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Although Ecuador is a small country, it’s best to focus your efforts if you only have one week to explore. One common route is to spend a few days exploring the Amazon region, followed by some Andean mountain sights.
Day 1-2, Quito: Begin in Quito, the country’s capital. Here you will be introduced to the colonial history of Ecuador, as well as get the famous photo op on the Equator line.
Day 3, Banos: This mountain town is a great place for horseback riding and mountain biking, and experiencing ancient Andean life. After a long day, soak in the towns nearby natural hot springs.
Day 4-5, Tena Region: The perfect introduction to the mysterious and beautiful Ecuadorian Amazon. This region is not only one of the most beautiful, it’s also one of the most adventurous - prepare for some serious adrenaline pumping! Here you may also have the opportunity to homestay with a local Quichua family.
Day 6, Otavalo: The town famous for having the largest indigenous market in Ecuador. Stroll through countless stalls in a maze of colorful fabrics, and learn about traditional craft making from locals.
Tours to the Galapagos typically focus only on the islands, which are often thought of very separate from mainland Ecuador. Travelers who have around two weeks can spend enough time exploring the islands as well as visiting some of the main sites in Ecuador.
Day 1, Quito: Start your tour in Quito, where you’ll learn about Ecuador’s extensive colonial and native histories. Visit the famous Equator line for a fun photo-op.
Day 2, Otavalo: Head to Otavalo to experience the largest indigenous market in Ecuador. Stroll through the dizzying maze of stalls at your leisure, browsing impeccable handmade crafts and brightly colored fabrics.
Day 3-4, Avenue of the Volcanos: Take a mini Andes region tour through the Avenue of the Volcanos route. You might visit Cotopaxi National Park on your way to Banos, where you’ll get a small taste of the Amazon.
Day 5-6, Ecuadorian Amazon: Experience the most biodiverse rainforest in the world as you explore the incredible Ecuadorian Amazon. Stay overnight in a classic ecolodge and take canoe trips along the river for a chance to spot the many unique and rare species of the area.
Day 7, Devil’s Nose Train: Enjoy this thrilling railway ride down steep mountainsides, taking in the stunning Andean scenery. Continue on to Guayaquil, the famous port city from which you’ll transfer to the Galapagos.
Day 8, Santa Cruz Island: Fly to the Galapagos and arrive at Santa Cruz Island for your first taste of this remarkable region. Santa Cruz is one of the best islands for observing the Giant Tortoises for which the islands are named, and you’ll also have a chance to visit the Charles Darwin Research Center.
Day 9, Isabela Island: The largest island on the Galapagos is where you’ll get to do a lot of hiking among other worldly landscapes.
Day 10, San Cristobal Island: Visit where Darwin first set foot on the Galapagos islands in 1835. Go snorkeling among sea lions for one of the most spectacular experiences.
Day 11 - 13, Galapagos: Continue exploring the Galapagos and all the incredible wildlife there is to see. Spend more time in Puerto Ayora, where you can relax and enjoy nice meals and fun outdoor bars. Do more hiking and photography tours to capture the incredible wildlife, known for their lack of fear around humans.
Day 14, Guayaquil: Arrive back on the mainland through one of the South America’s most important ports in Guayaquil the “pearl of the pacific”.
Ecuador may pack more attractions per square mile into its Wyoming-sized borders than any other country in the Americas.
If you like mountains, Ecuador serves up the Andes. If you like tropical rainforest, exotic flora and fauna, and isolated rivers where the only noises are birds chirping and monkeys chattering, Ecuador offers the Amazon basin for your enjoyment. If you like remarkable Spanish colonial architecture, history and charm, Ecuador is home to beautiful (and beautifully situated) cities like Quito and Cuenca.
If tropical coastlines are your preferred scene, Ecuador lays the Pacific coast at your feet. If shopping is your passion, Ecuador presents a dizzying array of colorful hand-woven textiles, hand-made carvings –- and ranks as the real home of the Panama hat.
Ecuador can be divided into four major zones or regions for travelers: The Galapagos, The Amazon, the Andes, and The Pacific Coast. Each displays unique characteristics, but all provide incredible travel experiences. but will appeal to anyone interested in wildlife, nature, and outdoor activities.
The Galapagos is by far the most well known region of Ecuador, often mistaken for its own country. But it is officially part of Ecuador (helpful for visiting, as you don’t need another visa!).
Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, if not the most biodiverse. Thanks to its Amazon regions plus the Galapagos, which is known entirely for its wildlife. Home to the historic species that inspired none other than Charles Darwin, tours and cruises to the Galapagos focus on introducing travelers to the unique diversity and differentiation between each species.
Known for their incredible lack of fear around humans, the animals of the Galapagos make for some of the best photographs. You can walk, photograph, dive, and snorkel among them without frightening them or causing them to scatter – as long as you stay on the trails, don’t reach out to touch them and obey all the other rules of the land and sea that your trained guides lay out. Check out our Galapagos guide for tips and tour advice to this most unbelievable region.
The Ecuadorian Amazon is the most biodiverse rainforest in the world - home to 150 species of amphibian alone, plus 121 reptiles, and 450 species of birds.
Unlike the more popular Amazon regions in Peru and Brazil, Ecuador has remained largely unexplored by tourists, contributing to its intensely off the grid experience. Prepare for a uniquely rustic experience (though not all creature comforts need be forgone - secluded eco lodges are a popular form of accommodation along the river).
Enjoy getting completely lost in nature in any one of the incredible reserves of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Because these are protected areas, and Ecuador takes pride in their biodiversity, you are not permitted to explore without a guide.
The Andes is probably the most visited region of Ecuador, aside from the Galapagos. This historic area offers spectacular views of crater lakes, hiking, whitewater rafting, ancient markets where indigenous people sell handmade crafts and clothing, and of course, the Equator.
Otavalo is home to the largest indigenous market in Ecuador, a very popular attraction for travelers through the Ecuadorian Andes. The market has been around for centuries, bringing to mind the convergence of cultures that Ecuador has experienced over its history. European influences as well as the many different local tribes are prevalent as you stroll the many stalls of brightly colored materials and craft goods.
Lastly, the Pacific Coast of Ecuador is home to some of South America’s most beautiful beaches. Idyllic mangrove forests to explore, chirping rainforest birds, and the lapping waves of the Pacific Ocean make a journey to Ecuador’s Pacific Coast absolutely perfect for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Active travelers will also enjoy this region, which is great for ocean sports, hiking, and canoeing through otherwise inaccessibly water byways. The region of Manabi is one of the best spots in the world for spotting humpback whales. Nothing beats the thrill of watching these majestic creatures breach as you float near on a whale watching tour.
The Inca Empire expanded beyond present day Peru, to include parts of Ecuador as well. While of course Peru lays claim to the most famous Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, as well as along the many routes to get there, Ecuador is also home to an impressive amount of Inca history and ruins. And as it is far less popular than Peru, expect fewer crowds and more extensive attention from your guides.
Here are 5 main Inca ruins to explore in Ecuador:
1. Ingapirca - Literally meaning Inca Wall: Inca (Inga) and wall (pirca), this location was originally settled by a native tribe of Ecuador, known as the Canari. They are notable for being stalwart and the famous Inca leader Tupac found them difficult to conquer as he and the Inca made their way south toward modern day Peru.
Once they did conquer the Canari province and people however, they adopted the site and built upon it in the Inca fashion we know and see today. The site was most likely used as a temple, though archaeologists still don’t know for sure.
2. Pumapungo - This archaeological park is a wonderful place to walk around and learn about the Inca’s history. Located in Cuenca, the ruins have morphed into modern day use as a lovely outdoor area for the province - and have been the subject of a restoration project since 1991. The nearby ethnographic museum serves as a great place for context, explaining what the ruins have been believed to be used for.
3. Rumicucho - Near the Equator marker in Quito, lies the Rumicucho ruins on top of a high hill. These stone structures were undoubtedly also used in the many years before the Inca arrived in Ecuador, though it rose in prominence under Tupac.
The site is especially significant in that key points of the structure correspond with astronomical activities. The Inca were famous for incorporating astronomy into their buildings, and this stone fortress has been discovered to have been used for more than simply military protection.
The Rumicucho ruins are very well maintained by the local population and are a wonderful day trip if you’re staying in Quito.
4. Agua Blanca - On Ecuador’s coastal Pacific side you’ll find Agua Blanca, which is part of Machalilla National Park. This very small native community is notable for their adherence to ancient traditions and customs. The park is maintained by the community and they rely on tourism to help fund the parks maintenance. Come here to learn from them in oral histories about their ancestors, which include Incas and native Ecuadorian tribes.
5. Todos los Santos - Only discovered in the 1970s, Todos los Santos is also located in the Cuenca province of Ecuador. One of the best examples of how the Inca built upon pre-existing cultures and structures. These impressive ruins showcase a hodgepodge of architectural styles - quite unlike most classic Inca ruins.
The Church of Todos los Santos is one of the biggest draws and what most travelers remember. Exhibiting a distinctly Spanish colonial influence, it also contains traces of the local culture as well. This surrounded by distinctly Inca stonework make for a truly unique sight.
And if you like wildlife, the Galapagos Islands may be the top location outside of Africa to view it – and is certainly the best place in the world to get up close and personal with a variety of birds, reptiles, and sea mammals.
Strict enforcement by the Ecuadorian government ensures that the Galapagos keep their pristine nature and protects the wildlife as much as possible. Environmental codes on the Galapagos, which is a national park, dictate that only a comparatively few visitors can go ashore on each island at one time.
The islands you should absolutely not miss if it's your first visit to the Galapagos are: Santa Cruz Island, Isabela Island, and San Cristobal Island.
On Santa Cruz, you will visit the Charles Darwin Research Station. This is a great place to get to witness scientists who are continuing and building upon Darwin's groundbreaking field work on the islands. It's also the best island for observing Giant Tortoises - the species for which the islands are named. This is the most populous island of the Galapagos, and a classic first stop for visitors. You'll have multiple opportunities for shopping and fun bars and restaurants.
Isabela Island is one of the best for hiking and exploring unique landscapes of flora and fauna. This is the largest island in the Galapagos so prepare to spend a lot of time walking! But you'll encounter some of the rarest species, including pink iguanas, and the most northerly penguin colony on earth.
San Cristobal is the first island that Darwin landed on in 1835. It is here you will see the famous blue footed boobies, as well as many other bird species. For a splurge, head about 1.5 hours off shore to Kicker Rock for a wonderful snorkeling experience.
Keep in mind that the Galapagos are almost 800 miles (1200 kilometers) from mainland Ecuador, so except for a stay in coastal Guayaquil or the capital, Quito –- the two cities from which Galapagos flights depart -- you may not see much more of Ecuador on a Galapagos tour than the islands themselves.
However, many tour operators offer extensions to Galapagos tours that will take you to other destinations in Ecuador or nearby Peru; Galapagos-Machu Picchu combinations are especially popular.
The old section of Quito – which sits at more than 9,300 feet (2,800 meters) in the Andes, the world’s highest capital city – and Cuenca, which sits at 8,400 feet (2,500 meters) in the mountains, are both UNESCO World Heritage sites, filled with remarkable examples of Spanish colonial architecture. And both warrant a visit.
Quito is larger, noisier, and prone to petty crime like pickpocketing, but old town Quito is a trove of colonial architectural treasures such as the Jesuit church known as La Compania, with its ornate Baroque carvings and nave gilded with gold leaf.
Quito is also a good base for trips to the 19,000-foot (5,800 meters) high Cotopaxi volcano, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the city, and to the famous Otavalo Market, about 50 miles north, where you can shop for woolen goods and other hand-made textiles and carvings, or just take in the colorful scene. The popular Middle of the World Monument, with its yellow stripe that supposedly marks the Equator, is on the way to Otavalo.
Cuenca is smaller, quieter, and also enjoys a spectacular mountain setting. The old city is filled with colonial churches, plazas, parks and museums.
Wherever you choose to go in Ecuador, Stride can help you find the perfect guided group tour or tours that best suit your needs. And chances are, you’ll want to return again and again.
The food in Ecuador is incredibly diverse, with a lot of different cultural influences. Main ingredients include corn, rice, and fish. Unique local delicacies are common in all the provinces and regions, each taking pride in their own special cuisine features.
Some top dishes you might encounter in Ecuador include:
1. Ceviche -This delectable dish is found throughout South America, particularly in the countries along the continents western border. Made slightly differently depending on the country, the fundamentals of the dish remain the same: raw seafood and shellfish, with fresh lime, and some form of salsa. This dish is best enjoyed on the coasts.
2. Choclo - A classic Andean treat! This dried crunchy corn is sold throughout Ecuador from street venders. Enjoy munching as you explore!
3. Cuy - Guinea Pig! Cuenca is the most well known and best city to sample this famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) Ecuadorian dish. Find someone to split it with, as it’s among the more expensive meals - somewhat due to tourists eager to say they’ve tried it.
Cuy is typically greasy, and not a lot of meat is on the bones. But it’s an experience and definitely a local delicacy. You’d be remiss to not at least try it on your tour through Ecuador.
4. Librillo - Particularly popular in Ecuador’s mountain regions, if you’re exploring the Andes in the country, you’re sure to come across this delicacy: cow stomach lining, usually served with rice. Fans of tripe will enjoy this meal.
5. Llapingachos - Cheese stuffed potato patties. This is another one of Ecuador’s nationally recognized dishes - and a clear favorite among travelers fueling up in the morning (and, let’s face it, they have all the trappings of a classic hangover cure). Served with eggs, avocado, and a protein such as pork or chorizo, this is the perfect dish to energize and wake you up for a day of exploring Ecuador.
6. Canelazo - A delicious warm alcoholic beverage, with flavors of sugar cane and cinnamon. Typically drunk more often during holidays it is sold at multiple festivals throughout the country, but is most common in the mountain regions where it originated. The liquor is called “Aguardiente” and has a distinctly anise like flavor.
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