A major highlight on an Ecuador vacation, the Galapagos Islands, 620 miles off the coast of South America, are truly a marvel. The islands are home to species you won’t find anywhere else, such as marine iguanas and flightless cormorants, and its ecosystem is among the most pristine in the world. The animals don’t harbour a fear of people, so up-close encounters are common. Indeed, travel to this faraway land is a worthy addition to your bucket list.
In all the excitement for the Galapagos, however, many travellers forget about the mainland of Ecuador. Overflowing with historical and geographic attractions and unforgettable activities, there is much to see in the three mainland regions of the Pacific Coast, Andes, and the Amazon.
Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is 22 miles from the equator, but its high elevation – roughly 10,000 feet / 3100 meters – means that the weather is pleasant throughout the year. A visit to the equator is mandatory, as is a short 90-minute drive to the nearby cloud forest, and the stunning Mashpi Lodge, where an almost constant layer of fog clings to the tree canopies. The lodge is the launch point for trekking through the trees and tranquility of this jungle ecosystem.
Get your cameras ready, as south of Quito you’ll find the Avenue of the Volcanoes. This stretch of land between two parallel chains of the Andes Mountains is home to eight of the country’s 10 highest peaks.
The highest active volcano in the world, Cotopaxi (which has recently made news for some minor eruptions), makes its home in the Avenue. The residents of the local communities are friendly, the scenery surrounds you with countless peaks and valleys, and there are chances to spot the local white-tailed deer or Andean foxes.
Ecuador plays host to a small part of the Amazon rainforest, one of the world’s geographic marvels. A two-hour drive from Quito introduces you to the fringe of the Amazon, but if you want to go deeper, a 40-minute flight from the capital transports you to a less-visited part of the rainforest.
The 5-day Anakonda Amazon River Cruise offers five-star luxury cruising in the Amazon. The only luxury Amazonian cruise option in Ecuador, you’ll stay in a comfortable suite with air conditioning and a private bathroom, socialize with fellow travellers, and watch the rainforest roll by as you relax on the M/V Anakonda’s observation deck.
Travelling from the highlands to lowlands by train is a highlight of any mainland visit. It is on this rail journey, from Quito to Guayaquil or vice versa, where the famous Devil’s Nose section of the railway presents you with incredible views of the rugged terrain and the rocky Andes Mountains.
Highlands to Lowlands: Ecuador’s Classic Rail Journey
Your Ecuador vacation wouldn’t be complete without spending some time getting to know the local cultural scene. Two hours north of Quito is the world famous Chic essays, where on a Saturday you see Plaza de Los Ponchos brimming with pieces from local artisans. South of Quito, you can visit the Saquisili Market on Thursdays. The large Indian market includes bountiful pieces from indigenous natives who flock to the town from the surrounding areas.
Otavalo Market Day Trip
Quito – Center of It All
While you’re shopping in Ecuador, don’t forget to buy a Panama hat. Contrary to what the item’s name implies, the design was actually born in Ecuador.
So remember, don’t just limit your Ecuador vacation to only the Galapagos Islands. The country has bustling indigenous markets, rugged Andean landscapes, rainforest and coast, and exquisite cuisine. What will you do when you visit Ecuador?