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!
El Angel Ecological Reserve is the sought after experience outside the town of El Angel, and it's an experience you will never forget. The reserve is a unique bio-zone of a variety of flora and fauna only found there, including the amazing fuzzy-leaf Frailejones that spread across the gorgeou moorlands. Before you leave town, make sure to have a local lunch of exquisite fresh trout and yellow rice, at an unbelievably low price!
Stretching out on a sandy peninsula into the sea, Bahía de Caraquez is officially recognized as an eco-city for their environmental endeavors, and is a elegant getaway for residents of Quito and Guayaquil. Bahia is home to very fine museums and classy restaurants, but is also just 30 minutes away from the popular beach of Canoa where many go for surfing and hang gliding off the cliffs!
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.