Neighbouring Colombia and Peru, Ecuador is a relatively small country that nevertheless offers an enticing array of scenic landscapes, diverse wildlife species and interesting cities. Dense Amazon rainforest, towering Andean mountain peaks, palm-fringed Pacific Coast beaches and fascinating historical sites are all part and parcel of Ecuador’s prolific charms. The former Inca town of Cuenca is the nation’s third-largest city and a Unesco World Heritage Site. This alluring city, with its cobbled streets, beautiful architecture and photogenic plazas, boasts a huge variety of museums and art galleries. The vibrant capital city of Quito is also worth a visit. Arguably the most dazzling jewel in Ecuador’s crown is the Galapagos Archipelago in the Pacific, about 1000 kilometres west of the mainland. Their magnificent, pristine landscapes and prolific wildlife, which inspired Charles Darwin, have made this cluster of islands a world-famous travel destination.
Days 1 - 3
Everything about Quito – from its setting along the slopes of Pichincha volcano to its having the best preserved, least altered historic center in Latin America – makes it a capital city worth visiting. (The ‘old town’ as the center is known was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.) Stroll along its narrow streets and enjoy the buskers, vendors, and locals going about their everyday business. Visit the monasteries of San Francisco and Santa Domingo, the Church and Jesuit College of La Compañia, the Cathedral of Quito or the hill of El Panecillo where you can view the 45m high statue of the Virgin Mary. Mariscal Sucre (Plaza Foch) offers a taste of modern Quito with its trendy bars, restaurants and nightlife.
Days 3 - 4
The picturesque Ecuadorian rural town of Angochagua sits in the eastern foothills of the mighty Cerro Imbabura, within the magnificent Protected Zuleta Forest Reserve and surrounded by the Andes Mountain Range. This is a nature lover’s ultimate destination. Nearby, there are thick woodlands, extreme mountains, dormant volcanoes and an abundance of unique flora and fauna. Bathe in freshwater springs that spurt along the canyons, hike along craggy peaks, and watch the majestic endangered Andean Condors in flight. Highlights include the Condor Rehabilitation and Interpretation Center, an impressive 11th-century archaeological site, and the chance to learn more about local culture by meeting the neighbouring Indian communities.
Cotopaxi National Park
Days 5 - 6
Established in 1975 as a protected area, Cotopaxi National Park – situated about 50km southeast of the capital Quito – represents the most impressive of what Ecuador has to offer by way of animals and birds, including the majestic Andean condor, as well as valleys, lakes and a number of volcanoes. Center stage is occupied by the snow-laden Cotopaxi volcano that rises to 5 890m – a favorite with mountaineers. An excursion might have you spying puma, the rare Andean spectacled bear, Andean fox or orange-headed caracara, which is endemic in the area. The ruins of Incan forts and other ancient stone ruins can be seen surrounding Santo Domingo Lake. A number of haciendas outside the park offer accommodation.
Days 6 - 8
The small, central-Ecuadorian town of Banos de Agua Santa (‘Baths of Holy Water’) lies in the verdant foothills of the Tungurahua volcano. Adventure lovers can make the most of this idyllic setting by taking a waterfall tour; going paragliding, bridge jumping or white-water rafting. Those looking for views with a hint of danger can try a ride on the ‘Swing at the End of The World’, to sail out over the mountainside and see unobstructed views of the (possibly erupting) volcano. For the less bold, a visit to the mineral-rich hot springs will do nicely, followed by a stroll along the town’s red, blue and yellow pavement and a sampling of the local fare at one of the many welcoming eateries. Several beautiful colourfully-lit cathedrals add a sense of wonder to the town at night.