With the Andes Mountains and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is one of the top tourist destinations in South America.
Ecuador is a jewelry box of natural beauty and colonial heritage. Although this tiny equatorial nation is roughly the size of Colorado, its compressed geography contains an embarrassment of wonders.
Its eastern region, the upper Amazon Basin, is a lush landscape where travelers can commune with jungle dwelling tribes. Quito, the capital, was founded in the 16th Century on the foundations of Inca temples and palaces. Its cobblestone old-town was declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978.
Traveling south through the highlands along a spine of 16 active volcanoes (including 19,700 foot Cotopaxi and the 20,697 foot Chimborazo) you’ll find the hot spring town of Baños, with abundant outdoor adventure possibilities. Farther south, Cuenca’s charming Cathedral, lush plazas and indigenous marketplaces offer photographic feasts. Neighboring towns weave Panama hats, which originated here centuries ago.
Continuing southwest, you reach Guayaquil—a coastal commercial center now experiencing a renaissance. Guayaquil is also a launching point for exploration of the coast, where humpback whales are observed June through October.
Ecuador’s most well known treasure is the Galapagos archipelago, located 600 miles off the coast. Here, one can encounter seabirds, tortoises, iguanas, sea lions and whale sharks on the animals’ own terms.
Each of these regions can be reached quickly. No other country offers so much to travelers on a tight vacation schedule.