Sizing up Ecuador

24/Julio/2012 | 09:09

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Ecuador's small size is no indication of its enormous natural and geographical wealth.  Though it is about the size of the U.S State of New Mexico, Ecuador contains 10% of the Earth's animal and plant species.  It has nine national parks and more than 40 protected areas.  And with 12 volcanoes with peaks over 16,000 feet Ecuador offers some of the hemisphere’s most breathtaking scenery. 

Divided into four distinct regions -   Amazon, Andes, Coast, and the Galapagos Islands - visitors travel through multiple ecosystems every day but to truly appreciate the different regions of the country requires that one stay for a while.

Those with an orientation for adventure and exploration might seek old haciendas in the heart of the Andes or jungle lodges in the Amazon Basin.   And anyone liking the open sea is drawn to the coastal resorts or the number of small hotels on the Galapagos Islands.

But if you are not an island-jumper, a beach comber, a mountain climber, or a jungle rat, then perhaps a stay in one of the many boutique hotels  of Ecuador's major cities awaits you,  where you can tour Spanish-colonial America while shopping and dining at your own pace.


The distance from Ecuador's northern border to its southern limits is 1081km.  In the heart of the country is a valley, approximately one-third of that distance, which contains Ecuador's nine highest peaks, all of which are over 5,000 meters.

The valley, known as the Avenue of the Volcanoes - a term coined by an explorer, Alexander Von Humbolt, in 1802 - is a way to discover, among other things, Ecuador's greatest haciendas.  Many are centuries old and some date back to the time of the Incas.

There are many more corridors and trails throughout the Andes which visitors discover every day.

The flower trail is a tourism initiative jointly-sponsored by the Tourism Ministry of Ecuador and the Association of Flower Exporters (Expoflores) that integrates the rich experiences of the Andes with the region's flower production.

The Qhapaq Ñan, is a network of trails that connected the Incan Empire 500 years ago, some of which still exist in the southern half of the country.

And the Ecuadorian railway, which is slowly being restored from the coast to Quito, offers a chance to step back in time by enjoying small day trips with amazing scenery aboard an original turn of the century train.

But the mountains of Ecuador are home also to two of its three largest cities – Quito and Cuenca - both designated as world heritage sites by the United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  In these cities visitors experience Spanish-colonial America with its abundance of churches, museums, and time period architecture.



The Amazon region of Ecuador contains almost half of all of Ecuador's land (48%) but only a fraction of its population (5%).   When we talk about the biodiversity and ecological richness of Ecuador, we are talking about the Amazon basin, where you can find more species of plants and animals in a few acres of Ecuadorian rainforest than in all of North America.

Ecuador is estimated to have ten percent of all plant and animal species on the planet, including more than 1,600 species of bird, 400 reptiles and amphibians, and for the orchid lovers: 4,125 varieties.

Exploring the jungle to sample the diversity, though, does not mean you have to rough it.  Though some of the greatest jungle lodges in Ecuador are reached only by canoe, your stay can be one of luxury and comfort.   And though you have all the comforts of the city (hot water, gourmet food, cell phone coverage, and Internet), Ecuador's amazing wildlife can be encountered with a short walk from your jungle paradise.

Galapagos Islands

Sitting 1,000km (600 miles) off the coast of mainland Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands consist of almost 700,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) of volcanic formation among its 13 major islands, 6 minor islands, and 42 islets. Though they are not a lush tropical paradise, they represent one of the world's most important and protected regions.  More than 97% of its land and water mass are safeguarded.

UNESCO declared the Galapagos Islands a world heritage site in 1978 and a biosphere reserve in 1985.  The Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) was established in 1986 to protect 133,000 square km around the islands, making it the second largest marine reserve in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  And In 1991 UNESCO also declared GMR a natural heritage site.

Commercial fishing is prohibited within 40 nautical miles of the islands.  Shark fishing was outlawed more than 20 years ago, and since 1992 the islands are recognized internationally as a whale sanctuary.  All of this has translated to a haven for sea life and one of the riches diving experience on the globe.

When visiting the Galapagos visitors have two great options for accommodations. They can stay aboard one of the many touring boats or small cruise ships that tour the islands or stay put in a seaside hotel.  Those who stay in Port Ayora on Santa Cruz Island or Port Villamil on Isabela can make day excursions to see the marine life and return to dry land in the evenings.


Most of the length of the Ecuadorian coast is defined by two routes: the Sun Route (Ruta del Sol) & the Spondylus Trail (Ruta del Spondylus).  Together the cover most of the coast starting from Esmeraldas Province in the north to the Santa Elena Peninsula en the south.

Popular stops in the north include Esmeraldas, Tonsupa, and Atacames, which segue to smaller villages like Mompiche and Canoa before reaching Bahía  de Caraquez.

As a promotional effort by the Ecuadorean government, the Spondylus Trail attempts to show visitors that the Ecuadorian coast is more than just beaches.  Coastal tourism also includes archaeology, artisan crafts, rich coastal food, eco-tourism, adventure tourism, agro-tourism, sports, nature, and community-based tourism.

As you make your way along the Spondylus Trail you will discover Machalilla National Park,   a launch pad for the summer's most interesting ocean activity, whale watching.  Smaller towns like Ayambe, Olón, and Montañita offer more laid back destinations for activities such as surfing, while the  Santa Elena Peninsula has popular beach resorts for the masses in the coastal city of Salinas.

South of Guayaquil – beyond those well-defined touristm trails, in the Province of El Oro, is the still-to-be discovered and hopefully never to be fully developed islands of Jambeli – a puzzle of mangroves and beaches carved up by estuaries and reached only by boat from Hualtaco.  Discover this part of Ecuador before everyone else does.

For more information on Ecuador tourism visit:


City Guides



Ciudad Quito

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lbrashear - en Diario HOY - Noticias de Ecuador.