Ecuador Nature Guide 2020
If your a nature lover visiting Ecuador, our guide to the top Ecuador nature hotspots is something that you absolutely cannot miss! Ecuador’s reputation for fantastic nature derives from the huge array of landscapes that hit every corner of the spectrum. We’re talking tropical rainforests, parks featuring volcanoes and inhabited by Andean bears and condors, pristine beaches, and remote islands. Interestingly, Ecuador is one of the only places in the world where nature has legal rights within the constitution. The best part of all, all these Ecuador nature sites are in a country roughly the size of Nevada!
Ecuador nature areas near Quito, Ecuador
Baños de Agua Santa
Just under three hours from Quito lies one of Ecuador’s most famous nature areas. Baños de Agua Santa, commonly called Baños, is named after the hot springs within the area. They are distinguished for their healing properties derived from the minerals. Winding rivers criss-cross the area with numerous classes of white water. This means plenty of fun for those that want to kayak and raft. Waterfalls are bountiful in the area, breathtaking and powerful ones that are more than insta-worthy. Nearby to Banos is the Llagantes national park. This area hosts a variety of creatures including many spectacled bears, alpacas, and condors. The vegetation is lush with cedar and cinnamon trees. One of the hotspots of these areas you have to visit is is the mega waterfall, the Pailon de Diablo, which translates to devils cauldron.
The Mindo Valley is a mountainous watershed located on the western slopes of the Andes. What makes this place special is the intersection of two of the most biologically diverse ecoregions in the world. The two are the Chocoan lowlands and the Tropical Andes. As far as finding a place with unlimited nature options and tours in Ecuador, it doesn’t get much better than Mindo. From butterfly gardens to birdwatching, white water sports to hikes, horseback riding to canyoning, Mindo truly has it all. I visited a few years back and stayed in a charming tropical hut, remote from the town by a ten-minute walk and in the middle of the forest.
There are local spots in the town with hummingbird gardens with hammocks onlooking an assortment of hummingbird feeders. At all times when I visited, there were 5-10 hummingbirds at the feeder, with 5+ different species! This area is very close to Quito and can be arranged fora day trip. However, I recommend to the guests that have time, spend an extra day or two in Mindo to enjoy the wonderful Ecuador nature.
Cotopaxi National Park – Ecuador nature
The 129 mi² Cotopaxi national park 2-hour ride from the capital of Quito. It’s a magnificent nature area to get up close to one of the breathtaking snow-capped volcanoes of Ecuador. The Cotopaxi national park contains a unique paramo grassland ecosystem, hosting a variety of species. Among the most iconic are the red brocket deer, Andean foxes, pumas, white-tailed deer, Andean speckled bears, Andean condors, and always large herds of guanacos.
Trekkers can drive up to a gravel lot near the base of the Volcano, and then trek up 20 minutes to the basecamp where climbers are preparing to summit the Volcano starting at midnight. You can hike an additional 45 minutes to the glacier, great for breathtaking photos.
Antisana Ecological Reserve
Antisana park is named after the huge, glacier-covered stratovolcano found within the park. This Ecuador nature hotspot has many trails leading through the Paramo ecosystem complete with beautiful lagoons. Some of the wildlife includes rabbits, caracaras, Andean Ibis, owls, white-tailed deer, mountain tapirs, Nothern tiger cats, and more.
Cajas National Park
One of the points of pride of the Ecuadorian city of Cuenca, this 110 mi² park is perfect for any nature lover. The name “Cajas” comes from the Quichua word “cassa” signifying the gateway to the snowy mountains. With over 270 lagoons and plenty of unique animals, this is the perfect outdoor spot that wants to get away from the tourist sites. If you are lucky, you might see the giant hummingbird, the world’s largest hummingbird in the world! There are over 157 bird species, and 44 mammals including pumas, coatis, weasels, skunks, foxes, porcupines, pacas. Currently, Cajas is a nominee for a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Yasuni national park
Yasuni of two of the protected national parks in Ecuador deep in the Amazon. This park is one of the most famous areas for exploring Ecuador nature. Guests typically bus or fly in, and stay at one of the many lodges dispersed throughout the park.
From there, guests tour through the tropical rainforest with a local guide to teaches guests of rainforest plants and animals, including monkeys, anacondas, and sloths, and more. Guests explore the river on canoe excursions to find pink dolphins and river otters, experience nocturnal hikes to see unique amphibians and insects. Many of the tours include cultural visits to the native communities, where they learn a different way of life far from civilization.
Cuyabeno Nationa Park – Ecuador Nature
The second of the two national parks deep within the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador.
Cuyabeno is known for its many lagoons, where guests can spot the iconic pink river dolphins and river otters from motorized canoes.
The tours go pretty much the same way as they do in Yasuni national park.
If you are looking through the total immersive Amazon experience in pristine rainforest, this is the way to go.
For a comprehensive guide to choosing between the two, visit my Cuyabeno vs Yasuni Guide.
Within, I go into detail about the pros and cons of each, along with detailing the animals, the community, and the lodges.
Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve
Within this park, visitors will get a glimpse of the Cayambe volcano, the only snow-capped peak on the equator. This Ecuador nature reserve is massive, protecting areas of the Highland Sierra, the Amazon basin, and the temperature cloud forest in between. One of the highlights of the park is the impressively powerful waterfalls that spray mist when you get close. As you explore, you can spy upon unique animals like the sword billed hummingbird, Andean Condor, and perhaps with some luck the Andean bear.
Sangay National Park
3,000 mi miles
If you are interested in seeing volcanoes, Sangay may be the best park as it has three volcanoes, two active and one extinct. This park has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983, and it’s not hard to see why. Its the largest protected area in all of the Sierras, and contains over 10 different life zones. Impressively, nearly 500 species of birds and over 3,000 species of plants are found here.
One of the most beautiful volcanoes, el Altar, was likely one of the tallest volcanoes in the world before it erupted. For those looking to visit Sangay, we highly recommend the altar region as it is bot gorgeous and accessible. Here, you can enjoy sites such as glacier lakes and the paramo ecosystem.
Machalilla National Park – Ecuador Nature
This beautiful natural area is near the vibrant coastal city of Puerto Lopez. It is definitely worth the visit if you are traveling down the Ecuadorian coast. This area protects some of the most pristine stretches of beach in the world, includes Ecuador’s most beautiful Los Frailes. Additionally, unique habitats such as endangered tropical dry forest fall within this park, for visitors that want to explore a completely different type of ecosystem. Don’t have the money or time to go to the Galapagos Islands? Visit Isla de la Plata, a nesting ground for Blue-footed, Red-footed, and Nazca Boobies, and the Magnificent Frigate Bird. You can also dive and snorkel around the island, spot sea turtles, and even whales!
Galapagos National Park
Perhaps the site that truly Ecuador on the global radar for nature besides the Amazon rainforest is this famous park, the Galapagos Islands. This Archipelago off the western coast of Ecuador is unique for its many landscapes, otherworldly creatures, and breathtaking landscapes.
There is something for every nature lover out there in the Galapagos islands, from snorkeling to glamping, nature hikes to sunbathing on pristine beaches. This place has it all. What sets apart the Galapagos islands from other Ecuador nature sites are the animals, with a huge amount of endemic species, ones that you can’t find anywhere else on this planet naturally.