If you’re starting to think about places to go over the holiday period, or for a vacation in 2019, South America might be on your list. This continent has a wide variety of fabulous countries to visit. One that’s particularly fascinating, and which provides many wonderful sights and opportunities for tourists, is Ecuador.
Straddling the equator on the west coast of South America, Ecuador boasts a diverse landscape, bustling cities, historical and architectural wonders, amazing natural beauty, tempting cuisine and much more. Read on for some tips about the top things you should do on a vacation to this part of the world.
Explore the Amazon
When it comes to planning Ecuador trips, make sure you give yourself some time to explore the mighty Amazon. While there are numerous countries to use as a base to explore the world’s largest rainforest, Ecuador is often one of the more affordable, and even though it’s one of the smaller South American nations, the area is home to a stunning diversity of species including birds, fish, reptiles, plants and more.
It’s a good idea to book yourself a tour to see the Amazon and learn about the indigenous people who call the region home. In particular, consider a river cruise. You’ll typically get to explore the Napo River system (this is the largest river in the country and a major Amazonian tributary) and the protected Yasuni National Park and Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.
Visit the Galapagos Islands
Another top spot Ecuador claims as its own is the Galapagos Islands. These famous volcanic islands were deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the late 1970s and became the first national park site in Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands are roughly 600 miles off the South American coast and can be reached by plane (fly out of the capital city, Quito, or from Guayaquil).
This destination is perfect for nature-lovers, as it’s full of unusual wildlife, many of which you can’t see elsewhere. The Galapagos Islands first drew notice in the 1800s when Charles Darwin visited for a few weeks and was so inspired by what he saw that he wrote “Origin of Species.” Since that time, the archipelago has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors to its shores, as travelers line up to do some wildlife-watching of their own.
On the islands, you have the chance to see all sorts of diverse, exotic animals, such as giant tortoises, the Galapagos penguin, iguanas, the blue-footed booby, Sally Lightfoot crabs and the Galapagos sea lion. Plus, don’t miss the chance to do some snorkeling or diving there, to see life below the water’s edge.
Shop at Otavalo Market
As for shopping in Ecuador, a great place to fill a suitcase with souvenirs is at the Otavalo Market, a legendary craft and food market found in the Andean highlands in the north of Ecuador. Located in the central Plaza de Ponchos, the market is filled to bursting with all sorts of local creations sold by indigenous townspeople dressed in traditional clothing.
Shop here to pick up colorful textiles and handicrafts like rugs, blankets, tapestries, hammocks, ponchos, embroidered blouses, scarves, sweaters, gloves, hats, carvings, paintings, jewelry and more. There are also many food stalls where you can try out authentic local cuisine. For instance, taste crispy whole fried fish, chicken or tripe soup or scoops of chichi, a fermented corn or yucca drink.
While you’re in this part of Ecuador, head to the Tejidos el Obraje Museum to see weaving demonstrations and textile exhibits, too. Plus, twice a week you can see the Otavalo cemetery spring to life as residents honor the dead with bright flowers and hearty meals. In addition, this area is a great departure point for many excellent train trips in Ecuador (think Ibarra, Salinas) and regional hikes (e.g. Cotacachi, Peguche).
Of course, no trip to Ecuador is complete without checking out one of its bigger cities. The capital city of Quito has a rich and fascinating Incan history and displays an intriguing combination of both traditional and modern worlds. There is much architectural beauty to be found here, particularly in the city’s old town where you’ll see many colonial buildings and churches. Furthermore, make sure you head to the expansive Modern Art Museum while in the city to take in work by some of Ecuador’s most famous artists.
For a wonderful view of the region, head up on a gondola (“sky tram”) to the Pichincha Volcano. If you’re a keen hiker, from here you can walk up the volcano on foot for a few extra miles. Alternatively, take it easy and enjoy coffee and cake at the visitor’s café.