Ecuador Travel News 2013
It has always been hot at the equator, but now it is getting even hotter! For 2013, the Lonely Planet has recommended Ecuador as one of its top 10 countries; and National Geographic has included Quito as one of the best places to visit this year.
Obviously no visit to Ecuador would be complete without a visit to the Galapagos Islands and despite their fame they too have been getting more attention with David Attenborough releasing his spectacular new Galapagos 3D show.
New this year, almost as if the country was anticipating its new popularity, Quito will welcome travellers into its brand new international airport; and travel within the country has been made easier and more comfortable with a new modern rail network.
We here at Rainforest Cruises feel the same; Ecuador is a colorful, exciting and wildly diverse country, and thanks to its compact size a lot can be seen and experienced in a short period of time.
Galapagos & Quito
The nation’s marquee attraction is undoubtedly the magical Galapagos Islands. Chosen by UNESCO as a natural World Heritage Site, the spectacular volcanic landscapes are home to some of the most unusual and amazing land and marine species on Earth. Over 150,000 people visit the islands each year to experience this natural wonder and witness the wildlife which inspired Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
En route to the islands, travelers sometimes neglect Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, but recently it has undergone a renaissance. Founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city and standing at an altitude of 2,850m, the Spanish colonial center has been enshrined a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site and has the best-preserved, least-altered historic center in Latin America. Picture walking down bustling cobblestoned streets, amidst street vendors, pedestrians and worshippers, weaving your way amongst pastel-colored mansions and exquisite monasteries, hiding rich Baroque interiors. Visits to the plazas, the Museo de Arte Colonial, La Compañía de Jesús and the Monastery of San Francisco are a must.
Mitad Del Mundo & Otavalo Market
But there is so much more than just the Galapagos and Quito. As you might have guessed from the country’s name, Ecuador, the Spanish for 'Equator', it is also the home of Middle Earth. You won’t find Frodo here, but you will have the opportunity to put your feet either side of the Equatorial line at the Mitad Del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument, although modern experiments suggest it actually lies about 100m away from it! Interestingly Ecuador contains the only place on the Equator where snow lies on the ground at the Cayambe volcano, but you won’t need your mittens at the monument.
South American markets are vibrant, colorful and noisy affairs, but are the local supermarket and a way of life for many residents. Ecuador boasts the largest marketplace in all of South America, Otavalo Market - the perfect place to practice your haggling skills and pick up a few authentic souvenirs for your family and friends back home. Try to go on a Saturday when the market swells to its largest, with vendors from the neighboring regions.
Another great trip out of Quito is a visit to the Ecuadorian highlands and in particular the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cuenca, with its Spanish style colonial historic center filled with dozens of churches and the monumental cathedral with its symbolic blue and white domes. Cuenca is the best place to try, or at least have your photo taken with, the highland delicacy of cuy (guinea pig). The journey there is spectacular along the Avenue of the Volcanoes with 9 of Ecuador’s 10 tallest peaks visible from this stunning stretch of roadway.
For those adventurous travellers, if you are a fan of mountain climbing there is no better challenge than scaling the 5,897 meter Cotopaxi, the world’s tallest active volcano; or if you don’t fancy climbing, why not go downhill mountain biking on it instead. For a one-stop shop of adventure sports visit the small mountain town of Banos, where you can indulge your wet and wild side in activities such as whitewater rafting, paragliding, bridge swinging and mountain biking. However it is not all exercise there, relax at one of the spas that take advantage of the natural hot springs or take a dip at the foot of some of the beautiful waterfalls of the region. You may even witness an eruption from the nearby Tungurahua volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in Ecuador.
Ecuador has been labeled as one of the world’s mega-diversity hotspots by ecologists, meaning it is one of the most species-rich countries on the planet. We all know about the Galapagos, but did you know around half of Ecuador’s surface area is covered by Amazon jungle? Known as El Oriente, the Ecuadorian Amazon to the east of the country is also renowned among experts for its wealth of unique habitats and ecosystems, containing an enormous variety of animal species, many of which are endemic, as well as several indigenous communities. Despite this incredible biodiversity, Ecuador is possibly the cheapest place in South America to visit the Amazon Jungle and a cruise or lodge stay deep into the national parks is highly recommended.
As part of our focus on Ecuador in addition to Amazon cruises, Rainforest Cruises are now happy to offer customers the opportunity to visit the Galapagos on one of our new cruises and offer tailored land tours in and around Quito.