Top 5 off the beaten path destinations in Ecuador


Ecuador has some fantastic places to visit, the world-famous Galapagos Islands, Yasuni National Park, and of course snowcapped volcanoes like Chimborazo and Cotopaxi. Although visiting these places can be rewarding for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts, there are many other places hidden in Ecuador’s small territory. That is why we have listed the best “off the beaten path” destinations for travelers who seek something different in Ecuador.

Cochasqui Archaeological Park

Cochasqui is the largest Pre-Incan archaeological site in all of Ecuador, built by the Caranqui culture. The site, with a remarkable view of the surrounding volcanoes, is thought to have served military and astrological purposes, and consists of 15 pyramids of different sizes, built with an access ramp, as well as many burial mounts found scattered in the area.

As one of the most important archeological treasures of Ecuador, Cochasqui is still being researched since there are many unanswered questions about the pyramids and the Caranqui culture. Cochasqui archaeological park offers its visitors an excellent opportunity to view different Andean cultures that flourished before the Incan empire, with notable differences in their architecture, farming techniques, pottery, and cosmovision. Visitors can also enjoy a good time with the llamas and alpacas that inhabit the park! 

El Angel Highlands

This mysterious forest is located in the Northern part of Ecuador at an altitude of 3,800 meters above sea level. This place is perfect for those who love the paramo (moorlands) and its unique ecosystem.

The thick fog transforms this landscape into a magical scenery that clears slowly during the day, slowly showing its visitors the fascinating panoramic views over the lagoons and the 3000-year-old polylepis forest, the only forest of this type in Ecuador. Around the area, there are many hiking opportunities, and wildlife like Andean foxes and spectacled bears can be seen in this area too.

Agua Blanca Village

This beautiful village is located in the coastal part of Ecuador, in Machalilla National Park and near the city of Puerto Lopez. This park is one of the most important ones in Ecuador as it was a settlement for one of the most significant pre-Hispanic cultures of the coast of Ecuador and inhabit this area for 800 years approximately.

Agua Blanca is effectively the most populated area in Machalilla National Park, and its inhabitants are descendants of the Machalilla culture. This ancestral community is open for visitors who are looking for a different experience while visiting Ecuador. Due to its historical influence and privileged location, Agua Blanca counts with a museum, a spa where people can enjoy ancestral treatments and a sulfur lagoon in the middle of the forest.

Cayambe-Coca National Park

Although the National Park bears the name of the famous snowcapped volcano, Cayambe, and you may imagine it as somewhere filled with snow, it is the opposite. This national park’s main characteristic is its significant number of wetlands, lagoons, cascades, and waterfalls.

The highlights of visiting this National Park are an orchid reserve located near the famous San Rafael waterfall, which can be visited through two different trails. Activities like fishing in the lakes and hiking around Cayambe are also a good idea during a visit to this beautiful place.

Cotundo

Formerly known as the ‘Sacred Valley,’ Cotundo, a parish of Archidona, in Napo is famous for its petroglyphs. According to its inhabitants, they are the marks that the ancient inhabitants printed on the stones many of which are in tributaries near the population. Most of the petroglyphs include representations of volcanoes and toads.

This small town stretches along the valley surrounded by dense jungles, abundant tropical wildlife, and has a unique culture. Cotundo is an unusual place that does not come to mind when people think about Ecuador, but it is definitely worth the visit.

For those who look for something completely new, near Cotundo there are caves, some with underground rivers running through them. It is known that these caves were used by the ancestors to perform ceremonies.

So, If you are looking for some adventure during your visit to Ecuador, don’t forget about these places that will surprise you for sure!

Carlos Beate is the Commercial Manager at Andando Tours. Andando Tours offers exclusive traveling experiences, specializing in sailing around the Galapagos Islands and overland along the magnificent Avenue of Volcanoes on the Ecuadorian Andes.

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Comments (8)

  1. Lydia Haigh says:

    I am hoping to take a career break in the next couple of years and getting to Central America and Latin America is right at the top of my agenda.

    Agua Blanca looks totally idyllic. Part of my plan is just to stop in some places and relax for several days. Could there be any better spot for that than Agua Blanca? A few expeditions into the Machalilla National Park would be fascinating as well.

    • Carlos Beate says:

      Hopefully you will be visiting Latin America in a blink of an eye!
      Well, besides Agua blanca there are other incredible places in the Machalilla National Park. You can also follow the Spondylus route that takes you to the most relevant sites of the Ecuadorian coast.

  2. Liz says:

    Cotundo in the Sacred Valley is a very intriguing place. It must be great to get an experienced guide who knows all the history and can explain the significance of the toads and volcanoes. I’m assuming that the volcanoes with their mysterious destructive power were very important to the people. But why toads? Was there a plague of toads at some point who threatened their food supply. Maybe, on another theory, the toads were of some spiritual importance.

    • Carlos Beate says:

      I agree with you Liz, I am guessing that the toads had a spiritual meaning to them. They are probable abundant as the weather is humid and tropical there.
      Going with a guide is a must, specially to the caves not only for safety reasons also because local guides can give you baffling information about the sites.
      I guess you will have to come to Ecuador to find out :)

  3. Jim says:

    I’m a great believer in off the beaten path destinations when I travel. I just don’t get it that people want to queue up and be jostled by crowds. When you go somewhere really well known, where thousands of images have been taken, there’s almost no need to see it, as you already know the place in your mind. I’d much rather discover these new off the beaten track destinations.

    • Carlos Beate says:

      Actually Ecuador is one of those places where you will not find long queues when visiting a famous place. Sometimes I think that Ecuador is almost like an off-the beaten path destination in the world itself.

      You will enjoy this country If you don’t like crowded sites.

  4. Karen Thwaites says:

    Ooo the El Angel Highlands looks like a an enchanted forest straight from a film. I wonder if it’s ever been used as a filming location? I hope it’s well protected so the 3000+ years of history and the impressive ecosystem will live on without man destroying it or ruining the habitat for the animals that live there. I’ve never heard of this forest before but I have heard of the Sacred Valley and the symbols that were, I believe, of spiritual importance for the Kichwa shamans. There are also archaeological remains there from thousands of years BC. I’ve always loved the idea of doing a bit of an archaeological adventure on a vacation one day!

    • Carlos Beate says:

      It certainly is a magical place, the forest was endangered several years ago, but the government and private investors have helped to protect it from deforestation.
      That area is famous not only for its birds and millenary forest but also for the archaeological findings of ancient tribes that inhabited the area.

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