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What to See and Do in Ecuador (including the Galapagos Islands)

Ever since naturalist Charles Darwin stopped by in 1835, the Galapagos Islands have been a magnet for travelers. The archipelago off the coast of Ecuador is one of the best places in the world to view wildlife, but that’s only one reason to plan a visit.

Ecuador is a great place to experience the flavor of South America, from the majestic peaks of the Andes to the lush Amazon rainforest. You’ll marvel at the scenery and get a chance to explore the cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial history of its cities, as well as the native culture of its small towns.

The period from December to May is the warmest time to visit the Galapagos, as the winds die down and the seas become calmer. Those are also the best months for a relaxing beach vacation on Ecuador’s Pacific Coast. Although it’s the rainy season, mornings tend to be sunny and when the rain comes, it falls in short tropical bursts in the afternoon. Drier conditions in October and November make those the best months to go trekking in the rainforest and lowlands. 

But whenever you go, you’ll find lots to do. Quito, the 16th-century capital, has a well-preserved Old Town with bustling plazas, historic churches, and museums. Take a sky tram to the top of Cruz Loma for a magnificent view of the city and its surroundings. The calculation may be a bit off, but the Middle of the World Monument is a fun day trip from Quito. You can stand on the equator, with one foot each in the northern and southern hemispheres. About two hours north, in the Andean highlands, Otavalo is renowned for its hand-woven textiles and other handicrafts, such as jewelry and musical instruments. 

For the full rainforest experience, travelers should head to Yasuni National Park in eastern Ecuador, home to countless varieties of plant and animal life, including nearly 600 species of birds and 10 species of monkeys, as well as numerous other mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Eco-tourism lodges in the area offer the total package: accommodations, meals, and guided excursions. You’ll have a chance to go swimming, explore rivers and lagoons by canoe, hike through the jungle under canopies of trees, and visit indigenous communities to learn about their way of life. 

For many travelers, the Galapagos Islands, with their abundant wildlife including giant tortoises, penguins, sea lions, lizards, and iguanas, is a dream destination. The chain of more than a dozen islands is located about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. There are two options: staying at a hotel on an inhabited island and taking day excursions by boat, or by taking a cruise. A cruise allows you to visit more distant islands, and you’ll wake up each morning in a new destination ready to explore. In addition to what you can see on land, the Galapagos is also a great destination for scuba diving.

For help planning a trip to Ecuador, contact Travel Leaders COS at 800-273-0793, locally 719-597-0004, or send us an email at

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