By Luke Glenday
The Galapagos is right up the top of many people’s “to do” lists when travelling to South America. It is one of the well-known highlights of the region, especially for nature lovers. But what other destinations work well in combination with a trip to the Galapagos?
Getting out to the Galapagos Islands will involve passing through the Ecuadorian capitol of Quito or the port city of Guayaquil. Quito especially is a beautiful city in a stunning mountain setting and is well worth spending some time to check out the old town, the nearby equator monuments or taking a ride up the teleferico for a panoramic view of the city.
Here we look at a few good other options to consider when planning a trip to Galapagos…
1. Ecuadorian Amazon
Most of Ecuador’s Oriente region lies in the Amazon basin. It is only a short flight over the mountains from Quito to reach Coca, Tena or Lago Agrio which will be the starting points for trips to places such as Yasuni National Park or Cuyabeno Reserve. These parks offer visitors great opportunities to spot wildlife; sightings may include anything from pink river dolphins, sloths, giant river otters, tapir, anaconda, a huge variety of birds, insects, monkeys and possibly even jaguar.
You will also have the chance to visit the indigenous tribes and shaman that live in the area which is a fascinating experience. Lodges such as Napo Wildlife Center or La Selva Ecolodge offer some of the best lodge experiences to be had in the Amazon and there are also a number of great river cruise options available in this part of Ecuador.
2. Highlands of Ecuador
You don’t have to go far out of Quito to see some of the incredible sights that mainland Ecuador has to offer. The country might sit right on the equator, but the massive variations in altitude mean you get an astounding array of different environments within a relatively small area. Within a few hours of the city you could be in the unique and diverse cloud forest ecosystem of the Mashpi Reserve, looking up at the huge ice-capped volcanic peaks such as Cotopaxi or Riobamba on the Avenue of Volcanoes, or in some of South America’s best-known indigenous markets in Otavalo.
Travel a little further and you can go mountain biking, white-water rafting or soak in a natural hot spring in Banos, riding the famous Devil’s Nose Train or walking around the beautiful, colonial highland city of Cuenca. The scenery never gets boring in the highlands of Ecuador!
Speaking of places that never get boring, Ecuador’s northern neighbour could never be accused of being boring. Colombia’s reputation as being an unsafe place to visit is outdated; I found the people here to be some of the friendliest in South America. This country truly has something for everybody – magnificent and unique cities such as Cartagena, Medellin and Bogota; postcard perfect Caribbean beaches, jungle treks to lost ancient cities, unique indigenous culture, quaint colonial villages and an enormous variety of wildlife.
The popular places that are on most people’s itineraries don’t even scratch the surface of what this country has to offer. There are regular flight connections between Quito and Bogota and land crossings between the two countries will take you through some interesting parts of both countries that aren’t visited by that many people. If I’d flown Quito to Bogota I’d have never come across wonderful and interesting places such as Laguna de la Cocha, Popoyan or Cali.
Ecuador’s southern neighbour is one of the most popular destinations in South America, and rightly so. Everyone wants to see Machu Picchu! It is very easy to combine the two countries with regular flights between Lima and Quito. It makes it very easy to cover major highlights such as Galapagos, Cusco and Machu Picchu in a relatively short space of time. For those travelling to Ecuador via Santiago, Peru is right on the way, so it makes perfect sense.
Another country that will be on route for most passengers travelling from Australia and New Zealand is Chile. A stopover in Santiago is a great way to break up the trip, spend a couple of days exploring the Chilean capitol, visiting the colourful port town of Valparaiso and the vineyards of the Casablanca Valley.
There are also great options in the north and south of the country; a trip up to the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama Desert, or down to Patagonia to trek in Torres del Paine National Park, cruise the Patagonia Fjords or visit the stunning lakes district around Puerto Montt. Chile is also a fantastic ski destination between June and September.
You can see our range of Galapagos Islands holidays here.
If you want to find out more about the destinations in this article, or have any questions in general please contact us.