Situated on the equator in South America, Ecuador is known for its tropical rainforests, indigenous culture and its mystical Galápagos Islands, an isolated volcanic archipelago home to more endemic species than anywhere on earth, and where the giant tortoises live. Charles Darwin’s playground, the Galapagos have put Ecuador on the map as a bucket list destination; a trip to Ecuador now tops the lists of most intrepid travellers searching for an adventure tour. On the mainland, you can expect to find charming quintessential colonial architecture, Andean villages and remote Amazonian settlements, where the rainforest is at the heart of local life.
Choose a holiday to Ecuador and you can quench both your thirst for adventure and your desire to unwind; go bird-watching in the Mindo Cloudforest or kick-back in a tranquil hilltop village where gracefully restored haciendas provide a sublime setting to relax in. The capital city, Quito, the second-highest capital city in the world after La Paz, is the starting point for most adventures, either into the highlands or out into the Pacific coast for a Galapagos discovery, although the largest city is Guayaquil, situated at the mouth of the River Guayas. Ecuador borders it’s larger neighbours of Peru, to the south, and Colombia to the north. A non-negotiable stop on any South American tour, a Ecuador tour package is the perfect way to discover the unbeatable biodiversity, stunning natural landscapes and colourful culture of a country famed as the first in the world to recognise the ‘rights of nature’!
History of Ecuador
Ecuador is known for its Incan heritage and many visit the country to uncover legacy and ruins of this once mighty empire, such as the walls of Ingapirca, a captivating highlight on a tour of Ecuador. Despite the fame of the Incas, other civilisations have left their own influence on modern Ecuador. A variety of Amerindian groups were incorporated into the huge, territory-spanning Inca Empire in the 15th-century, but the following century marked the beginning of the Spanish colonisation of Ecuador and the consequential collapse of the mighty Incas. Native communities were forced into the labour system and Quito was appointment as an important administrative centre for the Spanish Empire. A huge earthquake in 1797 devastated the city of Riobamba and its surroundings, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties and dubbed the most powerful historical event ever known in Ecuador’s history. In the 19th-century, Ecuador set the trend for independence in South America, beginning its struggle in 1820 and finally unifying with the Republic of Gran Colombia in 1822, which was led by the liberator, Simon Bolivar. Ecuador later broke from the republic, becoming its own independent republic in 1830.
On a holiday to Ecuador, you’ll notice the diversity of local culture and people, evidence of the complex history which built the country into what it is today. More recent history has been dominated by on-going disputes and conflicts over the Amazon Basin with neighbouring Peru, a struggle which lasted over 100 years until the signing of a peace treaty in 1998. A brief military junta in the 70s was followed by the return of democracy in the 80s, with modern Ecuador famed for its dedication to wildlife preservation and the protection of the natural environment.
Nature in Ecuador
One of the world’s most biodiverse and species-rich destinations, an Ecuador holiday is a dream-come-true for nature lovers. Famously home to the iconic Galapagos Islands, which attract travellers from across the globe, the Amazon rainforest and the Andes also offer excellent opportunities to get in touch with nature. Due to its location on the equator, there are roughly 12 hours of sunlight a day throughout the year, with the sun setting at 6 p.m. and rising again at 6 a.m., making any time of year the perfect time to embark on a tour of Ecuador.
You can even stand with one foot in each hemisphere at the Middle of the Earth Monument, just outside of the colonial city of Quito. Aside from the fascinating Galapagos, there’s plenty of other natural attractions to whet your appetite for nature. Cotopaxi National Park, home to the volcano of the same name, the highest active volcano in the world, is filled with fantastic hiking trails and is the perfect destination for exhilarating mountain biking or tranquil horseriding. If you’re looking for something a little more tropical, then the village of Mindo, nestled in the slopes of the Andes, is a natural paradise of cloud forests, waterfalls, butterflies and tropical birds; in fact, it's a bird-watching haven which attracts bird-watchers from across the world!
Finally, Cuicocha Lake is another unmissable natural attraction to discover on a trip to Ecuador. This ancient crater lake, close to Otavalo, is filled with bright blue water and dotted with tiny little islands. It was formed over 3000 years ago by a huge volcanic eruption.
Culture in Ecuador
As diverse as its natural attractions, Ecuador’s culture is a fusion of numerous different influences, cultivated by the communities that have settled on its beautiful lands over the centuries. Spanish is the official language although Quechua, known as the ‘living language of the Incas’ is widely spoken, particularly in the highlands. Much of the population belong to the Roman Catholic church, a remnant of the Spanish colonialists who arrived in the 16th-century.
Although Latin culture is predominant, as seen in the music, architecture and cuisine of Ecuador, there exist countless remote communities of indigenous peoples, particularly in the wilds of the Amazon Basin. Many of these communities practice their own native cultures, such as the Huaorani people, who have almost entirely rejected contact with the outside world and, instead, move deeper into the rainforest in a hope to preserve their ways of life.
Communities like these posses traditional animistic worldviews and tend to hunt and gather in order to sustain themselves. If you have the opportunity to explore the Amazon jungle on an Ecuador travel you may have the chance to get close to and learn about these distinct and unique cultures.
What could be more exotic than visit Ecuador? An exciting and diverse travel destination, a holiday to Ecuador is unique in so many ways. From the vast endemic species of the iconic Galapagos Islands to the rich tapestry of local culture and the landscapes of towering volcanoes and tropical rainforests, it’s a bucket-list-worthy destination for any intrepid traveller.