Iglesia de San Francisco (Old Town; Quito): Quito's first church, San Francisco remains one of its most impressive, especially when you factor in the attached monastery, museum, massive altar, and wide stairway ascending from the plaza. The church and its ornate interior are in the midst of a major restoration, which should only make this classic, colonial-era church that much more impressive.
La Compañía de Jesús (Old Town; Quito): There's so much gold and gold leaf adorning this unbelievably ornate 17th-century baroque church that I often feel the need for sunglasses. In fact, the Jesuits who built this church incorporated several sun symbols, which some say was a nod to the Incas who preceded them on this spot. The level of detail and artistry on display here is unparalleled.
Museo Nacional del Banco Central del Ecuador (New Town; Quito): Ecuador's largest museum is also arguably its best. The anthropological and historical displays of the pre-Columbian inhabitants are extensive, interesting, and beautifully displayed. There are also very good collections of colonial-era and religious art, as well as a fine representation of Ecuador's best modern art and artists.
Fundación Guayasamín (Bellavista, Quito): Oswaldo Guayasamín was Ecuador's greatest and most famous modern artist. His striking large paintings, murals, and sculptures had an impact on artists across Latin America and around the world. This extensive museum displays both his own work and pieces from his private collection. Combined with the neighboring Capilla del Hombre, this is a must-see for any art lover or Latin American history buff.
Catedral Nueva (Cuenca): This massive cathedral took over 80 years to complete. Its two towering blue domes dominate the skyline of Cuenca, especially when viewed from one of the hillside lookouts outside town. Don't miss a chance to tour its beautiful inside, which has white marble floors, stained-glass windows, and a Renaissance-style main altar.
Museo del Banco Central (Cuenca): This modern museum features an excellent collection of archaeological finds and relics, ethnographic displays, and colonial-era figurative and religious art; it's also built right on top of a major Inca ceremonial site that has been semi-excavated. As if that weren't enough, there are extensive botanical gardens here, a small aviary, and llamas roaming the grounds.
Ingapirca (outside Cuenca): Ingapirca is the greatest surviving Inca ruin in Ecuador. A visit here will allow you to appreciate the famous Inca masonry, with its seemingly impossibly tight joints. Even before the Incas arrived, this spot was inhabited by the Cañari, and some of their original constructions are also on display. The site is believed to have been sacred to both the Cañari and Incas.
La Tolita (North Pacific coast): This unique archaeological site is found on a small island outside San Lorenzo. It is believed that it was inhabited by one of the oldest pre-Columbian cultures, a people skilled at working with gold, silver, and even platinum. One whole beach here contains millions of shards of ancient pottery.
Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo (Guayaquil): Large, modern, and well laid out, this is Guayaquil's best museum. There are extensive archaeological collections here from all over Ecuador, as well as a wonderful wing dedicated to contemporary Ecuadorean art. One of the best features of this museum is its prized location at the northern end of Guayaquil's Malecón, allowing easy access to both the popular riverside boardwalk and neighboring Cerro Santa Ana.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.