Traveling Ecuador's four regions

13/Enero/2012 | 12:15

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Ecuador has nine national parks and 24 protected areas.  It has 12 volcanoes with peaks over 16,000 feet.  Though it is about the size of the state of New Mexico, it contains 10% of the Earth's animal and plant species.

Ecuador is divided into four distinct regions:  Amazon, Sierra, Coast, and the Galapagos Islands.  Though you could theoretically visit all four regions in one day, to truly experience any one of these areas requires you to stay a while.

Years could be spent  traveling through Ecuador, visiting the many hideaways that offer guests comfort and escape or adventure and discovery.  

Those with an orientation for adventure and exploration might seek Spanish-colonial 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 in one 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 way to discover, among other things,  Ecuador's greatest haciendas.

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 south of the country.

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

But the sierra of Ecuador is home also to two of its three largest cities – Quito, the capital, 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 architecture dating back hundreds of years.


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 region, 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 1,500 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

The Galapagos Islands consist of almost 700,000 hectares of volcanic formation.  One thousand kilometers off the coast of Ecuador the Galapagos are composed of 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. 

When visiting the Galapagos you have two great options for accommodations.  You 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 Aroyo 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).

The Sun Route covers the coast of Ecuador stretching from the peninsula of Santa Elena to Puerto Cayo en Manabi Province. 

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

As a promotional  effort by the Ecuadorean government, the Spondylus Trail attempts to show visitors that 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.  

Continuing south the smaller towns like Ayambe, Olón, and Montañita offer more  laid back destinations before reaching the Santa Elena Peninsula with popular beach resorts for the masses in the coastal city of Salinas.

South of Guayaquil, 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.  Disover this part of Ecuador before everyone else does.

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