Atracctions in Ecuador
The capital of Ecuador is arguably the most beautiful city of South America. It is located 2850 metres above sea level and only 22 km south of the equator, giving it a wonderful spring-like climate. Set in a valley flanked by mountains, several snowcapped volcanoes are visible from the city on a clear day. Quito has plenty of colonial architecture, and modern building has been strictly controlled in the old town since 1978, when it was declared a UNESCO cultural-heritage site. The old centre is full of whitewashed houses, red-tiled roofs and colonial churches, with no flashing neon to disrupt the ambience of the past. Especially at night the old centre is worth seeing. From a horse drawn carriage you will se all the important buildings which are artistically illuminated. The northern part of the city is the new town, containing modern offices, embassies, shopping centres and airline offices. It is very popular with tourists and almost all travel agencies can be found there.
The major sights include the 16th-century Monastery of San Francisco; the 16th-century cathedral and one of Quito’s showpieces; the historic alley of La Ronda, which is the best preserved street in Quito; and El Panecillo, a hill, with fabulous views of the old town, topped by a statue of the Virgin of Quito. There are at least eight decent museums, a number of spectacular colonial churches, several impressive plazas and good market areas at the foot of El Panecillo and west of the post office. The Avenida Amazonas is the showpiece street of modern Quito, and is a good place to stop in a sidewalk cafe and watch life go by.
The small town of Otavalo is famous for its Saturday market “Mercado de Ponchos”, which dates back to pre-Inca times. The market is a colourful affair, and the Otaveleños are very distinctive in their traditional dress. There are three main plazas. Plaza de Ponchos is the main centre for crafts, such as blankets, scarves, ponchos and tapestries. Otavalo is one of the best places to buy souvenirs and it is also very interesting to observe the bustling market life or talk to the friendly Otavaleños. Bargaining is essential.
Avenue of Volcanoes
The long valley south of Quito, leading to Cuenca, is flanked by two parallel mountain ranges containing nine of the country’s 10 highest peaks and some of the country’s wildest and most beautiful scenery. Half of Ecuador’s population lives in this valley, which has rich volcanic soil. The area is home to isolated Indian villages where the inhabitants lead lifestyles that haven’t changed for centuries. Many of these villages are only accessible by foot and that is why they are still so authentic and very interesting to visit. The Panamerican highway runs the length of the valley and there are spectacular views of snowcapped volcanoes, green fields with herds of llamas and old haciendas along the road.
Founded by the Spanish in 1557, Cuenca is the third-largest city in Ecuador and one of the prettiest. It is known as the capital of culture and arts and its beautiful buildings are very well preserved. The old centre has churches dating from the 16th and 17th century, plenty of old buildings, and cobblestone streets. It is also home to the famous panama hat and the old fabrics can still be visited. The surrounding villages are also worth visiting and famous for their handicrafts, jewelry and their traditional markets. The countryside is pretty. Fifty km north is the Inca fortress of Ingapirca, Ecuador’s best preserved pre-colonial ruin.
This large region in the lowlands of the Amazon basin has huge areas of untouched rainforest, and attracts visitors interested in ecology, tropical habitats, natural history, indigenous tribes, bird-watching and jungle treks. The region’s flora and fauna is absolutely breathtaking and comprises several endemic species. The Oriente is home to colourful and rare birds, monkeys, tapirs, jaguars and many more. The vegetation is very dense and spectacular. You can discover the jungle by excursions with a canoe on one of the several rivers. The riverbanks are framed with gigantic trees and alligators sleeping in the sun. The treetops are home to beautiful birds. You should avoid any insensitive excursions visiting ‘primitive’ Indian communities which involve tourists gawking at ‘real’ Indians. The main service towns in the region are Macas, Puyo, Tena, Coca and Lago Agrio.
Ecuador has warm coastal water year-round. There are decent beaches at Atacames, San Vicente, Canoa, Bahía de Caráquez, Bahía de Manta, Salinas, Mompiche, Playa Escondida, Puta Blanca and Playas which are also popular with locals. One of the most beautiful beaches is “Los Frailes” in the Machalilla NP. in Puerto Lopez; along with Mompiche. It boasts long white beaches, deep blue waters and is tranquil. At night some beaches like Atacames are transformed into open air party places where you can quench your thirst with fruity cocktails.
The Galápagos archipelago is famous for its unique and fearless wildlife, and has become a mecca for natural-history enthusiasts. Here, you can swim and play with tame sea lions, float eye-to-eye with penguins and stand next to a blue-footed booby feeding its young. The islands are located in the Pacific Ocean 1000 km east of Ecuador, and comprise 13 main islands and six smaller ones. The landscape is barren and volcanic but has a unique haunting beauty. Some of the islands boast white beaches and turquoise waters. Diving and snorkeling is superb.The islands are renowned for their bird and marine life, which include albatrosses, penguins, boobies, turtles, iguanas, sea lions, whales and dolphins.
A visit to the islands is expensive. The flight from Ecuador and a week cruising the islands will cost you at least 1000 US $. Puerto Ayora is the main town, located on the central island of Santa Cruz.
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