For five other spectacular trip ideas, check out Five Must-See Places in Ecuador.
There are dozens of interesting places in Ecuador, but these five off-the-beaten-path destinations are both impressive and unique.
With just 16,000 residents, Puerto López is only a small village but it makes a powerful impression. Located in an arched bay on the Pacific coast in the Manabí Province, Puerto Lopéz is a charming fishing village known for its eco-tourism and as a perfect place for whale watching. Amberjack, dolphin, wahoo, marlin, and several species of tuna also live in its local waters. Puerto López is the headquarters of the Machalilla National Park.
Puerto Lopez deserves to rank high on a list of Ecuador’s unique sites. Position yourself in this tiny fishing community and you are in the perfect location to launch a visit to the next two renowned locations on this list.
Isla de la Plata
A few kilometers offshore northwest of Puerto López is the tiny Isla de la Plata (or Silver Island) with its intriguing history as a pirate hangout and the supposed site of Sir Francis Drake’s buried treasure. Isla de Plata is also referred to as “The Poor Man’s Galápagos.” Several species (blue and red-footed booby, petrels, frigatebirds, terns, albatross, pelican, and other seabirds) inhabit Isla de la Plata. These types also make their home on the Galapagos Islands. Surrounded by coral reef, Isla de la Plata is a popular spot for snorkeling and a wonderful place to sight pods of dolphins.
Situated in the buffer zone of Machalilla National Park, the community of Salango boasts an impressive history, cultural presence, and deep ancestral roots which go back 5000 years. The Museum Salango Commune houses pre-Columbian artifacts, including an extraordinary collection of pottery created by the prehistoric people of Ecuador.
The island of Salango is a natural wonder with its beautiful and varied resident seabirds and a marine sanctuary with schools of tropical fish and coral reefs just off its pristine beach.
Situated near the active Tungurahua volcano, Baños, a favorite with tourists, is known as the “Gateway to the Amazon” and the adventure capital of Ecuador. At the tip of the jungle, this Ecuadorian city has plenty to offer visitors, including waterfalls and geothermal hot springs as well as opportunities for outdoor sports such as canyoning, rafting, hiking through deep forests or down steep gorges, mountain biking, horseback riding in the hills, or boating to the Amazon Basin.
Baños is home to the neo-Gothic style Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water (Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa). According to believers, the church received its name because a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared near the waterfalls. This religious site is a place of pilgrimage for those who come to pray to the Blessed Virgin and ask for her blessing. The church interior is lined with paintings depicting several miracles at this sacred location.
Montañita (meaning “little hill”), a small coastal town in the province of Santa Elena with one of the best beaches on Ecuador’s south coast, as well as strong consistent waves, Montañita has been a popular destination with surfers for decades. In the 1960s, however, Montañita gained a reputation as a hippie haven.The vibes remain.
Montañita has kept in tune with modern times but never lost its party atmosphere. A visit to this small town might be a one-of-a-kind way to end a vacation — that is, if you ever plan to leave Ecuador. Many don’t; as a matter of fact, a few from the hippie era stayed and never left this dynamic destination.
If partying isn’t your style then Montañita still offers something for everyone on both ends of the spectrum. The town has spaces to relax and indulge in quiet activities like bird-watching or a stroll through the city’s shops or dining at its top-notch restaurants.
Yet Montañita is big on fun and adventure and offers opportunities for hiking to a small mountain (The Point), biking to the waterfalls at Two Sleeves and Olón, fishing in the estuaries of Manglaralto, horseback riding in the hills surrounding the town, and other active adventures.