Perched on the Pacific Coast of South America and straddling the equator, Ecuador is a compact country packed full of wonders. From mountains and rainforest to colonial cities, indigenous culture and more biodiversity than even David Attenborough could shake a stick at, many say Ecuador is the perfect microcosm of the continent. So join us as we embark on a journey through the highlights of one of Latin America’s most exciting and wholly explorable destinations… if this doesn’t make you fancy a holiday to Ecuador nothing will!
Sprawled lazily along mountain slopes and watched over by rugged peaks, Ecuador’s capital is a relaxed, traditional place that offers the perfect introduction to the vibrant nation it represents. At its heart, both literally and metaphorically, is el Centro Historico (Old Town), a UNESCO-listed maze of cobbled streets and colonial magnificence. From vibrant markets and perfectly picturesque plazas to resplendent churches and monasteries to lanes of brightly coloured, balconied houses, there is much to explore and delight in here.
Away from the historical centre, for those who are interested in the history of Quito, the Museo de la Ciudad is a must, whilst just out of town, you can straddle the hemispheres at the Mitad del Mundo – an attraction based around the Equator. Quito is also the perfect base from which to explore the rest of Ecuador; the jungle, the coast and the sierra are all an easy journey away.
For a small country, Ecuador’s border encompasses a lot of different and entirely magnificent landscapes. For starters, the sierra, backed by towering Andean peaks and boasting spectacular panoramas of lakes and volcanoes, is not only the place to do some hiking, but is a hub of indigenous culture. Dotted with vibrant towns, Otavalo has a particularly famous market showcasing native crafts and offers the perfect place to meet the people that call Ecuador home.
The Oriente is home to tracts of Amazonian tropical rainforest, some of which is really easy to access and explore. Staying in a jungle lodge, hopping in a traditional canoe to paddle wildlife-packed waterways and paying a visit to indigenous communities are just some of the ways you can discover it. Last but not least, Ecuador’s gorgeous stretch of coastline runs from cloudforest to mangrove swamps to wildlife reserves to gnarly surf to your classic stop and flop tropical beaches. For all the twitchers out there, try Mindo for all the bird spotting your heart could desire.
The Galapagos Islands
Islands of mythical status, the isolated archipelago of Galapagos is home to wondrous wildlife so unique that it inspired a young Charles Darwin to come up with his Theory of Evolution. Sat 600 miles off of Ecuador’s coast, but undeniably it’s greatest attraction, it’s been fascinating naturalists, biologists and travellers alike for decades.
With dramatic volcanic panoramas and plentiful opportunities to spot marine iguanas, giant tortoises and penguins, to name just a few, it can be explored entirely by boat on a liveaboard cruise, or by taking boat trips from an island base. Oh and if Sir David Attenborough said we should go – “I would recommend the Galapagos Islands to anybody if they have the means to go there” – who are we to refuse? Prepare for your inner naturalist to have its mind blown.
As with many South American nations, indigenous culture is an integral part of Ecuador’s identity, and gives us travellers a fascinating glimpse into different, more traditional ways of life. For centuries, indigenous people occupied both Ecuador’s Andean highlands and its tracts of rainforest, living at one with their environment in ways that many still maintain today.
The Inca absorbed many of the tribes into their empire when they arrived in the early 1500s and its influence and some glorious remains are still visible for those in the know – think Machu Picchu decades ago. Whilst some of these communities prefer to remain separate, you will easily be able to meet native people all across the country, selling crafts at markets (remember Otavalo?), by visiting communities in the rainforest, or just by simply respectfully exploring their country and learning about their ways, beliefs and customs.
An adventure through Ecuador, this tour ventures through the contrasting landscapes of the Andes and the coast. See beautiful mountain scenery, enjoy time in thermal baths and marvel at ancient Inca ruins and colonial architecture. A side trip to the Galapagos can easily be added on before or after this tour, just call us for details.