As Seen in…
Places to visit in Ecuador and on our South American tours
Why visit Ecuador?
As you marvel at the iridescent Ecuadorian hillstar that hovers close by your cup of exquisite home-produced coffee, know that this extraordinary country is unrivalled as a natural paradise: it hosts a mind-boggling 15% of the world’s bird species, well over 4,500 species of butterfly, 106 endemic reptiles, 138 endemic amphibians and a rich array of mammals from spectacled bears to three-toed sloths and the Amazon rivers may even yield sightings of river dolphins.
Whilst the lush, green, rainy coastal strip is integral to the production of foodstuffs here, the truly iconic regions are the Andean mountain ranges and the upper reaches of the celebrated Amazon Basin. In La Sierra, the Amerinidian population holds sway and the capital Quito is a heady mix of colonial glory and Inca-indigenous vibrancy. Humans first migrated south here between 16,000 and 13,000 years ago from North America. When the Incas expanded their territory here, they met with fierce resistance from the entrenched locals and the Cayapas are still well represented ethnically and culturally, bearing witness to their tenacity against a foe who carried all before them in all other regions. Nonetheless, the 15th century A.D. saw gradual Inca dominance yet, again, uniquely, the two powerful civilisations learnt to co-exist on the mountain plateaux.
The Inca favoured Ecuador and expanded Quito as a secondary imperial capital, as well as establishing an infrastructure that wove the nation together. Yet by 1532, when the Spanish arrived over the Andes, a civil war of succession amongst the Incas meant that conquest was all too easy. Smallpox and forced labour camps played terrible havoc on the inhabitants, yet Spanish rule was ultimately successful in establishing towns and cities. The Inca has razed Quito after their emperor has been betrayed and killed and so it stands as a monument to Spanish development: the Catédral, glorious baroque masterpiece of San Francisco church and incomparable church of La Compania de Jesus (1605) are among the sacred examples, whilst the stateliness of the ivory edifices of Independence Plaza is a crowning glory of colonial architecture.
As was typical worldwide, the irresistible tide of nationalism at the start of the 1800s, coupled with moves to liberate slaves meant that cities began to rise up against their Spanish overlords so that by 1822, at the battle of Pichincha, independence was won. Briefly joining Gran Columbia, Ecuador forged its own national identity in 1830. The ensuing century saw much of the territory on its fringes lost to neighbours and wars with Peru were a perennial feature. Similar political vicissitudes saw the nation lurch from dictatorship to military junta and democracy. Since 1972, democracy has taken root and now Ecuador seeks to mine its rich vein of potential for tourism. The rainforest and cloud-forest offer endless opportunities for canoeing and hiking, following the river arteries to penetrate into some of the indigenous Quichua villages that welcome outsiders to experience a lifestyle that transcends the ages.
The walking opportunities are equally rewarding in the Andes, round crater lakes in the shadow of Cotopaxi volcano – ‘the neck of the moon’, whilst many prefer to ascend Chimborazo to the 5,000m Whymper hut and marvel at the literally breathtaking panoramas. The beating heart of this land remains it people – their markets, villages and holy places are shared with visitors in a spirit of hospitality and the knowledge that this is indeed a place worthy of their pride.