Ecuador is a dream destination, it has it all! As well as the Galapagos Islands – the world’s wildlife Mecca – few people actually know the real secret: Ecuador is a compact, easy-to-visit, incredibly diverse and stunning country with volcanoes, wild and rugged national parks, a cloud and an Amazon forest, plus historic cities.
Quito is quite literally breathtaking. Lying at a mighty 2,800 metres above sea level it immediately made my head spin. The secret is keeping hydrated and do very little or nothing at all, which is hard when you are surrounded by charming squares, churches and views of volcanoes and hills. This was not the first UNESCO site in the world without a reason!
Leaving the city behind wasn’t as difficult as I imagined, I was going to Mindo Cloud Forest and then on to Cotopaxi National Park, two diametrically different ecosystems, both undoubtedly fascinating.
Mindo greeted me with an eerie mist that is typical to this type of forest and made the area magical and mysterious. Hundreds of orchids grow here and great populations of colourful birds call Mindo home.
But it was my journey along the Avenue of the Volcanoes that surprised and enchanted me the most – I could not believe how many volcanoes existed in that tiny portion of the Andes. Cotopaxi is the iconic cone-shaped, snow-capped volcano and it beautifully towers the national park. A walk in the paramo (typical Andean vegetation) was the best way to admire it but I thought the views were at their best when the sky cleared while I was having my lunch at a local hacienda. The views and my plate of traditional potato and avocado soup, locro, made my day.
My favourite, however, was Chimborazo Volcano. I forgot I was on the Equator when I looked up and saw the copious amount of perennial snow with llamas and vicuñas peacefully roaming in the icy wind. The journey from Ambato to Riobamba, following the mountain road that wraps around the volcano, was one of the favourite drives of my life.
I was then heading south to lower altitude and I could feel the temperature rising; when I reached Cuenca my being on the Equator sprung back to mind as the air was mild and sweet and I could not believe my eyes when I toured my second UNESCO listed city. It was so beautiful with its rivers and bridges, its manicured parks, the houses and buildings bursting with character – I realised I loved Cuenca! I bought some local ceramics, which are very famous, and watched how Panama hats are really made (Panama hats are from Ecuador, not Panama, as many people think)."
My trip was almost over, so before returning to Quito I spent a few hours hiking in the Cajas National Park, surrounded by lagoons, trees and gentle hills. What a beautiful way to end my trip!
This truly was a journey of discovery - from the Galapagos archipelago, to the many other splendours of this country. Come and see for yourself!
We can help you plan your own tailor made holiday to Ecuador and the Galapgos Islands. Just call our Explore Tailormade team on 0844 875 1890