Tucked in on the west coast of South America between Peru and Colombia, Ecuador is one of the smallest countries on the continent but has no less choice of diverse micro-climates and fascinating regions to discover. Famous for its off-shore island archipelago, the Galapagos, mainland Ecuador packs a lot of attractions into its dramatically beautiful landscapes. Ecuador holidays can include an exciting mix of colonial towns, mile upon mile of classic cone shaped volcanoes, train journeys through spectacular Andean scenery and wildlife rich cloud and rainforests.
Ecuador consists of three regions: the coast, the Andes and the Amazon. The climate is tropically humid in the coastal region and the Amazon, but fresh and temperate in the highlands year-round, where, due to the proximity with the equator, there is little seasonal variation making holidays to Ecuador a year round option. Ecuador is also often the starting point for a Galapagos Island holiday.
Quito and Surrounds
Ecuador’s capital city Quito has an impressive location at 2,850 metres above sea level, over looked by Mount Pichincha. It has a sensitively restored historic area and is a great base from which to take excursions. Many nearby villages produce a wealth of crafts such as paintings, leather-ware, ceramics, baskets, woodcarvings and even bread-dough carvings. Markets throughout the country - the most famous of which is at Otavalo - display the workmanship of Ecuadorian artisans.
Not far from Quito is the Equatorial Monument, which contains a museum that covers many aspects of Ecuadorian history and present day life, and you are also within easy reach of cloud forests, lakes, mountains and volcanoes.
Avenue of the Volcanoes
South of Quito, you can bask in the magnificent scenery along the 325 kilometres of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, leading towards Riobamba and the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, where Panama hats come from. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in Ecuador, standing at 5785m. Many visitors choose to spend longer exploring these lush highlands that are perfect for hiking or horse-riding. Reached easily from Quito in a few hours by road, most Ecuador holidays can easily include a stay at one of the historic haciendas close to the national park itself. The haciendas usually offer a number of tours in Cotopaxi National Park, such as cycling, fishing and riding, and combine these with a convivial lodge atmosphere and delicious local food. Close to this area, you can also visit Inca ruins at Ingapirca, Ecuador’s most important archaeological site.
This new train has become the way to travel slowly between the coastal city of Guayaquil and the capital of Quito, passing through seven of Ecuador’s nine climatic zones. The four-day journey is punctuated by varied off-train excursions to cultural and natural sites, with overnight accommodation in comfortable and sometimes historic hotels and haciendas. The air-conditioned train provides plenty of comfortable seating at tables and on sofas overlooking picture windows, with a bar serving drinks and light refreshments during the day. At the end of the train is an open veranda from which to admire the spectacular mountain landscapes – and the world-famous Devil’s Nose switchback. Our Scenic Ecuador by Train trip includes this trip on the Tren Crucero, or ask us how to incorporate the four day train journey into other Ecuador holidays.
Exploring the Amazon
Some time at a jungle lodge deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon is a must for wildlife and bird-watching enthusiasts. Moreover, Ecuador is the best country in which to visit the Amazon and gain an understanding of the indigenous communities living in the rainforest, as access is relatively easy and the eco-lodges work closely with the local population. Read more about holidays to Ecuador’s Amazon.