A lot to see in Ecuador

Travel Destinations — By on April 15, 2008 at 7:26 am

Ecuador doesn’t get a lot of tourist attention, save for its renown as the jumping off point to the Galapagos Islands. But there is a lot to see in this small Andean nation, as K.C. Summers and his wife discovered during a recent trip there, which he wrote about for the Washington Post.

We had it all figured out. We would fly to the capital, Quito, drive a couple of hours north and spend a week traveling south through the Andes, taking in as many of the country’s indigenous markets as we could. If we planned it right, we could hit one every day of the week…

During our week in the mountains, Adele and I knew we’d find great crafts and luxury trappings at bargain prices. What we didn’t expect was how quickly our focus would become blurred by everything else Ecuador’s Sierra region has to offer. Quito, our jumping-off point, distracted us immediately with its historic architecture and vibrant urban scene. The stunning beauty of Cotopaxi National Park drew us away from the markets and onto hiking trails and horses. The preserved colonial city of Cuenca instantly won our hearts, and we spent two days exploring its cobbled streets. And throughout the week, we caught tantalizing glimpses of an indigenous culture rich in tradition and rituals.

Let’s just say we got a lot more than we bargained for.

For such a small country (about the size of Colorado), Ecuador is remarkably diverse. Tucked between Colombia and Peru on South America’s west coast, it’s probably best known as the gateway to the Galapagos Islands. But it has three other ecosystems: the Amazon, the Pacific coast and the Andes, or Sierra, each with its own distinct climate, terrain and culture.

It was the Andes that captured our attention. Running half the length of the country, the mountains are home to a dramatic avenue of volcanoes (including Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world), deep valleys, lakes and farmland.

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