About Ecuador & Galapagos Islands
Amazon Rainforest: The largest unexplored wilderness on earth, the Amazon Rainforest basin encompasses about seven million sq. km/2.7 million sq. mi., most of which is rainforest. This region includes territory belonging to nine nations, including Ecuador. The majority, however, some 60%, rests in Brazil. The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s rainforests, and is the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest remaining in the world. There are unique opportunities to interact with indigenous people, who share their traditions and ancestral knowledge. Ecuador’s Kapawi Ecological Private Reserve set in the primeval ecosystem is in the land of the Achuar people, a vibrant indigenous culture, who benefit from a lodge that was built using traditional techniques and local natural materials. It is designed to help support and protect the Achuar way of life and the surrounding natural habitat. Activities are geared to the interests of each guest, and include hikes, canoe trips, piranha fishing and visits to an Achuar village. Yasuní National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This mesmerizing place is home to the Napo Wildlife Center. On a blackwater lake near the Napo River, the center complex was developed as a partnership between the local community, the EcoEcuador Foundation and Tropical Nature. It is now 100% community owned. Community members staff the lodge and work as native guides and specialized, bilingual naturalist guides. Ecuador’s two most accessible parrot clay licks are on Napo Wildlife Center land and giant otters inhabit the lake in front of this rainforest lodge. Endemic flora and fauna and local villages can be explored by dugout canoe.
Antisana Ecological Reserve: The Antisana Ecological Reserve is in a hot spot, a high biodiversity on the oriental slope of the Andes Mountain Range. Striking mountains morph into dense forest and deep gorges while crystalline lakes reflect the mountain scenery. In the reserve, Antisana Volcano rises to a height of 5,758 m/18,891 ft. It has a reputation as a difficult climb, but the striking views make it worthwhile for avid climbers. Surrounded by lagoons, the volcano is roughly 800 000 years old, it has not erupted in millennia. More recent lava can be found that has seeped out cracks in the side of the mountain. The region includes the high basins of the rivers Coca and Napo that flow through the north and southeast. Created in 1993, the reserve serves as a corridor between the Ecological Reserve of Cayambe-Coca and the Sumaco Napo Galeras National Park. These three areas possess enormous biodiversity. Micacocha Lagoon is the biggest in the reserve while Muerte Pungu Lagoon offers great fishing. Other lagoons have their own distinct personalities.
Avenue of the Volcanoes: Ecuador is part of the Pacific chain of volcanoes known as the “Ring of Fire.” All the country’s major mountains are volcanic. More than 322 km/200 mi. long, the massive, snow-covered volcanic line that makes up the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” contrasts vividly with the green equatorial highlands and jungle. One of the highest in the chain is Cotopaxi at 5,896 m/19,347 ft.
Banos: The town’s proximity to Tungurahua Volcano has provided it with an abundance of thermal waters. It is also known for its neo-Gothic Basilica, which was constructed of volcanic rock from Tungurahua. Inside, it has a depiction of the volcanic eruptions and the Virgin’s miracles as well as a museum. Banos is named for the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water, and is a place of pilgrimage. The water is colored by high mineral content, and the temperature varies by the amount of cold water added to the bath. The most popular public baths are right in town at the base of the 260-ft. waterfall called Cascada de la Virgen and Pailon of the Evil. More than 60 waterfalls cascade into the surrounding countryside from the slopes of the volcano. The area is popular for mountain biking, hiking and rafting.
Cotopaxi: Since 1738, Cotopaxi Volcano has erupted more than 50 times with the resulting mudflows creating the nearby valleys. On a clear day, Cotopaxi can be seen from Quito. It is one of the chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. Its nearly symmetrical cone is about 3,800 m/12,500 ft. high. This volcano possesses one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world, which starts at 5,000 m/16,400 ft.
Cuenca: According to archeological discoveries, the origins of the area’s first inhabitants date back to 8060 BCE. The first settlement was a Canari settlement believed to have been founded around 500. Nearby are the Ingapirca Ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador. The most significant building is the temple of the sun, an elliptical-shaped structure made without mortar and positioned so that during the solstices, sunlight falls through the center of the doorway of the small chamber atop the temple.
Galapagos Islands: Composed almost exclusively of volcanic rock, the Galapagos Islands sit west of mainland Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. The islands can be explored either on a cruise or from one of the island hotels. While a specific itinerary depends on the choice of hotel, ship, length of cruise and seasonal factors, all journeys share common elements such as up-close encounters with native wildlife. With a naturalist guide, visitors explore ecosystems that, at first, appear desolate, yet these rough isles are home to unique species. Giant Galapagos tortoises amble through the highlands and prehistoric marine iguanas sun themselves on black lava rocks. Flightless cormorants and tiny penguins dart through the waters. In addition to hikes and boat excursions, there are chances to snorkel, swim and savor the timeless beauty of the islands.
Guayaquil: Officially Santiago de Guayaquil, it is the largest and the most populous city in Ecuador, with around 2.69 million people, as well as being the nation’s main port. The city is the capital of the Ecuadorian province of Guayas and is located on the western bank of the Guayas River, which flows into the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Guayaquil. Main sources of income are trade, business, agriculture and aquaculture. The city serves as one of two entry and exit points, along with Quito, for the Galapagos Islands. Possible activities here include a working farm house experience, horseback riding, learning the secrets of the world’s favorite sweet at a chocolate workshop, and a beekeeping immersion workshop.
Pacific Coast: The Pacific coastline is dotted with pristine beaches, small towns and marine reserves. Ecuador’s coast is a composition of lush green mangrove forests, jungle, crystal clear waters, stunning white sandy beaches and quaint fishing villages. While not heavily visited, the coast offers good opportunities for wildlife viewing, whale watching, surfing and taking advantage of the fine beaches.
Mashpi Private Reserve: At 900 m/3,116 ft., this lush private reserve is surrounded by lower montane rainforest and cloud forest with a profusion of plants from ferns to hundreds of orchid species, many newly-discovered. This is the place to encounter 500 species of birds, of which 36 are endemic; trees and frogs found nowhere in the world; crashing waterfalls and mysterious felines. Monkeys, peccaries and even pumas are found here. Mashpi Reserve is recognized for its rich ecosystem and as a world biodiversity hotspot. One of the highlights is an aerial tram that glides through the forest canopy. An aerial bicycle offers an original and exciting way to explore the forest canopy up close. Mashpi Reserve is part of a bio-region that stretches along the Pacific slope of the Andes from Panama to Peru, and is just two and a half hours drive from Quito.
Quito: Ecuador’s scenic capital feels like a city of perpetual spring nestled as it is in a valley amid snow-tipped mountains. It is a charming city of baroque splendor and beautifully preserved colonial landmarks. The genteel heart of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, harks back to another era with its cobblestone streets, superb churches and open plazas. The city’s Spanish pedigree is revealed in its ornate balconies, tile roofs, thick columns and central patios. UNESCO lists the Church of La Compania, built between 1605 and 1650, among the 100 most important World Heritage Site Monuments.
Riobamba & Devil’s Nose Train: This indigenous community has a local handicraft center that has managed to remain unknown to most travelers. Visitors can ride the Devil’s Nose Train as it zigzags up a mountainside, across bridges and gorges and though tunnels.
Best Time to Go
The Highlands’ dry season runs from May to September, while the Amazon Basin’s dry season is from October to April. Ecuador’s Pacific coast can be hot and humid, with temperatures averaging 25ºC/77º F to 31º C/ 87.8º F. The rainy season is during the months of December to May, when it is warmer and very humid; however, Ecuador can be visited year-round. May to December is cooler in the Galapagos Islands. March through May, and November and December are ideal. July, August and December are high season.
Day 1: Quito, Ecuador
Quito is a charming city of baroque splendor recognized for its beautifully preserved colonial landmarks.
Day 2: Quito / Cotopaxi
The Avenue of Volcanoes offers views of dramatic volcanoes. The region’s rich biological diversity is found in the forests, ravines and lakes.
Days 3/4: Cotopaxi
Adventure is waiting in a hike or horseback trek up a volcano, a picnic at Limpiopungo Lake, or a visit with a local family to glimpse everyday life here.
Day 5: Cotopaxi / Banos
The town’s proximity to Tungurahua Volcano has provided it with an abundance of welcoming thermal waters.
Day 6: Banos
The most popular public baths are right in town at the base of the 260-ft. waterfall called Cascada de la Virgen and Pailon of the Evil. Hiking, ziplining and exploring some of the 60 other waterfalls add up to a rewarding experience.
Day 7: Quito
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quito harks back to another era with its cobblestone streets, boutique shops, superb churches and open plazas.
Day 8: Quito / Galapagos Islands
The islands Charles Darwin made famous sit some 1,046 km/650 mi. west of mainland Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.
Days 9/11: Galapagos Islands
The islands can be explored on a land-based adventure, or from a cruise ship; each with opportunities to explore, swim, snorkel and interact with the islands’ unique wildlife.
Day 12: Galapagos Islands / Guayaquil
The city serves as one of two entries and exits, along with Quito, for the Galapagos Islands.
Day 13: Guayaquil / Depart
Amazon Rainforest (4 days)
The Amazon represents over half of the planet's rainforests, and is the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest remaining in the world.
Antisana Ecological Reserve (2 days)
Antisana Ecological Reserve is a hot spot of high biodiversity on the oriental slope of the Andes Mountain Range. Striking mountains morph into dense forest and deep gorges while crystalline lakes reflect the mountain scenery.
Avenue of the Volcanoes (2-4 days)
Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, dramatic volcanoes and rich biological varieties are found in the region’s forests, ravines and lakes.
Cuenca (3 days)
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a bounty of colonial features including museums and archaeological sites.
Guayaquil (3 days)
Guayaquil is the largest and the most populous city in Ecuador and offers interesting and fun experiences such as a chocolate workshop and beekeeping immersion workshop.
Pacific Coast (3 days)
Ecuador’s coast offers a cornucopia of outdoor adventures that include whale watching, surfing, discovering lush green mangrove forests and crystal-clear waters. The stunning white sandy beaches are a bonus.
Riobamba & Devil’s Nose (3 days)
Home to a little-known native market, Riobamba is the place to board the "most difficult train in the world."
Mashpi Private Reserve (4 days)
Mashpi Lodge sits on a scenic plateau, offering awe-inspiring views of the forested mountains. An aerial bicycle is a unique and fun way to explore the forest canopy up close.
$800-$1300 per person, per day. Land only, double occupancy.