Ecuador & Galapagos Islands
The capital city Quito has a rich colonial heritage where XVIth century churches, monasteries, cobbled streets, and vast plazas are filled with bustling indigenous people still wearing their historic costumes and hats. A fifteen minute cable car ride will take you up to 13,500 ft for a magnificent panoramic view of the city. Also very interesting is a visit to the Mitad del Mundo, which graphically highlights the exact location of the equator. Close by is the extinct volcano Pululahua, where the crater is home to a native reserve and is covered with small farms.
The Northern Sierras
Indigenous markets, animal markets and ecological preserves all add charm to the Northern Sierra. Otavalo is the most well known of the market towns where, especially on Saturdays, you can shop for handicrafts, hammocks, clothing, bags, jewels, ceramics, paintings, weavings and more. The famous Avenue of the Volcanoes, so named by the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt, is in the Central Sierra, where the highest peak is the 19,347 foot Cotopaxi volcano. In the Southern Sierra is Cuenca, where you will find preserved colonial remains and a great festival for Corpus Christi. In the Oriente you can visit caves and mining towns, stay in luxury jungle lodges, find great white water rafting opportunities, or go on jungle exploration treks. All of which are located where the Andes drop dramatically from snow capped mountains to the Amazon basin.
A trip to the Galapagos archipelago has no parallel and can be found on many travelers “bucket list”.
Far out from the coast and lost in the Pacific Ocean, the islands are accessed through the small airport of Baltra, which can be reached from either Quito or from Guayaquil. Small cruise ships offer all inclusive package for 3, 4 or 7 nights. Permits are necessary to visit and the number of visitors is limited in order to preserve and protect the environment. Guides are necessary in order to move around and will be assigned to groups of no more than 15 people. These guides are very informative and useful, and they also ensure that everyone is respectful of the rules. For lesser prices and more flexibility, land packages with daily boat rides can be organized with an overnight stay on land, but some of these accommodations can be very basic. Every island may have 2 or even 3 names which usually creates some confusion. Flora and fauna are unique in the Galapagos, with 1,900 endemic species of plants, reptiles, fish, birds, and insects, which often look nothing like their mainland cousins. To cite just a few of the most famous of the local inhabitants are the giants tortoise, marine and the land Iguanas, sea turtles, lava lizards, sea lions, fur seals, whales and dolphins, blue-footed booboes, red-footed boobies, masked boobies, the albatros, the penguins, the frigatebirds or the cormorants.