Ecuador's capital is Quito, a beautiful place built high in the mountains. For those with a head for height, pick up the cabin telephone line from the base of Pinchincha volcano for fabulous views of the city. At 2800 m altitude, the altitude in the city itself takes a little getting used to! Quito is divided into two quite different parts – old and new. Quito's old town is very beautiful and quite European in feel – many if big plots, beautiful churches, narrow cobblestone streets surrounded by pastel colored buildings. The new city has more than amenities, tourist shops, banks, tour operators, luxury hotels, restaurants and bars, but its appearance is nothing in the old city. Most people choose to stay in the new city because it is safer after dark and closer to nightlife with backpacks.
Just 30k outside Quito is Mitad del Mundo – the center of the earth (you can catch a bus from the northern bus station, located between the old and the new neighborhoods of the city) – Ecuador's location along the equator is the beginning of its name. Mitad del Mundo is a monument erected on a spot where 0 degrees length corresponds to 0 degrees latitude. Unfortunately for the monument builders, it turns out that years later the actual point at which this is happening is actually c. 200m from the monument – but it is definitely still a fun place to visit and take the obligatory photos in the "center of the earth". Inside the monument is a pretty interesting museum for all the indigenous communities in Ecuador – there is much more than you might think!
Papalacta's beautiful hot springs are only 67 km east of Quito, along a route taken in 1542 by Spanish conquistador Francisco del Orelana as it crosses the Andes mountain range to find the Amazon River. At 3,300 meters above sea level, the views from the heart of the Andes Mountains are incredible – be prepared for a bus-filled arenaline bus ride, but those who are afraid of altitude should not take up space at the window! The hydrothermal value of Papalacta springs is due to their location between the two volcanoes of Cayambe & Antisana – the thermal temperature of the springs varies from 30 degrees to 70 degrees, and in the basins – from 36-40 degrees. The focus of any trip to Ecuador is to sit in a natural hot pool carved by a rock surrounded by fog that clings to the peaks of the Andes – it will really take your breath away. The Ecuadorian Medical Association certifies that the waters have healing benefits and with a beautiful spa complex and numerous massages and procedures to choose from at affordable prices, you are guaranteed to come out feeling like a new person. You will need to stay overnight as the complex is very far from everything else – there are budget options at the foot of the road to the spa center (about 2 miles up) the spa center itself has 32 rooms with heating, open fires, private baths and private swimming pools with hot springs. Find a few Quito backpack friends and join a group to save money.
From Quito you can fly to the Galapagos, assuming you have the money you should not miss !! The Galapagos is a stunning archipelago of more than 1000 km along the Ecuadorian coast. They live up to their expectations – usually based on beautifully filmed wildlife programs! The only downside is that a 1 week trip will set you back anything from £ 1k – £ 1.5k – but if you can find the money it's worth every penny. The wildlife here is so abundant and so at home with human beings coexisting that by the end of the week you are almost blazing with sitting eating your sea lion dinner at your feet! The excitement of the coming experiences evolves from the moment you get off the plane and pass through the runway to the "airport" (a wooden canopy covered with tarpaulin), stepping over the sleeping iguanas, enjoying the warmth of the path as you walk. The wildlife is incredible and you will get closer than you ever imagined – from blue-legged boobies to giant turtles, pelicans, penguins, flamingos, iguanas, sharks, dolphins and whales – it will blow your mind! The different eco systems on each island are fascinating and if you can embark on a land tour that allows you to stay on some of the larger islands rather than just do it with the masses of cruise travel, it's well worth it , Don't miss the many Isabella highlights like walking through lava fields and through lava tunnels (be sure to check for volcano warnings – this one is still very active!). The top tip – be sure to get your passport stamp – it should be one of them, if not on the best in the world …. we won't ruin the surprise!
From the Terminal Terrace in Quito's old town you can take a bus to the small mountain town of Latacunga – here you can arrange trips to Cotopaxi Volcano and Kilatoa Lake. The Cotopaxi volcano is stunning and the picture is perfect – ask your child to paint your volcano and their efforts would look like Cotopaxi! It is possible to climb the volcano – for less adventure you can take the path (vertical at 4800 m altitude) to the base camp and from there to the beginning of the glaciers. Plus, if you're up for the challenge – you can choose to stay in base camp at night and scale the peak at 4am with cramps – a great challenge and an experience! Kilatoa Lake is beautiful – a crater lake filled with very attractive, but completely toxic turquoise waters and surrounded by alpaca pastures. The journey from Latacunga to the lake is one of the best in South America, with beautiful scenery and a rare glimpse of the indigenous communities that have crossed the road.
The next destination is Riobamba, where you can get on the grand train – Diablo Nariz (devil's nose) the views from this train trip are stunning, but the departure times are chaotic and the city itself offers very little, so check this before you arrive. An expedition from Riobamba is a mountain bike trip to Chimborazo – the highest volcano in Ecuador at 6,300 meters to the summit. The walk to the top is not as steep as Cotopaxi, so despite the higher altitude it is easier to walk. The views as you go mountain biking on Chimborazo are stunning, but be prepared for an impassable ride!
The small spa town of Banos is a very well-deserved visit – don't expect much from the baths themselves, but the town is full of character and for those who enjoy horseback riding, there are some beautiful rides in the area.
Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador after Quito and Guayaquil – it has a very European feel to it with spacious green spaces and beautiful churches. Further bus travel south is the coastal town of Loya – a convenient place to stop on your way to the splendid Vilcabamba but offering little to see.
Near the border with Peru is the port of Wiccabamba – a fantastic place to rest for a few days (or weeks!) Before you travel to Peru. There are several great places to stay, such as Rumi Vilko eco hut on the river bank. Swimming in the river, walking on mountain trails, horseback riding and massage deals all make this place Ecuador.