Ecuador may look quite small on the map but I can assure you that it is packed with amazing destinations!
If you are a nature enthusiast, this tiny country will seduce you by its incredible diversity of landscape and its unique wildlife.
Ecuador is indeed the most biodiverse country on Earth for its size. Quite exciting, isn’t it? The birdwatchers will be especially happy knowing that the country contains 16% of all existing bird species! According to the Biodiversity Group, a dazzling 140 species of hummingbird is awaiting for you there.
Bordering the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador is a mosaic of extremely diverse ecosystems. From high mountains to surprising islands, follow me in my journey there.
1. Quito & the Andes
Being the longest mountain range in the world, the Andes run along South America’s western side from Chile to Venezuela. More than being long, the Andes are also very high and your body will get to experience the effects linked to altitude quite quickly if you fly to Quito.
Perched at almost 3,000 meters, the capital city was already a challenge for me. Headaches, tiredness and nose bleeds were a constant reminder of how high I suddenly was but luckily my body got used to the altitude after few days.
Quito is definitely worth a visit for its beautiful city centre, mix of gothic cathedrals and colorful houses. I totally fell in love with the Basilica del Voto Nacional due to its original animal gargoyles. As a zoologist, it just felt so nice to see the traditional deformed figures replaced by sculpted pelicans and anteaters!
If you are a foodie and like eating like locals, head to a cafe and order a hot chocolate. It will be served with a bowl of cheese that you are expected to drop in the hot drink. Absolutely delicious!
Once done with Quito and fully adjusted to the altitude, you can then head to the real wild moutains! Make sure to have a guide with you if you go on unknown paths and be ready to experience extremely cold temperatures.
Hiking the Andes was a beautiful but somehow painful experience for me. Still struggling with altitude sickness, my few hours walking in the cold were pretty miserable. Headaches, short breath and dizziness accompanied me through the entire journey making it hard to fully enjoy the view. So I insist again: take your time to adjust to the altitude before heading anywhere.
When back at lower altitudes, I could breath again and enjoy the mountains a bit more. Visiting the Antisana Ecological Reserve, I thought at first glance that the vegetal landscape was quite homogeneous. But when I started looking more closely I discovered some beautiful flowers hidden here and there, drops of color surviving the harsh altitude and temperatures.
Every plant growing there has evolved to survive the difficult conditions either by growing at a smaller size or by becoming thicker to protect itself from the cold. In terms of wildlife, I had the chance to meet again with two of my favourite birds: hummingbirds and caracaras.