Avenue of the Volcanoes
Most markets lie south of Quito (except Otavalo) along a route called Avenue of the Volcanoes (11 snowy peaks framing the Latacunga-Ambato Valley). The spectacular view makes getting there almost half the fun. On Mondays, plazas fill with native buyers and sellers exhibiting bright colored fruits, vegetables, flowers, blankets, ponchos, and fine straw hats called Panama hats. In Pujuli, on Wednesdays and Sundays, people barter sheep, blankets, pigs and vegetables. The rail trip between Riobamba and Cuenca is one of the most spectacular train rides in the world, up and down the Andes, via the famous Devil’s Nose. Multi-night trips with overnights at historic haciendas are extremely popular.
Cotopaxi National Park
Named after the highest active snow capped volcano in the world, the Park is located 38 miles south of Quito, a mere one-hour drive from the capital city. A paradise for mountain climbers, the park also offers a wonderful landscape with extraordinary geological conditions and various plants and animals such as deer, puma, condor, wild horses, and llamas. Within the park limits, you will also find the Pucara ruins, a pre-Hispanic Inca fortress, and the Inca Palace, built in the 15th century, and later turned into a catholic monastery. Combined with visits to nearby Indian markets and colonial haciendas, Cotopaxi makes one of the most popular full-day or overnight excursions from Quito.
Cuenca’s cobblestone streets, graceful ironwork balconies, flowered plazas and courtyards, shady plazas, museums and religious art treasures recall her long association with Spain. Yet the people, the markets, and the Andean setting leave no doubt that you are in Ecuador. It is the third largest city in Ecuador marked, not by high-rise buildings, but by shining church domes dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, the earliest buildings dating back to 1557. Leather, pottery, and jewelry can be found in several markets. Several Inca ruins, temples and museums provide evidence of Ecuador’s rich cultural heritage. From Cuenca you may visit the Inca complex of Ingapirca or the traditional villages of Gualaceo and Chordeleg famous for its markets and handcrafts.
Located east of the Andes range, the Amazon Basin is one of the most biologically rich areas in the world. Eco lodges and small properties can be found along the banks of mighty rivers and lakes. You can reach Tena, the gateway to the Amazon, after a four-hour car ride from Quito although roads are often impassable due to mudslides and transfers are normally delayed. For a real taste of the Amazon it is necessary to take commuter flights to the jungle outposts of Coca or Lago Agrio from where motorized canoe transfers are provided to the different jungle lodges. Once at the lodge you will be overwhelmed by the lush surroundings and the innumerable species of plants and animals.
About 30 miles from Cuenca, the ruins of Ingapirca are the best preserved and the most important pre-Hispanic vestiges of ancient civilizations in Ecuador. The site is a monumental complex, built up on top of other Caņari ruins by the Incas some 500 years ago. It is nestled amidst a patchwork pastoral green landscape. The village of Tambo is the entrance town to the complex, which consists of a fortress, a temple with some adjacent chambers, and a ceremonial plaza. For many years, theories had that it was probably used as a resting point for Inca couriers traveling between the cities of Cuzco and Quito. However the discovery of some sepultures has brought up the question of whether Ingapirca was a military fortress or a major religious site.
Located three hours by car from Quito, this small town of some 2,200 inhabitants is justly famous for its friendly people and their colorful market, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The market dates back to pre-Inca times when jungle products were brought up from eastern lowlands and traded for highland goods. Today’s market serves two different groups: Locals who barter animals, food and other essentials, and tourists looking for crafts. Here you will find woven textiles, woodcarvings, embroidery, ceramic pots, jewelry, leather work, belts, multicolored tapestries, bread dough figures, ponchos, hammocks, hand-knitted wool sweaters, hats made of wool or straw, and native paintings. In shear contrast with other markets, the Otavalo Market is extremely quiet since locals do not shout their products to attract clients. Otavalo can be visited on a full-day tour from Quito. Overnight trips including stays at historic haciendas are also popular.
The capital city of Quito (9,400 ft. above sea level) has a wonderful spring-like climate despite the fact that it is only 14 miles south of the equator. It is situated in a valley flanked by majestic mountains and on a clear day, several snow-capped volcanoes are visible from the capital. Quito is rich in history and much of the old colonial town is well preserved; the buildings are unchanged, and to walk down colonial Quito’s streets late at night, is to step into a bygone era. There are no modern buildings discordantly built next to centuries-old architecture and no flashing neon signs to disrupt the ambiance of the past. Quito nestles a rich treasury of religious and decorative architecture and arts: Churches, whose interiors shine of gold, display heavy wooden doors with inset grilles, red-tile roofs, whitewashed walls and fountain courtyards, offering a glimpse of 16th century life. Avenida Amazonas is the best-known commercial street, though Avenida 10 de Agosto and Avenida 6 de Diciembre are the most important thoroughfares.
Made up of 13 large islands, six smaller ones, and over 40 islets, the Galapagos are located 600 miles west of the Ecuadorian coastline. Its wonders span from the most varied and incredible geological formations--lava flows, blowholes, spatter cones, lava tunnels-- to beaches of olive, black, or white sand and the most diverse species of animal and plant life. On some islands you may find red mangroves, scalesia trees and acacias, while on others you will see cactus, micronias, and Palo Santo trees. The most surprising sight for visitors however, is the varied species of animals which inspired Charles Darwin on his visit in 1835: Sea lions, penguins, tortoises, iguanas, several species of marine birds, many of them endemic, and a rich underwater fauna and flora. Following is a description of the main islands and tourist areas in Galapagos:
Located on the north shore of Santa Cruz, close to Baltra, Bachas is a long swimming beach with a saltwater lagoon behind it where you can observe marine iguanas, flamingos, great blue herons and sanderlings. The beach is a popular nesting site for the green sea turtle. Bachas is also a great spot for snorkeling.
For most visitors, Baltra is their entry point into the Galapagos. Once a North American airbase, the airline TAME flies to and from here on a daily basis. From here you will either catch a five minute bus ride to the dock and embark your yacht, or you’ll take a bus to the south of the island, a ten minute journey to the channel that separates Baltra and Santa Cruz. Here a ten-minute boat ride brings you to the northern most point on Santa Cruz where a bus will take you across the island arriving 45 minutes later in Puerto Ayora.
A small rugged island off the eastern shore of Santiago, Bartolome lies opposite Sullivan Bay. The area of Sullivan Bay, a cascade of lava, punctuated at water's edge with fine white sand, was formed by the flow from a nearby shield volcano that erupted at the turn of this century. Together, Bartolome and Sullivan Bay evoke a lunar landscape of cones and craters in varying shades of deep chocolate and light brown, black, and gray. The guardian point of Pinnacle Rock, the worn away remnant of a cone composed of spewed ashy particles, is one of the best known landmarks in the archipelago. A stretch of land on the western part of the island is notched out on both sides- by coral- sand beaches (the north shore a popular swimming and snorkeling site), around which flourish lush mangroves and other salt tolerant plant life. Away from the water, however, Bartolome is stark and dry, and only the occasional prickly pear, lava cactus, or Scalesia bush has managed to survive among the spatter cones. Galapagos penguins are frequently seen, and a small cave behind Pinnacle Rock houses a breeding colony. Green sea turtles and herons make use of the gentler beaches.
Black Turtle Cove
Not far from Baltra, Black Turtle Cove is a tranquil lagoon surrounded by mangroves. Visits are conducted on dinghies in order to observe the abundant marine life that includes white-tipped reef sharks, schools of Eagle and Golden rays and Pacific Green turtles that normally breed here from December to March.
This islet owes its name to its peculiar shape. Perhaps more than any other site, it conveys the volcanic origin of the Galapagos Islands. After a wet landing, the beach soon gives way to an almost primeval landscape of volcanic rubble, including sharp outcropping, cracked lava formations, and lava tubes.
This is one of the most popular islands due to the variety of animals seen here. The two tourist sites are Punta Suarez on the western tip and Gardner Bay on the eastern side. The former offers its visitors spectacular cliffs inhabited by masked boobies, blue footed boobies, Galapagos doves, the indigenous Hood mockingbird, and waved albatross. Walking on the edge of the cliffs you will have a spectacular view of the blowhole, a tunnel connected with the sea that spurts a shower of water 15 to 30 meters high. You will also see sea lions and Marine Iguanas basking in the sun, and the largest Lava Lizard in the Galapagos. Gardner Bay offers a fantastic golden beach for walking amongst Sea Lions and fabulous snorkeling in the Bay.
Located on the West Side of Isabela, it is the western most island in the Galapagos and one of the most volcanically active. Punta Espinoza is visited to see the black lava rock, mangroves, and a variety of birds including herons, yellow warblers, pelicans, frigates, the mangrove finch, and petrels. Fernandina also boasts a large population of land iguanas, although the favored nesting ground of these lizards, the rim of the single volcano's caldera, has been destroyed by recent eruptions.
Floreana rests south of Santa Cruz, rising and falling in a proliferation of volcanic cones, which are often gentled by a thin mantle of Palo Santo forest. The sterner, western part of the island consists of bare lava flows and a striking black sand beach. The best-known site on this island is Post Office Bay where in the past, sailors used to leave and receive their letters in a barrel to be delivered by other sailors. Other highlights include Punta Cormoran, a green olivine beach where you can see sea lions and flamingos, and Devil’s Crown, an old imploded volcano just off the coast of the main island, famous for its fabulous snorkeling. As soon as you get in the water, look down! This will be your best chance to see a shark. There is no need to swim as the strong current will pull you all the way round to the other side seeing on your way a great variety of multi-colored reef fish and playful sea lions
A small island in the shape of a horseshoe - the interior bay is an old imploded volcano. Darwin Bay Beach offers colonies of frigates, red-footed, and masked boobies. Just behind the beach one sees inland tide pools and outcrops of black rock and saltbushes, frequented by feeding wandering tattlers, turnstones, whimbrels, lava gulls and fiddler crabs. Not so common but still seen are the yellow-crowned, lava, and black-crowned night herons. Flying around the cliffs one may see swallow-tailed gulls, and on the beach yellow warblers. Prince Phillip’s Steps, on the south tip of Genovesa, is the major breeding ground for the tree loving red-footed booby and the ground masked booby, whose breeding season is from September to July.
The largest island in the Galapagos Archipelago is over 60 miles long and extremely narrow. Six volcanoes are found on Isabela. The most commonly visited sites are Punta Garcia to see the flightless cormorants, the Volcan Alcedo for land tortoises, Tagus Cove for blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorant, Galapagos penguins and marine iguanas, and Urbina Bay for marine turtles. The area is also a rewarding scuba-diving site, its abundant ocean life the product of cool, nutrient-rich waters up welling off the volcano's steep submarine slopes.
This is a tiny islet, basically a long, narrow beach with a large population of sea lions. Swimming and snorkeling are the main activities here.
Located directly to the north of Baltra, Seymour is famous for its colony of frigates found on the southwest side of this small island. Also found on this island are blue-footed boobies, land iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, pelicans, and red-billed tropicbirds.
Located west of Santa Cruz, Plazas is a small steep island housing colonies of sea lions, land iguanas, swallow tailed gulls, and red-billed tropic birds.
A small island just over 1.25 miles wide located to the south of Santiago Island. Rabida is famous for its unusual red colored beaches. The vegetation consists mainly of Opuntia cactus, palo santo trees and scrubby bushes. Among its inhabitants we may cite sea lions, flamingos, and pelicans.
San Cristobal (Chatham)
San Cristobal is home to the capital and administrative center of the Galapagos Islands: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The most famous tourist sites are Kicker Rock, a spectacular vertical rock rising 500 feet out of the ocean, Punta Pitt with its variety of plant and marine life and long sandy beaches perfect for swimming and Cerro Brujo, another long beautiful white, powder-sand beach inhabited by colonies of sea lions, pelicans and blue-footed boobies. On approach to Puerto Baquerizo it is not unusual to see schools of dolphins swimming alongside your ship.
Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)
The central island in the Galapagos is home to the main port, Puerto Ayora, and the Charles Darwin Research Station. Santa Cruz is truly an island of diversity, from its precarious balance of settlement and conservation to its wildly differing landscape, vegetation, and animal life. Reaching almost 3,000 feet above sea level, Santa Cruz offers visible, dramatic changes in its flora and fauna from one area to another. At the sea's edge is a tangled fringe of mangroves and green, salt-tolerant plants. The area just inland from this littoral zone is arid forest, dominated by palo santo trees and prickly pear cactus. Lava lizards, mockingbirds, and ground finches are the most obvious denizens of this region. Farther inland and upward, the vegetation becomes denser and more varied, slowly becoming transformed into an almost magical, mist-shrouded region of tall trees, covered with mosses and liverworts. This area, originally marked by the native evergreen scalesia, was one of the earliest regions to become cultivated, and consequently much of the zone has given way to pastures and small plantations.
Santa Fe (Barrington)
This may well be the oldest island in the Galapagos and home to one of the most beautiful and most sheltered bays in the archipelago. A fabulous spot for snorkeling with its crystal clear and shallow waters, it is also one of the best locations for swimming with sea lions and for a glimpse of the Galapagos white-tipped shark and the sea turtle. The local fauna also includes land iguanas, manta rays, Galapagos hawk, owls, frigates, pelicans, and mockingbirds.
James Bay is the most visited point on the west side of the island for its salt crater (Puerto Egas), Sugarloaf volcano (a volcanic cone which rises 1,300 feet) fur seal grottos, and Espumilla Beach with its flamingo lagoon. Most visitors to this area come to see the shoreline south of Puerto Egas, with its striated yellow, brown, and black cliffs of tuff stone, or hardened volcanic ash, which has also been eroded, molded, and polished by the sea into coves and elaborately patterned rocky beaches. Hikers on the coastal trail may be privileged to spot whales or dolphins cruising by offshore or a feeding frenzy of hundreds of boobies or pelicans attacking a school of fish. At the end of the trail is a magnificent lava-walled grotto whose shady crevices shelter a small group of fur seals. On the east side of Santiago you will visit Sullivan Bay famous for its conical volcano and for the study of various types of lava rock, some of which are as young as 90 years.