Cuenca: Ecuador's Best Colonial Architechture

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Possibly the most important and charming colonial city after Quito, Cuenca is located in the Ecuadorian highlands, and it most evokes an European vibe with its 16th and 17th-century era Spanish colonial architecture. With its laid back attitude, clean cobblestoned streets, old world cathedrals, an agreeable climate, and low cost of living, Cuenca has over the years become a major hot spot for expats and retirees that settle down here. It rightfully earned its UNESCO World Heritage tag due to its preservation of historical buildings; it is also the third largest city in Ecuador, it prides itself for being the birthplace of numerous writers and philosophers, and it accurately reflects culture and history of Ecuador via its many beautiful museums. Apart from the colonial marvels, the city is a center of many indigenous craft traditions, bustling markets and of course, the internationally famed Panama hats (which actually hail from Ecuador) handcrafted in the nearby villages.

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Quito Ecuador
Experience Quito, Ecuador's vibrant capital
Nestled between Andean peaks, snug and relaxed, Quito is Ecuador’s inviting capital city. Explore the traditional Ecuadorian-Sierra culture with thriving local markets, shamanistic healers and engage with the latest generation of hat-makers, mixed with an eclectic range of fine-dining and street-food options, along with a vibrant nightlife culture that this city is famous for. Wander through the verdant botanical parks just outside the city and explore the very charming ‘Old Town’ district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which brims with colonial monuments, grandiose plazas and other architectural jewels. Also, pay a visit to the magnificent art-filled churches of San Francisco, exhibiting the famous sculpture of Virgin Mary striding on the devil’s head, and the equally elegant, La Iglesia de Compañ.
Ecuador - Take a Cruise of the Galápagos Islands
Take a Cruise of the Galápagos Islands
1000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador,  the pristine Galapagos can be reached by an easy 90 minute flight from the mainland. Formed by a series of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, this isolated archipelago of 19 islands and dozens of other islets came into the limelight when the famed naturalist, Charles Darwin introduced his ‘Theory of Evolution’ to the world. Awarded a heritage site status by UNESCO in 1978, the Galapagos is a bucket-list destination for any nature lover; it is home an incredible variey of unique animal species from  giant tortoises, galapagos penguins, to marine iguanas and an incredible bounty of bird species. Enjoy nature’s unblemished beauty on guided adventures through this highly protected region.  Cruise  the islands in a luxury yacht or larger expedition craft or base yourself in an eco-lodge and island hop with daily trips to explore this magnificent ecosystem.
Ecuador - Isla de la Plata: Abundant wildlife & Whale Watching
Isla de la Plata: Abundant wildlife & Whale Watching
Dubbed as, ‘poor man’s Galapagos, Isla de La Plata is a small island situated off the country’s central coast. Part of the Machalilla National Park, Isla de La Plata features vast stretches of beaches and headlands teeming with avian life. A perfect paradise for any bird-watcher, the island is home to several exotic birds like the blue-footed and red-footed boobies, pelicans and frigate birds and numerous albatrosses. Apart from the many avian varieties, other indigenous marine species like the Angelfish, Sea Turtles, Manta Rays and enormous Humpbacked Whales are known to thrive here. One of the key highlights of the island is its splendid whale watching tours, a priceless opportunity to view these massive creatures up close. The island is open for planned hikes too, but staying on it is prohibited. After enjoying the scenic whale-watching boat tour, come back to Puerto Lopez to enjoy a freshly-cooked catch of the day.
Ecuador - Relax and Rejuvenate at Papallacta Thermal Spa
Relax and Rejuvenate at Papallacta Thermal Spa
Sitting at almost 11000 ft above sea level, Ecuador’s highest town, Papallacta has turned into one of the country’s most alluring destinations, thanks to its wondrous natural hot springs. Unwind in the village’s steamy, therapeutic thermal pools, renowned as a cure for many disorders and ailments, with astounding views of the forest canopy cascading down the mountain slopes, thus offering the most luxurious thermal bath experiences one could ever come across. Make Papallacta a part of your itinerary through mainland Ecuador; it is just an hour away from Quito city, and situated amid the magnificent landscape of the Andes. Truly a perfect destination to unwind in between or at the end of your adventures.
Ecuador - Cruise the Galapagos: Visit the Pristine Gardener Bay
Cruise the Galapagos: Visit the Pristine Gardener Bay
Allow yourself to be enchanted by one of the best relaxing beach experience at the Gardener Bay, part of the iconic Galapagos Archipelago, on Isla Espaniola. With an expansive stretch of white-sand beach which often remains secluded, Gardener Bay attracts colonies of sea lions that come here to laze, to the delight of tourists who snorkel and kayak in its turquoise waters. Snorkeling in Gardener Bay is an unparalleled opportunity to swim in the company of sea lions and discover the unexplored marine ecosystem comprising of the yellow tailed surgeon fish, bump-head parrot fish, white-tipped sharks and the ocassional manta rays.
Mindo Cloud Forest, Ecuador
The Cloud Forests of Mindo: A Birder's Paradise
Mindo lies 1300 feet above sea-level, among the clouds and mists of the middle-Andes, and is considered to be one of the world’s premier birdwatching destinations. It is home to over 500 avian varieties from the coast as well as the high sierras; all in all, the Cloud Forest region of Mindo is a place of great beauty and adventure, crisscrossed with great hiking and biking trails. Just a two-hour drive from Quito, Mindo is a perfect day retreat of untouched nature, magnificent surroundings and the breathtaking scenery of the region peppered with a pleasant climate. Visit the hummingbird sanctuary that boasts almost 15 varieties of hummingbirds, check out the Butterfly Farm and embark on the area’s chocolate factory tour. The cherry on top? Ziplining through the lush cloud forest is an absolute must for the whole family.
Ecuador - Rio Pastaza: River Rafting in Ecuador
Rio Pastaza: River Rafting in Ecuador
The wild and thundering Rio Pastaza in Banos de Agua Santa is Ecuador’s river-rafting mecca, attracting adventure enthusiasts from all over the world. A large tributary of the Marañón River in the northwestern Amazon basin, Pastaza’s rafting adventures include Class III and Class IV rapids. The Pastaza River is tucked between the ecological paradise of Llanganates and Sangay National Park, and rafting down its powerful waters is an exhilarating experience. Before hitting the rapids, which usually lasts for an hour and a half, depending upon the intensity of the river currents, you will be briefly guided with various safety measures coupled with a short warm-up session. After your rip-roaring adventure, celebrate by relishing a scrumptious Ecuadorian meal before heading out.
Ecuador - Quito: Enjoy a Modern Gondola Ride in the Teleférico
Quito: Enjoy a Modern Gondola Ride in the Teleférico
One of Quito’s most fun attractiions is the modern fleet of six-passenger gondola-lifts called the Teleférico that sweeps you from the base of Volcán Pichincha to its summit at a staggering 13,300 feet (4,050 meters). Opened in July 2005, the gondola cars at Teleférico are considered to be one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. This fleet of cars ascends from 3620 feet to the top in nearly 10 minutes, offering breathtaking atmospheric views of the capital city. Once at the summit, enjoy a hike and marvel at the spectacular landscape below from the excellent vantage point of Cruz Loma, best viewed in the early morning before the clouds begin to roll in. Refresh yourself with a cup of hot coffee to combat the high altitude chill; descend to the base and get into some family fun at the world’s highest go-kart track (along with a massive shopping complex). Keep your little ones entertained in the area’s Vulqano Amusement park; in short, a perfect day retreat for the whole family. Tip: At 13,300 feet, the air is thin. Drink lots of water before, and when up there. Eat a hearty meal before, if you can. If you feel the slightest effects of altitude sickness, descend immediately and you will be fine.
Ecuador - The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve: Explore Ecuador's Amazon
The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve: Explore Ecuador's Amazon
Established in 1979, the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, snuggled deep inside the far northeastern corner of the Amazon, is the second largest of its kind among the 45 other national parks of Ecuador. Encompassing around 603,380 hectares of lowland tropical rainforest, the Cuyabeno Reserve protects almost 550 bird species, 350 fish varieties and several terrestrial animals, along with the indigenous tribes of Cofans and Siona-Secoias, who have been known to inhabit this land for hundreds of years. Given the dense network of lakes and navigable creeks, embark on a canoe ride which is, by far, the best way to get close to the abundant wildlife in this jungle utopia. Catch sight of the pink river dolphins, giant river otters, manatees, tapirs, caiman crocodiles and 15 monkey species that call this sanctuary home. Enjoy a day-tour of this varied and fascinating ecosystem, or spend time in an eco-lodge to get the most out of Cuyabeno.
Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador, Hiking
The Quilotoa Loop: Ecuador's Must-Do Hiking Experience
Stretching from the Panamerican Highway far into the Cotopaxi district, the Quilotoa Loop is a paradise of unrivaled vistas, best explored by hiking or driving. As you travel along the Loop by foot or by car, you will encounter vibrant indigenous markets, a beautiful blue lake, a community of painters dedicated to preserving the legends of the Andes, and the Kichwa-speaking native tribes with their centuries-old way of life. The Quilotoa Loop offers excellent hiking trails, which can be customized into one or several days. This splendid region rewards its visitors with a beautiful, tranquil, blue-green colored lake up at the summit, best viewed in the early morning hours before the clouds start to show up. Get ready to be awestruck by the magnificent, high, jagged peaks and the sierra vegetation. Lodging is also offered at several villages along the Quilotoa Loop. Travel Tip: Carry your money with you for cash-only transactions; no ATMs here. Take a guide, or a very good map. Leave your Wifi craving behind.
Ecuador - Cruise the Galapagos: Meet the Tortoises at Charles Darwin Station
Cruise the Galapagos: Meet the Tortoises at Charles Darwin Station
A must do for any nature-enthusiast is to go to the Galapagos is to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, situated in the Puerto Ayora province of Santa Cruz Island. Established in 1959 with a heavy focus on conservation of tortoises and other threatened species, this research station engages over 200 scientists and volunteers to work on the conservation programs, most notably the breeding efforts of giant tortoises. Educate yourself about the incubation of the baby-tortoises, their hatching cycle and growth stages, and get close encounters with these gentle Galapagos giants that roughly weigh around 500 pounds. Other attractions include several land iguanas, and the efforts undertaken for the preservation of their population on the islands. Head over to the museum to watch an informational documentary, enlightening you about the research lab’s mission and various conservatory initiatives. Tip: this is not as intellectual as it sounds. It is engaging, fascinating and fun, a perfect activity for all, families and kids alike.
Ecuador - Montañita: Ecuador's Best Surfing Beach
Montañita: Ecuador's Best Surfing Beach
From its origins as a hippie destination in the 1960s to its present day avatar as a surfing paradise, the beachfront town of Montañita has been drawing tourists with its exceptional golden shorelines over the decades. Translated as “little hill”, Montañita has been in the limelight for its thrilling surfing adventures, attracting champions (and rank amateurs) from all over the globe. Situated in the Santa Elena province, approximately 110 miles northwest of Guayaquil, this coastal town boasts a laidback attitude and a bohemian nightlife vibe. Scenic shorelines, world-famous beach resorts, plenty of sun, fishing, water-sports and just all-round fun, Montañita is the ideal beach destination for any family or group of friends looking to unwind, immerse themselves in Ecuadorian culture, and enjoy the wild beauty of the Pacific Ocean.
Ecuador - Otavalo Market: Where Ecuador's Artisans Meet
Otavalo Market: Where Ecuador's Artisans Meet
Known locally as Paza de los Ponchos, the Otavalo Market (that's what the tourists call it) is a buzzing enclave of centuries-old artisan practices. While the market is open everyday, Saturday is the best day (followed by Wednesday), when all of the market comes to life. You could buy up a storm of (or merely browse and be dazzled by the colours of) textiles, blankets, art-filled wall hangings, exquisite weavings, tapestries, alpaca-wool sweaters and everything in between, making this the largest and finest craft market in the entire continent. Apart from the merchandise, Otavalo is full of amazing restaurants and cafes serving Ecuadorian and international fare; its flashy sidewalks, adorned in red, yellow and blue colorfully reflect the country’s national flag. Surround yourself with this vibrant atmosphere of an open-air market, or celebrate in the weekly Gods of Commerce fiesta (an intriguing name, and best experienced first-hand!) while in Otavalo.
Tortuga Bay, galápagos, Ecuador, Beach, marine Iguana
Cruise the Galapagos: Sail to Tortuga Bay
Although the entire Galapagos Archipelago is a naturalist’s wonderland, boasting hundreds of beaches and other small islets all teeming with unique wildlife, Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz Island ranks one of the best for its picturesque beach. Just a 20-minute walk from the main dock of Puerto Ayora, Tortuga has an extensive, white-sand shoreline with crystal-clear waters that are ideal for snorkeling with turtles (hence the name), lots of iguanas, thousands of reef fish and even manta rays. There is also a separate cove, kept open for visitors to enjoy a swim, where it is common to spot the white-tipped sharks (not at all dangerous to humans). Lay back and soak in the sun on this beautiful beach which you will share with marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and the Galapagos Crabs.

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