Travel the Coast of South America
The Spanish speaking country of Ecuador is on the northwest coast of South America. Its main attractions are the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon River and the capital city of Quito situated high in the Andes. Although it straddles the Equator, temperatures remain fairly cool due to the cool ocean currents on the coast, and the high altitude in the Andes. Year-round temperatures vary from 6-25°C (42-77°F) with a heavy rainy season from December to May. However, climates vary widely across the country. The High Andes are cooler and drier than the more tropical coast and the Amazon rain forest is warm and wet all year round with heavy afternoon showers. The Galapagos Islands remain warm and dry throughout the year with average temperatures of 27°C (81°F).
The Galapagos Islands are an incredible archipelago of volcanic islands. Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador where two main ocean currents collide, the wildlife species that washed ashore had to evolve to survive the harsh conditions and are not found anywhere else. Blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, land and marine iguanas and unique species of finches and other birds can only be found here, along with more common sea lions, sharks, penguins and other marine life.
The islands’ wildlife inspired Darwin’s Theory of Evolution after his visit, and his ideas on the Origin of the Species were published in 1859. One thing that makes these animals so special is that they have no fear of humans and visitors will be delighted by the opportunities for close-up encounters with these unique creatures.
Ecuador’s capital city of Quito is the highest capital city in the world. It is situated 9,350 feet (2,800 meters) above sea level on the slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano in the Andes. Despite its remote location it has a population of over 2.2 million people.
Visitors to Quito can explore its well-preserved historic district, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 5,000 heritage buildings including Carondelet Palace, the government headquarters. The city has many noteworthy churches, a cathedral, a huge craft market and some beautiful urban parks. Breathtaking views of the city and surrounding peaks can be enjoyed from the TeleferiQo cable car which carries visitors over the valleys at an altitude of 13,500 feet (4,100 meters). Beyond the city there is the famous Avenue of Volcanoes, cloud forests, wildlife refuges and national parks to explore on foot, by bus or train.
Otavalo is another important Andean city, best known for its Saturday market which has been trading for over 4000 years and little seems to have changed since. Souvenirs include locally grown coffee beans, pottery, handmade jewelry, colorful woven cloth and carved wooden figures. The Panama hat was also originally made in Ecuador and exported to Panama where it was renamed the Panama hat.
Adventurers will want to visit Banos de Agua Santa and see Volcano Tungurahua as it continues to throw ash and molten lava into the air. The hot springs are a refreshing experience after a day of trekking, rafting and mountain climbing. Beach lovers will find some beautiful beaches along the northwest Ecuadorian coast in the Esmeraldas province. There are excellent surf conditions from December to May and warm sunshine at any time.