South America

9 Highlights in Ecuador and Galápagos

Are you fascinated by cities, jungles, mountains and the sea? Do you want to experience a lot on vacation, but also relax in between? Would you like to observe animals up close and learn something about them? Then you are in the right place in Ecuador. On a trip through the South American country with a detour to the Galápagos Islands, you get all of this.

On my first visit to Ecuador I had to take a deep breath. It’s hard to believe, but you have to get used to the mountain air after landing in Quito – even if you are young. After all, the city is at an altitude of 2,850 meters. If you have the altitude adjustment behind you, nothing stands in the way of a great trip. You can read in the following article which of the sights of Ecuador are among my 9 highlights.

1. Excursions to the Cotopaxi volcano

Just for the sight of the Cotopaxis, with its beautiful cone shape and the white, snow-covered tip, the journey to the plateau of Ecuador is worthwhile. With a height of almost 6,000 meters, it is one of the highest active volcanoes on earth. If you find yourself in this unreal landscape, you will be offered a lot.

One of my highlights at Cotopaxi is definitely a riding tour at Cotopaxi. Although many of my group are sitting on a horse for the first time, it is a lot of fun for all of us. The horses are extremely sure-footed and know exactly where to go. So you can sit comfortably even without riding experience and marvel at the incredible nature without having to worry about falling off your horse in the next bend. If you are lucky, you can even see the famous Condor here, which is circling at this height!

Of course, I can also recommend climbing the volcano. It’s an experience I’m happy to have. Since this is my first time at such an altitude, I clearly notice the lack of oxygen and decide not to climb all the way to the summit. The weather doesn’t play along either, so the view from above wouldn’t be terrific either. But if you are fit and have the right equipment with you, you should definitely dare to climb the summit. When the weather is clear, the view should be phenomenal.

2. The city of Quito and the equator

Most travelers end up in the highest capital in the world – Quito. The city itself is a colorful mix of tradition and modernity. I particularly like the old town with its numerous churches and the basilica, as I always want to get an insight into the culture of a country when traveling. So that you don’t get your feet sore on your sightseeing tour, with the large number of historical buildings, there are numerous colonial places where you can rest and watch the hustle and bustle. On my way there is also the San Francisco Market, at whose stalls you can stock up on delicious fruits, vegetables or dishes. I always find it really exciting to see how different fruit can taste that you actually know from home.

In addition to sightseeing in Quito, I would like to recommend a detour to the equator, 20 kilometers away. The visit is definitely one of my 9 highlights in Ecuador and the Galápagos. I visit the Intiñan Museum, which tells a lot about the indigenous people and history of Ecuador. You will be informed about hunting behavior and get an insight into the rituals of the different tribes. I was particularly fascinated by the experiments that are carried out for visitors on the recorded equatorial line. Admittedly, not all of them are particularly scientific, but it’s still a lot of fun when you B. can watch in which direction next to and on the line the water drains from a basin.

3. Overnight stay with a host family

What I can recommend to every Ecuador traveler is an overnight stay with a host family. I drive to an indigenous community near San Clemente. I am warmly welcomed by the hosts and there are many opportunities to ask questions and learn something about country life, traditions and history. I can even try on the typical costume.

For communication it is of course an advantage if you speak a little Spanish, but otherwise the hosts will go to great lengths to communicate. So I spend the night in the community, so that I don’t feel that touristy anymore. The next morning we prepare breakfast together and I am looking forward to this experience, together with the indigenous people, to immerse myself in the Ecuadorian country life.

4. Colonial flair in the city of Cuenca

Cuenca is just beautiful. For that reason alone, it is one of my 9 highlights in Ecuador and Galápagos. Unlike in many South American cities, everything here is so clean, quiet, well-kept and colorful. In addition, the climate is very pleasant for us Europeans – one more reason to pay a visit to the city as a traveler. There is a lively artist scene in Cuenca. Many cafes are individually designed so that there is a lot to discover and you could actually take leisurely breaks in the cafes all day long. But of course there is too much to see for that. B. the colonial buildings in the old town. The historic center of Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.

If you want to find out more about the Panama hat, you can visit a hat manufacture in Cuenca and see how it is braided here. The hat does not come from Panama, as the name suggests, but from Cuenca in Ecuador!

5. Bathe in the river with piranhas

Scary because my leg is gnawed off within seconds? Yes, that comes to my mind when the locals say, we can all cool off a bit and jump into the cloudy, brown water from a jetty. I have to say that a few meters further on the jetty are anglers who pull the small, biting fish with their sharp teeth from the river every minute. But well, the locals have to know and so I just jump into the water with a queasy feeling.

In retrospect, it’s a very educational experience for me. I found out what happens when you step into the water with the little monsters – namely absolutely nothing! None of the piranhas even sucked, let alone nibbled, my toe. So don’t believe prejudices too quickly… With this adrenaline rush, the experience is definitely one of my 9 highlights in Ecuador and Galápagos.

6. Spend the night in the jungle, completely secluded from any civilization

Of course not directly in the open air, that might be a bit uncomfortable, but for example in a jungle lodge. The lodge that I have chosen can only be reached by a small propeller plane and not by road. And then you’re not even there. Getting out of the plane means getting into the longboat and we continue on the river.

Once at the lodge, there are really absolutely no signs of civilization left. Still, it is not quiet as one might suspect. The sounds of the jungle get louder with every meter, the deeper we dive into the dense green. I am very lucky to be able to observe two of the endangered pink river dolphins on my longboat ride. But there are also tons of birds, insects and reptiles here. In any case, a unique experience.

. Explore the “Los Tuneles” on the Galápagos

Galápagos in itself is worth the trip. Due to the long seclusion and the special protection under which the animals live there today, a very idiosyncratic environment has emerged. The small islands are a true paradise, especially for animal watchers and nature lovers. One of the most beautiful places for me and one of my 9 highlights in Ecuador and Galápagos are the Los Tuneles on the island of Isabela.

If the water is not that high, the lava tunnels that give the area its name protrude well out of the water and you can see them as tunnels from above. During a tour on land, we can get up close and personal with blue-footed boobies and their fluffy offspring in a small group. Since they are not hunted, they are not afraid of people and you get unique motifs in front of the lens. We can also observe the big marine iguanas and even penguins here. While snorkeling, I am very enthusiastic about the sea turtles, reef sharks, moray eels and many colorful fish. Some of the group can even see one of the giant manta rays. This luck is denied to me – I probably snorkeled at the wrong spot for that.

8. Giant tortoises on Santa Cruz

Who hasn’t heard of the giant tortoises of the Galápagos Islands ? This is of course what Galápagos is known for and I really want to see the animals when I visit the islands. But did you know that almost every island has a different subspecies of turtles? Depending on the food available, the neck and shell of the turtle are also different. If you look closely, you can quickly see the differences.

For me the fact alone is fascinating that such huge, slow animals could develop at all and have now been living on this earth for so long. And when I get the first look at the animals, I’m blown away. The leisurely herbivores are just nice to watch. When they are not sleeping, they are either eating or bathing.

9. Watch Galápagos sea lions play

The last of my 9 highlights in Ecuador and Galápagos is also on the Galápagos Islands. If you are on the islands and enjoy a free, unplanned day, you should definitely use it to watch the little sea lions play. They are lying around almost everywhere or waiting for some fresh leftovers next to the fishing boats. The sea lions are also not afraid of humans here, as they are also not allowed to be hunted.

This leads to intensive encounters between humans and animals. If you let the sea lions approach you, they may nudge you curiously. The young animals in particular are particularly playful and everything new is interesting. If they chase after small fish in the sea, I could watch the sea lions for hours. But even when they roll around on the beach asleep, they make me smile.

9 Highlights in Ecuador and Galápagos