Enjoy the biodiversity of gay Ecuador: ancient culture, wild nature, the Galapagos, and gay Quito

Ecuador might be one of the smallest countries in Latin America, but don’t let that fool you. This equatorial stunner is teeming with majestic volcanoes, colorful Andean villages, and sugar-fine beaches—not to mention the most biodiversity per area of anywhere in the world. Then there’s sky-high Quito, a city so beguiling it was named the very first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Travel to the world’s second-highest capital to experience what is—quite literally—a dizzying display of architectural treasures and picture-perfect plazas in one of the best-preserved historic centers in all of Latin America. And that’s just gay Ecuador at a glimpse. From the impenetrable corners of the Amazonian rainforest to the snow-capped Andean mountains to the wonders of the famed Galapagos Islands, there’s no limit to the dazzling array of adventures that await. Now, let’s dive in with these enchanting places to visit in Ecuador right now.

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Cotopaxi | Photo: Mateo Serrano

LGBT travellers in Ecuador

Ecuador is, in many ways, a trailblazer for LGBT rights in South America. One of the first countries to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation—and one of only a handful of nations to ban conversion therapy—Ecuador provides more LGBT protections than many of its neighbours. Traditional fiestas such as Año Viejo even have parades where men cross-dress as women, though, admittedly, this is more open-minded fun than the promotion of sexual alternatives. That said, it’s important to note that Ecuador remains a conservative country where antigay bias exists despite anti-discrimination laws. Exercise discretion with public displays of affection unless you’re out and about enjoying Ecuador’s gay scene.

Best time to visit Ecuador

An equatorial nation with diverse regional geography, there’s no best time to visit Ecuador. Weather varies greatly depending on the micro-climate, with altitude affecting temperatures more than the time of year. December through May is the rainy season, though hot temperatures and sunny mornings also make this the best time to plan a sun-drenched vacay to the coast. When it comes to the Galapagos, June through September and late December/early January are peak seasons due to school breaks; however, the months of December through May bring calmer seas, warmer weather, and better visibility for divers. Avid hikers might opt to visit Ecuador during the drier months, when weather on the volcanos is more predictable (but know that rain or hail can occur suddenly at any time as you near the summit.)

Guayaquil | Photo: Suka Endara

Photo: Robinson Recalde

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Gay Quito promises an endless stream of culture, colour, and culinary treasures in its narrow cobbled streets.

1. Gay Quito

From its dramatic perch high in the Andes, sandwiched between misty mountain peaks, Quito is a vibrant capital city going through a renaissance of sorts. Once just a quick stop-over en route to Ecuador’s more illustrious gems, travellers are now catching on to what locals have known for quite some time—Quito promises an endless stream of culture, colour, and culinary treasures in its narrow cobbled streets.

Quito’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site plugged with preserved colonial architecture, world-class museums, and leafy public plazas. The showstopper is Plaza San Francisco, a whitewashed church dating back to the 1500s built upon ancient Incan ruins. Plaza de la Independencia and La Compañía are two other must-visits. From here, amble along La Ronda, a buzzing pedestrian-only street dotted with bohemian cafes and art galleries.

The Mariscal District, also dubbed the Pink-Gay Zone, is the lifeblood of gay Quito Ecuador. Here you’ll find a smattering of high-vibe gay nightclubs to get your groove on. El Hueco is easily the most popular and a fitting spot to end any night on the town. Discover all the highlights of Quito with our in-depth travel guide to Ecuador’s breathtaking capital city here.

Quito | Photo: Andres Medina

Quito | Photo: Andres Medina

2. Cuenca

Cuenca is the cultural capital of Ecuador, brimming with colonial architecture, soaring steeples, and blue-tiled rotundas. More manageable than Quito, this is a city that begs for leisurely afternoon walks down cobbled roads lined with geranium-laden balconies. While Cuenca feels lost in time, this is also a city clearly in use, and there’s an intoxicating charm to the imperfections hidden within the postcard-worthy historic center.

Don’t miss The Old Cathedral of Cuenca on your city exploration. The church dates back to 1567 and was built using stones from nearby Inca buildings. The New Cathedral of Cuenca is also striking—and impossible to miss with its imposing domes that stand out against a lush mountain backdrop. Cuenca is beloved for its handicrafts, so this is the spot to snag authentic souvenirs on your travels. Textiles, ceramics, and the iconic Panama hat are all solid choices.

Cuenca, Ecuador | Photo: Juan Ordonez

3. Cajas National Park

Just an hour outside of Cuenca is Cajas National Park, where aquamarine lakes and craggy mountains set the scene for countless adventures. This spot also marks Ecuador’s Continental Divide; rivers on one side feed the Amazon River and on the other flow to the Pacific Ocean. Weather can be extreme, but when it’s playing ball, hit the trails to explore the highland landscape. There are some 15 hikes from which to choose, all of which are stunning. The Hill of the Three Crosses is one of the most popular for its sweeping grassland and lagoon views.

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With its lush gold and green slopes to its glittering glacier-capped peak, Cotopaxi is a marvel—not to mention one of the largest volcanoes in South America

4. Cotopaxi National Park

Continuing our list of the best places to visit in Ecuador is the incredible Volcan Cotopaxi. With its lush gold and green slopes home to wild horses, llamas, and deers to its glittering glacier-capped peak, Cotopaxi is a marvel—not to mention one of the largest volcanoes in South America. It’s possible to visit via a day trip from Quito. Still, if your travel itinerary affords an overnighter, you’ll be well rewarded with the opportunity to venture deeper into the national park. The Laguna Limpiopungo and Refugio hikes are two of the most sought-out. Adrenaline junkies can bike down winding, unpaved roads past pre-Colombian ruins. Of course, a cosy afternoon on a hammock soaking up the volcano views with a steaming cup of coffee in hand is also encouraged.

Cotopaxi | Photo: Gleb Albovsky

Cotopaxi | Photo: Gleb Albovsky

5. Nariz del Diablo

Next up, it’s all aboard for what is undoubtedly one of Ecuador’s most riveting adventures—a 12-kilometre train ride zig-zagging across one of the country’s most dramatic settings, La Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose.) Constructed around 1900, the railroad is widely considered a masterpiece of engineering for its series of steep switchbacks carved out of the rock. The jumping-on point for the trip is Alausi, a delightfully picturesque town set on the edge of a gorge. The railway journey is a fantastic introduction to the Andes mountains and indigenous culture, especially on Sundays when locals congregate in Alausi for market day, always a thrumming and colourful affair.

6. Cayambe Coca National Park

As expansive as it is extraordinary, Cayambe Coca National Park stretches across four provinces, from the rocky highlands and alpine tundra through miles of cloud forest to the tropical Amazon Basin. There are three entrances to access the national park, each of which provides a distinctly unique experience. Cayambe is the spot to hike the glacier-capped volcano of the same name. Papallacta is a spa town dotted with forest trails and around a dozen or so hot springs. Hiking, bird watching, and pampering yourself in a thermal bath are all popular things to do here. Finally, Santa Rosa de Quijos used to be the entrance to discover Ecuador’s tallest waterfall, La Cascada San Rafael; however, due to sudden changes in the terrain, the 150-meter tall waterfall abruptly disappeared, leaving merely a trickle in its wake. As such, we now recommend the first two entrances to best discover the highlights of Cayambe Coca National Park

Cayambe | Photo: Adriana Leon

7. Agua Blanca

For an intimate encounter with ancient culture far removed from the hustle of Quito, visit Agua Blanca, a small indigenous community tucked away in the heart of Machalilla National Park. A nearby archeological site and museum hold pre-Colombian artwork and artifacts, a great introduction to the time-honoured history of the land and the community’s relationship to it. Once you’ve got your culture fix, head to the heart of Agua Blanca to luxuriate in the therapeutic mud baths and deep, sulfur-rich lagoon. There’s also a pretty walk through the tropical forest with loads of interesting birds and plants.

8. Tena

Get an introduction to the Amazon with a visit to Tena, the gateway to the undisturbed jungles and rivers of the Yasuni National Park—and a veritable must for places in Ecuador to go. You’ll need a reservation at one of the handful of lodges to encounter wildlife and, on occasion, interact with local tribes. There’s also the opportunity for kayaking down Class 1 to Class IV white water rapids. The town itself is experiencing a bit of a boom due to an influx of adventure travellers, so expect a good variety of restaurants and bars to savour a cold beer after an exciting day.

Quilotoa | Photo: Andres Medina

Quilotoa | Photo: Gleb Albovsky

9. The Quilotoa Loop

Arguably one of the most picturesque multi-day trekking routes in all of South America, The Quilotoa Loop is Ecuador’s most popular expedition for a reason. Wind through remote Quechua villages and lush valleys, soaking in splendid views of the awe-inspiring Laguna Quilotoa on this epic three-day hike. Relatively short distances and hostels at quaint towns along the way make this accessible to novice trekkers, though be sure you’re acclimated and come well-prepared. Many hikers say it’s all too easy to take a wrong turn along the way, so don’t be afraid to ask your hostel owner for a detailed map of the day’s route.

10. The Galápagos Islands

We would be remiss to talk about Ecuador gay travel and not mention The Galapagos Islands. With its legendary reputation as a haven of biodiversity, this isolated archipelago of volcanic islands captivates visitors with its moon-like landscapes and utterly impressive wildlife. While not totally uninhabited, humans still take a backseat to the one-of-a-kind creatures that call the Galapagos home—and that’s a good thing. Whether it’s diving with white-tipped reef sharks, close-up encounters with the famed blue-footed boobies, or swimming alongside playful sea lions, it’s nearly impossible to visit the Galapagos Islands and leave without a newfound appreciation for the wonderfully diverse world we cohabitate. Wondering what other nature encounters you can expect on the islands? Check out our full guide to the wildlife of the Galapagos here.

Galapagos | Photo: Luna Zhang

Galapagos Islands | Photo: Simon Berger

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Galapagos | Photo: Bryan Thompson

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