There is an Ecuadorian saying that translates to “Look for a good tree, and you’ll have good shade,”the point being that the best things in life don’t come to you-you must seek them out. Travelers who seek out Ecuador discover an abundance of good things: warm and welcoming people, ancient cultures still thriving, some of earth’s most dramatic landscapes, and unparalleled wildlife.
The locals call the equator, which bisects their nation, “the middle of the world.”When you witness for yourself how many delights intersect in this one small country, you’re sure to understand why.
Revel in Ecuador’s Natural Splendor
Perhaps the most biodiverse country in the world per square mile-harboring over 50 ecosystems-Ecuador is home to not only to the Galapagos isles that so enchanted Darwin, but to primeval Amazon rainforests. So varied are the landscapes here, you can stride across epic lunar-like volcanic slopes, immerse yourself in bubbling thermal pools, and stroll white coral beaches among sleeping sea lions all in one journey.
Even the most seasoned travelers sometimes forget how much the Amazon rainforest dominates eastern Ecuador. More than 300 types of mammals and 350 reptile species share this lush ecosystem. When you arrive at our lodge in typical Amazon fashion – by canoe – you’ll be accompanied by the music of the jungle: chirps and screeches and whistles from some of the 1,600 bird species. This is nature’s playground, so we believe you ought to play: our lodge provides exciting nature tours on walking trails, over suspended bridges, among the treetops in a zip-line basket, and along Napo River waters in a traditional balsa log raft.
Of course, Ecuador’s beauty doesn’t end in the rainforest, as you surely will notice. Even our drives showcase the country’s natural splendor. BÃnos, the Gateway to the Amazon, is a landscape in motion, home to 60 small waterfalls and bubbling natural springs, making it a beloved destination for Ecuadorians. But the waterfalls there are just a lovely warm-up to the headliner: the Devil’s Cauldron Falls outside of BÃ£nos. This massive torrent plunges noisily through a rocky gorge within the cloud forest, a spectacle you can hear even before you see it.
The cascade is only the beginning of Tungurahua’s offerings. The nearby Quechua village of Ahuano offers a serene riverside respite in contrast to the falls. But lovers of a good thrill-and a stunning view-also seek out the chance to enjoy a ride on the “Devil’s Nose”rail car that zig-zags along a thrilling switchback rail system that descends 1,600 feet. It follows a route once known as Condor’s Aerie, but dubbed the Devil’s Nose after 2,000 workers died during construction of this jaw-dropping engineering feat.
The epic handiwork of Mother Nature can be found in Cotopaxi National Park. The world’s highest active volcano soars skyward in the park, flanked by two more in the garland of eight that adorn southern Ecuador, earning this region the nickname “Avenue of the Volcanos.”These once-explosive landscapes now lay silent, home to wild horses, llama, and deer, all watched from above by sharp-eyed Andean condors.
Get Enchanted by the Galapagos Isles
The Ecuadorian government itself watches over the Galapagos Islands, one of its greatest treasures, providing firm rules for its conservation. Visited by the explorer Pizarro, studied by a young Charles Darwin, and fictionalized by Herman Melville, the largely predator-free archipelago has captured imaginations for years. You’ll see myriad creatures here that are found nowhere else on the planet. The islands you’ll visit vary with the itinerary you select – and with local Galapagos National Park regulations – but you’re guaranteed a thrilling exploration full of hiking, snorkeling, and learning firsthand about this singular setting.
Gate 1 Travel gives you two ways to witness these enchanted isles for yourself before or after visiting mainland Ecuador.
Embark a Thrilling Cruise with Up-Close Access. Our most popular Galapagos itineraries feature a magnificent cruise expedition aboard the MV Santa Cruz II – a deluxe small ship. Its small size allows it to easily maneuver into small coves, giving your unfettered access to the most remote islands. Generously appointed rooms provide the utmost comfort, and onboard naturalist guides offer fascinating insight into the most diverse wildlife and marine life you’ll ever encounter.
Explore the Galapagos from Your “Base”on Santa Cruz. If cruising doesn’t fit your style, then choose an itinerary that features Santa Cruz as your base. Our headquarters for three or four nights will be the first-class, eco-friendly resort, the Finch Bay Hotel- the only hotel in the island’s capital of Puerto Ayora situated on a beach – from which you can join our expeditions to nearby islands. Travelers who prefer this option like to set their own pace … perhaps opting out of island excursions in favor of beach time or exploring Santa Cruz itself, from the bustle of Darwin Street to the wildlife of Tortuga Bay, where marine iguanas dive and Galapagos crabs scuttle about.
Here are a few of the island we visit on our itineraries:
Santa Cruz is the heart of conservation efforts, home to both the Charles Darwin Research Station, which breeds and rears the endangered Galapagos giant tortoise, and the Rancho Primicias preserve. From resplendent vermilion flycatchers to sleek white-tipped reef sharks, myriad species thrive here in a landscape created by volcanos. The island’s seismic history is evident in a network of lava tunnels and “los Gemelos,”a pair of massive holes formed by the collapse of a magma chamber.
North Seymour, which surfaced from underwater millions of years ago by geologic lift, beckons bird lovers to witness its blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls, and the largest frigate bird population in the Galapagos. More than 500 land iguanas make their homes at the feet of its dramatic cliffs, while fur sea lions congregate not far away, tending to their pups.
On Bartolome, a steep stairway past lava formations and through bristly “tiquilia plants”leads to a 350-foot peak with breathtaking panoramas of lava-clad Sullivan Bay and the Daphne islets. Bartolome’s best ambassadors are its tiny Galapagos penguins, the only penguins with a natural habitat north of the equator, and whose population is gravely endangered.
Favored by pirates and whalers alike, Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos chain. The seahorse-shaped isle and its surrounding islets vary in personality from the lunar-like landscape of nearby Las Tintoreras to the colorful red-and-black mangroves of Elisabeth Bay, where lava herons take wing above the cavorting sea lions, sea turtles, dolphins, and manta rays.
San Cristobal is the easternmost island and may have been the first one Darwin laid eyes on. Today, it’s still grabbing the attention of visitors with a sea lion rookery, a colony of magnificent frigate birds, and Cerro Brujo (or Wizard’s Hill), a collapsed caldera which formed a white sand beach that is now home to red- and blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and a colony of sea lions.
Santiago is home to a rich diversity of wildlife: marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles, and dolphins. Hikers may stroll across black lava landscapes among rust-colored tuff cones, while bird lovers can keep their eyes peeled for flamingoes, Darwin finches, and Galapagos hawks. At Espumilla Beach, sea turtles nest seasonally just a stone’s throw from a white flamingo lagoon.
On Fernandina, the youngest and most pristine of the Galapagos Islands, flightless cormorants hop from rock to rock as Galapagos penguins, sea lions, and fur seals sun themselves. The most active of the volcanic islands, this is the best place to spot the yellow blooms of lava cactus.
Discover Rich Cultures and Enduring Traditions
While Galapagos visitors eagerly seek out the natural splendor of Ecuador, the nation’s greatest resources are its people, going about their daily lives in ways that often reflect generations of tradition. Indigenous people in colorful clothes and fedoras walk to market on tranquil back roads, much as countless generations before them. Farmers from cocoa plantations deliver their crops in modest pickups. Orchid farmers drive their delicate exports to Guayaquil. Even native weavers keep their connection to the earth alive. You can witness all of these traditions with Gate 1 Travel as we introduce you to people who are proud to conserve their culture.
For centuries, the showcase of this culture has been Otavalo – the rural town in the heart of Imbabura province – which hosts what is perhaps the largest traditional market in South America. Since pre-Inca times, weavers and carvers have met here to sell their handiwork. Even now, on its busiest days, the market swallows almost one-third of the city, with Otavalenos in traditional dress tending colorful stalls bearing jewelry, leather, pottery, and clothing.
In mountainous Papallacta, visitors discover a tradition locals have enjoyed for eons: the pleasure of soaking in hot springs. The thermal springs beckon weary travelers day and night, with pools to linger in, surrounded by views of Andean grandeur.
Experience Ecuador’s Cosmopolitan Charms in its Cities
The rhythm of life couldn’t be more different in Quito, the country’s capital and hub of political activity. The second highest capital in the world (9,350 feet), it is also one of the best-preserved, with it its historic center declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can literally walk through Ecuador’s rich history here, encapsulated in a stone mural outside the Congress Building, and revealed in cobbled streets lined with pastel houses, grand colonial-era buildings, the Presidential and Archbishop’s palaces, and the cathedrals around Independence Plaza.
Warmed by Pacific breezes, Guayaquil has cast off its past as little sister to Quito, making a splash in recent years with a massive riverside development, Malecon 2000, brimming with shops, restaurants, and monuments. More populous than Quito, the city likes to say it has more style, too, from architectural gems like the glass-and-metal Crystal Palace to a new abundance of galleries and cutting edge exhibition spaces.
Being trendy is the furthest thing from the minds of those who call Cuenca home. The stunning colonial architecture and wrought-iron balconies bedecked with flowers create a more timeless, storybook feel. It’s so enchanting that more than 6,000 American retirees have embraced the simple life here amidst the clean air of the Andes. As you stroll its charming streets, it’ll be easy for you to see why they stay.
Explore in Comfort at a Terrific Value
From the wilds of the Amazon to the heights of the Andean countryside, Ecuador is stunningly diverse, despite being smaller than the U.S. state of Nevada. No matter which itinerary calls to you, our carefully chosen hotels provide all the amenities and services you expect from Gate 1 Travel to ensure you’ll explore in comfort. What’s more, thanks to our full roster of tours and features, you can be sure you’re traveling at the best value available. Join us!
Follow this link to our exciting Ecuador Tours. Or call to reserve, 1-800-682-3333!