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Discovering Ecuador

There is much more to Ecuador than the Galpagos. The mainland is South America condensed into a
brilliant bite-sized package it has the wildlife, the mountains, the rainforest and even the Inca heritage,
all in easy reach. Indeed, Ecuador is small but perfectly formed, and here are a few of the mustnt miss
highlights.
Quito. Once a major center of the Inca empire, Quito was razed to the ground in the 16th century, the Inca
preferred to see it burn than fall into Spanish hands. The Spanish built a new city and today, Ecuadors
capital is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with a beautiful colonial heart. Stroll the cobbled streets and
atmospheric plazas of the old town, and nose into the churches, monasteries and museums. For
spectacular views, take the telefrico up Pichincha volcano.
Highlands. The Andes run the length of Ecuador. There are 28 volcanoes, many of which are active, ten of
them are over 5,000m. The peaks are best viewed along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, between Quito
and colonial Cuenca. Symmetrical, snow-capped Cotopaxi (5,897m) is Ecuadors second-highest summit.
Chimborazo (6,268m) is the highest and, due to its location near the equator and the planets curvature,
the volcanos summit is the farthest point on the earths surface from the earths center. To the north of
Quito, the town of Otavalo is a must-see. The Otavaleos are distinctivemany still wear native dress, the
men in blue ponchos, white trousers and long pigtails, the women in white embroidered blouses and long
skirts. The market here is famous, but there are other lesser-known indigenous markets the length of the
highlands.
Cloud forest. Found on the steep slopes of the Andes, the cool and moist Ecuadorian cloud forest is home
to a huge range of ora and fauna. Just two and a half hours from Quito, Mindo is the main base for
exploring this habitat. It has accommodation for all budgets, from the simple to the gorgeous. Walk,
mountain bike or horse-ride while keeping a lookout for hummingbirds, Andean cock-of-the-rock and
spectacled bears are some of the popular activities here.
Jungle. Known simply as El Oriente (the East), the Ecuadorian Amazon covers around a third of the
country and is one of the most biologically diverse regions on earth, home to a wide array of wildlife. You
can stay in some excellent eco-lodges, many of which are run by indigenous communitiestry the
Huaorani, Sacha, Kapawior Napo Lodges. Alternatively, take a river cruise. The wildlife can be frustratingly
difficult to see compared with the Galpagos but with luck you will spot caiman, giant otters, river
dolphins, monkeys and a huge range of bird life. Some lodges have canopy walkways and watchtowers.
Christian Stewart is an adventurer, blogger and a contributor of vacation-now.com, a website which offers
vacation rentals and holiday homes from all across the globe.

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