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ECUADOR TRAVEL AND TOURS

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There are many reasons to visit Ecuador, according to Patricio Tamariz D., general manager of Casa Grande, a boutique hotel in Ecuador, and owner of Bahia Dolphin Tours in Manabi.

Trips to Galapagos

"A tour of the Galapagos Islands is a must," says Tamariz. The Galapagos are the most ecologically unique region of the world, with many species like the blue-footed booby.

Blue-footed booby in Galapagos
Blue-footed booby in Galapagos
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Galapagos cruises include wildlife observation, hiking tours, snorkeling or scuba diving and guided tours of the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. Galapagos is an incredible place because the animals are not afraid of visitors.

Pacific coast

Ecuador has 464 miles (747 kilometers) of coastline. The Pacific coast is only 30 to 35 minutes from Quito. The Spondylus driving route covers the entire Ecuadorian coast.

"We have one of the largest tuna ports on the Pacific coast," says Tamariz. "Restaurants serve really good tuna and the biggest blue crabs in the world. Ecuador also has organic shrimp raised on farms."

Ecuador's northern and southern coasts provide great waves for surfers. Surfing destinations include the party-crazed Montanita, the tranquil beach town of Canoa and the very mellow Mompiche.

Ayampe and Puerto Lopez offer clear waters, coral reefs and exotic marine life for scuba diving and snorkeling. Divers can swim with the huge and harmless whale sharks.

Tours to Ecuador's Pacific Coast should include Machalilla National Park. It has good beaches, an archeological site, Isla Salango and Isla de la Plata. Located 1.5 hours from the mainland, by speed boat, Isla de la Plata, the poor man's Galapagos, has some of the species you can see in the Galapagos.

What to do in Ecuador

There are many things to do in Ecuador, according to Patricio Tamariz. Ecuador's rivers provide world-class rafting and kayaking. Tour operators offer rafting and kayaking packages to Blanco Valley, Napo Valley, Quijos Valley and Upano Valley.

Surtrek offers tailor-made Ecuador mountain climbing to peaks and glaciers. Some of the top ascents in Ecuador are Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Cayambe and Antisana.

Many people travel to Ecuador for its great trekking routes. Multi-day hiking and camping trips bring trekkers through manageable Andes mountains, tropical wet and dry forests and along river beds to archaeological sites. Great Ecuador treks include the Trek of the Condor and the Inca Trail to Ingapirca, which has the most important Incan ruins in Ecuador.

Mountain biking tours depart from major cities to explore places like Cotopaxi National Park and Cajas National Park. Ecuador has more than 1,242 miles (2,000 kilometers) of mountain biking trails in the Andes, Coast and Amazon Rainforest regions.

Ecuador ranches and tour operators offer horseback riding to explore reserves and national parks like the National Reserve Pululahua, Chimborazo National Park and Podocarpus National Park. Visitors can go bungee jumping in Banos.

Hiking over La Cumbre volcano lava flows
Hiking over La Cumbre volcano lava flows
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Avenue of the Volcanoes

Ecuador has 62 volcanoes over 13,000 feet, explains Tamariz. "Three of the volcanoes, Tungurahua, Sangay and Reventador, have been erupting steadily for more than 10 years."

Cayambe Volcano, at 15,388 feet (4,690 meters), is the highest point in the world where you can cross the equator. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world.

The Avenue of the Volcanoes runs through the Andes to Sangay National Park, a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site, with great birdwatching. It is the only active volcano in the world where you will see a snow-capped peak and the Amazon rainforest at its skirts.

The dormant Pululahua volcano is the gateway in the cloud forest to the coast. It has a restaurant on the ridge, on the edge of the crater. On the other side, at about 9,840 feet (3,000 meters) is the Equator (Middle of the World) Monument. Local people use canvases to collect water from the mist that rises from the ocean into clouds.

Because of the volcanoes, Ecuador has many thermal hot springs, several with comfortable accommodations. Popular Ecuadorian hot springs and spas are in Papallacta (near Quito), Chachimbiro and Banos. From Banos, you can view the active Tungurahua volcano, which has erupted constantly since 1900.

Galapagos land iguana
Galapagos land iguana
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Ecuador eco-tourism

"Ecuador has the most mega-biodiversity per square kilometer in the world," says Patricio Tamariz. "Although Ecuador is the size of Colorado, it has microclimates with different ecosystems."

The statistics he cites on the biodiversity of Ecuador are impressive. The South American country is third in the world for total numbers of amphibian species, fourth in the world for bird species and second in the world for endemic vertebrates.

Ecuador has 33% of the total hummingbird species on the planet. The Mindo Valley has 130 species of hummingbirds. The size of Ecuador's 40 private and public protected areas and national parks is as large as Costa Rica.

Tamariz explains that Ecuador has 10% of the tree species in the world, 19% of all plant species and 1,600 species of birds. The main places to go bird-watching in Ecuador are Mindo, Choco Patche, Papallacta, San Isidro, the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands.

Travelers to Ecuador can explore the jungle in Cuyabeno Reserve, tour the orchid botanical reserve in the town of Pujo and take whale-watching tours off the coast of Puerto Lopez and Machalilla National Park. The best time to see humpback whales in Ecuador is from June to September.

All four regions of Ecuador offer canopy tours, especially Mindo, Santa Rita in the Chillo Valley and Machay. Ecuador Amazon jungle tours often combine rafting on the Napo or Coca river, hiking through the rainforest, wildlife observation and visits to indigenous communities. Jungle tours depart from Tena, Puyo and Coca.

Ecuador attractions

Tours to Ecuador can include many other attractions and activities, according to Patricio Tamariz. Especially popular are the indigenous markets, like Otavalo, for traditional handicrafts and local produce. Cotocachi has a leather market, while Saquisili features a livestock market.

Ecuador Fly and Drive programs are available for the haciendas, the coast and the eco-lodges. The best Ecuador train rides are the Quito-Cotopaxi-Quito route and the Riobamba-Nariz del Diablo-Riobamba route.

The ages of archeological ruins range from 9600 BC Inca ruins up to the time of Spanish contact. Archaeological sites include the Valdivia artifacts on Ecuador's coast, Canari and Inca ruins in Ingapirca, Pumapungo and Todos Santos. The ceramics are especially noteworthy.

Besides the art and handicrafts in indigenous markets, Ecuador attracts shoppers with magnificent roses, original woven straw hats (precursors to Panama hats) and some of the best chocolate in the world.

Ecuadorian chocolate
Ecuadorian chocolate
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Ecuadorian cities

No Ecuador tour is complete without visiting its cities, advises Patricio Tamariz. The historical centers of Cuenca and Quito are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The colonial center of Quito is the biggest and best preserved colonial center in all of Latin America, with cobblestone streets, impressive cathedrals and colonial architecture.

Cuenca has beautiful colonial churches and cultural museums. The best museums in Ecuador include the Museo Banco Central in Quito and the Archaeological Museum in Bahia de Caraquez.

Travelers to Ecuador will find Chiva tours (colorful, open-air, party buses) in Riobamba and Quito. They offer drinks, music and dancing as they drive between bars and discos. Popular places for nightlife are the Mariscal district of Quito and the Samborondon area of Guayaquil.

Tours of Guayaquil should include the riverside boardwalk, Malecon 2000, and Las Penas, a renovated traditional neighborhood. Guayaquil and Quito also have large golf courses.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Ecuador Ministry of Tourism: www.ecuador.travel

More things to see & do in Ecuador