Dubbed the "Florence of South America", Cuenca is both romantic and noble, and one of the most popular places in the world for retiring expats. Visit the Inca ruins of Ingapirca and Pumapungo, see how their trademark woven fedoras are crafted, stroll alongside one of the town's many rivers flowing through, and sample delicacies at the local markets.
From Ecuador's largest city, hop on the bus for a pleasant ride to the center of the country's beach coast, Manta! Playa Murcielago is full of great fun for families and youth, with on-beach restaurants and volleyball tournaments. The city also has an exciting nightlife, where adults enjoy the evening breezes on the boardwalk going from one nightclub, bistro, or bar to the next to celebrate the good life.
Coca is the launching point for all kinds of Amazon forest adventures and is sought out for the secluded jungle lodges and trips to see pink dolphins and other fascinating wildlife. The town itself is funky cool, where you can not only see how regular folk fare with the 'jungle life', but find all sorts of artesan galleries and even the Amazon's only air-conditioned movie cineplex! Come hang out by the river in Coca!
One of Ecuador's most popular destinations and only four hours from Quito, Baños is a hip town sought out for its many spas and natural hotsprings fueled by the active volcano Tungurahua that looms over the town. If you want to relax, Baños has scores of massage studios and great restaurants. AndesTransit offers many types of ways to get to Baños, from DIY options, to online tickets, and private shuttles for small groups.
Stretching out on a broad sandy beach, Canoa is famous for its huge bluffs for hang gliding, great surfing, and cool restaurants and beatnik bistros on the beach. From Cano you can also visit Bahía de Caraquez, officially recognized as an eco-city for their environmental endeavors, and is a elegant getaway with very fine museums and classy restaurants!
If you've got the Indiana Jones bug, put Macas on your map! Besides being a fun little town of cool pizza joints and quirky cyber cafes, Macas is the joint where you put your boots on to venture into the bush to find amazing archaeological ruins just quietly hiding under the vines. Also come here to visit indigenous Shuar communities (formerly known for head-hunting). You can continue by bus south to Gualaquiza to see even more, or arrange for guides as often many of the ruins are on private lands
So, let's say you're out there in the jungle and now ready to go back to get some city comforts. Quito's historical center was the world's first World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO, and is alive with political energy and the merging of Ecuador's cultures. Visit the city's many fine parks like Carolina or Itchimbia, enjoy world-class dining in La Floresta or Portugal, and take the cable car up to the top of Pichincha to see breathtaking views of the entire city.
Guayaquil is not only Ecuador's largest city, but it is renowned for its high-spirited and handsome people. Popular sites include the riverside malecon and the nearby and colorful Las Peñas stairway neighborhood. Also pay a visit to the Parque Centenerio that stretches four city blocks and the Parque de Las Iguanas where you can get up close and personal with the namesake critters (they don't bite). Outside the city you can take a day trip on the train to Yaguachi!
Typically, one to three days in advance in Ecuador is all that's permitted for online tickets. At the station, tickets will only be available the day of travel but be prepared for long lines on weekends or holidays.