Don’t be fooled. Ecuador may be the smallest Andean country, but it certainly packs a punch. Sitting on the equator between Colombia and Peru, it’s a country of contrasts, from the heady heights of the world’s highest active volcano to the deep, steamy depths of the Amazon jungle. This astonishing country also boasts the greatest concentration of species on the planet. Although it covers just 0.17 percent of the Earth’s surface, Ecuador is home to 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Add to that one of the best-preserved historic districts in Latin America and unparalleled wildlife watching on the Galapagos Islands, and you have to stop and ask yourself: What on Earth am I waiting for?
Ecuador’s chilled-out capital, located high in the dizzying Andes, is a quirky place of dramatic mountainsides, colorful market stands, shamanistic healers and bustling bars. Wander around the cobblestone streets of the Old Town and you’ll find a UNESCO World Heritage Site dotted with pretty squares, 17th century churches, quiet convents and colonial mansions –all just a 35-minute drive from the middle of the Earth! Take the short trip north and you’ll find yourself at the equator, where you won’t be able to resist taking the obligatory photo with one foot in each hemisphere.
Located in the Northern Highlands, Otavalo’s traditional market is legendary. The indígenas people from the surrounding villages have been bringing their goods to Otavalo for hundreds of years. Each day the city’s Plaza de Ponchos overflows with tapestries, scarves, ponchos, hammocks, musical instruments, beads, carvings and jewelry. The biggest market day is Saturday, when the market spills out of the plaza onto Otavalo’s streets. Otavalo is also a city that also honors its dead at its Cementerio twice a week. Every Monday and Thursday the locals climb the Street of Souls to eat, sing, smile and cry with their lost relatives.
Papallacta is a tiny village at the gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon. Famous for its thermal and medicinal waters, this is a great place to rejuvenate before you head into the jungle. So slip into the village’s steamy waters and soothe your sore muscles—you deserve it. In the evening, dine on the region’s famous trout or sample a range of Ecuadorian Creole dishes. The local Maito fish fillet is made of river fish wrapped in bijao, banana, palm or shiguango leaves.
Finding yourself in the Amazon Rainforest can be a life-changing experience. After all, one of every 10 species of flora and fauna on the face of the planet can be found here. It’s home to rivers and forest trails where—with a good guide in tow—you’ll meet monkeys, sloths, toucans and river dolphins. Sip healing Wayusa tea and meet the local Kichwa people in Tena; explore the biodiversity of the rainforest in Yasuní National Park; or spot pink dolphins in the Cuyabeno Fauna Production Reserve.
The small resort town of Banos in the Central Sierra sits in an incredibly blessed position in the heart of lush forests at the foot of the mighty Tungurahua volcano, so it’s a great place for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding and rafting. Visit the famous waterfalls of Manto de la Novia and Pailon del Diablo during the day, and at night, head to a local observation point to see the Tungurahua volcano—its name means ‘throat of fire’ in the local Quechua language—spit lava into the night sky.
Once feared as a hellish haunt of pirates, the famous Galápagos Islands are now understood to be a paradise on earth. Located 1,000 kilometers off the coast, these otherworldly islands are a magnet for wildlife-lovers from across the globe. This is where you can fulfill your dreams of coming face to face with a giant tortoise, of watching seals sunbathe on the beach or of seeing blue-footed boobies dance along the shore. Teeming with wildlife, this biodiverse wilderness changed the world when it inspired Charles Darwin to formulate his Theory of Evolution by natural selection. Quite understandably, tourists are restricted to 60 designated sites that are spread across the islands of this protected as a national park—most of which can only be reached by cruise boats—but it’s worth it. You may even be lucky enough to swim with turtles and penguins.
Do you dream of shopping in Otavalo’s traditional market? Of slipping into a hot spring in Papallacta? Of swimming with turtles in the Galapagos Islands? Yes? Then come with us to Ecuador. Not only will you have the experience of a lifetime, but you will have a sophisticated itinerary that has been lovingly-created by Indus’ Ecuador experts. To find out more about our tours to Ecuador, please feel free to contact us at any time.
About the Writer: Vickie Sam Paget
Vickie is a freelance writer and editor based in Vancouver, BC. When she’s not creating dynamic travel or tech content, globetrotting or gazing at the North Shore Mountains, you can usually find her curled up with a good book or sipping a pint of the good stuff in her local Irish bar.