Sandwiched between Latin American culinary giants Peru and Colombia, tiny Ecuador is often surprising when it comes to serving up tasty local fare. Traditional dishes are delightfully varied and stem from the fusion of European, African, and varied indigenous cultures, as well as the geographic differences found within the small confines of the country, namely Andean and Pacific coastal influences.
Visitors to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands may think that getting to the islands themselves is the easy part, but there are actually more ways to travel among the 21 main isles than there are to get to the archipelago in the first place. Prop planes and all manner of boats shuttle tourists and residents alike between the islands, while taxis, bicycles, buses, and other forms of land transportation ply the island roads.
Situated amid the stunning mountains to the west of Ecuador’s highland city of Cuenca, Cajas National Park offers visitors spectacular landscapes and exuberant plant and animal life, some of which can only be seen in this corner of the Andes.
High in the Andes of Ecuador, just south of the capital city, Quito, the Limpiopungo Lagoon shimmers in the shadow of the great volcano Cotopaxi. Situated in the vast Cotopaxi National Park, the freshwater lagoon actually sits in a basin amongst other volcanic titans, including Rumiñahui, Sincholagua, and other hard-to-pronounce peaks that form Ecuador’s 200-mile-long “Avenue of the Volcanoes.”
Straddling the equator and offering up some of the most memorable ecological experiences in the world, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands house some of the planet’s most unique wildlife amid a striking, volatile landscape. Visitors to the archipelago usually arrive by air from mainland Ecuador, but end up slowing down the pace a bit with multiday Galapagos cruises, weaving between the islands and providing ample opportunities for outdoor activities and excursions, including hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
Mountain climbing in Ecuador is but one of many adventure activities offered in the northern stretch of the Andes, and climbing Cotopaxi is often featured on the bucket lists of backpackers from around the globe. Overlooking the capital city of Quito at over 19,000 feet (5,900 meters) above sea level, Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s second highest peak and one of the highest active volcanos on the planet.
Cradled high in the Andes, in the shadow of sleeping volcano Pichincha, Quito combines historic charm and Andean culture with a unique, urbane aesthetic that enchants visitors to Ecuador’s capital city and keeps them coming back for more. At 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito’s high altitude means new arrivals should keep the urge to “do it all” in check before overexerting themselves, so a half-day Quito tour just might be the perfect low-key introduction to the city, or take a longer tour with a tasty Ecuadorian lunch.
The magnificent volcanic archipelago that is the Galapagos Islands is famed for its truly unique biodiversity. The string of 18 islands, surrounded by smaller islets, is quite isolated from any continent or major landmass—a distant 975km (525mi) west of the closest South American shore, Ecuador, to which the islands belong. And they are relatively new, a youthful 8 million years old.
The Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination, with something to offer every month of the year. The best time to visit depends on what you want to see and do, as well as your tolerance for the crowds.
High season follows the North American and European vacation schedule, running from June through August, and mid-December to through mid-January. Because this is the most convenient time for families to visit, make reservations well in advance. Don’t worry unduly about beaches being overcrowded, however; the national park allows only a limited number of visitors at one time, and itineraries are restricted.