The Galapagos Archipelago is located in the equator, 965 km (600 miles) off the coast of Ecuador. It consists of 13 main islands and many small ones, of which only five are inhabited by humans: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, Floreana and Baltra. Most services such as hotels, restaurants and shops are found in the main towns, like Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz and Puerto Baquerizo. The latter, located in San Cristobal Island is the Galapagos Province’s capital. The Galapagos National Park was established on 1936, and declared UNESCO World Heritage Site on 1978. The interesting aspects about these islands are endless. Its main attraction is the wildlife and landscape. The oldest islands are a few million years old, and being so far away from the mainland, many endemic plant and animal species have evolved. It is said that 36% of the plants (225 species) and 49 % of the birds (28 species) are endemic, meaning they can only be found there. Additionally, all the land reptile species are endemic; these include giant tortoises, iguanas and lizards.
Due to its volcanic activity and origin, amazing landscape has been created: tuff cones, lava tunnels, colored sand beaches and salt water crater lakes. Activities available on this exciting destination include scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking and trekking, surfing, horseback riding and of course, wildlife viewing, especially bird watching. The Galapagos can be reached by air from Guayaquil and Quito. There are two airports on the islands, in Baltra and San Cristobal, and the daily flights from mainland take about two and a half hours. Galapagos is a year round destination, though there are two distinct seasons. The cooler and dryer season goes from June to December. In this season, the waters are quite cold, the sky is clear and sometimes there are light showers. The warmer and more humid season goes from December to May, and it is characterized by cloudy skies and nearly daily rains. Regarding wildlife, most animals can be seen year round, though some species have definite breeding seasons or active periods. This is important to consider if you want to see a specific animal or animal behavior, such as courtship or nesting.
(link to list of islands’ descriptions)
Otavalo is a famous small town located about one hour and a half north of Quito, at an altitude of 2 580 meters (8460 feet) above sea level, on the slopes of Imbabura Volcano. The town’s main attraction is its handicraft and produce market on Saturdays. Here visitors will find a vast array of textiles and leather, wood and ceramic crafts, not only from Ecuador, but from Peru and Bolivia as well. The market is open every day, but Saturday is definitely the best and busiest day. There are other nearby attractions as well, such as the Peguche Waterfall, easily accessible from Otavalo.
This site is considered sacred by the locals, and by the end of June, several festivals (Inti Raymi) start in its purifying waters. The waterfall gets its waters from San Pablo Lake, another of the area’s points of interest for its beautiful landscape and wildlife. Pucara de Rey Loma is a historical site, as it is said that the pre-Columbian cultures resisted the Inca incursion on this hill. Also, there is an impressive view of Imbabura Volcano and the Otavalo Valley. Other than museums and churches, hiking and trekking trips are available to Imbabura, Cusin and Fuya Fuya Hills. Otavalo is a year round destination; the weather feels like spring constantly, though the “summer” months go from July to September. There are several places to stay in Otavalo and surroundings, as well as restaurants and other services. The market can be visited as a one day tour from Quito as well.
The capital city is the second most populated, and its historic center is so rich, it earned the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is located in the Andean north central part of Ecuador, and its main airport is called Mariscal Sucre International. A new one located in the outskirts of the city is under construction though, and it’s estimated it will be ready by 2009. At 2850 meters (9 350 feet) above sea level, the weather is comfortable year round, though it can be quite chilly at nights. There are 2 seasons: the dry, warmer season goes from May to September and the wet, cooler season, from October to April. The Old City is where most spots of interest are, such as the Cathedral, the Basilica, museums and monasteries and the Plaza de la Independencia, Plaza San Francisco, and Plaza Santo Domingo. In the New City, there are quite a lot of good museums too, like the Museo Nacional del Banco Central Del Ecuador, Museum of Musical Instruments, and the Museum of Modern Art. Expect varied and great food in the New City! In Quito, you can find all the services expected from a cosmopolitan city. In the outskirts of Quito, there are several interesting locations that can be visited. The Teleferiqo takes you in a tram ride up Pichincha Volcano, at 4 200 meters (13 780 feet) above sea level.
The Middle of the World Monument, located about 30 minutes north of Quito, was built to mark the exact spot where the equator is supposedly located. Years after it was built, it was determined the equator actually passes 240 meters (788 feet) south of the monument, but it is still a popular tourist site. The Intiñan Solar Museum was then built on the true location. The Pululahua Natural Monument, about 25 km (15 miles) north of Quito offers a beautiful natural environment and a crater that can be walked to.
Guayaquil is a port city in the Pacific Coast, and it is the most populated city in Ecuador and the most important economic center.
Temperatures are quite nice year round , and there are two distinct seasons. From December to April, the weather is hot and humid, and from May to December, it is dry and cooler. The main airport is José Joaquín de Olmedo International, located within 15 minutes from downtown. There are several pleasurable sights in the city. For example, the Malecón Simón Bolívar or Malecón 2000, that runs 2,5 km (1,5 miles) along the Guayas River. Along the way there are restaurants, bars, gardens, museums, stores and viewpoints. Similarly, the Malecón Del Salado offers entertainment and beautiful gardens. The Cerro Santa Ana is located close to the Malecon, in the northeast side of the city. Climbing up the 456 stairs is a rewarding experience, as you’ll get great views of the city, and along the way, you’ll encounter many colorful cafes and restaurants. Cerro Santa Ana is located close to Las Peñas, an old and picturesque quarter that’s also worth the visit. The interesting Historical Park illustrates the natural and historical Guayaquil in three zones: Wildlife, Urban and Traditions. In the outskirts, there are several natural spots of interest, such as Churute Mangrove’s Ecological Reserve, where it’s possible to take canoe rides into the mangroves; great for wildlife viewing! The Botanical Gardens, located northwest, are recommended as well.
The colonial city of Cuenca is said to be the most beautiful city in Ecuador. In fact, it was designated World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, for the preservation of the original orthogonal urban planning and architecture. The city is located in the southern part of Ecuador, in a valley amidst the Andes. Due to its location, the weather is quite pleasant year round, with higher temperatures during the dry “summer”, from May to November. The city is a nice place to visit year round though. Cuenca can be reached by air from Quito or Guayaquil, in a 45 minute flight. Its main airport is called Mariscal Lamar. Handcrafting is a very important activity, and products include Panama Hats, leather, gold and silver jewelry and pottery.
In the city, there are many colonial buildings that should not be missed, like the Old and New Cathedrals, the Abdón Calderón Park and the Banco Central Museum, among others. There are several important tourist sites near Cuenca that should be visited. The Ingapirca Ruins are located about 60 km (37 miles) to the north. This is the most important archaeological site in Ecuador, and it consists of several stone structures. The name Ingapirca means “wall of the Inca”. The Cajas National Park is an important natural reserve that offers amazing landscape, lagoons, and highland flora and fauna, including condors. The park is located about 30 km (19 miles) west of Cuenca.
The name Cotopaxi refers to a province, a national park and a volcano located in the central part of Ecuador, in the heart of the Andean mountains. Cotopaxi province is known for its quaint towns, lakes and rich traditions reflected on its Indian markets. Latacunga is the province’s capital. The national park is located 60 km (37 miles) south of Quito, and it can be reached by car or train. The national park hosts a vast array of animal and plant species, such as pumas, bears, rabbits, foxes and condors. Also, there is a recreational area called El Boliche, which houses a large pine forest, lakes and camping sites. The Cotopaxi volcano, the national park’s biggest highlight, stands 5897 meters (19 350 feet) tall, and it is the second highest peak in the country, and one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Another interesting fact is that it has one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world. The last major eruption took place in 1904, though there was some activity in 1942 and 1975. Climbing the volcano is quite a challenge, and special equipment and guiding are required. There is a year round housing facility that can accommodate many tourists. The national park has other interesting locations that are worth visiting, such as the Rumiñahui Volcano, and Santo Domingo and Limpiopungo Lake; all offer amazing landscapes and photographing opportunities.
The Laguna Del Quilotoa, located in the province, is another important natural destination. The blue and green colored Crater Lake can be reached from the town of Zumbagua, an Indian settlement. It is possible to hike around the crater, which makes a good five hour hike. There is a growing number of tourist services around, such as guides and hostels.
Chimborazo and Riobamba
The Chimborazo province is located in the central Andes, and it offers many cultural and natural attractions. The Chimborazo, an inactive volcano, is Ecuador’s highest peak, with an imposing elevation of 6 268 meters (20 564 feet). It is said that this is the farthest point from the center of the Earth, and its summit is totally covered by glaciers. Climbing to the summit is very challenging, but there are lower parts that can be visited by tourists. The colonial city of Riobamba is the capital of the province, and of the nearest cities to Chimborazo. The city is located 200 km (125 miles) south of Quito and at an altitude of 2 700 meters (8 860 feet), and it is accessible from Ambato, Guayaquil and Quito (about 5 hours). This is a great base from where to visit Chimborazo, but its plazas, parks, museums and a Saturday market make this city an attraction on its own. From here, visitors can take the famous train ride that goes through the “Devil’s Nose”, a very steep section in the mountains. The scenic ride from Riobamba to Alausi or Sibambe takes from four to five hours, and it will take you from the cold highlands to the warm jungle. Schedules vary, so be sure to check; and buy the ticket the night before!
Also, located in part in the Chimborazo province is the Sangay National Park, declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. This outstanding natural reserve comprises several ecosystems, from lowland Amazon rainforests to mountain glaciers, as well as two active volcanoes (Tungurahua and Sangay). The diversity and richness of this reserve is invaluable.
The famous destination of Baños is easily accessible from Riobamba as well.
Baños is a city located in the province of Tungurahua, next to the Tungurahua Volcano. It is located 180 km (112 miles) south of Quito (about 3 hours). The name of the city (meaning “baths” in Spanish) is given by the various hot springs located near the city. But there are many outdoor activities available as well, such as hiking, climbing, horseback riding, rafting and mountain biking. There are several famous waterfalls such as El Manto de la Novia and Pailón Del Diablo, which can be accessed hiking or biking.If you are looking for adventurous trekking, the Tungurahua Volcano, Sangay and Llanganates national parks and are located nearby, and can be accessed from Baños. These national parks form an important biological corridor for many unique species, and so are of huge importance to the natural world. Being close to Riobamba, the famous “Devil’s Nose” train ride is easily reached from Baños too. The city is also considered as the gateway to the Amazon, as it is easy accessible to Puyo, its closest city.
This city is located at 1826 meters (5 990 feet) above sea level, and it benefits from nice temperate weather year round, which makes it a perfect destination to visit any time! It offers cozy accommodations and a wide variety of dining options and bars.
Isla de la Plata
Isla de la Plata is part of Machalilla National Park, and it is located 24 km (15 miles) off the coast of Ecuador, and a two hour boat ride from Puerto López. It is accessible from Puerto Cayo and Montecristi too. Puerto Lopez is a lively fishermen town notably used as a base for visiting the national park and for taking whale watching tours. Machalilla is a coastal national park that protects the last remnant of dry tropical forest in Ecuador, and hosts an amazing array of flora and fauna. Its major attraction is certainly the island, though its pristine beaches, wildlife and archaeological site (Agua Blanca) make the mainland part of the national park great destination to visit. The area is famous for humpback whale watching from June to September. Bird watching on the island is also excellent, as many Galapagos species are found here, such as the blue footed boobies and albatrosses. The island is a paradise for snorkelers and divers, as its waters are bursting with marine life, and the mean temperatures are around the 20° C (68 °F)!