Cultural Splendor The historic centers of Quito and Cuenca – both Unesco World Heritage Sites – are lined with photogenic plazas, 17th-century churches and monasteries, and beautifully restored mansions. Wandering the cobblestone streets amid architectural treasures from Spanish colonial days is a fine way to delve into the past. You can travel further back by contemplating great pre-Columbian artworks at museums across the country.
Beyond the cities, the Ecuadorian landscape unfolds in all its startling variety. There are Andean villages renowned for their colorful textiles and sprawling markets, Afro-Ecuadorian towns where days end with meals of fresh seafood and memorable sunsets, and remote settlements in the Amazon where shamans still harvest the traditional rainforest medicines of their ancestors.
Andean Adventure Setting off on a trek into the Andes can seem like stepping into a fairy tale: there’s the patchwork of small villages, gurgling brooks and rolling fields, with a slowly wheeling condor overhead. Then the mists clear, a view of those towering snow-covered peaks comes into view, and the adventure begins – the challenging climb to the summit of a 5000m-high volcano.
Although the view from the top is sublime, you don’t have to scale a mountain to enjoy the Andes. These verdant landscapes make a fine backdrop for mountain-biking, horseback-riding or hiking from village to village, overnighting at local guesthouses along the way. Ecuador’s other landscapes offer equally alluring adventures, from surfing tight breaks off the Pacific coast to white-water rafting Class V rivers along the jungle-clad banks of the Oriente.
Wildlife-Watching The famed Galápagos Islands, with their volcanic, otherworldly landscapes, are a magnet for wildlife lovers. Here, you can get up close and personal with massive lumbering tortoises, scurrying marine iguanas (the world’s only seagoing lizard), doe-eyed sea lions, prancing blue-footed boobies and a host of other unusual species both on land and sea.
The Amazon rainforest offers a vastly different wildlife-watching experience. From a remote lodge tucked away in the jungle, you set out on the rivers and trails snaking through the undergrowth in search of monkeys, sloths, toucans, river dolphins, anacondas and other creatures. Some lodges also have canopy towers offering magnificent views (and a better chance to see birdlife).
Speaking of birds, premontane cloud forest is yet another biologically rich area, and home to a fantastic array of avian life. Indeed the Mindo area, with more than 350 recorded bird species, is one of the best bird-watching sites in all of South America.
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Best places to stay in Ecuador
Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands travel guide
Colonial cities, misty cloud forests, towering Andean peaks, Amazonian rainforest and the otherwordly Galápagos – for such a small country Ecuador has a stunning array of natural and cultural wonders.
Riding Ecuador’s 'railway in the sky' in style
Anyone for the Avenue of the Volcanoes? How about traversing the Devil's Nose? They might sound intimidating, if not downright risky, but Ecuador’s Tren Crucero, or 'Cruise Train', passes both as it winds its way from Quito high in the Andes to Guayaquil down on the Pacific coast...
Top historic sites in Ecuador
Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands - Plan your trip (Chapter)
Your journey to Ecuador starts here. You'll find the tools to plan your adventure: where to go and when, how much to budget, plus in-depth info on the natural features of a land that straddles the equator.
Top 5 unmissable journeys by rail
There are few more memorable ways to travel than by train. Here are Lonely Planet Traveller magazine’s top five ways to get on board. 1. The Ghan, Australia: the luxury rail ride The Ghan crosses the high bridge over the Katherine River in Australia’s Northern Territory. Image by Paul White/ ImageBrief...
Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands - The Oriente (Chapter)
This vast area has drama galore. Rivers churn from the snowcapped Andes to dense rainforest, then on to the Amazon basin and distant Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, ancient indigenous tribes call the riverbanks home and, in many places, life...
Amazing wildlife, both on land and underwater, is the drawcard of the remote Galapagos Islands. Tour the Galapagos' outstanding natural beauty and interesting history by foot, boat and bike on this active adventure.
Galapagos Islands on Beluga
Cruise the magical Galapagos Islands aboard the deluxe Beluga
Best ways to see Quito
Way up in a 30-mile long valley of the Andes, Ecuador's capital is undergoing a complete make-over. Quito's Spanish-colonial center helped it become the first city declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site 35 years ago, and 'Plan Q' has continued to help preservation and rebirth...
Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands - South Coast (Chapter)
Stretching from Puerto López in the north to the Peruvian border in the south, this region features a long, sandy coastline, trails through the coastal mountain cloud forests, all manner of birdlife and is the gateway to the Galápagos Islands.