More to Ecuador than Galapagos Islands

Whenever someone finds out I am from Ecuador their next question is usually, “Have you been to the Galapagos Islands?”  Unfortunately, I have not… yet, but like most people, it is definitely on my list of top travel destinations.  My thought after answering that question is usually, “There is much more to Ecuador than the Galapagos Islands.”  I was fortunate enough to find that out for myself after spending a month traveling through my country back in January.  From what I’ve gathered, most visitors to the islands skip over Ecuador’s mainland completely or see very little of it, and in my opinion miss out on so much.

Ecuador Travel

Ecuador is made up of four major regions concentrated in a small area:

  1. La Costa, the Coastal Region
  2. La Sierra, the Highlands on the Andes Mountains
  3. El Oriente, the Amazon Jungle
  4. Galapagos Islands

Each of the regions has a very distinct climate and landscape making it an ideal place for a variety of different plants and animals. However, Ecuador’s diversity is not only found in its fauna and flora, it is found in its people as well. It is difficult to pinpoint the various indigenous groups in Ecuador due to varying information, but approximately 11 to 15 ethnic groups can be identified as still existing in the country. The largest group is Quichua with 2 million people.

Aside from admiring wild life and learning different cultures, Ecuador also offers a variety of outdoor activities and adventures, a perfect destination for thrill seekers.

Those who visit Ecuador can explore all of its regions in a short period of time. There are not many places in the world where you can hike up a glacier volcano and then be in a tropical rain-forest on the same day.

Ecuador Coast

Beaches, beaches and more beaches.  Ecuador’s Coast is approximately 650km from top to bottom.  Here, you will encounter small fishing villages with low-priced seafood, beautiful untouched beaches especially in Machalilla National Park, great surfing year round, and guaranteed whale sittings during mating season (July and August).

What to do and where:

Surf in Montanita, whale watch in Puerto Lopez, scuba dive in Salango, swim in isolated beaches at Los Frailes and have a drink under a hut on the beach of Canoa.

Ecuador Highlands

The Andes Mountains lay between Ecuador’s coast and the Amazonian Jungle.  In this region there are hidden indigenous villages with many smiling faces, beautiful landscapes, great multi-day trekking, challenging volcano summits, crater lakes, biking and off-road vehicle rental.

What to do and where:

Trek the Quilotoa Loop starting at Latacunga and ending at the marvelous Quilotoa Lake, hike your most challenging summit at Volcano Cotopaxi, shop at the most important market in the Andes in Otavalo, enjoy great cuisine in the colonial city of Cuenca and rent ATVs in Baños to get a better view of active volcano Tungurahua.

Ecuador Jungle

The rain forest covers about one third of Ecuador’s land, but only a small percent of its (more interesting) population lives here, some of which have no contact with the outside world.  In the rain forest you will come in contact with 50% of Ecuador’s mammals and 5% of the planet’s plant species and bird life.

What to do and where:

See pink river dolphins at Cuyabeno Reserve, swim with piranhas or just catch one at Laguna Pañacocha, get to know the Huaorani tribe at Coca, experience world-class river rafting and kayaking in El Chaco.

Ecuador is a great travel destination for everyone and can satisfy every travel style. Most important, there is so much more to visit than just the Galapagos Islands, although it is one the worlds great locations.

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