Ecuador is the place to come for maximum experience, minimum travelling time. This is the only country in the world where, in a single kaleidoscopic day, you can watch the dawn mists rise over the mighty Amazon rainforest; relax over a traditional Andean lunch overlooking a snowcapped volcano; then sip coconut water under a palm tree as the sun sets over the Pacific… all without setting foot in a plane.
Drive for twenty minutes in Ecuador and you often find yourself in another world; different climate, landscape, language and faces. Imagine what you could experience in two weeks, or more …
Bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Ecuador comprises four main regions:
Ecuador’s Pacific Coast is an endless stretch of palm-lined beaches, mangrove swamps and colourful fishing villages. Explore inland a little way and find yourself in a jungly interior dotted with streams and waterfalls.
Take Me To Ecuador’s coastal HQ is nestled away in the laid back community of Las Tunas, where in some ways life has remained unchanged for decades. Help the fishermen pull in the morning’s catch and be rewarded with fresh fish for dinner; buy a pineapple from the seller as he stops his bicycle to let the local donkeys meander across the road; pick up salsa tips from the kids on the beach … in Las Tunas you are part of the daily fabric of coastal life.
Life in Las Tunas might be ‘tranquilo’, but its location is unbeatable, with the world class waves and party scene of Montanita 30 minutes’ drive south and the Machalilla National Park 15 minutes to the north. This beautiful coastal preserve is home to many Galapagos species, including blue footed boobies, and is the best place to see humpbacked whales when they migrate from Antarctica to breed.
The whole coastal region is a food lovers’ paradise, featuring famous seafood dishes like ceviche and an abundance of exquisite tropical fruits. Adventure seekers will be just as spoilt for choice, with a plethora of options for that adrenaline fix: surfing, paragliding, mountain biking, diving, spearfishing… the coast has it all.
Located about 1000km from Ecuador’s mainland, the legendary Galapagos Islands are in fact the peaks of enormous underwater volcanoes. Never having been connected with the rest of the continent, Galapagos’ flora and fauna developed in complete isolation, creating a “melting pot” of species found nowhere else on earth. It was this uniqueness which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, following his visit to the Islands in 1835. Today, the Galapagos Islands are a strictly protected National Park and a true wonder of nature.
Devoid of large predators, animals on the Galapagos show no fear of humans. As you explore, you’ll experience close encounters with marine and land iguanas, giant tortoises, penguins and seals, whilst blue footed boobies, frigate birds and albatross fly overhead. For a truly mind blowing experience, venture underwater, where divers can drift effortlessly past hammerhead sharks, turtles, manta rays, whale sharks and dolphins.
Two parallel mountain ranges form Ecuador’s mountainous backbone, dividing the coastal plains to the west and the Amazon to the east. Between these two cordilleras lies the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a breathtaking procession of some of the world’s highest peaks.
Measured from the center of the earth, 6268m Chimborazo is actually the highest mountain in the world, owing to the planet’s equatorial bulge. Sangay (5230m) and Tungurahua (5023m) are generally cited as being among the 10 most active volcanoes in the world. Perhaps the most beautiful is Cotopaxi’s symmetrical 5897m cone, standing in solitary splendor amidst wind-swept grasslands.
Augmenting nature’s ornaments of misty cloudforests and crystal lakes, fields of corn, wheat and quinoa cover the lower slopes of the mountains, creating tapestries of green which are quintessentially Ecuadorian. The region, also known as the Sierra, is a treasure trove for history enthusiasts, who will find Incan trails and ruins nestled alongside Colonial towns and traditional indigenous villages.
Each Andean town or village has its own culinary specialties, many centering around myriad varieties of corn and potatoes. Whole roasted guinea pig or cuy is the Sierra’s most famous delicacy.
Happy hours can be spent watching the light change on the Sierra’s dramatic peaks and valleys, or browsing for handicrafts in its bustling Indigenous markets. If you’re looking for a little more action, hiking, biking, climbing, rafting and horse riding are spectacular ways to enjoy the scenery. You may even spot the region’s most famous avian resident, the Andean Condor.
The practice of shrinking heads has thankfully been consigned to history, but Ecuador’s teeming rainforests are still full of ancient secrets, traditions and magic. Home to nine indigenous nationalities, including two uncontacted tribes, the Amazon region, or Oriente, is as notable for its cultural heritage as its bio-diversity.
The Oriente begins on the eastern slopes of the Andes and stretches for thousands of kilometres eastwards, to the border with Colombia and Peru. A journey of just a few hours into the jungle by boat will take you into some of the Amazon’s most pristine areas, where you may be lucky enough to glimpse jaguar, tapir, monkeys, caiman and pink river dolphins.
Ecuador’s rainforest includes the most bio-diverse spot in the entire Amazon basin, containing up to 655 tree species per single hectare; more than all of the US and Canada combined. 800 species of fish, 350 species of reptile, 300 species of mammal, and thousands of insect species also inhabit the region.
In the Amazon, you experience nature’s most impressive orchestration of life. Paddle silently across lily-covered lagoons in a dug-out canoe; climb into the canopy for a bird’s eye view; hike along primary forest trails; learn about medicinal rainforest plants; or just marvel at the astounding intricacy of one of nature’s most complex ecosystems.