Ecuador is often described as encapsulating an entire continent in a single country. Straddling the equator on South America’s Pacific coast, and wedged between Colombia and Peru, this small Latin American nation is able to boast landscapes as diverse as the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, Bellavista Cloud Forest, the Amazon Rainforest and the volcanic terrain of the Galapagos Islands.
Considered one of only 17 megadiverse countries in the world, Ecuador is home to a higher concentration of biodiversity per square kilometre than anywhere in the world. On the mainland over 1,600 species of birds have been recorded, alongside 106 endemic reptiles, 138 endemic amphibians and nearly 6,000 species of butterflies. And we haven’t even started on the Galapagos Islands yet…
The Galapagos Islands are a short flight from the Ecuadorian mainland and add an extra dimension to Ecuador’s already rich ecological tapestry. Holding UNESCO World Heritage status, the Galapagos are famous as the foundation on which Darwin developed his Theory of Evolution. To this day they provide unparalleled natural landscapes, including volcanoes and black sandy beaches, and extraordinary wildlife, such as giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins and marine iguanas. Facing environmental threats from both climate change and increased levels of tourism, all our tours to the Galapagos Islands are taken with the utmost care for the environment to ensure we leave as small a footprint as possible.
Heading back to the mainland visitors can’t fail to be impressed by the majestic ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’, a 200-mile ridge of precipitous peaks that provides the backdrop for surely one of the best road journeys in the world. A short drive from Quito lies the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, a protected forest of plunging valleys filled with tall, orchid-festooned trees and a plethora of plants, birds and mammals, making the region a delight for anyone with an interest in ecology. Hiking, bird watching and guided walks with local naturalists are available and horse riding is also possible. Ecuador also produces the world’s biggest and most beautiful roses and is the world’s largest exporter of the flower. And then there is the country’s wonderful coffee and chocolate…
Whilst the stunning wildlife and ecological diversity attract the headlines, Ecuador also has a fascinating human side to it. Quito, Ecuador's capital city, is considered one of the finest in Latin America and its setting, which is flanked by volcanic peaks, is simply breath-taking. Divided into the UNESCO designated old town and the new city of multi-story hotels and high-rise government buildings, Quito offers a diverse mix of tradition and modernity, while somehow managing to retain a wholly Ecuadorian flavour.
Just north of Quito lies the pretty town of Otavalo, famous for its market (particularly on Saturdays), which is one of the best places in South America to buy handicrafts. On the journey to Otavalo from Quito you will pass through the equator, offering the chance to stand straddling both the southern and northern hemispheres. In the south meanwhile, sits the colonial city of Cuenca whose UNESCO designated old town hides mysterious Incan origins; local legends speak of lost temples of gold and magnificent royal palaces.
Ecuador and the Galapagos provide the perfect holiday destination for those seeking nature in all its glory. Our exciting and varied range of group tours and tailor-made holidays to both Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands are an ideal place to begin exploring all this unique country has to offer.
A couple of hours north of Quito, Otavalo Market is great for weavings and other souvenirs. Do haggle!