It’s not all just about the Galápagos, you know. Ecuador has experienced something of a renaissance of late, its bustling capital Quito drawing visitors from all over the world to sample its fine cuisine and exquisite colonial architecture. Welcome to our Ecuador travel guide.
At the heart of Quito is the World Heritage-listed Old Town.
It’s a dazzling mix of Spanish colonial architecture, towering churches and bustling plazas that bring the country’s many cultures together, from the European Mestizo to the Amerindians.
At the centre of it all is the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in the world.
Then there are quaint villages where colourful markets are set against staggering, volcanic scenery, and of course the Amazon. In the largest rainforest on the planet the adventure truly begins, and yet the cultural fabric of the country keeps getting richer, with ancient tribes still thriving in the jungle.
Surrounded by soaring Andean peaks, Otavalo is a largely indigenous Amerindian town renowned for its weaved textiles.
In its famous market, which takes place every Saturday, over a third of Otavalo is given over to stalls where you can pick up colourful rugs, ponchos and hats, and sample the local food.
The misty foothills of the Andes mountain range rise only a two-hour drive from Quito, where the ‘Cloud Forests’ are alive with hummingbirds. Many luxury lodges also operate in the area, all boasting a spectacular array of these enchanting, iridescent birds. Toucans can also spotted, as well as a mosaic of butterflies, the occasional tayra (a formidable animal half way between a small bear and a weasel), even the odd jaguar is said to slip through these jungles.
The Galápagos Islands should also be on the itinerary of any wildlife enthusiast.
Located 1000 kilometres off the Ecuadorian coast, this natural paradise is home to many endemic species, from the prehistoric-looking Giant Tortoise to the colourful Marine Iguana that likes to swim alongside the islands’ seal population.
It was bizarre creatures like this that enabled Charles Darwin to come up with his Theory of Evolution when he arrived in 1835.
The best way to explore this area is through one of the excellent boat trips on offer.
Another incredible experience on your Ecuadorean adventure is a journey on The Devil’s Nose (Nariz del Diablo) – a train journey like no other.
When the effort to connect the highland-based Quito to the coastal town of Guayaquil began at the turn of the 19th century, they encountered an 800m-high sheer rockface.
The solution was a zigzagging line that allows the train to rapidly ascend the cliff. The result is a thrill-ride of a journey through the dramatic peaks of the Andes.
In Ecuador you’re within touching distance of pristine Amazon Rainforest, and Yasuni National Park encompasses one of the most biologically diverse parts of the planet, with millions of species of birds, amphibians, insects and mammals.
What’s more it’s home to many tribes, some of which have yet to be contacted.
Staying in one of the many eco-lodges here is a truly magical experience.