Top 5 Reasons To Visit Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands

Galapagos Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) resting on rocks in La Espanola island, Galapagos, Ecuador
Galapagos Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) resting on rocks in La Espanola island, Galapagos, Ecuador

Small but spectacular, Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands are among Latin America’s most attractive destinations, with fabulous diversity in both culture and nature. Here is our rundown of the top five reasons to visit:

1. The Wildlife

The Galápagos Islands are the most famous reserve in the world and the place where Charles Darwin formed his theory of evolution. Follow in Darwin’s footsteps and visit the Galápagos Islands from Ecuador; a marvel of isolated evolution boasting unique wildlife. Wildlife is still the main reason why visitors fly the 960km (600 miles) from mainland Equador to the Galápagos archipelago.

The islands are the ultimate natural zoo, where bizarre fauna exist totally free and fearless of man. Giant lumbering tortoises, blue-footed boobies, and equatorial penguins carry on their daily routine, indifferent to their audience of human visitors. These islands are without doubt one of Ecuador’s greatest attractions.

2. The Volcanoes

Right in the heart of Ecuador is a collection of valleys formed beside the slopes of numerous volcanoes: some active, some dormant. This valley is part of the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world, which runs through the spine of Ecuador and produces stunning dramatic landscapes from north to south. In 1802 the German explorer Alexander von Humbolt named this route the “Avenue of the Volcanoes”. Ecuador’s position on the equator means that you can travel through the avenue past orchids and palm trees with tundra vegetation, glaciers, and snow visible in the mountains above. 

3. The Beaches

The palm-fringed beaches of Ecuador’s north Pacific coast are amongst the most beautiful in the world and are the perfect place to take a break from the sometimes demanding rigors of travel. Much of this varied coastline consists of largely empty beaches – the ideal opportunity to practice one of the foremost customs of ancient Ecuador: sun worship. In the south, there has been a surge of development on the coast from Guayaquil to Manata where endless stretches of sandy beaches are lapped by warm water and toasted by the tropical sun.

If surfing is your thing then Ecuador has plenty to offer. The waves from storms in the Pacific mean that Ecuador has ideal surfing conditions and the country has hosted the World Surfing Championships in the past. Montañita, in Guayas province, is Ecuador’s surfing mecca and a popular backpacker hangout, whilst Mompiche in the north and the Galápagos Islands are also renowned surf spots.

4. The Dives

Ecuador is home to some of the world’s best diving sites. In the Parque Nacional Machalillia, the coral attracts porcupinefish, parrotfish, and broomtail groupers, as well as eels, rays, starfish sea cucumbers, and green turtles. Diving in the Galápagos is an unforgettable experience. The reefs around Wolfe and Darwin islands are home to a vast array of sea creatures including dolphins, marine turtles, hammerhead and whale sharks, and whole schools of tropical fish.

Snorkelers in the Galápagos can enjoy an underwater world like no other and will be constantly surrounded by many of the 307 species of fish recorded in the islands, with more being discovered every year. Brightly colored tropical fish pass over the sea floor and around rocks, making a spellbinding sight, while different types of rays glide majestically along the ocean floor.

5. The Treks

Ecuador’s astonishing variety of terrain is a big attraction for outdoor enthusiasts who find it makes for an ideal environment for adventure travel. Trekking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in Ecuador. A number of national parks offer uninhibited areas for days of wandering, while the populated highlands of the Sierra are dotted with small villages whose inhabitants usually offer a welcome to backpacking gringos. Several national parks, such as Cotopaxi and Parque Nacional Podcarpus, are especially popular with trekkers because of the ease of accessibility, established trail systems, and marvellous scenery. Parks can be visited at any time of year, but facilities within them are at a minimum, if they exist at all, and a small park entrance fee is usually charged.

Read more: Ecuador travel guide

Travel there: Cruising the Galapagos

Buy a book: Insight Guides: Ecuador & Galápagos