Ecuador has a very diverse topography. You can go from the balmy Pacific Coast to the high mountains to a remote corner of the jungle all in one day.
However, don’t plan on rushing through Ecuador: You’ll need some time to appreciate the remarkable collection of landscapes, animals, plants and people that are found in each part of the country.
The most remarkable species of birds and animals are found on the Galapagos Islands, which lie more than 600 mi/1,000 km offshore. Marine iguanas, giant tortoises, sea lions, blue- and red-footed boobies, pelicans and even a few penguins—these island residents inspired Charles Darwin to propose his theory of evolution.
On the mainland, the Andes Mountains (also known as the Sierra) are home to the capital city, Quito, and the UNESCO World Heritage site Cuenca, which has some of the finest colonial architecture in the Americas. The mountains are an incredible sight—two chains of snowcapped peaks known as the Avenue of the Volcanoes (a name coined by the great German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt). In the smaller towns and villages of the Sierra, you’ll see the descendants of Inca peoples, many of whom wear distinctive clothing and hats that identify them as residents of a particular area.
East of the Andes is the Amazon basin. This interior jungle region, cut through with rivers and streams, ranks among the most accessible in South America and offers excellent opportunities to see the flora and fauna of the rain forest and to visit Amazonian tribes. West of the Andes are the coastal lowlands and Ecuador’s largest city, the port of Guayaquil. The area is very hot and humid most of the year. Ecuadoreans flock to the beaches of the Pacific coast, but these aren’t as attractive or interesting to foreign visitors as are the Sierra and the Amazon basin.
Ecuador is a wonderful destination for travelers who are interested in the outdoors and nature-related activities. (For many nature lovers, a trip to the Galapagos is a pilgrimage.) Those who wish to visit the coast, the high mountains and the rain forest will find them very near one another. The country is not for those who expect a wide range of deluxe conveniences or who are upset by delays and last-minute schedule changes. Travelers who have trouble with high altitudes should be careful when traveling through the Andes (or avoid them altogether), and those with respiratory problems may have problems with air pollution in Quito.
Many people will combine an expedition cruise to the Galapagos Islands with a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru. This combination trip is about 9-12 days in length. The food is fantastic in both countries.
SLEEP…in a cabin on an Expedition Ship in the GalapagosEAT…Roast cuy, guinea pig at Pimm’s in El Panecillo
SEE…the Galapagos Tortoise on the island of Santa Cruz
VISIT…an authentic hacienda outside of Quito with real gauchos
SAVOR… the ceviche, it is my favorite when I visit