Mountains, volcanoes and Inca heritage: Top 5 adventures in Ecuador

Ingapirca – the archaeological heritage of the Incas and the Cañari in Ecuador | Ingapirca

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ecuador is not famous for ancient ruins. People come here to see mountains and volcanoes, lakes, colonial cities and, of course, the Galapagos Islands. But besides all this richness, in Ecuador you can still see ruins attributed to the Incas. Ingapirca is the largest archaeological site in the country and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ingapirca is

Ingapirca Archaeological Complex

Located 3,120 meters above sea level, the Ingapirca Archaeological Complex covers a vast area. In the Quechua language, Ingapirca literally means “Inca fortress. However, it was built by the Cañari tribes, and only later the Incas conquered it. The oval shape of the main ceremonial center and the water channels are characteristic of this complex.

We visited Ingapirca in 2015 during our round-the-world trip.

How to get to Ingapirka

To see how the Incas built the territory of future Ecuador, you have to come to the town of Cañar, which is a two-hour drive from Cuenca along the Panamericana. But if you don’t have any personal business in Cañar, you’re unlikely to end up there for nothing. Most tourists (and us too) do go to Ingapirca from Cuenca. So how do you get to the ruins?

From the main terminal (Terminal Terrestre), a bus goes to Cañar proper, then to the nearby town of El Tomba, and finally arrives right at the entrance to the archaeological park! And goes back, too, from the entrance to Ingapirka. It runs twice a day, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. there and at 1:15 and 3:25 p.m. back. The company is called TransCanar.

You can buy a ticket ($2.50) in the office (on the signboard it says simply Canar), and you can buy a round trip ticket at once. Or you can get on the bus and pay on the spot. On the bus must necessarily be written Ingapirka. The trip takes two hours.

This is the bus that goes to Ingapirca

This is the bus to Ingapirka.

Don’t forget to pay 10 cents for using the bus terminal. In Ecuador everything is very civilized: you have to throw a coin into a special machine, get a receipt, attach it to the scanner, and then go to the platform through the turnstile.

And the entrance ticket costs $6. One hundred dollar bills are not accepted in the office. The price of the ticket already includes a guide. After paying for the ticket, you must wait for the group to form with a Spanish-speaking or English-speaking guide. The tour lasts about half an hour and then there is free time. So if you start the tour at about 11:30, you will be free at noon, and there will be another hour left before the bus.

Guided tour of Ingapirk

At first the guide will tell you that before the Incas came, the Cañaras lived in this area. But nothing is left of their buildings, because the Incas destroyed everything and built their own on top. The same story is told in Loja and Cuenca. The evil Incas destroyed everything. In the Ingapirca complex, only one memory remains of the first inhabitants: a stone that showed that the sun rose in mid-summer (winters in the southern hemisphere). During the feast of the Inti, the rays of the sun passed through a specially built corridor and consecrated the stone. A kanyar burial was also found next to it. And everything else was destroyed. Above, however, was built what we call the Inca style.

There is, however, a small caveat. The foundations were left of the cañars, and the Incas decided to build on top. Moon worshippers (then what did they need sun stone for?) the cañeras built their temples round or ellipse-shaped. The Inca sun worshippers, on the other hand, preferred square buildings. So says the guide, explaining how Ingapirca differs from Machu Picchu in Peru. But in Machu Picchu, too, the sun temple is made in the form of an ellipse, which is surrounded by a huge boulder. In Pisaca we saw the same picture. So this is some kind of misunderstanding. The Incas built round “temples.” After all, it is ridiculous to explain the love of rounded shapes by the worship of the moon. The sun is just as round, and its symbols are always and everywhere similar to a circle, too.

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Ingapirka in the photo.

Ingapirca, EcuadorIngapirca, Ecuador

Cañari Stone, indicating the solstice

A kanyari stone indicating the solstice

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Ingapirca, Ecuador

Video from Ingapirka

Another mystery of history

So, Ingapirka has a pretty typical ellipse, already restored, the typical Inca windows and doors aren’t anything special either. But we found out a long time ago that the Incas themselves said that they didn’t build this way, but someone before them, whom they called “the white gods.”

So we see that the Incas, expanding their empire, found not the temples of the Cañar or Aymara or whoever else, but the buildings of the “white gods. They would occupy the territory, driving out or subjugating the former population, and then build their houses around the object of the cult. For the Incas it was already a cult, not a functional building. And then scholars and science, at the instigation of the Spaniards, began to attribute these structures to the last people who lived before the conquistadors came.

As we have already found out, to accurately determine the moment of the solstice, it is not necessary to erect high walls. A single stone or group of stones arranged in a circle will do just as well. The stones do not even have to be megaliths. So, apart from calendar functions, the “temple of the sun” must have had some other functions.

Ingapirk will not strike your fancy if you are already tempted by Peru. But why not explore further if you are interested in the question of ancient architecture and all the mysteries hovering around the question of dating and authorship of the ruins? Personally, we enjoyed this trip.

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Fantastic natural landscapes, beautiful colonial cities, magical Andes with majestic volcanoes, ancient Inca heritage and the picturesque shores of the Amazon – all this is Ecuador.

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What to do in Ecuador

The small country of South America combines four natural zones: the tropics, mangrove forests, mountains, and plains, all in a relatively small area. Here you can walk the mountain trails in the Andes, swim in waterfalls, watch animals in the wild or the life of small local villages. Travelers eagerly come here to swim with dolphins off the coast of the Galapagos Islands and see the jungle from aboard a boat in the Amazon.

Ecuador is a birdwatcher’s paradise. It is home to one-sixth of all bird species on the planet: brightly colored hummingbirds, blue and red-footed boobies, flightless cormorants and other exotic birds.

For those wishing to meet indigenous tribes, see and feel the life of local peoples, the country offers an introduction to aboriginal tribes, carefully guarding the traditional way of life.

Those who wish can live in the community of Salasaki Indians living at the foot of the Tungurahua volcano. The community was brought to Ecuador by the Incas from Bolivia to guard the gateway to the rainforest. The Salasacas are excellent weavers who have preserved their national costumes, traditions, and original political and cultural organization.

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For the intrepid extreme, Ecuador offers a high mountain ridge climb and a ride over sheer cliffs on the Devil’s Train. The route connects Quito, the capital, with Guayaquil, Ecuador’s main port city. It allows you to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of Ecuador’s magnificent scenery.

The secluded and tranquil beaches provide an unforgettable vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the cities. And if you want entertainment, you can attend one of the many beach parties. Ecuador will appeal to surfers, and in the summer months divers can spot humpback whales that swim close to shore to nurse their young.

Natural attractions

Cotopaxi Volcano.

vulkan kotopaksi

The highest active volcano in the world stands proudly in the Andes. Cotopaxi (which means “neck of the moon”) rises 5,897 meters above sea level. Its crater is more than 700 meters wide. The first recorded eruption of the volcano was in 1534, during the Spanish conquest. Then the volcano spewed ash, equally frightening to conquistadors and the local population. The last major eruption occurred in 1877.

Near Cotopaxi is the national park of the same name. The 36,000-hectare ecological reserve is covered in typical Andean heathland vegetation. It is home to llamas, deer, rabbits, frogs, and lizards. Of the birds you may find gulls, ducks, several species of hummingbirds and, if you are lucky, condors.

Galapagos Islands

gallapagoskie ostrova

Galapagos Islands are famous for their rare and exotic nature. This is the only paradise on the planet where animals are not afraid of humans. Giant tortoises, marine iguanas and Darwin’s finches live here.

On the island of San Cristobal, the westernmost point of the Galapagos Islands, there is La Loberia beach, which is home to a large colony of sea lions. Sharks, rays and dolphins can be found in the coastal waters.

The island is beloved by surfers and divers – because of the good waves and the rich underwater world. It was in the Galapagos Islands that Charles Darwin noticed the evolution of species and began to study evolution.

Puyango Forest

les puango

The Puyango Fossil Forest is a unique site of marine fossils and fossilized wood. Fossils of living creatures have been preserved in the geological layers of the earth’s crust for more than one hundred million years. This forest is located in the south of the country, in the provinces of El Oro and Loja, near the border with Peru.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a coastline here. The ocean brought sea animals, shells, and crabs ashore, and the fallen trees soaked up the salt, literally preserving them. In addition, there were several active volcanoes on the coast, periodically covering the area with ash and sulfur. As a result, the organics became petrified.

The compressed remains of wood have been turned into stones by the action of time, although some of them still look like branches and trunks. The 2,658-hectare reserve has been declared a cultural heritage of Ecuador, the only one of its kind in the world.

Ecuador’s Amazon


This is the name of the Amazon River and everything surrounding it within the country. The river is home to huge otters, manatees, turtles and pink dolphins, which are among the endangered mammal species. On the banks of the river you can see monkeys jumping on tree branches, sloths and a huge number of colorful tropical birds.

The Amazon is home to more than a hundred aboriginal tribes, who have never seen the wonders of progress, but have retained their distinctive culture. You can travel through the Amazon in a motorized canoe.

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Chimborazo Volcano

vulkan chimbrasso

This volcano is located in Central Ecuador, 150 kilometers southwest of Quito. The majestic peak, covered by eternal glaciers, rises 6,310 meters above the surrounding highlands. Chimborazo has not erupted for a long time. The volcano is depicted on the coat of arms of Ecuador because it is considered a sacred mountain, the patroness of the Andean peoples.


Yasuni National Park

nac park yasuni

The Yasuni Reserve is a 4-hour drive from Ecuador’s capital, Quito. Kilometers of dense primitive forests are inhabited by exotic plants, animals, and insects. The country’s largest national park is recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve.

The reserve is protected under international law, as it is the only way to preserve all the diversity of species that exist on the territory of Ecuador. A visit to the park will bring a lot of impressions, because many of the insects and animals that inhabit the Yasuní are found only here.

Chimborazo Reserve

sapovednik chamboraso

At the foot of the volcano of the same name is a protected ecosystem created to preserve the habitat of Andean camels: vicuña, llama, guanaco and alpaca.

In 1960, due to uncontrolled poaching since the Spanish conquest, only about 6,000 vicuñas remained in the wild. Today, their population numbers 125,000, but these animals are still endangered, so they live in the reserve.

Sumaco National Park

nac park sumako

Sumaco volcano is located away from other volcanoes in Ecuador, in the heart of the wild jungle. The national park around it offers an amazing variety of wildlife. It is home to 522 species of birds, several species of monkeys, sloths, and a spectacled bear.

The reserve has hiking trails for animal and bird watching, and adventurers can try to reach the top of the volcano and admire the fantastic view from the mountain.

Andean Paramo

andskoe paramo

The Paramo is a characteristic formation of the tropical Andes, located between the upper line of the forest (about 3,500 meters high) and the permanent line of snow (5,000 meters). The ecosystem consists of glacial valleys and plains with occasional patches of forest, lakes, peat bogs and wet meadows. It extends along the hills, valleys and ancient volcanoes of Chimborazo and Carihuayrazo.

The Paramo is diverse, with mammals and birds, and a multicolor flora: spongy vegetation, bromeliad plants, mosses, and trees such as puma poppies, polyleps, and gynoxis. There are deer, rabbits, wolves, and a myriad of birds, from the tiniest hummingbird to the majestic condor, the largest flying bird in the world.

Podocarpus Reserve

sapovednik podokarpus

This beautiful place is located in Southern Ecuador between the provinces of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe. Here tourists are invited to appreciate the incredible diversity of flora and fauna, hiking along forest trails, swimming in waterfalls and, of course, taking beautiful photographs.

The park is named after the podocarpus trees, which form small forests. Among them grow some of the most beautiful flowers on the planet – labios de rumbera orchids, colored in bright colors.

Cayapas Matai Reserve

sapovednik kayapas

The giant mangroves of 49,000 hectares are located in the very northwest of Ecuador, near the border with Colombia. The park is home to 26 communities of forest Indians, who belong to the Afro-Ecuadorian minority.

There are areas in the mangrove reserve that are constantly flooded, making the ecosystem very interesting. Water possums, jaguars, dolphins, and otters can be found in this amazing place.

The mangrove protection policy, started in 1995, gives Ecuador the opportunity to preserve endemics, animals that live only here. These include the blue crab, whose meat is considered a delicacy. And there are also many fruit trees, beautiful plants and birds in the reserve.

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Sangai National Park

nac park sangai

The park has an extinct volcano Altar Mountain, 5139 meters high, and two active ones: Tungurahua, 5016 meters high, and Sangai, 5230 meters high. The national park itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sangai has lakes, rivers, swamps and rainforests with paved hiking trails. The mountains are home to tapirs, cougars, guinea pigs, and Andean foxes. In the foothills are spectacled bears, jaguars, ocelots, white-tailed deer, pudu and giant otters. There are also 10 endemic bird species and 15 restricted-range species in the park.

City landmarks

El Panecillo Hill and the Virgin Mary.

holm el panasimo

Quito’s most picturesque view is from the vantage point at the foot of the statue of the Virgin Mary on El Panecillo Hill. Visitors can enjoy magnificent views of the central and southern parts of the city from here. Looking toward the colonial center, one can appreciate the colorful domes of several colonial churches as well as the reddish-brown tile roofs.

The hilltop of El Panecillo is 3,000 meters above sea level. Previously there was a military fort to protect the city. On a clear day tourists can see several snow-capped volcanoes in the distance.

Statue of Virgin Mary

statuya bogorodici

In addition to the amazing views, visitors can appreciate the statue of the Virgin Mary located on El Panecillo Hill. It is considered an architectural and artistic masterpiece and is a mosaic of seven thousand metal pieces. It is an exact copy of the statue of Bernardo de Legarda kept in the altar of the Church of San Francisco. The Virgin Mary stands on a ball with a snake chained to her feet.

Inside the monument, on the way to the viewing platform, which is about 11 meters above the base of the statue, there is a small museum. It tells the story of El Panecillo and details how the Virgin Mary was built. There is a cafe and a handicraft store on the museum grounds.

Cities of Quito and Cuenca

gorod kita

The colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca abound with colorful colonial architecture. Not surprisingly, they were among the first ten places to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978.

Visitors can stroll the beautiful cobblestone alleys, observe the people in the squares and the park, and visit the quaint local churches. The cities of Quito and Cuenca are worth spending a couple of days exploring.

Alameda Park

park alamedo

Alameda was founded on March 8, 1596, making it the oldest park in Quito. It is a popular place for a quiet and relaxing vacation. There is a small lagoon where you can take a boat ride and feed the birds, the El Churo observation deck and many monuments. One of them is a monument to President Eloy Alfaro, the man who approved the law respecting indigenous and forest dwellers.


Basilica del Voto Nacional

basilica del voto

The Basilica del Voto Nacional is the largest Neo-Gothic church in America. According to local legend, the end of the world would come if this basilica was ever officially completed. In fact, it took “only” 105 years from the origin of the idea to the opening of the church. And 1988 was not the end of the world.

The interior of the church is adjoined by two smaller aisles with a dome and stained glass windows. Around it are 24 small chapels, each dedicated to a province of Ecuador. The basilica is also adjoined by a crypt and a pantheon. Outside are a number of stone statues of animals endemic to Ecuador, including iguanas, turtles, armadillos and condors.

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Cathedral Nueva, Cuenca

sobor nueva

The new cathedral is named for the Immaculate Conception. Construction began in 1885 and lasted almost a century. This building combines many architectural styles, but the Romanesque Revival prevails.

The cathedral is topped with three giant domes covered with striking blue and white glazed tiles from the former Czechoslovakia. A staircase of 160 steps leads to the top and when you climb it you reach the observation deck for a panoramic view of the city of Quito. Opposite is another old cathedral which now houses a museum.

Carondelet Palace

dvorec karondelet

In Quito, overflowing with architectural masterpieces, the Carondelet Palace stands out as one of the best historical sites. Visiting it, tourists will learn about the country’s presidential history, be able to wander through the rooms, take pictures of works by famous artists and watch the ceremonial changing of the guard.

The state rooms and reception rooms of the palace are decorated with antique furniture. There are displays of antiques and gifts to the president, as well as works by famous Ecuadorian artists. Most notable is a fresco by Osvaldo Guayasamin, which depicts the navigation of the Amazon River by Francisco de Orellana in 1542.

The palace was built more than 300 years ago and holds the title of the official residence of the president and government of Ecuador. The building has a whitewashed façade in the neoclassical style, a colonnade and a large balcony. Next to it is an elegant floral courtyard with a fountain and a two-level arcade. The Presidential balcony offers a stunning view of the Plaza Grande.

Historical sites and museums

Capilla del Ombre Museum

musei kapilia

The idea for the human museum came from the Ecuadorian artist Osvaldo Guayasamin. He initiated the construction of a space dedicated to the Latino man living under injustice and discrimination.

The museum combines architecture, paintings, murals, sculptures, and outdoor areas, all with a message of commitment to human rights, peace, and solidarity. In the center of the structure is an eternal flame. The museum does not leave anyone indifferent – so subtly do the displays convey the pain and despair of the oppressed peoples of Latin America.



The ruins of the majestic Inca civilization are located in the province of Cañar, 60 kilometers from the city of Cuenca. Ingapirca has an area of four hectares, so it takes more than two hours to see the structure. The fortress was an important religious, political, scientific, military and administrative center during the Inca civilization.

Quito Astronomical Observatory


In 1873 the construction of the Astronomical Observatory began in Alameda Park and it has withstood the test of time and has remained in its original state. Today it is the oldest astronomical observatory in South America. Its equipment has survived to this day, and in the last century it was augmented with modern telescopes.

The building, with arched doorways and large arched windows, is surrounded by manicured gardens and includes not only a medieval observatory, but also a museum where visitors are told about the stars and the history of their exploration by the people of Ecuador.



Civilizations living in Ecuador before the Incas already knew about the constellations and the power of the equator when they built their pyramid. There is a monument north of Quito that commemorates a French mission to determine the exact lines of the equator. And at the nearby Intignan Museum, visitors can learn a great deal about this imaginary line.

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