Straddling two hemispheres, Ecuador – the smallest of the Andean countries – offers a striking blend of landscapes, peoples and cultures. Once the Inca Empire's northernmost territory, successive waves of invaders have left their indelible mark on the country, and your own micro-invasion should certainly include more than just the Galapagos Islands, spectacular though they are. Despite its compact size, the country boasts more than its fair share of hidden historical gems, intriguing cultural wonders and awe-inspiring otherworldly landscapes. Take your time on your Ecuador holiday and you can visit
Incan ruins on the hilltops of the Sierra; the beautifully preserved cities of Quito and Cuenca – both rich in art and architecture after 300 years of Spanish rule – and even explore the rainforests of the upper reaches of Amazon basin. Trek through forested trails on the lookout for monkeys, toucans and sloths, or cruise down the waterways to try and catch a glimpse of the famed pink river dolphins. Even more wondrous wildlife-watching opportunities await on the legendary Galapagos Islands. Embark from Guayaquil – the gateway to the Islands – and arrive on Santa Cruz Island, home to the archipelago’s largest town (Puerto Ayora). Our travel experts can create an island-hopping itinerary with multiple destinations, so you can experience the full extent of the Galapagos’ endemic wildlife. As if the extraordinary on-land wildlife encounters weren’t enough, divers and snorkellers will want to venture beneath the waves for unparalleled marine life sightings. Back on dry land, Ecuador’s cities are treasure troves of traditional colonial architecture and Ecuadorian culture, which can be explored alongside expert guides
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Kate had to cover all the rerouting, chasing luggage, rebooking and so on. She was immediately available late at night and took every step to ensure that when we disembarked from any particular flight, everything had been sorted out along with suggestions of activities (which we didn’t do as the kids were generally wiped out!
). Her level of engagement gave me confidence that any immediate issue would be resolved while my family and I were in the air. I want to make sure that Kate and the team’s effort here is fully recognized. Again, she did a great job in looking after us and my family and I hugely appreciated her immense dedication and support.
Two cordilleras (ranges) of the Andes run north to south and form the Avenue of the Volcanoes, including Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. Within this dramatic landscape Ecuador has many national parks and reserves, notably Machalilla on the coast, Isla del Plata and its pre-Columbian ruins, Sangay with its rare species, and Pasochoa and Podocarpus for flora. The country is also renowned for its colourful markets, and many, such as Otavalo, are within reach of Quito in the Central Valley. At the southern end of the valley you’ll find Cuenca, an Inca site filled with pink marble colonial buildings. From here, don't miss the Incas' Ingapirca.
Elsewhere, Quito was the first UNESCO World Heritage city, built among the foothills of the Pichincha Volcano, which you can really appreciate as you come into land. This long linear city sits at 8,500ft so you definitely feel the altitude, but as a result the sky is often incredibly blue and bright. This is by no means the liveliest city in Latin America (that accolade would probably go to Cartagena) but the colonial city centre is charming and if you happen to be there on a Saturday many locals from the highlands congregate in Plaza San Francisco. Discover the capital with the help of a local guide, who will take to the top of El Panecillo for panoramic views across the metropolis, before heading into the hustle and bustle of Mariscal Artisanal Market. As one of the city’s oldest markets, Mariscal is teeming with traditional souvenirs and authentic artisanal offerings, which you could spend all day perusing.
What can you find in Ecuador that you won’t find elsewhere?
Within striking distance of Quito are the beautiful Highlands, and driving north out of the city involves being treated to great views of the voluminous volcanoes and peaks of the Andes. It also means crossing the equator into the Northern Hemisphere, taking in the Mitad del Mundo (centre of the world) monument and museum. Also worth a visit is Tulipe – home to archaeological ruins from the pre-Incan Yumbos civilisation. The Highlands themselves are a playground for adventurous types keen to climb some serious peaks, or to explore the extraordinary biosphere of the Andean cloud forest.
Speaking of extraordinary biospheres, it's important not to forget that Ecuador is also one of those lucky countries to include a portion of the upper Amazon rainforest, which is just a thirty minute flight from Quito. Stay in fascinating ecolodges or on board a luxury river cruiser to explore the Amazon. Expect to encounter plenty of monkeys, colourful toco toucans and leisurely sloths among the lush leafy treetops of the rainforest. The Amazon’s waterways are home to more than 600 species of fish, as well as over 250 varieties of reptiles and amphibians, including caiman crocodiles, which are endemic to Latin America).
Who are Ecuador holidays best for?
Calling all wildlife lovers, seasoned snorkellers and underwater explorers, Ecuador holidays offer an abundance of adventure-focused holiday experiences, both on land and in the ocean. As one of the most biodiverse destinations on the planet, it goes without saying that the Galapagos Islands are a must-visit for those in search of wild and whacky creatures. Baños – widely regarded as the ‘gateway to the Amazon’ – is a hub of adventure-based activities (including white-water rafting and ziplining), which makes a great day trip worth adding to any thrill-seekers' travel itinerary. Those in search of authentic experiences and a taste of traditional Ecuadorian culture should include Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil in their trip, while history buffs and archaeological aficionados will appreciate the ancient Incan ruins scattered across the Sierra.
Special Things to Do during Ecuador holidays
Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, in the Pacific Ocean, lie the Galapagos Islands, the catalyst for Darwin's theory of evolution. At the risk of slipping into hyperbole, this is one of the most rewarding, most significant destinations in the world. Original Travel consultants have visited the islands on several occasions, and know the best boats for every type of trip from family holidays to dive safaris. Hop between several of the islands – such as Santa Cruz, Isabela, Eden and San Cristobal – or stay on board a luxury vessel, which can act as a floating home during your island-hopping adventure. Each new destination will add to the encyclopaedia of wildlife sightings; Isabela is home to pink flamingos, Santiago’s beaches are filled with fur sea lions and marine iguanas inhabit Fernandina’s beachfront.
The country boasts an impressive 11 national parks and 25 reserves, each outstanding areas of natural beauty and valuable conservation areas. Travel to Cayambe Coca National Park, a patchwork of cloud forest, volcanoes and hot springs, which plays host to Andean condors, armadillos and bears. Spend a day in Cotopaxi National Park, where you’ll find the world’s highest active volcano, as well as an abundance of hiking and mountain-biking trails. Sun seekers will want to visit Machalilla National Park, home to some of the nation’s most secluded and idyllic beaches, while other sun-drenched spots include Playa Escondida and Tonsupa, in the Esmeraldas region.
Best Time to Visit Ecuador
Named for its position on the equator, Ecuador’s climate and weather varies from region to region, with different parts of the country each possessing their own micro-climate. Altitude tends to have more bearing over temperature here than the season (which are opposite to ours here in the UK), and it generally gets colder at higher altitudes. While there’s no bad time of year to visit, the Ecuadorian rainy season tends to fall between October and May, while the period from June to September is usually drier. Head to our best time to visit Ecuador guide page for more.