The splendors of Ecuador are far-reaching and unmatched the world over.
With wonderful cultural sites like the Museum of the Equator in Quito and the Galapagos Islands, there is no other place offering such varying environments. The culture is rich, the food is indigenous and the people are warm and closely tied to their roots. Here’s how to see Ecuador and the Galapagos in seven days, without missing a beat.
How to Get There from Las Vegas: There are currently no direct flights from Las Vegas to Ecuador. The best and fastest way to get to Ecuador is via LAX on TACA airlines. A great connection point is through Costa Rica but flights also run through El Salvador, and other locales (taca.com).
Day One: Charming Quito
Touching down in Quito, one feels transported to another place and time. The elevation is 9,200 miles above sea level. As a result the weather is a bit unpredictable with frequent warm, rain showers. Enjoy a day exploring the historic city center with a costumed guide telling the stories of significant residents (quitoeterno.org) or pay a visit to the Mitad del Mundo monument and the Museo de Sitio Solar de Intinan (english.museointinan.com.ec) where you can walk on the Equator and take part in fun activities and challenges that test the effects of gravity at this all-important energy point. Culinary options range from fluffy cheese empanadas to exotic dishes such as goat and guinea pig.
Hotel Recommendations: Swissotel Quito, reliable business friendly hotel with a great staff and modern amenities (swissotel.com); Plaza Grande, one of the first hotels in Quito this historic property is located in La Plaza de La Independencia (plazagrandequito.com)
Dining: Theatrum Restaurant, super modern elegant dining in the heart of the city (theatrum.com); El Crater de Pululahua, a restaurant with an incredible view of a volcanic crater, also boasts terrific food, great for lunch (elcrater.com)
Day Two: The Imbabura Province
After a day of city dwelling head out to the vast and beautiful natural lands of Ecuador. First stop is the Cayambe Otavalo indigenous market. Otavalo’s indigenous people make a beautiful array of crafts including colorful scarfs and wonderful shawls made of alpaca wool. This is a place to barter your heart out for all those great souvenirs you have been dying to buy. A bonus: wonderful leather goods at great prices.
Hotel Recommendations: La Mirage Garden & Spa, sleep like a queen or at least the queen of Spain (mirage.com.ec), at the only five-star hotel in the Imbabura Province which played host to the royal when she visited Ecuador. Viva la Sofia!
Day Three: Cotopaxi Province
The most intriguing part of Ecuador from a topographical and agricultural perspective is the Cotopaxi Province, which boasts the infamous Volcano route. It is here where adventurers can visit beautiful sites such as the Nevado Roses factory (nevadoroses.com). One of the most fascinating points in my journey was learning about how roses are colored, named and fragranced. Nevado is also the source of many of the flowers that are used in haute cuisine. Visit their website for recipes on how to cook organic with roses.
Hotel Recommendations: For a true taste of the Ecuadorian countryside, book a room at San Agustin de Callo (incahacienda.com), which was built on the site of an Incan palace and is one of two of the most significant ruins in all of Ecuador. An added bonus is the horses and the friendly pack of wandering alpacas.
Day Four: Azuay Province
Located in the highlands of Ecuador, this province features many interesting tourist zones to explore. For an once-in-a-lifetime adventure through the thrilling curves of pre-modern train travel take a ride on Nariz del Diablo, or the devil’s nose. The Devil’s Nose Train Ecuador is one of the country’s most famous attractions. The journey begins in Riobamba, which is approximately 9,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. This train climbs steep cliffs, rolls over rickety old tracks, and experiences sudden drops, all to delight of thrill-seeking passengers. After this escapade, trek to the Homero Ortega Factory in Cuenca, which is the famed Panama hat originates (homeroortega.com).
Day 5-7: Galapagos or Bust
After spending the evening in Cuenca its time to drive 4 hours to Guayaquil. The perfect departure point for the trip to the Galapagos Islands, the area for which Ecuador is most known. Board a 2.5-hour flight and land in Baltra. A trip to the Galapagos Islands is an unmatched experience and one of the most enchanting journeys one could ever take part in. The islands are uninhabited save for Santa Cruz. There are a multitude of cruise lines that make their way around the islands with voyages ranging on average from 4 to 7 days.
Here is a sample of what a three-day itinerary looks like offering amazing adventures that wait including Darwin finches, giant tortoises and fleets of iguanas forming surrealistic patterns.
Discover a fascinating moonscape formed by different volcanic parasitic cones—lava bombs, spatter, cinder cones—as you hike to the summit for impressive views of the surrounding islands, including the eroded tuff cone Pinnacle Rock. Encounter marine iguanas, and few lava lizards.
Beach time is a great opportunity to snorkel and see (perhaps swim with) Galapagos penguins, sea turtles and white‐tipped reef sharks among a great variety of colorful fish schools. The water here is generally clear, without too much surf and full of marine life.
Bahía de Urbina (Isabela Island) and Fernandina (Punta Espinosa)
Visit the fossil beach, volcanic ash beach and coral area. Depending on the season you may be able to observe giant tortoises, land iguanas and flightless cormorants.
Santiago (Puerto Egas)
Gaze at marine iguanas feeding upon algae beds alongside red sally light‐foot crabs. There is a colony of fur‐seals swimming in pools of cool water. This is a place where you can swim, snorkel and look for squid, starfish and a variety of colorful tropical fish.
Hike to a salt-water lagoon, where flamingos can sometimes be found. July through September is a good time to observe brown pelicans nesting in the salty bushes. Boobies and 9 species of Darwin’s finches can also be observed.
Santa Cruz (Charles Darwin Station)
Visit the Charles Darwin Station and meet “Lonely George” the last giant tortoise in Galápagos.
Day 8: Portside Sightseeing
Upon returning from the Galapagos, spend a day exploring the city of Guayaquil and enjoying its cosmopolitan cuisine. Carrying the title of the most populated city in Ecuador, Guayaquil offers travellers modern amenities to take comfort in after their journey to the center of the earth.
Hotel Recommendation: Hilton Guayaquil (Hilton.com)