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Quito & Ecuador – Destination Guide

A Destination Guide to Quito & Ecuador
Written by Katherine Villegas & Gilly Rose
Photography by Dorian Lloyd

Quito

“Don’t miss out on South America´s cultural capital”

Ecuador’s capital, Quito – the first city to be granted the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is known as the Cultural Capital of South America. Situated high in the Andean foothills, at an altitude of 2,850m (9,350 ft), Quito was built on the foundations of an ancient Incan city, with a colonial centre which reflects European, Moorish and indigenous styles. On the southern edge of the Old Town, the Santo Domingo Church overlooks the Plaza, its sculptures and paintings, by celebrated Dominican artists, representing fascinating periods in Quito’s religious history. La Compañía de Jesús Church, known as the “Jewel of the Baroque Period in America”, has a Baroque façade created from volcanic rock. The interior is covered in 23 carat gold leaf, and the great altar, crafted by Quiteño artist Bernardo de Legarda, contains the sculptures of the four religious communities that evangelized Quito.

Not only does the Panecillo viewpoint provide a panoramic view of the entire city of Quito, but at its summit stands a statue of the only winged Virgin in the world – the Virgin of Quito. A massive structure created from seven thousand pieces of aluminum, it is a replica of a sculpture by Bernardo de Legarda. Visitors to this awe-inspiring work of art can see at close quarters the serpent, the world, the crown and wings of the statue, and from Panecillo’s southernmost look-out point, some of the peaks and volcanoes of the Andes mountain range are visible.

The Refugio Paz de Las Aves (Peace of the Birds Sanctuary) is a private nature reserve in the western foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes. Located near the equator at an altitude of 1,969 metres (6,460 ft), between Mindo parish and Nanegalito, the grasslands of the sanctuary give way to dense forests which are home to six species of antpitta birds, attracting both nature-loving tourists and birdwatchers, due to the ease with which these birds can be observed.

About an hour north-west of Quito lies the Orquideológica Pahuma Reserve, where many native and endemic plant species can be found. The cloud forest also hosts an impressive number of bromeliads, mosses and ferns, and – as its name implies – orchids, of which there are more than 270 species. Pahuma is also the habitat of 500 species of birds, the hummingbird being among the most typical. Visitors can hike through ecological trails to one of a number of waterfalls, where the more adventurous can enjoy the rock- and water- based activity known as canyoning.

The Andean cloud forests also offer adventurous tourists or scientists the thrilling opportunity of experiencing the Tucanopy – a cable system that runs trough the tree tops or canopy, giving the unique opportunity of a close encounter with the biodiversity of the forest from a different perspective.

The Andean Chocó in Pichincha province, is a newly declared UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Its wealth of flora and fauna includes emblematic species such as the Andean or spectacled bear, four varieties of wildcats, and a wide range of both amphibians and reptiles. The Chocó also includes the Pululahua Geobotannical Reserve – and there are few sites as arresting as the Pululahua volcano, which has been inactive for thousands of years. One of the few inhabited craters in the world, this caldera is a 5 km wide valley, moistened by fog (Pululahua is a Kichwa word meaning “cloud of water”), and it hosts a wide variety of plant species and fauna. It’s a fascinating place to visit and explore, where visitors can hike, camp, or go mountain biking.

Yunguilla is a mestizo community of 50 families located in the parish of Calacalí. It has been a benchmark in the development of Community Tourism since 1995, due to the variety of bird species and native plants found here, and the sustainable methods of food production and environmental conservation practised. Visitors to Yunguilla can stay in community houses, enjoy meals made with organic products from the gardens, and take part in activities such as hiking and camping.

Exploring Further

Why?
Ecuador’s beautiful capital, Quito, deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is considered the Cultural Capital of South America, and is the largest and best-preserved colonial city of America. At an elevation of 2,850 meters (9,350 ft) above sea level, Quito is located on the equator line, in a valley at the foothills of the Pichincha volcano.

What to do?
Explore the heart of Quito, and discover its history from a local point of view. Walk around its narrow streets, visiting iconic architecture, such as the golden church of La Compañia de Jesús, San Francisco Square, and Independence Square. Become part of the culture by visiting the “Maria” workshop – a lady who has prepared the local candy “Colaciones” for the last 60 years, keeping alive a family tradition.

How to do it?
Experience a one-day Quito city tour, which requires a lot of walking, so make sure you’re comfortably dressed and ready for a cultural adventure, or visit the most spectacular buildings, on a biking tour.

When?
Ecuador’s weather is very unpredictable, specially in the highlands where Quito is located. A visit between the months of May and October is recommended, as the weather is more stable, but be ready to be surprised.
www.quito-turismo.gob.ec // adventurejourneys.com


Quilotoa

“The majesty of this place will take your breath away”

Why?
Situated on the western slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes, at an  elevation of 3,914 meters above sea level, Quilotoa is a unique active volcano that holds a crater lake. Surrounded by local communities, this volcano offers one of the most spectacular landscapes. Its waters, with green and blue tones provided by the volcano’s caldera, allow you to see the fumaroles that are located at the bottom of the lake.

What to do?
In this perfect landscape for trekking, you will be able to venture down into impressive canyons, and climb back up to the top of the crater rim, where you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Quilotoa Lake. The area provides opportunities not only for trekking, but for horse riding and kayaking as well. It’s a special location for photography and for nature lovers.

How to do it?
Explore the uniqueness of Quilotoa Lake by trekking the Avenue of Volcanoes, enjoy your free day with a one-day tour, or a two-day tour extension.

When?
Because Ecuador’s weather is very unpredictable, specially in the highlands, a visit from May to October is recommended, since the weather is more stable, but be ready to be surprised.
www.quito-turismo.gob.ec // adventurejourneys.com

Cotopaxi

“A path of beautiful landscapes, with Cotopaxi always in sight”

Why?
One of the highest active volcanoes in Latin America, Cotopaxi is situated in the centre of the Avenue of Volcanoes, and surrounded by more than eight others. On a clear day, the conical top of Cotopaxi can be seen from Quito, its outer rim permanently covered in snow. According to pre-Hispanic history, it was believed that the eruption of Cotopaxi in 1534, during the Spanish conquest, was the wrath of the Inca gods being taken out on the conquerors.

What to do?
Cotopaxi National Park, home of the volcano, offers a variety of activities – trekking, ice trekking, biking and camping.  Wildlife is abundant – wild horses, deer, bears, pumas and skunks, as are species of birds such as condors and Andean cararas.

How to do it?
Discover the beauty that Cotopaxi has to offer in a one-day or multiple-day tour.  The Multisport adventure, Trekking the Avenue of Volcanoes, and Epic Ecuador offer you the best ways to explore Cotopaxi Volcano.

When?
Although Cotopaxi is a year-round destination, a visit between the months of May and October is recommended, as the weather is more stable, and there’s less chance of cloudy weather, but you can be sure that it never disappoints.
www.quito-turismo.gob.ec // adventurejourneys.com


Mindo

“Famous for its great variety of species of birds, butterflies and orchids”

Why?
You will be able to explore the pristine cloud forest of Mindo, discovering the rivers and waterfalls.  It’s the perfect destination for adventure, and surrounded by a lush green forest filled with toucans, hummingbirds and colourful birds, Mindo is a well-known place for bird watching, with many different types of flowers as well, specially orchids.

What to do?
Walking the tropical forest, crossing cable cars, canopying on a zipline, hiking along waterfalls, trekking and biking, and water-based adventures like tubing. Bird watching is possible in Angel Paz reserve, and a highlight of Mindo is a visit to the butterfly nursery.

How to do it?
A one-day tour or three-day extension in Mindo Cloud Forest and visiting the Best of Ecuador.

When?

Given that Mindo is a cloud forest, you can expect cloudy weather and a lot of rain. However, the best months to visit are from May  to August.
www.quito-turismo.gob.ec // adventurejourneys.com

Chimborazo

“The king of the Andes”

Why?
Chimborazo is the tallest mountain in Ecuador, situated in the central Andes, with an elevation of  6384 meters above sea level (20944 ft). Measuring the distance from the center of the Earth, the top of Chimborazo is the closest point to the sky, and some 200 communities depend on the volcano and its resources. Well known experts, such as the scientist Alexander Von Humboldt, and the explorer, Edward Whymper, undertook expeditions to Chimborazo, and wrote about them in their chronicles.

What to do?
The majestic peak of Chimborazo dominates its surroundings. It is a place to trek and bike, and it also offers amazing landscapes to photograph. You will be able to spot a few of the animals that inhabit this volcanic area, such as the Andean condor, hummingbirds, and the timid wild Vicuñas, related to the alpacas and llama, that were reintroduced into the wild.

How to do it?
Chimborazo is a destination that can be fully explored by Trekking the Avenue of Volcanoes or enjoying Ecuador highlights.

When?
Chimborazo is a glacier, so you can expect low temperatures. The months from May to October are recommended as the best time to visit, as the weather can be less cloudy, but of one thing you can be sure – Chimborazo Volcano will never disappoint you.
www.riobamba.com.ec // adventurejourneys.com


Cuenca

“Athens of Ecuador because of its architecture, cultural diversity, work in the arts and sciences”

Why?
Cuenca, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, combines its historical background of Hispanic, Inca and Cañaris colonies  with its progress towards becoming a modern city. Home of the so-called “Panama hats”, Cuenca is also recognised for its music, museums, cuisine and art – and as a city that attracts expatriates and retirees.  It’s easy to get around, and inhabited by artisans and people known for their kindness.

What to do?
Cuenca is a city to explore.  Discover more about its history from its museums, and take a city tour for sightseeing.  Access to the Cajas National Park is easy, and outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy spectacular hiking and trekking opportunities, as well as mountain biking on numerous and seldom-visited trails.

How to do it?
Take a  city tour to visit the most important buildings and notable places in Cuenca, with a classic trip of Ecuador highlights.

When?
Ecuador’s weather is very unpredictable, specially in the highlands.  Although it’s a year-round destination, it is recommended that you visit Cuenca between the months of May and October, when the weather is more stable, but be ready to be surprised.
cuencaecuador.com.ec
// adventurejourneys.com // cuenca.com.ec/en/visit-cuenca

Montañita

Why?
Montañita is a paradise in Ecuador that offers beauty, delicious cuisine, good surf and fun. Located in Santa Elena, it is the preferred destination for domestic and foreign tourists seeking adventure tourism and a lively nightlife.  Identifying with the Valdivia culture – which dates from around 3500 BC – the commune of Montañita is famous for its ceramic replica of the statuette of “La Venus de Valdivia”.

What to do?
Montañita is recognised as a leading surfing destination with stunning waves that attract surfers from all over the world.  A feature of the gastronomy of this  “Surf City” is the wide range  of seafood available. Here you can combine typical dishes of shrimp, squid, octopus and prawns, prepared with traditional seasoning as well as international techniques. Montañita never sleeps, and at night, activity is concentrated around its bars and discos which offer a variety of music, cocktails and environments in which to party.
www.bmtours.com.ec


Guayaquil

Why?
Guayaquil offers visitors a warm welcome and a wide range of sights and activities.  Not only is it the beating commercial heart of Ecuador, but a vibrant sprawling city, growing in confidence. A half-dozen high-rises give it a big-city profile, and several hillsides are home to colourful neighbourhoods, but it’s the Malecón Simón Bolívar and Malecón del Estero Salado (the riverfront  promenades) on the Rio Guayas that define the city’s identity. The picturesque neighbourhood of Barrio Las Peñas, located over the river, anchors the city both geographically and historically, while in downtown Guayaquil the bustling  main thoroughfare – the Avenida 9 de Octubre – is home to a multitude of businesses such as banks, fast food outlets, retail stores and appliance warehouses.  

What to do?
As well as museums, historic neighbourhoods, revitalised parks and squares, the city has a growing theatre, film and arts scene, with lively bars, fuelled in part by several large universities.
www.bmtours.com.ec

Galapagos

“Once in a lifetime natural paradise where you can find life in its pure state”

Why?
Galapagos Islands will inspire you to think differently about our world, just as others have when visiting this fascinating place. Be an explorer and discover the many indigenous creatures to which these volcanic islands are home. Witness a unique abundance of wildlife in a setting unlike any other on the planet. Truly understand Charles Darwin’s inspiration when he wrote his theory of evolution, a publication that changed the world.

What to do?
Take the opportunity to understand the importance of the islands and visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to see the nursery, and other initiatives employed in maintaining the majesty of the islands. Be part of an educational and inspirational journey of a lifetime, learn about life in the archipelago, enjoy the local flavours, discover small towns and hidden paths. Activities like hiking to the top of volcanoes, biking lava trails, snorkelling through lava tunnels, kayaking to view wildlife and scuba diving – all are possible in this paradise.

How to do it?
There are a lot of options  for discovering and exploring the enchanted Galapagos Islands: Galapagos Multisport, the Best of Galapagos, Galapagos Classic Islands Hopping, or Galapagos Family Experience.

Tip Top Cruises has a fleet of boats designed to offer a unique experience in these World Heritage Islands.  Accommodating up to 16 people in comfort, each boat has 10 double cabins with private bathrooms, air-conditioning, lockers and a safety box.  Onboard facilities include kayaks, snorkelling equipment, and a Galapagos Naturalist Guide, each of whom is a biologist and nature lover.  Passengers can have personal conversations with them, and discover the intriguing and mysterious story of the Floreana Island and its inhabitants, adding to the fascination of this experience.  The combination of wildlife, nature and history, accompanied by delightful food, will make for an unforgettable trip, and an adventure that will remain in the heart forever.

When?
There is no special time to visit Galapagos but we recommend you to avoid top seasons: December-January, March, June-July.
www.galapagos.gob.ec    www.rwittmer.com


WHERE TO STAY
Quito: Art Hotel Mama Chuchara & Dann Carlton
Riobamba: Hacienda Abraspungo
Cuenca: Mansion Alcazar & Hotel Carvalho
Montañita: Hostal Tavarua
Guayaquil: Villa 64

Photos by Dorian Lloyd: @dorianlloyd // Video by Nick Lloyd: nextadventurepictures.com
Produced in partnership with Pro Ecuador and Quito Turismo

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