Ecuador is a blessed country. Cradled by the Andes the country hosts some of the most beautiful mountains in South America. The Galapagos Islands, a unique archipelago, are a wonder of creation with unique wildlife only found on the Islands.
It is one of the more traditional countries with many indigenous groups making for wonderful colorful sights. If it's diversity you're looking for than this is the place to be.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador and is and ideal home base for numerous visit's out of town. The name means center (Quitsa) of the world (To) in the language of the Tsáchila or Colored Indians. It has not only the biggest historical center in South America but also one of the most beautiful historical centers of America.
It's cultural heritage was so important that it was the first city in the world to be declared World Heritage Cultural Site by UNESCO in 1978.
Check out some of these wonderful Quito budget hotels
and excellent hotels in Quito!
I rented an apartment with some wonderful people. We were all taking a Spanish course and it was really great fun. I had a private teacher for $2.50/h and after a few weeks my Spanish was getting into shape. It's something I can highly recommend if you have the time.
The Galapagos Islands are an absolute must when you travel in Ecuador. The archipelago has been isolated for many years and nature has created astonishing endemic creatures. The giant tortoises are the most famous creatures from the islands. The National Geographic has chosen the Galapagos Islands as one of the Wild Places in its 50 Places of a Lifetime picks. My pictures say more than a thousand words.
The boats leave from Puerto Ayora on the main island Santa Cruz. Depending on your budget different options arise. There are three-day tours going either to the Southern or Northern Islands. A six-day tour takes you to all the islands. Inform with your travel agency about the different options. The bigger your budget, the bigger your boat, the bigger your... ?
Diving and snorkeling is possible on the Galapagos Islands and it's just incredible. Please respect the islands as mass tourism is putting a lot of pressure on both animals and nature.
The Galapagos Islands have been an inspiration for the world changing theories of biologist Charles Darwin. His groundbreaking work "The Origin of Species" came forth out of observations made on the Galapagos Islands. The Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora on the main island Santa Cruz can be visited while your there. The giant tortoises, one of the wonders of nature, are under close scrutiny as the majestic animals are still recovering from near extinction.
Read more on how to tour the Galapagos Islands (and see some great pictures).
Note: As I had the time I arranged a tour by myself. It's quite simple. You take a flight from the coast town of Guayaquil to the Galapagos Islands, once you're in Puerto Ayora on the Galapagos Islands you start shopping for a boat (I paid $50 a day). Traveling is so easy. I paid half the price of the agencies in Quito. Just do it. You won't regret it.
The historical center is just charming with its fine cobble stoned streets lined with nice churches and colonial houses with colorful facades, balustrades, wrought iron balconies and red tiled roofs.
Check out some of these wonderful Cuenca budget hotels
and splendid hotels in Cuenca!
The impressive churches date back to the 16th to 17th century. Although it can't beat Salvador da Bahía from Brazil in the church contest Cuenca still has some 52 wonderful churches to enjoy, one for every Sunday. The city has been chosen "Capital of South America" in 2002. It's a must see city when you travel in Ecuador.
Markets: Saquisilí and Otavalo
The picturesque market in Saquisilí (see picture on top of page) makes for a nice day trip. If you're looking for South American handicraft (carpets, pullovers, etc...) then Otavalo is the place to be. The quality is just superb and local people are dressed very distinctive.Read more about Otavalo
Note: I was traveling around with this guy who bought 35 pullovers, 4 carpets and one... horse saddle in Otavalo. He sold the goods back home. An excellent idea (I'm just not a merchant, it's not for me).
Check out some of these wonderful Otavalo budget hostels
and splendid hotels in Otavalo!
Mountains and Volcanoes
I had one of the most magical experiences of my life In Ecuador. I climbed the highest active volcano of the world and I invite you to read my story of Cotopaxi.
For detailed information on history, politics, economy and so on, please consult the excellent Wikipedia article of Ecuador.
Must See Ecuador Travel Places
© All photographs by Mark Van Overmeire