then became digital nomads, doing work online as they travel the world. They share places to visit in the Andes of Ecuador, after a two-month trip through the country.