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Ecuador may be relatively small, but its environmental, cultural and geographical diversity is legendary. Traveling from east to west, you would cross the Amazon jungle and need to climb over the Andes before reaching the stunning Pacific coastline and venturing beyond to the islands that time forgot -- the idyllic Galápagos.

One can only wonder what Charles Darwin would think if he were alive to see the thousands of tourists disembarking from their luxury yachts and cruise ships or flying in and descending upon his beloved Galápagos each year. On the plus side, the Ecuadorian government is fastidious about providing sustainable tourism in the area with National Park entrance fees ($100) used to continue wildlife and environmental conservation and research.

Pacific Holidays (tel. 212/629-3888; www.pacificholidaysinc.com) offers a short but sweet "Galápagos Express" package for those keen to discover the islands but who don't have weeks of travel time available. This seven-day adventure departs weekly throughout the year and includes round-trip airfare to Quito from Miami flying Lan Ecuador Airlines, round-trip flights from Quito to Baltra (Galápagos), round-trip airport transfers, a half-day Quito city tour with English-speaking guide, Galápagos National Park fees, daily shore excursions during cruise, breakfast daily on land and full board on the cruise, a four-day/three-night cruise on board MV Legend in a superior Cabin, three nights' accommodations at either the Radisson or JW Marriott Hotel in Quito plus all hotel taxes and service charges. Highlights of your Galápagos trip include visiting the island of North Seymour, home to swallow-tailed gulls, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds and iguanas. Then sail to the island of Genovesa (El Barranco) with its lava terrain, red-footed boobies, frigates, storm petrels and fragrant palo santo trees. Swim and snorkel in Darwin Bay for an opportunity to see sharks and rays at a safe distance and last but not least, explore Suarez Point on Espanola, with its famous blowhole, colonies of sea lion, hooded mockingbird, red-billed tropic birds, marine iguanas, lava lizards, sally light-foot crabs, blue-footed boobies and the world's largest colony of waved albatross (mating season is from May through December). The trip is priced from $2,610 per person based on double occupancy staying at the four-star Radisson or $2,720 in the JW Marriott Hotel traveling in October and November, 2006 or January, February or March 2007. December departures are priced at $2,790 or $2,890 accordingly. Single supplements are $1,255 or $1,365 at any time of the year. Add $250 for New York departures. Taxes are additional.

If you are just interested in getting a taste of Ecuador without the Galápagos, its "Quito Express" is highly affordable. The five-day getaway includes round-trip air from Miami flying Lan Ecuador Airlines, round-trip airport transfers, four nights' accommodations at either the Radisson or JW Marriott Hotel, a half-day Quito city tour with English-speaking guide, breakfast daily and all hotel taxes and service charges. Travel from now until December 9, 2006 or from December 31, 2006 to March 31, 2007 and pay only $645 per person plus taxes based on double occupancy staying at the Radisson, or $790 at the JW Marriott Hotel. Between December 25 and 30, 3006, the rate goes up to $695 or $840 and from December 10 to 24, 2006, $840 or $990. Single supplement is $240 or $385 at any tome of the year. Add $250 for departures from New York and 455 for Friday, Saturday or Sunday departures.

For a more high-end trip to Ecuador and the Galápagos, Globus (tel. 877/245-6287; www.globusfamily.com) has added two new tours to the Galapagos to it schedule. Their 12-night "Discover the Galápagos and Peru" cruise and tour begins in Quito and then visits Cotopaxi National Park aboard the Chiva Express train. Passengers then fly to Baltra Island to board the yacht Isabella II for a four-night cruise of the Galápagos Islands accompanied by an expert naturalist. After the wonders of the Galápagos, participants can discover the Incan Empire with visits to Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lima. This vacation is priced from $5,039 (international airfare to Quito and from Lima is additional) and includes intra-tour flights, four nights aboard the yacht, eight nights' accommodations (the Hilton Colon in Quito, Los Delfines Hotel in Lima, Casa Andrea Private Collection in the Sacred Valley, the Machu Picchu Pueblo at Machu Picchu and the Libertador in Cuzco), breakfast daily, eight lunches and nine dinners, transportation and touring throughout. Departures are in May and June, 2007.

Its seven-night "Ecuador and the Galápagos" cruise and tour includes three nights' accommodations at the Hilton Colon Hotel in Quito, an excursion on the Chiva Express to Cotopaxi National Park, sightseeing in Quito, four nights cruising visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galápagos islands, breakfast daily, all meals while cruising plus one lunch and one diner in Quito. This vacation is priced from $3,539 (land/cruise/intra-tour flights only) for departures during May and June 2007.

With so much tourism attention focused on the Galápagos and to some extent, Quito, some of Ecuador's other shining stars are often overlooked, including bustling Guayaquil, Baños, known for its thermal springs, waterfalls and surrounding volcanoes, Otavalo -- famed for its indigenous communities and colorful markets and the colonial beauty of UNESCO World Heritage listed Cuenca.

Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) has a selection of airfare-inclusive and land-only Ecuador packages at discounted prices. Its "Quito, Riobamba and Guayaquil Special" includes round-trip airfare from Miami to Quito, airline fuel surcharges, six nights' accommodations (three in Quito at Hostal La Rabida, one in Riobamba at Hosteria Abraspungo and two at the Hampton Inn in Guayaquil), ground transportation, tours, breakfast daily, two lunches, one dinner, hotel taxes and service charges. The tour departs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and is priced from $1,099 plus taxes based on double occupancy for travel from October 1 to December 9, 2006. Or travel during the same period and enjoy its "Quito, Riobamba and Cuenca Special" priced from $1,399. It includes round-trip airfare from Miami to Quito, airline fuel surcharges, six nights' accommodations (three in Quito at Hostal La Rabida, one in Riobamba at Hosteria Abraspungo and two at the Carvallo Hotel in Cuenca), ground transportation, tours, breakfast daily, two lunches, two dinners, hotel taxes and service charges. This tour also departs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays only. For both these packages, add $125 from New York, $275 from Boston, $335 from Washington, D.C. or Chicago and $515 from Los Angeles or San Francisco. Purchase deadline is October 12, 2006.

Intra Tours (tel. 866/952-0662; www.intratours.com) specializes in discount airfares to Central and South America. It is currently promoting round-trip fares to Quito for travel between now and December 9, 2006 and again from January 16 to March 31, 2007. Below are sample fares (taxes are additional):

  • Miami: $499
  • New York: $664
  • Boston: $684
  • Los Angeles: $693
  • Chicago: $722
  • Dallas or Houston: $765

Another source for discounted airfares to Ecuador is Latin American specialist Exito Travel (tel. 800/655-4053; www.exitotravel.com).

Sample available midweek fares during November, 2006 include:

  • Miami to Quito: $419 (or $495 including taxes) on Avianca
  • Chicago to Guayaquil: $499 (or $577 including taxes) on Delta
  • Los Angeles to Quito: $528 (or $604 including taxes) on Avianca
  • New York to Guayaquil: $577 (or $656 including taxes) on COPA Airlines

For more information about traveling in the different regions of Ecuador, visit the official Ecuadorian Government tourism website at www.purecuador.com.

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