Santa Ana Hill, with a scattering of houses that make up the neighborhood Las Peñas, is an icon of the city of Guayaquil.

Located on the western coast of South America, the beautiful country of -Ecuador has a lot to offer. Whether you are looking to experience city life, get a tan at the beach, or escape to a fairy-tale land, Ecuador has it all. Here’s a look at three cities that offer different perspectives on a country that is rich in culture and diversity.


The coastal city of Guayaquil is lively and charming, and the downtown area is a great place to kick off your vacation. A must-see is Parque Bolivar, more commonly known as Iguana Park. This lush park is filled with friendly iguanas that are used to visitors and are easily lured from the trees to pose for pictures. Surrounding the park is some of Guayaquil’s most beautiful architecture, including one of the city’s focal points—the Metropolitan Cathedral. This neo-gothic cathedral, open to the public, offers a glimpse of the city’s rich history.

Iguanas are commonly found in the coastal cities of Ecuador.

Another attraction worth visiting is Las Peñas, Guayaquil’s oldest neighborhood. This historic area, located on Santa Ana hill, is a maze of quaint, brightly colored houses that line the narrow, winding streets. The houses are no longer residences but are now filled with art galleries, shops, and restaurants. Take your time wandering through the streets of Las Peñas until you reach El Faro, the lighthouse at the top of the hill that overlooks the city and the Guayas River.

If you are trying to escape the hustle and bustle of the downtown area and want to catch a glimpse of what everyday life is like for a guayaquileño, you can take advantage of the city’s public transportation system and go exploring. The Metro Via will take you to the suburbs of Guayaquil, where you can get a flavor for the laid-back, fun-loving atmosphere of this coastal city.


Boaters and sunbathers enjoy the sunshine and the ocean breeze of the Salinas Coast.


After a few days of touring the bustling city of Guayaquil, you may be ready to relax in a tropical location—and you need not travel far. A mere two-hour bus ride will take you to the beach town of Salinas. Located on the peninsula of Ecuador, Salinas is well known for its pristine beaches and delicious seafood. The shore is lined with hotels, where you can choose to shell out the big bucks or save on cash. Regardless of price, you will have a beautiful view of the ocean. You can fill your days with boating, jet skiing, hang gliding, or just relaxing on the beach. Try some of the fresh seafood—your pick of fish, shrimp, lobster, crab, or oysters. It’s all delicious and affordable.

A native girl of Otavalo shops at the market on a Saturday morning


After your time at the coast, you can finish off your vacation in the northern part of Ecuador, also known as La Sierra. Just fifty miles north of the capital city of Quito lies the picturesque town of Otavalo. Located in the Andes Mountains, Otavalo and its surrounding villages are home to the country’s indigenous people. The cottages and cobblestone streets will make you feel like you have been transported into a fairy tale. The natives of Otavalo are kind and hospitable, and they deeply value their cultural roots. You will get to know the natives a little better on Saturday morning when the town center transforms into a thriving market. By the crack of dawn each Saturday, the streets are replete with locals selling beautiful jewelry, handicrafts, and textiles.

If you are looking for a more tranquil setting, you can hop on a bus and head to the village of San Pablo. This scenic village is known for its crystal-clear lakes surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. You can enjoy the view as you go for a boat ride and soak in the beauty of Mother Nature.

—Julie Davis