Ecuador and Bolivia, two exciting South American nations have plenty to offer. Discover the Amazon and its bounty of exotic creatures, smoking volcanoes and other world landscapes. There's lively market squares, grand cathedrals and ornate mountain top churches, imposing monuments, impressive museums and a host of Spanish colonial cities waiting to be explored. Below we've list the best places to visit in Ecuador and Bolivia, some familiar, some new. We hope you'll love them too!
The beautiful Amazon rainforest covers most of the Amazon Basin of South America, the majority of which is contained within Brazil, then Peru and smaller amounts in Ecuador and Bolivia and other South American countries.
Tropical rainforests are the richest of all the world's ecosystems. Although the Amazon covers only about 5% of the earths surface, stretching across 7.8 million kilometres squared, it contains about half of all living species of plants and animals, including hundreds of species of trees and thousands of species of insects, and is vital for the health of the earth, acting as giant lungs. Sadly, the Amazon is experiencing one of the highest rates of deforestation on the planet. Between August 2003 and 2004, an area the size of Belgium was destroyed. So now is the time to visit this natural marvel, not only to see it while it is still here but to help gain and spread awareness.
Many of our tours of Ecuador and Peru visit the Amazon jungle, where we stay in jungle lodges or on board a riverboat. Spend your time enjoying hiking, swimming, canoeing and photography. Try and spot some of the many mammals from armadillos, honey bears, sloths, to the 60 varieties of bats, tapirs, peccaries, jaguar, monkeys, manatees and much more. Birds are the richest group of Amazon vertebrates, at approximately 1000 species. You may see hummingbirds, toucans, and tanagers on land, and darters, herons and gulls on water. There are naturalists on-hand to ensure you make the most out of your time in this fascinating eco-system.
Otavalo market has lots of interesting gifts from carpets and rugs with Indian patterns to jewellery, paintings and reed pipes, but is also a great place to go people watching. The handicrafts market is a maze of colourful stalls with Andean pipe music coming from ‘Poncho Plaza’ the square around which the market is centered.
Ecuador’s capital spreads across a spectacular Andean valley, flanked by volcanic peaks. At an altitude of 2,800m, the dizzy heights of Quito can take a few days to get used to but asides the stunning setting, there’s plenty to keep you entertained while you do. Designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, the city’s historical centre is a maze of colonial splendour, rich in architecture and heritage, boasting no less than 40 churches, 17 squares, and 16 monasteries and convents. A massive restoration project completed in 2006 spruced up many buildings and brought historic theatres back to life. All in all, it’s a great quarter to wander around with several excellent museums and inviting restaurants and cafes. Much of the city’s charm lies in the vibrant working class and indigenous character of its people. Walking its narrow streets is to lose yourself in another world where women walk by carrying impossible loads and street performers play on guitars and accordions for your attention.
Set in the Andean highlands under the smoke of volcano Tungurahua, Banos is one of Ecuador’s most enticing tourist destinations. The small city is hemmed in by luxuriant green peaks and adorned by a beautiful waterfall. The name Banos, which is Spanish for ‘baths of sacred water’, refers to the steaming thermal baths that the area is rich in and a number of professional massage studios have popped up making it a perfect place to relax. The natural surroundings have seen the city become something of an adventure capital and people flock here to hike, soak in the baths, ride mountain bikes, volcano watch and raft on the local rapids. Banos is also the gateway into the jungle and the downhill road leading east from town offers spectacular views of the Amazon Basin stretched out below.
Piercing blue skies contrast with blinding white salt as you drive across the flat lakebed. The area’s unusual landscape of mountains, active volcanoes, and geysers is like nowhere on earth. Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat at over 12,000 km² and is located in southwest Bolivia. It is the remains of an ancient salt lake and is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt! At certain times of year the rain causes an icy lake to form above it, and the reflections are literally incredible to look at, especially at sunset, making it difficult to tell where sky stops and ground begins.
Another must see is nearby Laguna Colorada a large red lagoon whose colour is the result of algae & plankton growth in the mineral-rich waters, and Laguna Verde a lake that owes its striking blue-green colour to high concentrations of lead, sulphur, copper and other minerals. You can see numerous geysers, boiling mud pools, thermal baths and Licancabúr volcano in the area.
Your first sight of La Paz is guaranteed to take your breath away. At a well-publicised altitude of 3660 metres, it’s one of the world’s highest capital cities. The imposing Mount Illimani looms in the background whilst below lies a valley full of sensational surprises. Buildings cling to the sides of the canyon that the city was built in and spill spectacularly downwards. Sprawling shantytowns give way to affluent high-rise apartments as the city’s central tree-lined thoroughfare runs through the downtown core. Here you’ll find grand government buildings, impressive museums, and vibrant markets, including the Witches’ Market where you can pick up anything from dried frogs to llama foetuses for Aymara rituals. The city has a burgeoning international cuisine and nightlife, and is best savoured over time.
The city of Potosi with its grand churches, ornate colonial architecture and friendly locals is a real delight, but this is not what really brings visitors here. Founded in 1545 by the Spanish conquistadors, Potosi’s story is wholly tied to the silver ore discovered here. The city was once one of South America’s largest and wealthiest and the mines of the Cerro Rico are the richest mines in all of world history. A visit to Potosi isn’t complete without a trip to one of the cooperative mines that are still in operation today. Here you’ll see that working conditions have changed very little since colonial times and get the chance to meet the miners that work in these extreme conditions. Visit the Miner’s Market where you can buy gifts for the miners before heading into the warren of mines where these men spend their working hours.