ECUADOR & GALAPAGOS ISLANDS TOURING
Tucked into the north-west corner of South America, the small nation of Ecuador may look fairly unassuming on a map, but within its modestly sized borders hides a land of great significance.
A country of stark contrasts, Ecuador appeals to the intrepid explorer who finds pleasure in trekking through swathes of dense jungles, clambering to the summit of vast mountains or discovering the magic of lands that time forgot.
Home to a small (in relative terms) but still sizeable portion of the Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador has the great Andes Mountain range wending through its heartland and lays claim to the remarkable offshore Galapagos Islands. Add the historic cities of Quito and Cuenca, vibrant markets and fascinating indigenous communities and you quickly realise that Ecuador offers a broad cross-section of everything that makes South America so attractive, yet does it in a size no larger than the United Kingdom....
Of these many attributes, the Galapagos Islands stands as Ecuador’s most extraordinary draw. Situated more than 500 miles west of Ecuador’s mainland, the Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands (15 main islands, 3 small islands and more than 100 islets), each representing staggering natural beauty that has been mostly untouched by human hands.
The Galapagos Islands are essentially a world away, isolation that has allowed nature to evolve in a way unique to the mainland. Famously, this is where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution, based partly on the fact that, following a quirk of nature, no large predators ever flourished here.
This means the species that reside here have no fear… not even of humans. And species do not come more extraordinary than on the Galapagos Island, where giant tortoises, indigenous Galapagos sea lions, penguins and iguanas, finches and blue and red-footed boobies reside fearlessly.
Back on the mainland and Ecuador is dominated by the mammoth Andes, a range that travels through the country and partitions the lowland west coast and the Amazonian eastern region.
Known as La Sierra (Highlands), the mountain range is on such a scale that it forms a visible presence almost everywhere you go, not least in the capital city of Quito, which is nestled in a high valley on the foothills of Pichincha, and Banos, where hot spring pools at the foot of Tungurahuna Volcano can be enjoyed.
Even though Ecuador straddles the equator, the peaks are always snow-capped and make fantastic challenges for those keen on hiking and trekking. Indeed, this region of the Andes is home to some of the world’s highest summits, including the 6310m extinct Chimborazo Volcano (reputedly the furthest point from the centre of the earth) and the 5897m Cotopaxi, the world’s second largest active volcano.
Even if you don’t get the opportunity to view the magnificent vistas from their peaks, the Andes are equally stunning to witness from other points, particularly if you take to the ‘Avenue of the Volcanos’, a picturesque route that runs from the northern region to the central Andes.
Within the Andean Highlands sits Ecuador’s historic capital city of Quito, famed as UNESCO’s first-ever designated Cultural World Heritage site in 1978. Nestled between two mountain ranges in a valley at 2,850m above sea level, Quito is the world’s second-highest capital city (after La Paz in Bolivia).
Split into two parts, Quito has a ‘new city’, where lively bars, restaurants and shops can be found, but it is the ‘Old City’ that is more representative of Ecuador’s enchanting Spanish colonial soul.
Each street leads to another impressive sight, most notably the grand Monastery of San Francisco, the Plaza de la Independencia and the Carondelet Palace, while there is rarely a moment when you aren’t in stood in the shadow of a church.
Indeed, Quito is a fine base from which to venture further, whether it is climbing the aerial tramway part of the way up Pichincha Volcano for tremendous views across the landscape, perusing the famous markets of Otavalo or heading around 15 miles north of the city to where the equator marks the ‘middle of the world’.
To the south of the Andean Highlands is Ecuador’s third city of Cuenca, a treasure that matches Quito for historical significance and colonial splendour. Cobbled streets, extraordinary architecture and more churches (52 in total, one for every Sunday of the year) make Cuenca worth exploring.
Heading back in the other direction to the other side of the Andes will bring you to ‘El Oriente’ (the East), better known as the Amazon basin. Though only a fraction of the Amazon Rainforest creeps across Ecuadorian borders, it occupies a substantial portion of the country’s land.
Complementing Ecuador’s remarkable bio-diversity, this area boasts more than 450 flora endemic to the region, 800 species of bird and 2500 species of insect. Furthermore, indigenous communities practicing age-old traditions and rituals continue to flourish within the Amazon Basin.
With 9 reserves and national parks in this area, Ecuador’s Amazon Basin is ideal for tours and walks, particularly those keen on bird-watching, and represents a worthwhile introduction to this extraordinary jungle.
Ecuador can regard itself as ‘4 countries in one’, the verdant jungle at odds with the snowy peaks of the central Andes region, which in turn bears little resemblance to the flatter coastal regions to the west. Then you have the offshore Galapagos Islands, which are not just unlike anywhere else in Ecuador, but arguably unlike anywhere else in the world!
If you are fascinated by nature, dazzled by breathtaking scenery, intrigued by colonial history and enjoy feeling a rush of adrenaline, yet only have the chance to visit one South American country, an Ecuador tour should be top of your list in 2016…
Highlights of Ecuador & Galapagos Islands
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk in the path of the iconic Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos Islands? Perhaps you’ve dreamed of travelling through the peaks of the mighty Andes Mountains? Maybe you’ve imagined yourself standing on the edge of the Amazon Rainforest?
A holiday to Ecuador is a chance to explore this wonderful and diverse land, where you can choose from tours to the extraordinary Galapagos Islands, the charming cities of Quito and Cuenca, the dense Amazon Rainforest and the striking Andes Mountains.
Book an Ecuador tour and choose from a superb variety of tour packages, including flexible and independent tours, escorted tours led by our team of friendly and passionate guides, and more intimate small group tours.
Key Highlights of Ecuador
- Discovering the incredibly unique Galapagos Islands
- Journeying through the Andes Mountains
- Exploring the colourful streets of Quito
- Trekking into the dense Amazon jungle
- Learning more about Ecuador in cultural Cuenca
- Marvelling at the mighty Chimborazo and Cototpaxi
For more information about Travelbag’s excellent range of Ecuador & Galapagos Island tours, call 0871 703 4698 Costs 13p/min + network extras to chat with one of our knowledgeable travel experts about creating the perfect Ecuador & Galapagos Island holiday for you.
TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN ECUADOR & THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
- Visit the land that time forgot - Step foot on a land like no other in the world with a tour to the hallowed Galapagos Islands, where the unique flora and fauna inspired Charles Darwin to form his everlasting theory of evolution.
- Traverse the incredible Andes - Wend your way through the magnificent Andes Mountains by tackling the ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’ trail, the perfect opportunity to witness some of South America’s very best views.
- Colourful and quaint Quito - Beautiful colonial buildings, a lively atmosphere and a striking mountain backdrop make Ecuador’s capital city of Quito a fascinating stop on any Ecuador tour.
- Tackle challenging Chimborazo - Reckoned to be the furthest point from the very centre of the earth, the extinct snow-peak of Chimborazo Volcano cuts a dominant figure in the Andes Mountain range.
- Explore historic Cuenca - With its quaint cobbled streets, colourful colonial buildings and 52 churches (one for each Sunday of the year), the historic city of Cuenca is one of Ecuador’s prettiest corners.
- Trek into Ecuador’s Amazon - Head into the jungle with a tour to Ecuador’s portion of the mighty Amazon Rainforest, where indigenous communities and unique animal species can be found.
- Marvel at the mighty Cotopaxi - As one of the world’s tallest and most active volcanoes, a visit to Cotopaxi National Park puts you in the shadow of this stunning geographic marvel.
- Discover the Incan ruins of Ingapirca - Constructed with nothing but stone, carefully chiselled to piece together, the well preserved Inca ruins of Ingapirca provide a glimpse at Ecuador’s heritage
- Ride the ‘Devil’s Nose’ - Known as one of ‘the world’s most difficult railways’ due to the troubles constructing a network through the Andes, a train journey down the zig-zagging 800m ‘Devil’s Nose’ is a picturesque and eye-opening experience.
- Peruse the markets of Otavalo - Be dazzled by the colour and activity of the Otavalo Market, one of South America’s most famous markets, where all manner of interesting trinkets and handicrafts can be perused and purchased.
ECUADOR & GALAPAGOS ISLANDS - PLACES TO SEE
ECUADOR & GALAPAGOS ISLANDS - IMAGES
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