Equador is a common country to combine with vacation to Colombia (which, incidentally, has far more travel highlights). Overland travel by bus, from Pasto over the border to northern Equador, is a common route that should only be undertaken during daylight hours (due to safety precautions). Alternatively, there are flights between Equador and Colombia with a range of airlines including Avianca, Aerolineas Galapogas and Lan Equador.
Equador Travel Highlights
Equador's capital city Quito is often many tourists first port of call in the country. There's a fine colonial quarter to explore, good nightlife and restaurants and a range of excellent Spanish schools. Equador is one of South America's most popular countires for learning Spanish. Quito has fine colonial hotels in the old town, and more modern luxury hotels in the Mariscal area. There are interesting day tours that can be taken from Quito, other than a Quito city tour - consider the cable car ride, or tours to Cotopaxi volcano, the indigenous market of Otavalo or the hot springs of Papallacta. Cotopaxi volcano can be climbed by those interested in mountaineering and trekking - for those that don't seek such an adventurous travel experience, the refuge can be visited on a tour, and there are many trekking options in the National Park. Cotopaxi is just 2 hours overland travel south of Quito. Travel north from Quito to the Indigenous market of Otavalo, where Indians congregate every Saturday for a famous market. It's worth booking a hotel in Otavalo for the previous night as the best time to visit the market is early in the morning. Papallacta, a 90 minute journey east of Quito, has fine hot springs and the area is also a good base for birdwatching tours.
There are also numerous rainforest lodges and jungle tours within easy access of Quito. Simplest is the two hour overland travel to Mindo, an excellent area for birdwatching. Mindo is Equador's birdwatching highlight, though there are also plenty of options for canopy tours, horseriding and trekking in the rainforest in addition. There are many fine rainforest lodges in the Mindo area, and birdwatchers could easily spend a few nights in a number of them. More traditional for rainforest tours in Equador is a visit to the Amazon region. Equador's Amazon has various ecotourism projects and luxury ecolodges providing an opportunity to practice responsible tourism. Tours and activities in the Amazon include fishing, caiman spotting, jungle tours, wildlife watching and interacting with indigenous tribes.
North of Quito, Esmeraldas province is a rarely visited region but one that has rich African culture and more rainforest tours available. There are also beach resorts available at travel attractions such as Atacames, which has particularly great nightlife during Equador's carnival.
Most tourists head south of Quito on their vacation to Equador. The "Avenue of the Volcanoes" has numerous small towns and markets that are worth visiting - such as those of Riobamba and Latacunga. It's common to travel by train in this part of Equador - the Chiva Express operated by Metropolitan Touring is a fine journey through the small towns and villages of rural Equador. There's many fine small hotels and haceiendas in this part of Equador, along with trekking and horseriding options. Further South in Equador's Andean highlands one finds the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca. Cuenca is a small university city and there are interesting Inca ruins near Cuenca at Ingapirca. Cuenca also has a Panama hat factory that can be visited on your tour of Equador.
Equador's coastal region has many fine small beach resorts. Atacames is popular with Equadorean tourists, while further South Montanita is a great place to chill out for a few days on your Equador vacation. There are also whale watching tours available during the right season - Puerto Ayora is a good base to organise such whale watching trips. Equador's largest city, Guayaquil, is on the coast. There are good beaches nearby (some 90 minutes travel) in spots such as Salinas (not to be confused with the highland town of Salinas, which is well known for it's community development projects). Guayaquil has many fine restaurants and a buzzing nightlife scene, in addition to being gateway for vacations to the Galapogas Islands.
Ecuador's Galapogas Islands are the top vacation highlight in the country. A trip to the Galapogas Islands is all about wildlife watching at close quarters, and the most common way to visit is by Galapogas Islands cruise. Many cruise ships offer short three night tours of the islands, but to really get a feel for this amazing travel destination it's best to spend seven nights on vacation here. Most cruise ship operators have a seven night cruise - this is the most common means of vacationing here. While most Galapogas Islands cruises are not cheap (the majority of the boats are luxury cruise liners), a few last minute bargains can be found if you find a tour operator in Quito that offers them. An alternative suitable for those on a tight budget would be to book a Galapogas Islands hotel. There are a rnge of hotels for all budgets in Equador's Galapogas Islands - and most can arrange tours to the outer islands when you stay. All in all, the best way to have a vacation in the Galapogas Islands is to take a cruise, as you'll see far more wildlife.