If you saw my earlier blog post, here’s the answer to that geography quiz: Ecuador.
In a country roughly the size of Colorado — and known mostly for its offshore treasures, the Galapagos Islands — you can also find ancient Incan ruins, beautiful colonial cities, unspoiled Pacific beaches, thriving Indian markets, dry mountain highlands, misty cloud forests, and steamy Amazon jungle.
While US tourists represent about 25% of all visitors to Ecuador, many of those (sadly) see only the international airport in Quito or Guayaquil, before setting off on a Galapagos cruise. They’re missing some of the country’s best-kept secrets!
The Pacific coast offers world-class surfing, whale-watching, and the remnants of pre-Colombian cultures.
In addition to the capitol city of Quito (a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with churches, convents and plazas), the Andean highlands offer the world’s highest active volcano in tropical latitudes, high-altitude wellness spas and hot springs, native craft markets, Incan ruins, and outdoor adventure like ziplines, rafting, hiking and horseback riding.
Further to the east, Ecuador includes a large area of Amazon rainforest, where visitors can stay in jungle lodges or on river cruise boats, and enjoy tours by naturalists or indigenous guides.
The country is easy to navigate, with a good road system and four national airlines (the longest flight between any two points in the country is just 45 minutes), and it is a year-round destination, with a fairly steady climate and twelve full hours of daylight every day.
Ecuador is clean and safe, it is in the same time zone as the eastern United States, it uses the US dollar as its official currency, and the city of Cuenca (the “Florence of South America”) was recently named the “Best Place in the World to Retire” by International Living Magazine.
So what are you waiting for? I know I am making plans to visit Ecuador next year, and will definitely be combining some time on the mainland with my Galapagos cruise.