There are few places in the world that can rival Ecuador’s nature, its historical importance to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and the warmth of the local people who love getting to know their country’s visitors.
1. Quito cuisine
Choclo is a delicious, supersized corn usually served with salty cheese and is perfect alongside ceviche, a diced dish of fresh, raw fish tossed with lime juice, chopped onions and herbs. Kick back in the sun with a cold local beer and, if you’re feeling game for a main, try ordering the cuy: roasted guinea pig with potatoes and vegetables.
2. Stunning scenery in Vilcabamba
Get way off the beaten path in the village of Vilcabamba, and experience the countryside’s serenity as you walk around town and take in the fresh mountain air. Then head to Podocarpus National Park, which is home to a huge range of diverse animal and plant species, including Spectacled Bears, Jaguars, and the vibrant Andean cock-of-the-rock bird.
3. Galapagos Islands
Head to the Galapagos Islands and connect with nature in the most ideal way possible: by swimming with cute, playful sea lions and a plethora of colourful fish in a biodiverse environment of such importance, that it prompted Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Bright red crabs, marine iguanas which look like miniature black dragons, blue-footed boobies, and the largest species of tortoise in the world are just a few of the amazing animals you’ll see. A visit here is life-changing. Period.
4. Guayaquil’s colourful streets (and delicious eats)
Tasting your way through Ecuador’s largest city is a good way to get acquainted with the local food. Guayaquil, at night, will draw you in with sweet and savoury aromas belonging to empanadas de viento (fried cheese pastries topped with sugar), carne en palito (beef skewers cooked with local herbs), and morocho, a sweet, warm drink made from milk, cracked corn, raisins and cinnamon.
5. Otavalo Market
Colourful quilts, bags, scarves, beanies, wooden crafts and leather goods await you. It’s a great place to shop for something special that you won’t find anywhere else (or in my case, a good spot to go for a snack and a few replacement t-shirts when you’re too lazy to wash anything). Genuine llama wool products can be found for a fraction of what they cost back home, and they’ll keep you super warm as you make your way a few thousand metres above sea level.
6. Discovering Cuenca
This is one of the prettiest cities you’ll ever lay eyes on, and for this reason, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the magnificent dome-topped churches, take a stroll around ancient streets and through the small, palm tree-fringed squares, and if you’re on an Intrepid trip, stop by Jodoco Belgian Brew for an afternoon drink and some fried camembert with your new friends. Have a little cash to spare in the evening? If so, you can’t go past the traditional cuisine at Tiesto’s which, while a bit on the pricey side, is worth every penny, even though you’ll feel bad for eating the perfectly-presented dessert which borders on artisan.
7. Climb an active volcano
If you’ve come this far to the Galapagos Islands, then you might as well strap on your hiking boots and climb up the rocky Sierra Negra Volcano, which takes around five or six hours, depending on your fitness level. On a clear day, the expansive views really make you appreciate the little space you occupy in the world, so take your time, soak it in and when you get back down, cool off at the beach and take it easy.
8. Quito street art
Historic architecture is amazing and can teach us so much about the country’s past, but equally as cool is the ever-changing state of contemporary street art. Quito is one of the most underrated—if talked about at all—street art scenes. Wealthy cities such as New York, Berlin, and Tokyo are revered by the masses, but if walking aimlessly around South American cities such as Quito taught me anything, it’s that the continent is home to eye-catching works better than anything I’ve seen in the classically regarded cities.
What was originally planned as a few days turned into a month of adventures across Ecuador. Intrepid offers the kind of trip I wish I knew about at the time, which hits the best hot spots and some of the lesser-known gems you’ll be sure to remember. Grab a friend and lock in a date, or ride solo and make some new friends; who knows, maybe someone will even try the cuy with you?!
Explore the highlights of Ecuador on a small group adventure with Intrepid now.
Feature image by Mirae Campbell.