Luís Simões, travel sketcher around the world
Ecuador may be the smallest Andean nation, but it is full of the most amazing contrasts of landscapes. It has an amazing biodiversity, impressive historical heritage, stunning colonial architecture, bustling indigenous markets and a diverse yet friendly mix of people.
Since we were traveling by bicycle, we created this list of the best places in Ecuador to see and sketch, from north to south.
Best places in Ecuador to see and sketch
For some reason, we didn’t make the best decisions on how we should manage our trip and we ended up dedicating ourselves more to our companions bike travelers than to the attractions that Ecuador offers. Yet, we can name the Best places in Ecuador to see and sketch base from our experience which are definitely worth to visit.
Near the border of Colombia, Tulcan is the first town we visit in Ecuador. The most famous thing in here is the municipal cemetery of Tulcan. Cemetery? Yup! It is not about spooky mausoleums or any other frightening place, it is simply because of its trees. It’s an interesting place to sketch or enjoy the most elaborate collection of topiary in the world.
Cotacachi is famous for leatherwork. It’s a home to the only high school in Ecuador that teaches leather work. It was right on the new year when Cotacachi mountain froze her peak and also the first sketch that Luis did in 2018. It was a pretty start.
Nearby, there is Lake Cuicocha that lay on the foot of Cotacachi Mountain. Cuicocha itself literally means Guinea Pig in English. The name was given due to the Guinea Pig’s shape of the largest Island in the middle of the lake. It’s considered sacred by many locals, and every year at summer solstice people take purification baths here. It was too cold for us to try though.
Otavala located 12 km away from Cotacachi, on the foot of Imambura Mountain. The best day to visit Otavalo is Saturday. Not only because it has the biggest indigenous market in Ecuador, it also has alive animals market that is still traditional and authentic. However, for those who have sensitive feelings or fight for animal’s rights, this place is not recommended to visit. It’s quite cruel to see animals being treated as a product.
Quito is obviously one of must places to be in our list – best places in Ecuador to see and sketch. It’s known for its well-preserved colonial center, rich with 16th- and 17th-century churches and other structures blending European, Moorish and indigenous styles.
Antisana mountain is the fourth highest peak in Ecuador. Famous as one of the most difficult to climb due to its completely covered with snow and has very active glaciers. But its surrounding was worth to explore due to has beautiful lakes and once in a while we could see the mighty condor flying over.
We actually didn’t went to Cotopaxi mountain, we just passed by and see this mighty from the main road. But still, we keep thinking that Cotopaxi is worth to put in our list – Best places to visit & sketch in Ecuador – at least to the foot of it because is one of South America’s most famous volcanoes and one of its most active ones!
Puyo is a small town like many in Ecuador. The best of Puyo is that we were for the first in the Amazonia area! We could listen to the sound of the birds while the day was waking. The nights were fresh and the mosquitos were quite a lot! The green atmosphere and of course the humidity was the big change from the Andes mountain range. These reason also the best reason to sketch different environment.
Cuenca is widely popular as the most European city in the country of Ecuador. It has old Cathedrals, colonial parks, charming shops and food, big university and good weather! In these last several years, Cuenca has become a major destination for expatriates and retirees looking for low cost, yet high-quality lifestyle. If you come to Cuenca you will easily bump on Americans living here. But you will also see a modern and organized city center with a well preserved cultural part.
Located in the Cuxibamba Valley, Loja is surrounded by lush, green mountains that cascade down into beautiful valleys with rushing rivers. It’s One of the oldest cities in Ecuador. The town squares are full of statues, frescoes, and other remnants of its colonial past. In contrast with Cuenca, Loja preserved the important e colonial buildings giving them a new modern look either with colorful lights or significant architectures.
10. El Cisne
This town is known for having the most venerated Cathedral called Marian National Shrine of Our Lady of ‘El Cisne’. The Virgin of ‘El Cisne’ statue has been a focal point of devotion for the deeply religious inhabitants of the area. Every August 17th, many thousands of pilgrims gather here to begin a three-day religious procession to Loja. Located in a valley made this baby-blue Cathedral pop-up in the middle of the town.
Everything in between
Besides the big cities or touristy areas, Ecuador offers riches nature that we found along the way. The authentic nature along trans Ecuador Mountain bike route, the endless panorama of Andes mountain range, the charming lush of Amazonia area, mesmerizing clouds in the morning when we were in Catacocha, or the surrounding of San Felipe de Ona. If we have to mentioned every place we like, our list of best places in Ecuador to see and sketch will never end!
If you think that we miss a place or two that you believe it has to be in this list, right us in the comment below! Also, don’t forget to check our favorite places in Colombia that can inspire you to visit and eventually, sketch!