There’s a feeling I can’t seem to shake. Coming back from Japan, I was energized by the beauty we explored there. But coming back from Ecuador, I was just nostalgic– crazy nostalgic.

Perhaps this is because we did not simply tour the lovely cities of Quito and Cuenca while we were there. We actually spent most of our time in Quito working with underprivileged youth at Casa Victoria, a ministry that is dear to my heart. I will be sharing more about our time at Casa Victoria next week.

But, without any doubt, Ecuador is absolutely gorgeous. Popular mainly for the Galapagos Islands– which we had neither the time nor budget to visit– Ecuador’s mainland is less recognized among Americans.

But both Quito and Cuenca are gems in Ecuador’s Andean range, 8,000-9,000 feet above sea level. This means the whole area is surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and little towns bedeck the hills!

So, in an effort to convince you to add Ecuador to your travel bucket list, I’ve compiled my ten favorite snapshots from our time there. Perhaps this means I’m only indulging the nostalgia more…

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador - santo domingo church

1) Santo Domingo Cathedral, Quito.

Just look at that stunning detail. Known as an emblem of the Quito School– a style of architecture that combined colonial, Moorish, and indigenous styles– this cathedral was by far my favorite. Its grandeur is highlighted by the geometric patterns that fill the vaulted ceilings. And isn’t that cerulean just darling?

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador - cuenca flower market

2) The flower market in Cuenca.

Something about this photo makes me wish that a painter would head over to the flower market and paint these women. There was just so much happiness surrounding the buying and selling of bouquets– it was contagious.

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador - betzabe y brigid

3) Betzabe and Brigid.

These two were special girls– they were such a joy to see everyday. Betzabe had the widest smile I’ve ever seen, and she smiled a lot. Brigid followed us around with her quiet curiosity, and she especially warmed up to Aaron. I miss them dearly.

Is there still space for your dreams?

4) La Basilica Del Voto Nacional in Quito.

What an amazing architectural feat– if you didn’t see more photos of this absolutely stunning church, then definitely check out my detailed Quito post. This cathedral had beautiful, huge windows which towered over us. And it was a blast to climb in and around the actual cathedral to get a view from its tallest spire!

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador - trout farm

5) Trout Farm in the Andes.

We took the kids fishing at this fabulous trout farm one day– and of course the stunning scenery took the main stage. Despite the slight chill and ominous clouds, the sun would break through and light up the entire hillside like this. Oh, and there were alpacas there too, which was the icing on the cake for me!

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador - cuenca rooftop

6) Rooftops of Cuenca from our hotel.

What a treat– seeing lovely old shingles in Cuenca right out from our hotel balcony. Those three blue domes belong to the Catedral Nueva, which is basically Cuenca’s trademark and not to be missed. See the church close up in my post on wandering through Cuenca!

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador - horseback riding

7) Billy and Luis on horseback.

These two were just too adorable on our horseback riding trip. Each of the kids took turns taking a leisurely trot around the ring, and all of them were beyond excited. Luis is a gem of a child– his generous heart and sense of humor are rare to find anywhere!

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador - panecillo

8) The Panecillo from afar.

Most of the children who attended our camp lived somewhere around here. The top of the Panecillo– the hill shaped like a round piece of bread– offers a stunning view of Quito. However, it is not particularly safe; muggings are relatively common there, where the unsuspecting wanderer might be already out of breath from the 1,000 steps involved in ascending the hill. However, we did climb it with our friends and enjoyed the work out!

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador - plaza grande

9) Plaza de la Independencia at sunset.

This is the main plaza in the historic center of Quito! Isn’t it beautiful? There were many locals wandering the square, chatting on benches, and generally having a good time– all the time. It was the perfect place for us to stroll as well, surrounded by gorgeous restored colonial buildings and vendors of every sort.

10 Best Snapshots From Ecuador - Alicia and Dan

10) Alicia and Dan at Casa Victoria.

This is the most inspiring and loving couple that ever did live! Dan and Alicia run the ministry at Casa Victoria, where they nourish and care for neighborhood children everyday, year after year. They were such a joy to spend three weeks with, and we miss them dearly. Both Alicia and Dan inspired me to write about courage– what they do requires consistent, everyday bravery. Because of them, the neighborhood is becoming a safer place for children to live!

The best photos are emotional.

I’ve realized that what I love most about each of these snapshots is that they invoke an emotional response from me. What makes a city or town beautiful is much less its architectural brilliance than the special individuals who live under those roofs. A piece of my heart will always be in Quito, and Quito will always have a place in my heart.

If you’re still asking, “Should I go to Ecuador?” I think you know my answer. Even if just for its stunning architecture and views, Ecuador should be on any South American itinerary!

10 best snapshots from Ecuador- Quito and Cuenca

Which photograph was your favorite? I’d love to know!