The country of Ecuador boasts a vast and interesting landscape. From the coastal city of Guayaquil to the Andes mountain that run the length of the country to the Upper Amazon Basin that hosts some of the most incredible biodiversity on the planet, Ecuador truly has something for everyone. To top it off, the Galapagos Island packs an extra punch with its remote location, highly adapted rare species, and unforgettable volcanic island landscape. Ecuador is definitely the place to go for a truly memorable South America vacation experience.
The cities of the Ecuadorian Andes represent historical Ecuador. Quito and Cuenca are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The former was one of the first cities to win this recognition in 1978. Both cities were sites of important pre-Columbian nations. Quito was later the second capital of the Inca Empire, and then the seat of the Royal Audencia, the administrative center for this part of the Spanish Empire. Today, travel to Quito and Cuenca will offer a glimpse into this long history as reflected in the many architectural jewels that stand as monuments to that history. Additionally, there is the city of Riobamba, point of departure for treks to Chimborazo, and Banos, the lovely mountain town replete with waterfalls and natural hot springs. While all these sites have a modern side, the cosmopolitan Guayaquil is unmatched in its cultural offerings. This is also the transit hub for Galapagos cruises.
The Galapagos Islands are located 620 miles (1,000 km) from the Ecuadorian coast. The most popular tour option are the cruises that go from island to island. Itineraries range from 4 to 8 days, and sometimes more. Highlights include the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, the largest human settlement on Santa Cruz Island. Hikes to the highlands reveal amazingly preserved volcanic activity, including meters-wide lava tunnels, that lay bare the evolving history of this archipelago. A tendency to seasickness is no impediment to embarking on a Galapagos adventure as there are also tour options where you can sleep in a hotel on land each night while embarking on land adventures and scuba diving excursions during the day.