One of the most important things to bear in mind before a trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos is that they are very ecologically fragile locations, that are in constant need of preservation and protection. On the mainland the country holds cloud forest, Amazon Jungle, high Andean plateaus, and the Islands themselves, each teeming with wildlife and indigenous culture whose future depends on an ever-teetering ecological balance. While travelling to these magical and fragile places the above question is pertinent to bear in mind... “On whose side are you?”
With the majority of Ecuador’s tourism centred on the Galapagos Islands, huge swathes of continental Ecuador remain unwandered, and retain a beautiful cultural authenticity that is the true heart of Latin America. Take a trip towards the working haciendas of the countryside outside Guayaquil or Quito and you will be immersed instantly in this world.
Hacienda La Danesa is a fine example of this, a beautiful spot of luxury outside of Guayaquil that still produces thousands of litres of milk a week, much of which is donated to the local communities.
A trip to this hacienda will show you the heart of Latin America on route, as well as allowing you to milk cows, ride horses, and take a chocolate making class from bean to bar.
That’s not to say there is nothing to be gained from staying in the cities of Ecuador. Spending a few nights in Quito, a UNESCO world heritage site, and one my favourite cities on the continent, can contextualise fascinating the indigenous and colonial history of Ecuador that you will encounter on your voyage.
My personal highlight would be La Capilla Del Hombre, located on a hill affording a view of the whole splendid sprawl of the city, is the former house, and art gallery of Oswaldo Guayasamín. His art charts personal a deeply expressive journey through the painful, and often bloody, history of the world, from the Chilean dictatorship to Spanish colonialism in Ecuador.
The Avenue Of The Volcanoes: Ancient Indigenous myths attach great meaning to the apus (spirits) that give the mountains their names.
The Galapagos is one of the most incredible destinations I have ever visited. With great expectation attached to a visit there, and much to live up to, the volcanic islands forged from slews of lava can seem unwelcoming until you take a look closer and from the ripples of rock you get your first glimpse into the surrealist nature that characterises the islands.
Blue Footed Boobies may seem like ridiculous creatures on the land, but as soon as you have seen their lethal high-swooping dive to catch fish, you will appreciate their sublime beauty.
The Tortoise Breeding Centre on Isabela Island is doing fantastic work, mostly with volunteers, to boost the population of giant tortoises.
Giant Tortoises don’t stop growing for their whole, long lives, and a cycle to the Wall of Tears on Isabela Island can be hazardous for these huge moving obstacles.
Sick of being incorrectly characterised as a Tokyo-trashing monster rather than an allegory for the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation, Godzilla takes his family on holiday.
Surreal though the wildlife may be in general, the sea lions that roam the beaches are unbearably adorable. While looking at this picture do remember: removing anything from the Galapagos Islands is a serious criminal offence.
Sun sets over an epic Ecuadorian adventure.