Isla Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)
The island of Santa Cruz has the largest and most developed town in the Galápagos; almost every visitor to the islands spends at least some time here even if it’s simply commuting from the airport on nearby Isla Baltra to a cruise ship in the harbor of Puerto Ayora.
Certainly the image of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon is too poetic for a city that is the economic engine of the country. However, get caught up in the streams of guayacos wandering the Malecón (the city’s riverfront town square-cum-eatery-cum-cultural center) and there’s a feeling of a new and proud identity in the air.
The steep green hills, dust-blown villages, busy cities and flower plantations of the north are a stone’s throw from the capital. Strong indigenous cultures, Afro-Ecuadorian communities, colonial descendants and mestizos all inhabit this highland region. The famous Otavalo market, with its cacophony of color, dates back to pre-Inca days.
This town, the largest in terms of population and size in the Galápagos, is a surprise to most visitors, who don’t expect to find anything but plants and animals in the islands. Puerto Ayora looks and feels like a fairly prosperous mainland Ecuadorian coastal town, that is if it weren’t for the sea lion, iguana and albatross or two that lounge around the waterfront.
You can’t help but feel the rub of the first world chafing against the ancient in the Oriente, Ecuador’s Amazon Basin. Consider the Tagaeri and Taromenani, who refuse all contact with the modern world but inhabit the same forest where oil exploitation grows day by day. These worlds will one day meet. The Oriente is an intense place with clenching stakes for everyone involved.
North Coast & Lowlands
Ecuador, land of lively Andean markets, Amazon adventures, gripping Galápagos cruises and … beaches? Nobody thinks of the coast when they think of Ecuador. It’s last on the list for most, and many – after seeing everything else – never actually make it here. It’s their loss.