Watch our video to see why our specialists love Ecuador and the Galapagos...
The Ecuador Mainland is often overlooked by those heading straight to the Galapagos Islands, yet this little explored country is a destination made for travel. Home to soaring Andean peaks, Amazon wilderness, jagged coastline and cobbled colonial towns, Ecuador boasts all of South America’s allure, and more. Galapagos Islands aside, here are a few of our recommended wonders which highlight Ecuador as a mini South America.
Enclosed by snow-capped Andean peaks, Ecuador’s capital city is a great introduction to the country. As one of the most well preserved Spanish colonial cities in South America, Quito’s old town is packed with impressive colonial monuments and architectural treasures to explore. With its narrow cobblestone streets, picturesque plazas and beautifully decorated historical churches, it’s no wonder it was one of the first cities to be declared a World Cultural Heritage Site back in 1978. Small enough to explore on foot, wandering around the heart of Quito is the best way to soak up its colonial charm and get under the skin of the city; see the lavish and stunningly ornate interiors of the San Francisco and Santa Domingo monasteries. Explore the overflowing markets and meet with local artisans and herbal healers or visit a traditional chocolatier and taste some of the world’s finest chocolate handmade in Ecuador.
Avenue of the Volcanoes
Exploring Ecuador’s Andean spine encompasses the best of Ecuador, including its culture, biodiversity and dramatic scenery. Visiting this region of Ecuador will reward you with snow-capped volcanoes, lush green valleys, turquoise crater lakes and a mix of indigenous towns and artisan villages. The Avenue of volcanoes is typically explored over a four day period, staying in charming haciendas along the way. Begin exploring Cotopaxi National Park, adventure–rich it is home to the world's second-highest active volcano Cotopaxi and is an excellent place to experience some of the country’s best horse-riding. From there explore the surrounding artisan villages before reaching the Andean city of Riobamba, the starting point for the exhilarating train journey along the Devil’s Nose. Regarded as one of the best train journeys in the world, the train ride offers dramatic and stunning scenery, as well as an impressive feat of engineering as the train descends a near-vertical wall of rock, known as El Nariz del Diablo (The Devils’ nose). The final stop along the Avenue of Volcanoes is the Inca ruins of Ingapirca, the most important and largest in Ecuador.
Pristine and remote, the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador encompasses nearly half of the country. Packed with exuberant tropical rainforest, an astounding array of exotic wildlife and home to several indigenous nations, this wedge of Amazon offers a unique and unspoiled look into one of the wildest and most biodiverse places on Earth. Out of the nine countries, the Amazon stretches across the Ecuadorian Amazon is revered for having some of the best lodges in terms of standard and location. All the lodges we work with are remote, very comfortable and are completely immersed in the jungle. Time is spent hiking through pristine forest on numerous trails, kayaking through swampy mangroves or paddling along the river in dugout canoes in search of wildlife. Spot pink river dolphins, giant river otters and black caiman wandering the waters of the murky rivers. See monkeys swinging from tree-tops, sloths lazing in the canopy and vibrantly coloured macaws floating in the sky. Go fishing for piranhas, see hundreds of parrots at one of the revered parrot clay-clicks and discover the footprints from the elusive jaguar.
Just a couple hours north of Quito, the city of Otavalo is famous for its talented weavers, crafts and especially for its colourful Saturday livestock market. The market here stretches back to pre-Incan times and still today locals adorn traditional dress- women can be seen in embroidered white blouses, long wool skirts, head cloths and woven belts, whilst men wear felt hats, coloured ponchos and calf-length pants. Wandering around the market you will see a dizzying array of handmade traditional crafts- making this the perfect destination to stock up on those holiday souvenirs. Handicrafts aside, this region is also stunning, packed with patchwork hills, lush pastures, volcanoes and emerald crater lakes.
Puerto Lopez and the Pacific Coast
The eco-friendly fishing town of Puerto Lopez is slightly off the beaten track and is home to a plethora of wildlife-opportunities whilst also offering the chance to relax and soak up the sun before heading home. Mainly used as a gateway to the Machalilla National Park, which is an expansive area of small islands, wild sandy beaches and dry tropical forest. Within the park is Isla Del Plata is Ecuador’s hidden gem and is home to the fearless and curious blue footed boobies, marine iguanas, albatrosses and other wildlife species also found in the Galapagos. Walk along the trails and snorkel in the clear waters home to pristine coral reef and marine life. In the months between June and October, humpback whales congregate around this mini Galapagos and can be seen frolicking in the water. Another attraction is Los Frailes beach, considered as the most beautiful beach in Ecuador due to its turquoise waters, soft white sand, rocky cliffs and wild vegetation backdrop.
Inspired to explore Ecuador? Take a look at some of our favourite itineraries which showcase the best of the country:
This in-depth journey into Ecuador allows you to uncover the country's dazzling array of natural wonders. Discover the pristine cloud forest, majestic cities of Quito and Cuenca, see the dramatic Avenue of Volcanoes and explore the hidden Pacific Coast.
Get under the skin of spiritual Ecuador and discover the cultural quirks of the Amazon and the Andean peoples. In two weeks, you will experience a cultural journey which will allow you to get off the beaten path, mix with the locals and get active.