Straddling two hemispheres, Ecuador - the smallest of the Andean countries - offers a striking blend of landscapes, peoples and cultures.
Two cordilleras (ranges) of the Andes run north to south and form the Valley of the Volcanoes, including Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. Within this dramatic landscape Ecuador has many national parks and reserves, notably Machalilla on the coast, Isla del Plata and its pre-Columbian ruins, Sangay with its rare species, and Pasochoa and Podocarpus for flora. The country is also renowned for its colourful markets, and many, such as Otavalo, are within reach of Quito in the Central Valley, at whose southern end is Cuenca, an Inca site, with later pink marble colonial buildings. From here, don't miss the Incas' Ingapirca. So, quite a lot going on if you're thinking about an Ecuador holiday, and that's before we even talk about the incomparable Galapagos Islands.
Once the Inca Empire's northernmost territory, successive waves of invaders have left their indelible mark on Ecuador. Original Travel's Latin America team can plan your own micro-invasion of an Ecuadorian holiday with military precision by suggesting itineraries to include a visit to Inca ruins on the hilltops of the Sierra and the beautifully preserved cities of Quito and Cuenca - both rich in art and architecture after 300 years of Spanish rule.
Quito was the first UNESCO World Heritage City, built among the foothills of the Pichincha Volcano, which you can really appreciate as you come into land. This long linear city sits at 8,500ft so you definitely feel the altitude, but as a result the sky is often incredibly blue and bright. This is by no means the liveliest city in Latin America (that accolade would probably go to Cartagena) but the colonial city centre is charming and if you happen to be there on a Saturday many locals from the highlands congregate in Plaza San Francisco.
Within striking distance of Quito are the beautiful Highlands, and driving north out of the city involves being treated to great views of the voluminous volcanoes and peaks of the Andes. It also means crossing the equator into the Northern Hemisphere, taking in the Mitad del Mundo monument and museum. Also worth a visit is Tulipe - home to archaeological ruins from the pre-Incan Yumbos civilisation. The Highlands themselves are a playground for adventurous types keen to climb some serious peaks, or to explore the extraordinary biosphere of the Andean cloudforest.
Speaking of extraordinary biospheres, it's important not to forget that Ecuador is also one of those lucky countries to include a portion of the upper Amazon complete with rainforest, and just a thirty minute flight from Quito. Stay in fascinating ecolodges or on board a luxury river cruiser to explore the Amazon.
Last but by no means least, six hundred miles out in the Pacific Ocean lie the Galapagos Islands, the catalyst for Darwin's theory of evolution. Original Travel consultants have visited the islands on several occasions, and know the best boats for every type of trip from family holidays to dive safaris.
|Quito and The Highlands|