Off the beaten path to Ecuador

Located in the Andes, Ecuador is a land of natural beauty and intrigue for travelers. You can trek the Amazon, climb volcanoes, relax on beautiful beaches, and best of all – visit the famous Galapagos Islands. The tropical location offset by the elevation in the center of the country and the moderating effect of the cold coastal Humboldt Current makes the weather inviting. Warm in the lowlands but extremely pleasant in Quito – there is good weather almost everywhere until you climb high enough.

Quito, the capital, is in the Andes, at 9350 feet above sea level. A relic of colonial architecture, the city is considered one of the most beautiful in South America with architecturally masterpieces of white washed buildings with red tile roofs. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the climate is delightful all year round. The quaint, charming “Old Quito”, a UNESCO World Heritage site with Spanish architecture and narrow roads has the main plaza of San Francisco and La Compania church. In this city of churches, the Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus stands out with its baroque, colonial architecture and the Basilica is noteworthy for its stained glass windows. The Casa de Alabado is an enchanting art museum, with exhibits from the pre-Columbian times.  The Avenue of the Amazons, “Avenida Amazonas” is a bustling commercial area with outdoor cafes.

The area north of Quito is known as Otavalo country, about a 2 hour drive away, with the towns of Peguche and Cayambe on the way. In the Otavalo Market, the Otavalo Indians bring trade goods from miles around for sale or barter.  It is a bustling open air market, and the Otavalo Indians are a proud and independent indigenous group from the north of Quito.

Further north is Ibarra, a colonial town with fine wooden craftsmanship. Here at the Museo Regional Sierra Norte, you can learn about the Inca history of the continent.

South of Quito, the Avenue of the Volcanoes is a must see. Running down each side of the valley are mountain peaks dotted with dormant volcanoes. Get a breathtaking view of the snow-covered Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Small villages throughout the valley give the area an old world vibe. You can stay at the nearby town of Baños de Agua Santa, usually just called Baños. It is in the Andes Mountains at the foot of the volcano Tungurahua, with an abundance of hot water springs. Take one of the open buses called “chivas” which go around the city and then take you up to the mountains, where you could catch an eruption. There is a zoo, waterfalls, lovely colonial architecture and great weather in the town – definitely worth visiting.

The Chimborazo peak is the furthest point from the center of the Earth, even further out there than Everest and the coldest place in Ecuador. A risky hike to the summit is fraught with falling rocks, vagarious weather and rarified atmosphere. To climb Mount Chimborazo, you can find a guide in Riobamba, one of the nearest cities with frequent buses to the Chimborazo National Park. It’s also cheaper if you’re part of a group.

Cuenca, also called the Athens of Ecuador, is another UNESCO World Heritage city with gorgeous architecture. From here, you can also go to Ingapirca, the largest Inca ruins in the world.

Roughly 600 miles off the mainland, the Galapagos Islands consist of 13 large islands with exotic wildlife. The island of the Galapogos archipelago are home to the unique plant and animal species that inspired Charles Darwin to formulate and expound his theory of evolution in “The Origin of Species”, and have captured the imagination of poets and biologists alike. Today, travelers can view the same species that Darwin did. Separated from the mainland in the waters of Ecuador, evolution created stunning endemic creatures such as the giant tortoise and the sea iguana, animals found only on the Galapagos. You can reach the islands by flying from Quito either into the Baltra Airport which is the most preferred option or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno at San Cristobal. From there you can either take a cruise around the islands, or take smaller boats and travel on land. You can go snorkeling, diving, sailing on glass bottom boats and see sharks, sea lions, fur seals, turtles, rays and a lot of fascinating marine life. The terrestrial flora and fauna is equally captivating.

Ecuador has much to offer travelers looking for something astounding off the beaten path. Go there to get inspired by the landscape and the wildlife, and come away with a memorable experience.