The capital Quito, is a city with a lot of history where you can walk around the city centre and enjoy the beautiful colonial buildings. There is also the “Teleférico” (cable car) that takes passengers from the highest mountain in Quito to see the whole city from the sky. Admission costs $8.50 per person (as of November 2010). There are many inviting cafés as well as many dance clubs that are open every weekend, often until 5am.
In Guayaquil, an excellent place to visit is Malecón 2000, which is very similar to Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois, and offers dining, shopping, boat rides and a beautiful view of the river. With the exception of electronics, prices are quite low; however, almost everything sold with any brand name is a knock-off. This area is very well guarded and quite safe. For a real adventure, it is possible to visit the more authentic, less expensive, but far more dangerous Bahía or “Informal Market”. It is not advisable to visit it without a local. It is possible to buy a knock-off of almost anything here. Pirated video games and movies also abound; it is also possible to buy modified game systems to play such games. However, before buying, ask the owners to confirm that the films or games you buy actually work. On the bahias, it is necessary to haggle for all items.
Baños is the perfect town for nature lovers and extreme sports enthusiasts, offering rafting, mountaineering and backpacking of all kinds. It is possible to get an English-speaking guide. Make sure you have all the necessary vaccinations, as it is possible to get some nasty infections if you are in the water for a long time. Baños also has a public mineral bath with hot springs that only costs $1 to enter. There are other, more expensive baths, but they are fed by exactly the same water. It is best to come to these baths when they open, as the water is freshest and cleanest then.
Ibarra – and the whole province of Imbabura – is about 90 minutes from Quito and offers many tourist activities such as community tourism, adventure tours (rafting, swing jumping, kayaking, trekking, etc.) and visits to the indigenous people. The most recommended places to visit in Imbabura are: Ibarra, Otavalo, Intag and Cotacachi.
Northern Ecuador offers the best beaches, including Bahia de Caraquez, Manta, Crucita, San Jacinto and San Clemente. They offer very cheap hotel accommodation, great food and friendly people.
Ecuador is perhaps the country with the greatest biological diversity in the world. The Galapagos Islands are justifiably famous for their wildlife, but there is also plenty to see on the mainland. Ecuador has over one hundred different species of hummingbirds. Good places to see them are the Cuyabeno Wild Life Reserve, Mindo and San Luis de Pambil.
Montañita City On the coast, 3 hours from Guayaquil, this is a growing city with many features that make it great to visit: Goog Beach and the incredible surroundings, the people, the incredible nightlife and the surfing. There are many people who live permanently in the city, from all over the world.
Many people who visit Ecuador choose to give back to the community through volunteering. The Peace Corps alone has more than 200 volunteers in Ecuador at any one time. From conservation projects to building houses to teaching English, there are many ways to support development in Ecuador. You can choose to volunteer through an external organisation that will find you accommodation and connect you with a local organisation where you can work. The other option is to work directly through a local NGO. This requires more time and research, but can also be much cheaper.
Fundacion Bolivar Education [www] is a volunteer foundation based in the capital Quito and has many volunteer projects in all regions of Ecuador, including the Pacific coast, the Amazon, the Andes and the Galapagos Islands. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and can volunteer in one of the following categories: Children and Youth, Health, Environment, Teaching, Gender, Elders, Development and Animal Welfare. No previous training or experience with organisations is required. Students, families, seniors and groups from different schools, universities or programmes can work with Fundacion Bolivar Education. Accommodation options include host families or dormitories. Packages are also available for those who not only want to volunteer but also travel throughout Ecuador.
One way to improve your Spanish is to go to the cinema. Films in modern cinemas cost around $3 to $4 in the bigger cities, less in smaller towns. Foreign films are usually shown in the original language with subtitles – but not always, so ask beforehand.