The eye-catching colors of Ecuador leap out from every corner of its diverse landscape, from fluttering rainbow-hued macaw wings in the Amazonian jungle to the calm, dazzling blue lakes of the Andean sierra and the fiery terracotta sands of the Galapagos Islands. Brooding snow-capped volcanoes provide a striking contrast to the roaring heat of the salsa-dancing coast. You'll gaze in wonder at the sparkling gold interior of Quito's baroque churches while walking in the footsteps of Spanish conquistadors and Incan warriors.
Hardy survivors of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Quito's 500-year-old buildings usher you through columned archways onto hidden courtyards, its baroque churches twinkling with gold leaf. Catch a cooling river breeze as you stroll along Guayaquil's glitzy Malecón promenade, lined with shops and restaurants blaring hot salsa tunes. Cuenca, the capital's World Heritage Site sibling, crowns layers of Cañari and Inca foundations with colonial-era architecture; beneath the streets lie the ruins of ancient temples and regal palaces.
In the Andes sierra, Ecuador's core, stunning turquoise lagoons nestle in extinct volcanic craters and riders on horseback traverse lush national parks and misty cloud forests. Glide in a canoe to the music of tropical bird song as you visit indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest in the east. Small, undisturbed beaches and humpback-whale-filled waters on Ecuador's Pacific coast lead to the Galapagos Islands, where giant turtles, seals, penguins, iguanas and other native wildlife roam freely in a naturalist's paradise.
Eating and Drinking
Filling fish soups topped with fresh tomato and onion, and raw seafood marinated in tangy lime juice -- the refreshing ceviche -- are popular dishes along the coast. The small and succulent cuy, roast guinea pig, is an Andean favorite, whether spit-roasted along rural highways or served in fine city restaurants. Wholesome thick cheese, hearty chicken and potato soups and braised meat stews help to counter Quito's thin, chilly air during leisurely Ecuadorean family lunches.
A fresh-faced Darwin was mesmerized by the Galapagos Islands' vibrant native wildlife. You will be too, as you spy flamingo-dotted salt lagoons, sea lions beached on volcanic red sand, and swaggering marine iguanas or dive alongside penguins as falcons swoop overhead. You can scale the majestic Cotopaxi Volcano or trot on horseback inside the Cotopaxi National Park. As you canoe along the Amazonian jungle waterways of Yasuni, Ecuador's largest national park, look for multicolored macaws and pink river dolphins.