Ecuador (Spanish for Equator) offers a wide variety of landscapes and cultures. The largest part of the country is low-lying Amazonian rainforest. The Ecuadorian jungle (called ‘Selva’) is perennially hot and humid. Home to a great many indigenous groups; it has an extremely varied flora and fauna. The area is criss-crossed by big rivers, of which the Rio Napo is the most well known. On the east, the country borders Peru, while in the west its jungle ends on the slopes of the imposing Andes range. Rising steeply, the Andes Mountains, known in Spanish as ‘La sierra andina’, consists of two ranges or ‘Cordilleras’. The climate here is radically different. Throughout the year, it has a spring-like quality. From times immemorial, this region has been densely populated, as the volcanic earth makes it highly fertile. This is Inca country, which is apparent at ‘Ingapirca’, the most important Inca ruins in Ecuador. It is in this area that you can find the ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’, one of which is the famous Cotopaxi, with its 5897m the highest active volcano in the world. Another famous volcano is the Chimborazo, with its 6310m the highest mountain in the country and also, seen from the centre of the earth, the highest mountain on earth. This is because of the earth’s tendency to bulge at the Equator. Further west lays the Costa, or the coast. The Galápagos island’s are part of Ecuador, some 1000km off the coast. This archipelago in the Pacific Ocean is made up of a group of 13 large and 6 tiny volcanic islands and many rocks protruding from the sea. Most islands have two or three names, a Spanish, an English and an official Ecuadorian name. Throughout the year the islands offer unparalleled bird and animal watching, including the blue-footed booby and the Galápagos turtle.
Ecuador is blessed with a splendid and multifaceted plant and animal kingdom that it owes to its variety of climatic zones. On the coast you will find primarily mangrove forest and rainforest. Where the Andes range halts the rain clouds in their course, the slopes are covered in misty rainforest. On the Andes highlands, you will find the páramo, a landscape largely made up of grasses and low shrubs. This is where the spectacular bromelias bloom, and the gentians and Ecuadorian’s pride: the Chuquiragua. In the nooks of the mountains the polylepidous forest makes you feel as if you have entered a fairy-tale. Finally, there is the tropical rainforest east of the Andes, with its infinite variety. During our trip, you will see all of these individually stunning landscapes.
The animal kingdom is just as varied. Over 300 mammals have been spotted on Ecuadorian territory, including as many as 100 species of bats. The Andes is home to the rare spectacled bear and puma. Common animals of the páramo include deer, rabbits and fox. In the rainforest, you wake up to the yelling of howler monkeys. Here you can look for sloths, peccaries (wild hogs), armadillos, capybaras and anteaters. When in the Amazon region, you could even spot a river dolphin. Other exotic animals occurring here but seldom spotted, are jaguar, ocelot and tapir. When it comes to birds, there is a choice of magnificently coloured hummingbird, many species of birds of prey including the condor, as well as various species of toucan. A small country, Ecuador is home to over 1500 species of birds and new species continue to be found, sometimes deep in the jungle. Thousands of insects have already been described and a similar number are still waiting to be discovered. Of these, the butterflies are the most splendid; some of them can become over 15cm big.
For bird lovers, the Galàpagos Islands are true paradise. They are home to many endemic species, including albatross, cormorant, Darwin finch, frigate bird, pelican, flamingo, blue-footed booby and of course the Galàpagos penguin. Other animals that you will most probably see here are giant turtle, land and sea iguanas and sea lions. What makes the animals on the Galàpagos island’s so special is that you can get very near them, as they have no natural enemies. The underwater scenery is equally unique and snorkelling amidst the many species of tropical fish is a must.