When planning an Ecuador vacation there is much to see. Whilst most people have heard of the Galapagos Islands and perhaps Ecuador´s capital Quito, much of the country is still relatively unvisited. The mainland of this small country does however have a huge amount to offer visitors. Ecuador´s small size means that it is technically possible to have breakfast in the Amazon Rainforest, lunch in the high Andes and dinner overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
One of the impressive natural features of Ecuador is the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” which runs south of Quito between the two main Cordillera ranges of the Andes for 325km. The free-standing, massive, snow covered volcanoes provide a stark contrast to the tropical greenery. Two of the best known giants are Chimborazo and Cotopaxi.
Chimborazo stands at an impressive 6,526 m and was at one time believed to be the world´s highest mountain up until Mount Everest was discovered. When measuring from the earth´s core rather than sea level, Chimborazo is in fact the world´s highest mountain thanks to its location close to the equator. It is also Ecuador´s highest peak.
Cotopaxi whilst not as high as Chimborazo at 5,897m is climbed more often probably due to its claim of being the world´s highest active volcano. At the top is an impressive glacier encrusted crater which measures 600m x 800m, and provides a reward to those who reach the summit, together with the impressive views.
In addition to being the world´s highest active volcano, it is also reputedly one of the most active on earth although it is perhaps better known for being a relatively straightforward high altitude climb. Climbs generally begin from the refuge at around midnight in order to arrive at the summit close to dawn. Climbers can then return to the refuge before the tropical sun starts to soften the snow and ice.
In addition to climbing the volcano peak, Cotopaxi National Park has plenty of excellent walks to offer and is home to a wide variety of wildlife including deer, wild horses, foxes, weasels, gazelles, paramo wolves, puma and the Andean Condor amongst others.
Aside from Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, more climbing can be done at Cayambe and also Antisana, the third and fourth highest peaks in Ecuador respectively. Antisana is often considered to be one of the most challenging climbing experiences in Ecuador but also has one of the most scenic peaks.
In addition to the impressive volcanoes there are numerous places to visit during your Ecuador vacation. Quito is one of the world´s highest capitals at 2,830m and has an impressive colonial centre. Not far from Quito is the Middle of the World monument where you can take a tour to have your photo taken with a foot in each hemisphere. At Otovalo is the famous Indian market, believed to be the biggest indigenous market in the Americas. Mindo Cloud Forest is just a 2 hour drive from Quito yet is the most diverse area for flora and fauna in the country and a delight for birders. Papallacta has a beautiful setting for its hot springs surrounded by mountains and forests.
Other things to do on your Ecuador vacation
The charming town of Baños at 1,800m has a warm, humid climate and an “Avenue of Waterfalls” in addition to its thermal baths. From Aluasi you can take a ride on one of the oldest train routes in South America including the famous section known as the “Devils´Nose”. The impressive Inca site of Ingapirca is one a few pre-colonial fortifications found in Ecuador. Cajas National Park has over 300 lakes in its marshy environs, which along with its natural beauty make it one of the most important parks in Ecuador. Colonial Cuenca is the country´s third biggest city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a beautiful cultural centre.
In addition to those places listed above there are a number of ecological reserves to tour with impressive landscapes, beautiful lakes and mountains, not to mention the wildlife. All of this is without mentioning the attractions of the Amazon Rainforest in the east of the country, or the towns and beaches of the Pacific coast.
All in all Ecuador has a great wealth of attractions to offer the holidaymaker in addition to cruises to the fabulous Galapagos Islands. Ecuador vacations can also be easily combined with a tour to Peru and Machu Picchu or other parts of Central and South America.