Famous places in Ecuador
Traditional culture thrives under the shadow of mighty mountains in Ecuador. (Photo: Abendstimmung in Cuenca, Ecuador image by rm from Fotolia.com )
Located on the equator, for which the country was named, Ecuador is a fascinating blend of ancient indigenous culture and a quickly modernizing infrastructure. With high Andean peaks, deep Amazonian jungle and miles of Pacific coastline, it can be hard for vacationers to decide exactly where to go when visiting Ecuador. Some locations however, are among the most famous travel sites in Latin America and should not be missed by travelers to this hemisphere-straddling country.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Home to a baby tortoise nursery as well as a museum and the main visitor's center for the Galapagos Islands National Park, the Charles Darwin Research Station is one of Ecuador's top travel sites. The Galapagos islands themselves, which were made famous by Darwin as the place where he came up with his theory of natural selection after observing that each isolated island had different species and characteristics, are among the most renown ecological destinations in the world. Tourists can only visit the islands and the research station with a government licensed tour group as access to these pristine ecosystems is tightly controlled.
Hosting one of the most famous craft markets in Latin America, which has been operating since pre-Incan times, Otavalo is also known for its colorful indigenous culture and beautiful haunting music. High quality blankets, hammocks and jewelry are always sold in the central Plaza de Ponchos, but the town really comes alive during the Saturday market, which brings crowds from many nearby villages and as far away as the lowland jungle to sell, buy and trade their wares.
Cotopaxi National Park
Centered around the highest active volcano in the world, Cotopaxi National Park is also Ecuador's most popular hiking destination. Volcano Cotopaxi, which is 19, 350 feet high, is home to numerous trails and a small museum, as well as an overnight hut at the snowline for the hardy souls who attempt to climb the summit.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, Quito is famous for its historic central core that contains several large plazas and a multitude of museums. At more than 9, 000 feet above sea level, Quito is also one of the highest capital cities in the world, and many visitors need several days to adjust.
Vilcabamba was made famous several decades ago when word got out that many residents of this valley lived to be 100 years of age or more. Since then, the "Valley of Longevity, " as it is often called, has enjoyed a steady stream of visitors who come to enjoy the pristine mountain air, hearty food and many spas that have opened.