Geographically speaking, Ecuador is literally at the center of everything (equal, equator, Ecuador — get it?). And you thought you were just going for the mighty Galápagos Islands.
Start on the Pacific coast in tiny seaside towns Súa and Atacames. Make your base camp a beachfront apartment at Casablanca (+593-6273-3159) in Same. Seaflowers restaurant (+593-6273-3369), a short walk down the sand, serves local dishes like grilled fish with pineapples. Or score the catch of the day from the fisherman on the beach and cook it yourself.
To Market, to Market
Trek inland to the Andes mountain range in the northern Sierra, and don’t miss the indigenous market in Otavalo — the place to score the gold beaded necklaces and gorgeous bright scarves the locals wear. Stay at the picturesque Hacienda Pinsaquí (+593-6294-6116) just outside the city, where rooms overlooking the gardens have toasty fireplaces. Visit Cotacachi for leather goods, then lunch at the luxe La Mirage Garden Hotel & Spa (+593-6291-5237).
High and Mighty
Head south to Quito, the second highest capital in the world. Admire artwork at the churches and at galleries like Folklore Olga Fisch (+593-2254-1315) and Sinchi Sacha (+593-2223-0609). Have a dramatic dinner at Theatrum (Teatro Nacional Sucre, second floor; +593-2257-1011) overlooking Plaza del Teatro, then get a good night’s sleep at the charming Hotel Cafe Cultura (+593-2222-4271), housed in an old mansion.
Time for an unforgettable day trip to Mitad del Mundo, where you can stand with one foot in either hemisphere, and to the unreal cloud forest at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve. If you want to go to the Galápagos Islands, we like Explorers’ Corner for small, off-the-path trips. You can’t DIY, so you’ll have to book ahead.
Take the Pan-American Highway south to Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. Stay at Hacienda la Alegria (+593-9980-2526) for horseback riding, homemade meals, and family-style warmth. Visit small towns Latacunga, Ambato, and Riobamba for nontouristy, local flavor.
The country is on the equator, so anytime is a good time to go. You can fly direct from the U.S. to Quito. You’ll want to rent an SUV because roads can be bumpy. And don’t forget to pack altitude medicine.
Once you’re there, your head will be in the clouds.