Ecuador may be relatively small, but in addition to it’s many giant volcanoes, Amazon destinations, beach towns, and cloud forest, it offers exclusive access to a true natural wonder of the world: the unique Galapagos Islands. Train routes pass through the dramatic highlights of the Andes, including the impeccably preserved colonial centers of Quito and Cuenca, then descending thousands of feet towards the coastal metropolis of Guayaquil. This country is full of unique experiences and this program takes you through the very best!
Imbabura provice is famous for its beautiful lagoons, the best of Ecuador’s northern Andes Peaks, and towns full of a diverse culture. The capital of Ibarra and town of Otavalo offer indigenous textile markets and many culinary specialties thanks to a large Kichwas population.
Quito and Surroundings
Quito is the capital of Ecuador located high in the Andes at just over 9,300 ft above sea level and flanked by the active Pichincha volcano accessible via cable car. Its primary attraction is a beautifully preserved historic quarter where grand colonial era churches and the presidential palace are all situated within a dozen square blocks of narrow streets. Also within a hour of downtown is the Middle of the World monument that marks the international Equator line.
Cotopaxi province, volcano and national park are within easy reach of Quito and at 19,347 ft above sea level, the active volcano is one of the highest in the world – visible from most parts of Quito. When not billowing ash and smoke, climbers can practice in optimal conditions from December to April with rented crampons, picks and local guides. Spectacular summit views include many other majestic peaks, while the surrounding protected area features condors, falcons, llamas, deer, foxes, pumas and with some luck, the Andean speckled bears. Latacunga, the capital of the province and Saquisili a short drive away, offer authentic markets, festivals, cuisine and highland culture. Cotopaxi is recommended for relaxation and adventure.
Chimborazo province’s greatest asset is also the national treasure, a perpetually snow-capped volcano and world’s highest peak. At a staggering 20,547 ft above sea level, “El Chimborazo” is a postcard favorite and daily spectacle for the residents of Riobamba, the major city and near by based camp (plenty of hotels with volcano views here). To see the plethora of impressive peaks in the region, a train ride is highly recommended. Alausi is a historic town on the train route and has an very authentic market on Sundays.
Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city, port, and financial center, but also features charming cathedrals, cobbled streets, and riverfront parks. The tropical Pacific climate is manageable during the day and perfect for walks and open-air dining after sunset. Marketplaces and cafes offer a taste of the relaxed culture and seems a wold away from the lofty Andean cities. The mighty Guayas River provides an ideal backdrop for a stroll along the Malecon boardwalk or head to Iguana Park for a selfie with an iguana or visit the botanical gardens and flower markets, Santay Island or local mangroves by boat.
The legendary Galapagos Islands are Ecuador’s main attraction, accessible only by direct flights from Quito or Guayaquil. This vast archipelago of volcanic islands is home to abundant wildlife on land, air, and underwater – all carefully protected to showcase ecosystems just as they were thousands of years ago. Giant tortoises, playful sea lions, blue-footed birds, turtles, penguins, flamingos and iguanas are just some of the memorable highlights. Whether on an all-inclusive cruise, island hopping, or from the comfort of a hotel, visitors can enjoy magical experiences on any budget at their leisure. Retread the steps of Charles Darwin on his Beagle voyages, this time with digital photography.