During my recent 2-week trip to Ecuador, I had the opportunity to photograph the Andes, the coast, and the capital, Quito, as part of Visit Ecuador’s Feel Again Project. It was a revelation to discover the two contrasting landscapes and the historical city centre.

The Andes, which I have explored through Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru still surprised me. In Ecuador, the sheer size of the mountains is impressive. From Quito, the Andes stretch in every direction and the towering volcanic summits like Cayambe and Cotopaxi are omnipresent. The Coast, on the other hand, was more diverse than expected. There were white sand beaches, interesting coastal rocks, and occasional cloud forests.

Adding the two regions together, coupled with a few days in Quito, provided a well-rounded look at the Andean country. No sooner had I boarded my flight back to Canada than I promised I would soon return to explore the country more. For now, here’s my photographer’s guide to Ecuador.

Quito and its nearby mountains

La Ronda – Quito’s Historical Centre

Quito, Ecuador, is the nation’s capital and second largest city. Because the entire city is set in a single valley, it sprawls north and south while remaining relatively narrow east to west. During my visit, I explored a few neighbourhoods, like La Mariscal and La Paz, but La Ronda was the absolute best in terms of photography. As the historical downtown, La Ronda is home to cobbled streets, stunning cathedrals, and government buildings.

Drive Time: La Ronda is in central Quito, travel time varies | Recommended time: Blue hour, 30 minutes after sunset.

La Ronda is Quito's historical neighbourhood, complete with cobbled streets.

Quito has numerous stunning churches worth visiting, even if you aren't religious.

Laguna Del Quilotoa

Not unlike Crater Lake, in Oregon, Laguna del Quilotoa is a stunning caldera lake near both Cotopaxi and the Ilinezas Volcanoes. Located 160 km south of Quito, it makes for an easy out-and-back day trip; however, I would only recommend it if you have more than a single day in Quito.

Drive time: 5 hours, return from Quito | Recommended time: Ideal at sunset.

A crater lake surrounded by the Andes mountains is photographed by a lone photographer

Cayambe Volcano

Throughout my entire stay in Ecuador, the number one item on my photography list was to photograph the many volcanoes that surround Quito. Sadly, I never had a clear view of Cotopaxi, which has been erupting since late August 2015, but on my final nights in the country, I had stunning views of Cayambe straight off my hotel balcony.

Drive Time: Hotel Quito is located in the La Paz neighbourhood, travel time varies | Recommended Time: Sunrise or blue hour

Cayambe is visible from Quito

The Ecuador Coast

Montañita – Ecuador’s best surf town

Surf culture is alive and well on the coast of Ecuador and no town shows it off quite like Montañita. While local life remains tied to the swells, the town itself has a reputation as a backpacker’s party stop along the gringo trail.

Drive time: 3Hrs north of Guayaquil | Recommended Times: the best light is in the AM, but the best surf is in the PM.

Learning to surf on the Ecuador Coast

Las Tanusas Resort and Spa

Las Tanusas isn’t just a stunning resort and spa. It’s also a killer seascape photography location thanks to a diverse coastline. While the interesting rock formations caught my eye most, there were also white sand beaches lined with palm trees. It’s also a prime spot to watch for humpback whales migrating down the coast.

Drive Time: 2:45 hrs north of Guayaquil, 1 hr south of Manta | Recommended time: Sunset

interesting rock formations on the coast at Las Tanusas

Pacoche Reserve and Lodge

Wildlife photographers with more patience and better luck than I had are likely to see howler monkeys in the Pacoche Reserve, along with 55 endemic bird species.

Driving Time: 3 hrs north of Guayaquil or 30 minutes south of Manta | Recommended Time: Early morning

Larger than life in the Pacoche Reserve a huge leaf in the Pacoche Reserve cloud forest

Puerto Del Morro Mangrove

Located just west of Guayaquil, the Puerto Del Morrow Mangrove is one of the best places to see dolphins in Ecuador. Boat tours leave hourly and travel through mangrove forests in search of dolphins. The only down side to the tour is if you fail to see dolphins in the mangrove, the tour winds up in the fishing port near Posorja, where sightings are more likely but the scenery is awful.

Drive time: 1 Hr west of Guayaquil | Recommended Time: Sunset tour

 

Pacific Ocean sunset in Ecuador

Baños de Agua Santa

Waterfalls Road

Baños de Agua Santa, best known as Baños, biggest attraction is the 15-km long Waterfall Road. It’s a common cycle route for backpackers; however, as a photographer hauling a full camera kit I was thankful to explore both Manto de la Novia and Pailon del Diablo by car.

Drive Time: 15 minutes from Baños | Recommended time: early morning, before the crowds.

Manto de la Novia waterfall near Banos, Ecuador Pailon del Diable is a major waterfall near Banos, Ecuador

Casa del Arbol

If the waterfalls are Baños’ biggest attractions, the most touristy thing is the Casa Del Arbol Swing. It’s little more than a photo opportunity, but two giant rope swings let visitors pay $1 for the chance to swing out under the Tungurahua volcano. It’s a cheap thrill and a killer photo, especially when the clouds aren’t blocking the view.

Drive time: 30 minutes by city bus, 15 minutes by taxi | Recommended time: early morning, before the crowds

The Casa del Arbol swing is all about adrenalin

The Antennas

Across the valley from town, a wickedly steep road climbs towards a set of radio antennas. The drive – made possible by inexpensive ATV rentals in town – makes for the perfect sunset photography location, as the panoramic view takes in the entire valley, the town, and the Tungurahua Volcano.

Drive Time: 20 minutes | Recommended time: Sunset

Bonus: Galapagos Islands

My friend, and fellow canadian travel photographer Brendan Van Son joined Team USA in the Galapagos Islands during the Feel Again campaign. After a quick glance at his images, I’d say that the Galapagos are a wildlife photographers dream, that Brendan lucked into some terrific light, and that he owes me an a really awesome Christmas present. Anyway, check out his images and his recommended packing list for the Galapagos if your trip to Ecuador includes a trip to these amazing Pacific Islands.

Go beyond my Photographer’s Guide to Ecuador

This Photographer’s Guide to Ecuador is part of a series developed in partnership with Ecuador Travel. Watch for these upcoming posts:

  1. Feel Again in Ecuador – October Desktop Wallpapers
  2. 21 Ways to Feel Again on the Ecuador Coast
  3. Feel Again Project Adventures
  4. Feel Again in Ecuador Video Launch