Galapágos Islands, Amazon Rainforest, Avenue of Volcanoes, Cloud Forest and Pacific Coast
As one of the smallest countries in Latin America, Ecuador packs a surprisingly big punch. It is among one of the most diverse countries on the planet, from the unique endemic species of the Galapágos Islands to the snow-capped peaks of the magnificent Andes Mountains and the mysterious cloud forest.
Ecuador holidays usually begin in the charming capital city of Quito; the historic centre has been restored in recent years and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to colonial relics and glorious architecture. The city is the second highest capital in South America and, despite being just 35km from the Equator, the altitude means it retains spring-like temperatures almost all year round. Travel just an hour south of Quito, however and you’ll find an entirely different setting: the Avenue of Volcanoes. There are many active volcanoes leading south towards.
Cuenca, where a patchwork quilt of fields creep up steep mountain slopes until they become dusted with snow. The tangled jungle of the Amazon stretches as far as Ecuador, while the coastal lowlands are replete with unspoilt beaches to explore, along with archaeological sites. As a year round destination the best time to visit Ecuador is really based on what you wish to get out of your holiday. The mainland is generally ideal all year however the Galápagos Islands are best outside of July to September, which sees colder waters and choppy seas.
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REGIONS OF ECUADOR
Beginning with the best: the Galapágos Islands. Charles Darwin’s ‘living laboratory’, an archipelago of 13 major islands and countless islets whose animal inhabitants spawned the naturalist’s theories on evolution and natural selection in On the Origin of Species. Perched in an isolated position 600 miles from the mainland’s coast in the pounding Pacific Ocean, the islands are a wildlife-lover’s paradise, renowned for the vast and varied species of exotic wildlife. Thanks to its remote location and careful conservation methods it is possible to get up close and personal with many of the species that call the islands home; observe the elaborate courtship rituals of the blue-footed booby, rutted marine iguanas basking lazily in the sun or colossal giant tortoises lumbering around in search of supper. Many Galapágos Islands holidays include a cruise. This allows greater ease of travelling between the islands, meaning a greater breadth of experiences, though land-based Galapágos tours are also increasingly popular. We can recommend the best way to travel for your own individual requirements, from the sleekest expedition vessels to the most comfortable lodges. For anyone seeking a greater understanding of the flora and fauna, a visit to Charles Darwin Station is an unmissable experience. Located on Santa Cruz Island, the second largest island in the archipelago, the research station has spent decades working on various conservation projects. It was here that likely inspired Darwin’s theories of evolution, and today you can see the giant tortoises that live for an average of 150 years.
The Amazon Rainforest region blankets much of South America and reaches as far as the Andes, lying just east of the mountain chain a mere 30 minutes from Quito. The Ecuadorian wedge of jungle is home to indigenous communities who manage to maintain their ancestor’s traditions in our constantly developing world. Amazon holidays are ideal for wildlife spotting; staying at a lodge puts you in the heart of the action, usually accompanied by guides who come from the indigenous communities that live here. You’ll be greeted by a cacophony of birdsong, the flutter of wings and the whooping call of playful monkeys as they swing through the canopy.
The spectacular valley south of Quito known as the Avenue of Volcanoes is the site of seven volcanoes reaching over 17,000 feet. The valley itself is flanked by two rows of ice-cream cone shaped peaks, offering fantastic views of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo volcanoes, passing through vibrant market towns bursting with colour and colonial architecture. Spend some time in Cotopaxi National Park at a traditional hacienda and awaken each day to stunning views and the option of active hiking or leisurely horse riding through the park.
Also, conveniently close to Quito is the ethereal Cloud Forest. This area of natural beauty is not only home to one of the greatest concentrations of bird species in the world, but also for its enormous variety of butterflies. Nature lovers will discover a hugely diverse ecosystem that allows rare orchids, bromeliads and vines to flourish. Places to look out for include Maquipucuna, where sightings of the rare Andean spectacled bear have been recorded; Mindo, home to a number of species of hummingbird; and Bellavista, renowned for its colourful butterflies and orchids that line the myriad wildlife trails.
Ecuador’s Pacific Coast is a beach destination that contrasts remote but beautiful beaches with fantastic sights. Wildlife along these unspoilt shores is diverse and abundant: coral reefs are spectacular, and many species of marine reptiles, mammals and birds call the coastline home. It is an excellent spot for whale watching, as the awesome creatures, primarily humpback whales, can be observed off the coast between June and October as they travel up from the frigid Antarctic waters to breed in the milder currents.