Paul Schicke
Written by Paul Schicke Senior Expedition Designer

Updated: May 03, 2024
Published: May 06, 2019

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Close-up of a Scarlet Macaw, also called a red macaw, in the rainforest of mainland Ecuador

In our posts about the Galapagos, we’ve mainly stuck to talking about, well, the Galapagos. But there’s another destination that factors heavily into your adventure with Quasar Expeditions — mainland Ecuador.

In a way, the Galapagos Islands have become the best and worst thing to ever happen to tourism in Ecuador. They bring more travelers to the region than any other attraction, but they cause travelers to overlook what the rest of the country has to offer.

That’s a true shame, because the mainland is an incredible destination in its own right. Extending your stay, after your Galapagos cruise, in the area is a great way to experience mainland Ecuador and everything it has to offer, from thriving indigenous cultures and fine examples of Spanish Colonial architecture to the spectacular Andean mountain range with its famed Avenue of the Volcanoes—plus some of the best lodges in the Amazon basin.

Here are some of the most thrilling, lesser-known attractions and destinations of mainland Ecuador to visit before or after your excursion to the Galapagos.

Stunning Natural Beauty

Many people assume that the Galapagos is the be-all and end-all when it comes to dazzling wildlife, but in fact mainland Ecuador has far more flora and fauna than the islands themselves. It even boasts one of the highest bird species counts in the world, with over 1,600 species identified to date. You’ll experience wildlife like no other, thanks largely in part to Ecuador’s proximity to the Amazon rainforest. You’ll find pinky-sized monkeys, massive reptiles and everything in-between.

Squirrel Monkey in mainland Ecuador, posing for the camera

The Central Andes

The central Andes of Ecuador are truly an awe-inspiring destination. The land experiences a never-ending spring, revealing gorgeously blooming exotic plant life amidst giant, vibrant green volcanoes. Some even feature pristine white snow caps, and the entire region is filled with some of the world’s most welcoming and hospitable local inhabitants.

The Otavalo highlands capture what these Central Andes are all about. Here you can visit the homes of indigenous craftsman, their villages, and the oldest and largest indigenous market in the Andes.

An indigenous Ecuadorian woman weaving fabric into merchandise, a pass down tradition of their ancestors

Hacienda Zuleta

While traveling the Andes, you may want to stay in Hacienda Zuleta. Formerly home to the Ecuadorian president Galo Plaza (who happens to have been born in New York), this gorgeous villa was built by the kind of Spain near the end of the 16th century. Today, Zuleta is a combination destination resort and working hacienda, with its own ancient pyramids on-site as well as extensive grounds for horseback riding, hiking, and mountain biking. It also features its own organic garden and cheese factory.

Ecudorian women sitting infront of the colonial-era working farm turned boutique hotel, Hacienda Zuleta in Ecuador

Papallacta Hot Springs and Spa

Looking to do some relaxing after your thrilling and exhausting adventure in the Galapagos? Visit Papallacta Hot Springs and Spa. It features multiple pools, breathtaking natural landscapes, and its own nature reserve that runs along an idyllic creek. It also just so happens to be a world-class spa rivaling some of the world’s greatest resorts.

Two women and a man enjoying a soak in the thermal pools of Ecuador's Papallacta Hot Springs and Spa

Hacienda El Porvenir

Hacienda El Porvenir is another must-see destination, featuring staggering views of the snowcapped Cotopaxi volcano, where you can go horseback riding like a chagra (Ecuadorian cowboy) over the paramo and pass pastures of fighting bulls.

Hacienda El Porvenir with Rumiñahui Volcano in the background

Colonial Quito

Colonial Quito used to fly under the radar as a must-see destination, but its recently begun topping top-10 destination lists—and for good reason. Colonial Quito features gorgeous sights like the golden alter at La Compañía church, pre-Columbian artifats at Casa de Alabado Archeological Museum, and even the Chez Tiff chocolate factory where you can sample delicious South American chocolate and learn how it’s made. The shop was founded by a Swiss chocolatier and his Ecuadorian wife, who concoct their own unique creations from cocoa beans that are simply divine.

Colonial Quito in the evening with rolling hills in the background

The Galapagos are a must-see, bucket list destination that should be a high priority for any global adventurer. Having said that, neglecting to consider everything mainland Ecuador has to offer will leave you missing out on one of the most underrated gems of South America.

Want to learn more about Ecuador travel? Contact Quasar expeditions today.

Paul Schicke
By Paul Schicke
Senior Expedition Designer

Hello! My name is Paul. I am a photographer, traveler, teacher and writer. I have extensive experience in travel to Galapagos, Peru, Patagonia and the western seaboard of South America specializing in ways travelers can experience these once-in-a-life destinations like locals on the road. Lover of wine, chocolate, travel, coffee, and helping others plan vacations of a lifetime!

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