Ecuador is a wildlife and flora heaven—visit the strange and bizarre creatures of the world here, along with a marvellously varied landscape. From the high Andean altiplano to the low lying Amazon Basin, the verdant cloudforest of the interior to the otherworldly Galapagos Islands, the natural world is undoubtedly the highlight here.
In A Nutshell
Ecuador's main attraction is almost 1,000km from the mainland, out in the rolling Pacific Ocean on the Equatorial line: the archipelago of the Galapagos Islands. It is made up of 14 main islands and each one has its own unique geography and life, making each visit like going to a new and undiscovered world. The best way to experience the islands is on a cruise that tours the treasures, with a naturalist guide on board to help you understand all you are seeing. Apart from these idyllic islands, the mainland also offers many treats. The Ecuadorian Amazon is a frontrunner in conservation-tourism and it complements time spent on the islands with a different perspective on the natural world. Alternatively, explore the cloud forest for the best in birdlife and lodges like no other, or the Andes, home to the Avenue of the Volcanoes for avid hikers. The cities play second fiddle to the scenery here, but the capital of Quito still delights with its quaint and compact historic old town, as does Cuenca with its distinctive colonial charm. Ecuador is a world to be discovered (like Darwin did all those years ago); relish the endearing appeal of this awesome land of adventures.
Need To Know
- To get around within Ecuador, it’s best to use a combination of domestic flights (to fly to the Galapagos or the Amazon) and road transfers (to investigate the mainland).
- We suggest spending one to two weeks, depending where you’re going. Ecuador is also well paired with Peru.
- Ecuador is especially suited to families, as well as nature and wildlife lovers—the flora and fauna don’t get much more spectacular than on the Galapagos Islands.
- No visas are required for North Americans or Europeans.
- No shots are required for your entry into the country, although you will need anti-malarials if you are visiting the Amazon region. We suggest you visit a travel health clinic before your departure to make sure you have all the vaccinations you need.
- Spanish is the national language but English is widely spoken.
- Most international flights come into Quito through Miami, or other major North American hubs.
- The coast of Ecuador doesn’t have much to offer in the way of beaches, but it is worth considering if you’re into surfing.
- If you’re visiting mainland Ecuador you will be at some very high altitudes, so prepare yourself for the possibility of altitude sickness.
When To Go
Ecuador’s mainland is best visited between May and October (the dry season), although many people also visit at Christmas—you simply need to be prepared for wetter weather. The Galapagos Islands are a year round destination, the pros and cons depending much more on the nature of the sea rather than the weather. The peak time is from December to March, when the water is temperate and the sea is quite calm, but depending on what animals and ecosystems you are most interested in, you may want to consider other times as well.
Mainland hotels are characterized by a colonial vibe and there are a lot of chain accommodations, though we tend to avoid them. Outside of the capital there are plenty of haciendas and ranches—they are simple and rustic but with a charm that makes them worth visiting. You may also consider staying in the cloud forest and Amazon lodges, where great naturalist guides make all the difference. In the Galapagos, we go for the small to medium sized boats because smaller excursion groups enhance the experience. Across all of these boats the service and structural quality is very high, but they’re usually low on character.
Swim and Snorkel with Sea Lions—Take a trip below the surface in the Galapagos Islands; as sea lions glide giddily past and a slow giant sea turtle paddles in the depths below, it's an unforgettable swim.
Cotopaxi Volcano Mountain Biking—At Cotopaxi National Park in the High Andes, take some time in between your stints on horseback with the local gauchos to bike down the side of a volcano.
Outstare an Iguana—As it stands perfectly inanimate in the sun, the stillest of all the Galapagos creatures is almost impossible to turn away from. Where humans are no threat, you'll always lose this staring contest.
Amble Cobblestoned Quito—At Quito's heart is a delightful, buzzing base for your travels into the natural world of Ecuador (with some excellent restaurants to boot).
Take the Devil's Nose Train—It's an epic journey and an engineering feat that allows for constantly spectacular vistas as you pass through the rugged Andes and small market towns.
What They Say
The trip was great, the animals and diversity between the islands is really remarkable.
— Steve R.
Machu Picchu lived up to the hype and our cruise in the Galapagos was first class.
— Milessa M.
Ecuador On The Sounder
700-1200 USD per person, per day on the mainland; 1000-2000 USD per person, per day in the Galapagos Islands. This typically includes all hotels, regional flights, ground transfers, guided excursions, some meals, and Trufflepig trip planning services and support.