JeffreyRosenkrantz
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March 31, 2023

Ecuador: Latin America's Hidden Gem

With the many countries that make up South America, it is unlikely Ecuador is the first that comes to mind, though it likely should. This small nation is often overshadowed by the likes of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia despite offering even more diversity and natural wonder in a fraction of the space. Ecuador is not only located along its namesake (the Equator) but also stretches into the Amazon Rainforest, is home to many active volcanoes along the Andes which straddles the Pacific Ocean, and also includes the remote Galapagos Islands. Ecuador is also home to the mountain whose summit is furthest from the center of the planet.

Geography

With the Andes mountain range running through the center of the country in a north to south configuration, elevations changes are massive in Ecuador. To the east of the mountains in the start of the Amazon river basin and its tropical climate. To the west of the range is a more mild climate as the land steps down toward to the cooler waters of the ocean. Situated among the summits, Quito holds the title of second-highest capital city in the world, with neighboring Bolivia's La Paz taking the number one spot. With the higher elevation, the largest city is actually Guayaquil rather than Quito. Other notable cities include Cuenca and Banos de Agua Termales.

Quito

Many government buildings overlook Independence Square

Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and is situated high in the Andes Mountains, at an altitude of 2,850 meters (9,350 feet). With its historic center, Quito has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is a melting pot of different cultures, with a mix of indigenous, colonial, and modern influences. Visitors to Quito can explore the city's many attractions, including the stunning La Compañía de Jesús Church, the impressive Gothic-style Basilica del Voto Nacional, and the panoramic views of the city from the top of El Panecillo hill. The city is also home to many museums, including the Museo del Banco Central, which showcases the country's rich cultural heritage, and the Guayasamin Museum, which features the works of renowned Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Guayasamín. Quito is a great place to experience the history and culture of Ecuador, as well as to use as a starting point for exploring the rest of the country as there are many buses available from the city.

Banos de Agua Termales

A short climb up the mountain provides an amazing view of the city below

Banos de Agua Termales is a charming town in the Andes known for its thermal baths, waterfalls, and adventure activities. The town is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains and is an ideal place to relax and enjoy the surrounding natural beauty. The town is famous for its hot springs, and there are many different pools to choose from, including those with hot and cold water, as well as saunas and steam rooms. Visitors can also take a dip in the thermal waters of the nearby waterfall, Pailon del Diablo. For those seeking adventure, the area also offers activities such as canyoning, mountain biking, and white-water rafting. Chiva Tours are the preferred method to discover the area.

Like other Latin American towns, the church is the central landmark in Banos

Aside from its natural beauty, Banos de Agua Termales is also known for its rich history and culture. The town was founded in the 16th century and has a rich colonial past that is evident in its architecture and museums. One notable attraction is the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water, which features a beautiful mural of the town's patron saint. Visitors can also learn about the indigenous cultures of the region at the Casa del Arbol Cultural Center, which hosts workshops and exhibits showcasing traditional arts and crafts. Additionally, Banos de Agua Termales is famous for its delicious cuisine, particularly its traditional sweets and desserts made from local fruits and ingredients.

Amazon Region

Puyo is known as The Gateway to the Amazon

Ecuador's Amazon region is a vast and diverse area that covers almost half of the country's territory. The region is characterized by its humid and tropical climate, which provides the perfect habitat for a plethora of unique plant and animal species. One of the best places to experience the Amazon's wonders is in the city of Puyo, known as the gateway to the Amazon. Puyo offers visitors an authentic experience of the Amazonian rainforest, with many guided tours that allow visitors to explore its stunning natural beauty and learn about the indigenous cultures that inhabit the region.

Viator

In addition to the guided tours, visitors can also choose to stay in a jungle lodge, which provides a unique and immersive experience of the rainforest. These lodges are typically situated deep in the forest and offer visitors an opportunity to observe and interact with the local wildlife, including monkeys, birds, and even jaguars. For those who prefer a more controlled environment, the Puyo Zoo is an excellent place to learn about the region's wildlife. The zoo is home to over 70 different species of animals, including rare and endangered species such as the giant otter, tapir, and Amazonian manatee. A visit to the Amazon region of Ecuador is an unforgettable experience that offers a unique and immersive encounter with nature and culture.

Galapagos Islands

Galapagos most famous residence is the Giant Tortoise

We cannot forget about the legendary natural wonder of the Galapagos Islands when talking about this incredible country. This small archipelago located 1000km off-shore is the result of a volcanic hotspot, the same way in which the Hawaiian islands were formed. With three major ocean currents converging around the islands, the area has become a sanctuary for many amazing creatures, many of which are endemic to the region. The cool ocean currents provide ample nutrients to sustain a large diversity in flora and fauna. The unique conditions found here allowed for Charles Darwin’s almost real-time observance in evolution which was the catalyst for leading sciences toward the theory.

Blue Footed Boobies are one of the more unique species found in the Galapagos

Visiting the islands today should be on everybody’s bucket list. Not only is the ability to enjoy encounters with such unique wildlife, but the scenery is also breathtaking with gorgeous turquoise waters, white (and black) sand beaches, and very comfortable weather all year. The locals who inhabit the islands are also incredibly kind and welcoming to all visitors.

Marine Iguanas are endemic to the Galapagos Islands

In conclusion, Ecuador is a hidden gem that is often overlooked by travelers. Its diverse geography offers everything from high mountain peaks to lush jungle landscapes and stunning beaches. Whether you're interested in hiking, wildlife, or simply soaking in natural hot springs, there's something for everyone in Ecuador. And if you're lucky enough to visit the Galapagos Islands, you'll have an experience like no other. So why not add Ecuador to your travel bucket list today?

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