By Sarah Gilbert – May 2018 – 5 minute read
With Air Europa now flying to Quito as well as Guayaquil, confidence in Ecuador is clear. A country often lauded as a microcosm of South America, Ecuador offers islands to highlands and much more in-between. Here are some of the country’s more hidden gems.
Don’t miss out the mainland
This year, Ecuador experts Metropolitan Touring are shining a spotlight on the marvels of the mainland. A new tool will enable operators to tailor-make every aspect of an itinerary, with hundreds of options to choose from, destination specialists on hand to assist and guaranteed price matching.
They’ve also introduced new airborne adventures, with five helicopter tours flying over some of Ecuador’s most majestic landscapes, including Cotopaxi Volcano’s perfect cone. Individual seats and charters are available, on trips ranging from 30 to 90 minutes.
Up in the clouds
Just 70km from Quito, the striking Mashpi Lodge – a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World – sits 950 metres above sea level at the heart of a 3,000-acre private reserve, a biodiversity hotspot with a range of ecosystems - from lower montane rainforest up to cloud forest.
Ecuador is number five in the world ranking for bird species and what makes Mashpi special is the high concentration of species in a relatively small area. To celebrate National Geographic’s ‘Year of the Bird’, Mashpi is launching a new birding experience and a dedicated trip in conjunction with the brand.
Beside the seaside
Mainland Ecuador’s coastline is home to some of South America’s best beaches, with a mix of high-end resorts and quiet fishing villages.
Highlights include Montañita, famous for surfing and nightlife and packed with ceviche wagons and empanada vendors; Machalilla National Park, including Isla de la Plata, which is home to some of the species the Galapagos is famous for, like blue-footed boobies; and Canoa, good for surfing and yoga retreats.
Beautiful resorts include Palmazul Hotel & Spa in San Clemente (pictured), which has a private beach, spa and Ecuadorian fusion food restaurant.
Colonial Quito reborn
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Ecuadorian capital being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, following a multi-million dollar restoration project, Quito’s 16th-century centre has been transformed.
It’s home to some of the region’s finest museums, including the Central Bank Museum, magnificent churches, and picturesque cobbled streets such as La Ronda.
To celebrate, Casa Gangotena – a restored colonial mansion-turned stylish boutique hotel – is launching a heritage package, including a new walking tour visiting the city’s oldest Panama hat makers, herbal healers, the San Francisco Market and the church of La Compañia de Jesus with its dazzling Baroque interior.
Quito Tourism and The Metropolitan District of Quito have created an innovative new website and app to help visitors navigate the attractions of the city and around. GO UIO showcases the city’s gastronomy (including chocolate and craft beer), neighbourhoods, culture, shopping and natural attractions with a series of routes, videos and an interactive blog.
Galapagos by land
Get an alternative view of the Galapagos on a land-based tour covering one or more of the archipelago’s inhabited islands. You don’t have to be on a boat to enjoy their unique biodiversity and native wildlife species, including penguins, sea lions, lizards and giant tortoises. It can be an ideal option for families or those who just don’t have good sea legs.
Staying at the beachfront Finch Bay in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island (which underwent a major revamp in 2016) means snorkelling from the beach or from a private yacht, hiking and cycling, exploring the mangroves by kayak or simply lounging by the freshwater swimming pool, before taking a stunning inter-island flight to explore Isabela Island from Scalesia Lodge.
The wildlife-rich Amazon basin – known as the Oriente – covers around a third of Ecuador and is easily accessible by plane from Quito to Coca.
Taking a boat downriver to one of the more remote jungle lodges, such as the eco-friendly Napo Wildlife Center, the only lodge within the borders of Yasuni National Park, allows clients to experience the magic of the rainforest in comfort, while waking to the roar of howler monkeys, fishing for piranhas on tranquil blackwater lakes, watching colourful parrots feasting on clay licks and caiman-spotting by moonlight. If they’re lucky, they might even bump into an elusive jaguar.
Ecuador’s highlands are the place to cool down and soak up culture, in cities full of lively markets and colonial architecture, as well as the chance for adventure, with volcano trekking and condor-spotting just some activities on the agenda.
Top spots include Otavalo, surrounded by volcanoes and known for its market, where traditionally-clad indigenous people sell colourful textiles and handicrafts, or UNESCO World Heritage Cuenca, centre of the Panama hat trade and full of colonial churches.
Ride the rails
Jumping on board an award-winning luxury train is a unique way to discover Ecuador’s diverse and stunning landscapes, as it meanders its way from the Andean highlands to the Pacific coast, and back again.
The Tren Crucero’s four-day, three-night Train of Wonders journey begins in the Andean Highlands north of Quito and includes visit to the famous Otavalo market, before travelling through the breathtaking Avenue of the Volcanoes past the snow-tipped peaks of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, zigzagging down the engineering marvel of the Devil’s Nose Pass, and arriving into the tropical climes of the coast, stopping off at historic haciendas and artisans’ workshops enroute.
Where to book it
Journey Latin America has a 10-day holiday taking in Quito, Otavalo, the Avenue of the Volcanoes and the Galapagos Islands is from £3,195pp, based on two sharing, and includes flights from London to Quito via Madrid with Iberia, a Galapagos cruise, accommodation, domestic flights, transfers and excursions.
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