“To Travel is to Live” – Hans Christian Andersen
Ecuador, the world’s most biodiverse nation per square kilometre, straddles the equator on South America’s west coast. Ecuador travel means diverse landscape including the jungle of the Amazon, the Andean highlands and the jaw-dropping wildlife of Galápagos Islands.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador. You’ll want to spend plenty of time wandering the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, the world’s first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Picture walking through a living museum where Indigenous women, wearing traditional dress, babies strapped to their back, sell hats, blankets and other wares or go about their daily activities.
Starting at Plaza Grande, there are several historical museums to visit. Enjoy a rest on one of the many benches and relish the sunshine and daily life happening around you. Make your way over to Iglesia de la Campañia de Jesūs. This is Quito’s most ornate church. With its impressive gilded interior, it is considered the most beautiful church in the country.
Continue your walk until you leave the narrow cobblestone streets and emerge into a large open air plaza. Here you will find Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco (The Church and Monastery of St. Francis). Commonly known as El San Francisco, it is a 16th-century Roman Catholic complex. It’s beautiful whitewashed walls, and twin bell towers front onto its namesake Plaza de San Francisco.
You could spend days immersing yourself in the history and culture of Quito, but there is so much more to see within driving distance.
Middle of the World
Mitad del Mundo is only a 45-minute drive from Quito. The grounds contain the Monument to the Equator, which highlights the exact location of the equator (from which the country takes its name). There are a viewing platform and museum. Don’t forget to get your passport stamped before you continue exploring the grounds. On the site, you will find the famous line which you can straddle so that you are both in the southern and northern hemisphere at the same time.
As in most tourist places, you will find shops and cafes. A well know cafe called Café Guayasamin serves gourmet Ecuadorian coffee with national favourites like humitas, a savory steamed corn cakes served inside corn husks and empanada’s de vent (cheese empanadas).
Otavalo is a town in the Andean highlands. It is surrounded by volcanoes, including the Imbabura Volcano. Otavalo’s famous market is in the central Plaza de Ponchos. It is a daily market, but on Saturdays, it expands and covers most of the city streets. Here you will find traditionally clad indigenous townspeople selling colorful textiles, handicrafts and spices. It truly is a visual experience.
You will find the people to be pleasant and not pushy. They are happy to show you their wares.
Ecuador travel must include a visit to at least one of its beautiful waterfalls. Las Cascadas de Peguche is located 3km (1.9 m) from Otavalo. The 18m (58ft) falls is a sacred indigenous ceremonial site. To get there, you pass several local vendors, an ancient sundial and walk about 15 minutes along a cobblestone path towards the sound of rushing water.
67km(40mi) east of Quito, you will find Papallacta. This small village located at an altitude of 3,300m (10,823 ft) in the Andes, is situated along one of the main roads leading to the Amazon rainforest. Try a soak in the hot springs known for their healing waters. Termas Papallacta is an award-winning spa that offers day visits as well as overnight stays. The journey up to the spa is breathtaking.
Something to note here is the elevation. Some people may find that they suffer the effects of the attitude. There is a medical professional at the spa if needed. Any symptoms will disappear as soon as you descend. Most people have no problem at all.
No trip to Ecuador would be complete without spending some time in the Amazon Basin. A 3.5-hour drive and a 20-minute motorized canoe ride and you arrive at La Casa del Suizo.
This jungle lodge overlooking the Napo River is nestled in the rainforest. Accommodation here is private cabin like rooms that each have a terrace with hammock. Windows covered by a screen allow the sounds of the jungle to lull you to sleep and to awaken you with the first light.
The lodge offers several excursions, including a guided hike through the Misicocha Private Nature Reserve, a visit with a local Quechua family and an opportunity to take a ride on a balsa wood raft down the Napo River.
Baños de Agua Santa
Commonly referred to as Baños, this city of 15,000 plus, lives in the shadow of South America’s most active volcano, Tungurahua. Located about 3.5 hours from Quito, it’s a place where locals vacation and comes highly recommended to tourists. If you are an adventure seeker, then this “Adventure Capital of Ecuador” has lots to offer. Horseback riding, bike riding, rafting, hot springs and more.
For those less adventurous, sample the ‘melcocha,’ the local hand worked taffy. The streets are lined with stalls selling the candy. Samples are aplenty.
Make sure you stop at Taller de Tagua “El Cade,” where you can watch the tagua seed, also known as “vegetable ivory”, being carved into jewelry and figurines.
If coffee is of interest, there are several unique coffee shops where you can enjoy Ecuadorian coffee, a treat and some people watching.
The Devil’s Cauldron
Once it’s time to go back to civilization, make sure you stop at the tallest waterfall of the Ecuadorian Andes, El Pailon del Diablo (The Devil’s Cauldron). Located 7km (4.3 mi) from Baños this powerful waterfall plunges 61 meters (200ft) into a gorge.
The waterfall is not visible from the road. There is a small admission fee to enter the trail, but it is worth it. A long path, a swinging bridge and a series of stairs take you to this impressive waterfall. Opt to get right up close and get wet from the mist, or stay a dry distance and still witness the power.
Ecuador Travel Offers So Much More
Whether you come for a while or just a short time, you won’t be able to see all this beautiful country has to offer. There is so much history here. The food is amazing, and people, gentle and welcoming. Ecuadorian’s are justifiably proud of their heritage.