About Ecuador Travel
Quito: Ecuador’s scenic capital feels like a place of perpetual spring nestled as it is in a valley amid snow-tipped mountains. It is a charming city of baroque splendor and beautifully preserved colonial landmarks. The genteel heart of this UNESCO World Heritage Site harks back to another era with its narrow, cobblestone streets, magnificent churches and wide, open squares. The city’s Spanish pedigree is revealed in its ornate balconies, tile roofs, thick columns and central patios. The magnificent Church of La Compania, built between 1605 and 1650, is ranked among the 100 most important UNESCO World Heritage Site monuments.
Galapagos Islands: Composed almost exclusively of volcanic rock, the Galapagos Islands sit some 650 miles west of mainland Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. While a specific itinerary depends on the choice of ship, length of cruise and seasonal factors, all journeys share common elements. Travelers are certain to enjoy up-close encounters with an abundance of native wildlife, which remain completely unaffected by the presence of people. In the company of a Galapagos naturalist guide, visitors explore remarkable ecosystems that, at first, appear to be desolate. Yet, these rough and rocky isles are home to wonderfully strange and abundant wildlife. Giant Galapagos tortoises meander distant highlands, and prehistoric marine iguanas sun themselves on black lava rocks along the shore. Flightless cormorants and tiny penguins dart through the waters while graceful red-billed tropicbirds screech across the sky. In addition to well-planned hikes and boat excursions, there are opportunities to snorkel, swim, or simply savor the rugged volcanic beauty of the environment.
Cuenca: Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has a bounty of colonial features, museums and archaeological sites. A nearby village of weavers is known for making Panama hats. Not far from here are the Ingapirca Ruins, the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador. The most significant building is the temple of the sun, an elliptical-shaped building constructed without mortar. It was built around a rock. The stones were fashioned to fit together perfectly. The temple was positioned so that on the solstices, at exactly the right time of day, sunlight fell through the center of the doorway of the small chamber atop the temple. Most of this chamber has fallen down.
Otavalo Indian Market & the Highlands: Otavalo, one of South America’s most spectacular Indian markets is just two hours outside Quito. Saturday is the best day to explore this famous market, where mounds of brilliantly colored textiles, pottery, baskets, wooden crafts, exotic fruits and animals are traded and sold. The Otavaleño Indians have been textile makers for generations, even before the Incan invasion in the 15th century, and have held on to centuries-old techniques. The majority of the approximately 45,000 Otavaleño Indians live in surrounding communities of the highlands of the northern Andes. Each of the villages specializes in a particular type of craft. Cotacachi is the center for leather industry, while San Antonio is known for woodcarving.
Amazon Rainforest: Ecuador’s rainforest is part of the greater Amazon basin, which is one of the most biologically diverse regions remaining in the world. Explore this primeval ecosystem at Kapawi Reserve, a remote eco-lodge in the land of the Achuar Indians, a vibrant indigenous culture. The lodge was constructed without the use of a single nail, according to native techniques, incorporating local natural materials. It is designed to help support and preserve the Achuar culture and habitat. Activities are geared to the interests of each guest. Achuar guides and naturalist guides lead hikes, canoe trips, piranha fishing excursions, and visits to an Achuar village. Kapawi offers an unparalleled Amazon experience.
Amazon Jungle Cruise: From Coca, the Manatee Amazon Explorer sets out on a rare journey of nature study and cultural interaction in the largest unexplored wilderness on earth. The ship journeys on a network of black water streams to a flood forest habitat. Wildlife activities range from fishing for piranhas, to looking for freshwater pink dolphins, to visiting a local community at Pompeya, with its on-site archaeological museum. Excursions include a trip to a superb salt lick that attracts hundreds of parrots, an afternoon swim at a lake, optional fishing, and explorations by dugout canoe into the interior. Local people share their ancestral knowledge of medicinal plants and their traditions. This takes you on a remarkable journey into living history, while allowing you to enjoy creature comforts on board.
Arasha Tropical Forest: Situated on more than 133 acres, Arasha is a privately owned, tropical forest resort and spa. It is comprised of ecologically sensitive bungalows that are set in the middle of a biodiversity “hot spot.” To qualify as a hotspot, a region must meet two strict criteria: it must contain at least 1,500 species of vascular plants as endemics; and it must have lost at least 70% of its original habitat. Arasha is situated in the richest “hot spot” on the planet with more than 35,000 species of plants, roughly 10% of the planet. Of these, more than 50% are endemic. This area also contains the world’s largest variety of amphibians, with more than 664 distinct species and around 500 species of birds. Activities range from exceptional bird watching to making chocolate out of cacao seeds or an aromatic cup of coffee from fresh beans. Arasha also has a spa, a theater, and 30 different workshops and experiences.
Riobamba & Devil’s Nose Train: This indigenous community has an established local handicraft center that, so far, has managed to remain relatively unknown. Here, visitors can ride the Devil’s Nose Train, called the “most difficult train in the world.” It zigzags in a dramatic series of switchbacks up a mountainside, across bridges and gorges, and though tunnels, traveling between Riobamba and Alausí. For an extra kick, the daring can ride on the roof of the train.
Avenue of the Volcanoes: “Avenue of the Volcanoes” is a more than 200-mile-long valley with massive volcanoes that provide snow-covered contrast to the green equatorial highlands and jungle. Ecuador is part of a Pacific Ring of volcanoes named “Ring of Fire.” All of Ecuador’s major mountains are volcanic. Cotopaxi and Antisana volcanoes are part of this chain. Cotopaxi in the Andes is one of the highest at 19,347 feet. It has an almost symmetrical cone that rises from a highland plain of about 12,500 feet. The town of Baños has a beautiful basilica and hot springs.
Guayaquil & the Pacific Coast: Founded in 1538, Guayaquil is a city of more than two million people and it is the main port and economic hub of Ecuador. It melds tradition with modernity. Civic Center with its modern auditorium contrasts with the distinctive old neighborhood of Las Peñas, the artistic center of the city, where 400-year-old houses have been transformed into notable art galleries and studios. Parque Bolivar, the city’s oldest and most famous park, offers a different perspective than the busy riverfront with sophisticated shops, galleries, restaurants and museums. The nearby Pacific coastline, almost 1,400 miles long, is dotted with pristine beaches, small towns and marine reserves. Guests who love chocolate can explore the Cacao Route, visiting historic cacao haciendas to learn about Ecuador’s wonderful chocolate.
Suggested Ecuador Tour Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive Quito, Ecuador
Day 2: Quito
Day 3: Quito / Galapagos Islands
Day 4/6: Galapagos Cruise
Day 7: Galapagos Islands / Quito
Day 8: Quito & Otavalo
Day 9: Quito / Depart
Custom Ecuador and Galapagos Tour Options
Otavalo & Highlands (2 or 3 days)
Ecuador’s most noted native market and traditional communities flourish in the beautiful highlands of the Andes.
Amazon Jungle Cruise (4 or 5 days)
Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve (5 days)
The Amazon is one of the most biologically diverse regions on earth, and can be discovered from the deck of a jungle cruise ship or during a land-based exploration at an Amazon eco-lodge.
Arasha Tropical Forest (3 days)
A private reserve in one of the most biological diverse regions on the globe.
Riobamba & Devil’s Nose (3 days)
Home of a little-known native market, Riobamba is the place to board the train that has been called "the triumph of railroad engineering" and the "most difficult train in the world."
Avenue of the Volcanoes (2-4 days)
Experience dramatic volcanoes and rich flora and fauna of the native forests, ravines and lakes.
Guayaquil and the Pacific Coast (3 days)
The main port and economic hub of Ecuador, the city weaves old and new into a delightful city worth exploring. Miles of coastline offer quiet beaches and coves.