Ecuador is world famous for the Galapagos Islands – an archipelago which more-than-deserves its reputation. Not only is the wildlife there abundant and easy to spot, but Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was formed here, and to this day the islands are an important destination for scientists.
However, while Galapagos is undoubtedly special, there is more to Ecuador than these offshore islands.
Here are some of the features of mainland Ecuador which make it worth visiting.
The Andean Highlands
Quito is the capital of Ecuador, the point where many visitors enter and leave the country. It sits high in the Andes, overlooked by a magnificent volcano, Cotopaxi. An hour or so to the south of the city is the town of Latacunga. Home to a bustling indigenous market, this is the place to see how rural Ecuadorians live.
The market is a matter of function over form – it isn’t pretty, but its array of fruit, vegetables and grains is interesting and there is an authenticity there that you won’t find at just any market.
Here the vendors and buyers alike dress in distinct clothing and have the dark hair and small stature common to many Andean communities.
Outside Latacunga is the Chimborazo National Park. Chimborazo is another one of Ecuador’s famous volcanoes, and also its highest peak – 6,268m above sea level. It cuts quite a figure with its stony slopes and snow-capped top.
Cuenca is a gorgeous colonial city with beautiful architecture and a laid back atmosphere. It also boasts some of its own Inca history (a subject usually associated with Peru). The most notable Inca site there is Ingapirca – a fortress and storehouse, which has a temple of the sun, constructed in the typical style of the Incas where stone was carved to fit together perfectly, eliminating the need for additional materials.
The Ecuadorian Páramo is a unique high-altitude ecosystem lying above the treeline but below the permanent snowline. Outside Cuenca, the Cajas National Park protects an area of páramo vegetation covering 285 square kilometres.
This area is home to 19 endemic plant species, including a number of beautiful orchid species. There are also numerous bird, amphibian and insect species which call this area home.
The cloud forest of Ecuador is just as the name suggests – a tropical forest which mingles with the clouds. Cloud forest tends to be damp as the low lying clouds condense on tree leaves, as well as meaning the air is thick with water. These conditions provide very specific habitats for plants and animals – one of the draw cards for visiting. Another is the sight of clouds suspended amongst the trees – quite an eerie sight.
As well as the páramo, Cajas National Park also protects a section of beautiful cloud forest.
Arguably the most famous jungle in the world, the Amazon basin is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, and one of the most biodiverse regions on earth.
The main Amazon tributary in Ecuador is the Napo River, which is lined with oxbow lakes and native communities, providing not only another great opportunity to spot indigenous species, but also the chance to see another side of Ecuadorian life.
If you would like to visit mainland Ecuador, simply extend your Galapagos trip to include some of these wonderful destinations. You can see all of our Ecuador holidays here.