The nation’s capital is a remarkable city and is simply oozing with culture and tradition. The old town is home to the Plaza de la Independencia, the main square which is also home to the huge Cathedral; El Sagrario which is another amazing cathedral; the Panecillo, a 180 metre hill with the statue of the Virgin of Quito at the summit and Ipiales, a vast open-air market which covers a multitude of city blocks. Then you have the new town where you will find the Parque La Carolina, a wonderful park that is home to a number of concert pavilions, green areas and playing fields; the Auapulo which is a mountainside region famous for its fascinating colonial architecture and the Parque Metropolitano, even bigger than La Caroliana with much more open space. Another major attraction located just thirteen kilometres from Quito is the Mitad del Mundo. Translated as ‘Middle of the World’ this is the point which has been defined as the exact location of the equator and is marked by a monument where you can ride to the top and get an excellent view of the local countryside. And, if all this isn’t enough to entice you add to the above the host of museums and galleries which Quito has to offer and you’ll see why it’s so special.
Home to one of the most famous and spectacular indigenous markets in the world, Otavalo is located in the Andean Highlands just two hours from Quito so can easily be reached in day trip from the capital. This market has been in existence since pre-Inca times and is run by the native Otavaleno Indians. If you’re not an early riser, however, you are going to have to make an exception on this occasion because you really need to be there by 6.00am to see the whole thing unfold. Then, throughout the day, you will witness one of the most remarkable events in Latin America. Most of you are probably familiar with this fascinating Ecuadorian tribe recognised by their long, dark, braided hair and unique clothing but to see them at work in their native surroundings is something you are never going to forget.
A group of thirteen major islands and many more smaller ones, only five of which are inhabited in total, the Galapagos archipelago constitutes one of the twenty two provinces which make up Ecuador. A truly unique location with regard to its flora and fauna, the islands have been attracting explorers from all over the world since Charles Darwin visited while making his historic voyage aboard the ‘Beagle’. Home to giant tortoises, lizards and iguanas, the wildlife is the islands’ main attraction but as well as this the bleak and barren appearance of the Galapagos fascinates all who visit. Situated about five hundred miles west of the mainland, they are quite expensive to get to from Ecuador and as well as this they are also expensive when you get there. But, if there is any way that your budget will permit travel to the islands, take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Its location in a valley of waterfalls and hot springs combined with its temperate climate ensures that Banos is rapidly becoming one of Ecuador’s most visited regions. Just over four hours from Quito, Banos is easily reached and once you get there you are confronted with a whole host of activities and attractions. Horseriding and trekking in the hills, rafting the local rivers, swimming in the natural hot springs and a host of other leisure activities ensure that your time here certainly won’t be wasted. And as well as these pursuits the area is also home to the Basilica and the Virgin of the Holy Waters, an attraction renowned among the locals as having healing powers and celebrated with a huge festival in October. Finally, the volcano known as ‘Little Hell’ to the natives or Tungurahua Volcano to the rest of the world, is just a thirty minute trek from the Basilica and makes for fascinating sightseeing on the way as well as when you get there.
A visit to Cuenca, the third largest city in the country, is truly like taking a step back in time. With its colonial architecture, towering cathedrals and cobblestone streets it is widely regarded as the most beautiful city in Ecuador and serves as the capital of the Azuay province. The city’s origins date back to about 500AD but the Cuenca of today was founded by the Spanish in 1557. Walking through the old town centre you will see the fully preserved homes of those who lived there during the sixteenth and seventeenth century. It’s a great place to relax because despite its city status, it exudes small town charm. And, as well as this it is located just fifty kilometres south of Ingapirca, the best preserved Inca fortress in the country which certainly demands a visit if you are in or near Cuenca.