Nature is so soothing to the tormented mind
Alexander von Humboldt
Pretty colonial towns alive with markets, churches and monasteries; indigenous villages, Amazonian jungle and the Andes mountains running down the spine of the country - Ecuador packs a lot of variety into a small country. The undisputed highlight is the Galapagos, with their otherworldly volcanic landscapes and stunning array of wildlife. Snorkel with sea lions and penguins, come close to boobies and albatrosses, iguanas and tortoises. This is nature in its primordial state, nature as it used to be.
When to go
Travel to the highlands of Ecuador is best during its dry season from April to October. There is never a bad time to travel to the Galapagos, December through May are great for swimming and snorkeling, you can see the mating rituals of animals and birds, flowers bloom and the sea is calmer. During June through November fish and birdlife are generally more prolific. Travel to the Amazon is good year-round. December to June is wetter. Flood waters allow you to explore little visited forest areas by canoe. Fruiting plants attract birds and primates to the water's edge where they are more easily seen but overall wildlife is harder to spot and mosquitoes are out in force. In the drier season (July - November) water is lower, birds nest on beaches and chase fish in shallower waters. Animals are more easily often spotted.
The beautiful capital of Ecuador sits high up in the Andes, hemmed in by green mountains. A treasure trove of gorgeous colonial houses, mansions and churches, Quito offers surprises around every corner.
A true Noah's Ark of biodiversity, and a place where wildlife is not in the least disturbed by humans, the Galapagos are islands anyone with a love for nature should visit at lest once in their lives. Each island offers its own unique wildlife, scenery and snorkelling opportunities, so you should go as long as time allows to get the most out of your trip. We suggest you take an 8-day cruise at minimum.
Huge tracts of rainforest extend from the eastern flank of the Andes all the way to the Brazilian coast, and it is here that you can discover a biodiversity so rich it boggles the mind. Wildlife spotting, bird watching, walks through the jungle and canoe trips to salt licks are but some of the activities on offer.
One of the oldest market towns in the Andes, Otavalo is a great place to visit to find handicrafts, or to just browse around the market stalls, manned by indigenous people in colourful attire.
Avenue of the Volcanoes
The picture-perfect peak of Cotopaxi volcano lies at the heart of a national park by the same name. The park offers plenty of hiking trails, giving you the opportunity to spot wildlife. The even taller Chimborazo volcano offers an desert-like environment and the chance to hike to a viewpoint at 5000 metres above sea level.
Set in the central highlands, this town is the adventure capital of Ecuador. Mountain biking and rafting are on offer, while on foot you can reach the many waterfalls and thermal springs in the area.
Devil's Nose train
An unforgettable train ride down an almost sheer rock face switch-backing all the way down the cliff and back up.
This 16th century UNESCO-listed colonial town feels like a town that time forgot. Historic churches, a daily flower market and plenty of stores producing and selling fine handicrafts, make this town worth a stop.
Getting close to nature in the Galapagos
Walk the trails in the Galapagos and come up close to nesting birds, iguanas and tortoises. Colourful crabs and majestic albatrosses, blue and red-footed boobies, penguins and stately flamingos are but some of the animals you will see. Snorkel with sea lions and turtles or watch a whale breach the waters of the Pacific.
Step back in time in Quito
Wander the cobblestone streets of 16th century Quito, poking into hidden courtyards and peaking into glittering churches, monasteries and mansions. Hang out in a plaza and watch the world go by.
Into the Amazon
Go on foot or by (motorized) canoe and discover the enormously rich biodiversity of the largest undisturbed forest in the world. Trek to a macaw lick and watch in awe as hundreds of birds fly in on the still forest air. Spot caiman and capybaras from the bow of your boat. Day or night, the jungle will reluctantly offer up its secrets. Sssh - did you hear that? Could that be a jaguar?
Straddle the equator
The country is named after the equator, so what better place to stand with each leg in a hemisphere.
Shopping for handicrafts
Market towns are liberally sprinkled through the Andes and handicrafts easy to come by. Take your time to browse around, looking for the surprising keepsake or gift. Did you know Panama hats are made in Ecuador?
Train ride down the Devil's nose
Hold on to your Panama hat and embark on the trip of a lifetime down switchback and hairpins past the cliff face known as the Devil's Nose.
Hike or ride to the clouds
Hike or mount a horse and get away high into the Andes, where cloud forests cover high mountain slopes
Climb a volcano
Whether you climb the slopes of Cotapaxi, or hike the rim of an extinct volcano, Ecuador will leave you breathless (literally!)
Tour code: PAWI
Why we love this trip: Quality accommodation in a remote part of the Amazon, a haven for nature lovers, birdwatchers, scientists and adventure seekers.
Places visited: Quito, Amazon
Signature Experiences: jungle walks, dugout canoe safaris, canopy walks, observation tower
Length: 4-5 days
Accommodation: comfortable hotel in Quito, comfortable Amazon jungle lodge
Included meals: breakfast in Quito, all meals while in Amazon
Transport: flight, motor boat, canoe, foot
Departures: twice-weekly departures
Customizable? Yes, we can organize daily departures to different lodges, price on request
Price: priced from $1720 (4-day package) - $1995 (5-day package)
Tour code: GEHI
Why we love this trip: all the highlights of mainland Ecuador packed into a 9-day trip
Places visited: Quito, Amazon, Otavalo, Papallacta, Baños,
Signature Experiences: step back in time in Quito, straddle the equator, into the Amazon, shopping for handicrafts
Length: 9 days
Accommodation: comfortable hotels & lodges
Included meals: daily breakfast, one lunch, all meals while in the Amazon
Transport: flight, vehicle, boat
Departures: many departures year-round
Price: priced from $1399
Machu Picchu & Galapagos
Tour code: GMPG
Why we love this trip: a great 2-week trip showing you the best of Peru and the Galapagos islands
Places visited: Lima, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Quito, Galapagos Islands
Signature Experiences: see the sun rise over Machu Picchu, Peruvian cuisine, explore museums in Lima and Cusco, swimming with sea lions and turtles, spotting whales and dolphins, getting close to nature, step back in time in Quito
Length: from 14 days
Accommodation: hotels of your chosen comfort level, Galapagos yacht or tallship
Included meals: breakfasts in Peru and Quito, all meals while in Galapagos
Transport: flight, train, Galapagos yacht or tallship
Departures: set small-group dates and daily custom-departures
Customizable? Yes - price on request
Price: Small group departures priced from $5399