For a country the size of Britain, Ecuador packs a punch. Quito’s colonial splendor gives way to a shifting landscape of crystalline lagoons, remote canyons, snow-capped volcanoes, and the world’s petri dish — the Galapágos islands. From world-class surfing to Class IV rafting, the frigid thrills of summiting Cotopaxi, or snorkeling with genial sea lions, Ecuador combines adrenaline-infused adventures with the immensity of the Amazon and the mysticism of indigenous cultures.
It comes as no surprise that tourism in Ecuador is up 8 percent year on year, with an unprecedented 1.3 million tourists enjoying the country’s value-added thrills in 2013. In October, Ecuador’s tourism minister, Vinicio Alvarado, announced that the government’s annual tourism budget would rise from $40 million to $150 million to provide, not least, improved infrastructure that would grant travelers access to Ecuador’s remote regions.
Forever entwined with the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, the Galapágos archipelago is the mother of all World Heritage Sites. Some 620 miles from Ecuador’s mainland, most travelers experience the islands’ diverse geological features — ecosystems that have remained, for the most part, unchanged — by live-aboard boat. Close encounters with fearless endemic creatures is the essence of adventure. To the cacophonous soundtrack of belching sea lions, Jurassic tortoises lumber along the shore beside blue-footed boobies who conduct their extravagant mating rituals unabashed. In the pristine Pacific waters, 300 species of fish captivate divers and snorkelers while cavorting sea lions audaciously attempt a quick sniff of a human ear or nose.