Ecuador’s terrain rises rapidly inland from wide white sand beaches to heights that reach 20,000-feet above sea level. It’s one of the few places on earth where hikers can spend one day wading in ocean waters and the next at the end of a trail high above the clouds. But you don’t need alpine trekking skills to experience its natural splendor. A walking tour of Ecuador, through its cloud forest trails, sprawling rainforests, and low-lying jungles can be accomplished by hikers of all ages and experience.
Views of the majestic Andes Mountains are visible across a landscape of easily navigable hiking trails in the Andean Highlands. Here, visitors can travel by foot or on horseback across well-worn trails through windswept grasslands, encircling bright blue lakes formed by volcanic craters thousands of years ago.
Take a stroll through the bustling Otavalo Market—one of the largest outdoor craft markets in South America—where dozens of food vendors offer something for everyone: fresh baked breads, native fruits like pitaya and naranjilla, grilled plantains, chupe fish stew, and a variety of spit-fired meats. Just outside Otavalo, a clearly marked network of trails leads walkers across the rim of the dormant Cuicocha volcano.
Snorkeling opportunities abound at the beaches of San Cristobal in the Galápagos Islands, where tidepools teem with native sea life and shorelines are home to the families of giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and sea lions that were once famously observed by Charles Darwin.
In the Shadow of the Andes
Whether you’re walking on Ecuador’s beaches or hilly grasslands, the soaring peaks of the Ecuadorian Andes rarely leave your sight. Capture scenic photographs of the snow atop Cotopaxi as you soak up the sun from below.
Arts & Culture Abound at Otavalo Market
The laughter of children, live indigenous music in the air, the smell of cooking food, multi-colored canopies sheltering spices, taiga nut jewelry and vibrant spools of hand-spun wools from passing rain showers—it’s all part of the scene at Otavalo Market, one of South America’s largest outdoor craft markets.
Follow in Darwin’s Footsteps
Ecuador’s volcanic archipelago features one of the most fascinating diversities of plant and animal life on Earth. Go ashore on the Galápagos Islands at the same ports as Darwin and those aboard the HMS Beagle did. A comprehensive trail system gives visitors excellent vantage points to observe its native wildlife, from large flocks of lava heron to colonies of frolicking sea lions.
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