The Galapagos Islands belong to the country of Ecuador and are one of its most popular tourist attractions. But are there other things to do and see in this South American country? Yes, certainly! There are three main areas to explore, other than the Galapagos, when visiting Ecuador. These include:

 The Andean Highlands- Ecuador is aptly named for its location at the middle of the world, straddling latitude 0 line. Because of its location, it is the home to an array of natural geographic wonders, including the Andes mountains. Within the highlands of Ecuador, you’ll find several beautiful cities, including the capital city of Quito. Quito is surrounded by gorgeous hills and snow-capped mountains, and even climbs up the foothill of the Pichincha volcano. The scenic city also has a fascinating history, as it was inhabited by Inca Indian groups long before Spanish conquistadors reached the shores of Ecuador. Quito City is one of the largest and best preserved historical centers of South America, since the modern city developed while still keeping colonial treasures in tact. Quito was declared Cultural Patrimony of Mankind by UNESCO in 1978. Some sites that you may enjoy visiting in Quito are the Government Palace, the Cathedral with its interesting collection of sculptures and paintings, and the monumental Cultural Center. Of course, you will constantly be able to admire the Andes mountains around you, too.

 The Coast- Ecuador has plenty of pristine coastline, even when you take the Galapagos out of the picture. One of the most luxurious beach resort towns within the country is called Salinas. Salinas received its name because salt used to be extracted from this region, at the furthest western point of Ecuador on the Pacific Ocean. This area is well known for its wonderful sunbathing and water sport opportunities, and warm ocean water that is ideal for swimming year-round. The city also offers plenty of opportunities for dancing and other entertainment at night. Salinas is a popular fishing spot and location for major fishing tournaments. It is a great place to catch tuna, blue martin, and black marlin. Some fishing world records have even been set here. If surfing appeals to you more than fishing, you may wish to visit the coastal town of Montanita, which is known as the Surfers’ Town, and is most famous for a surfing spot called La Punta. Montanita is located in the Santa Elena province, about 40 miles north of Salinas. Montanita is an excellent place to relax on the golden sand, while taking in the gorgeous scenery and breathtaking sunsets.

 The Rainforest- While in Ecuador, you simply cannot pass up the opportunity to tour the Amazon Rainforest, which is undoubtedly one of the most exotic and fascinating places in the world. The best way to take in the rainforest is by visiting Yasuni National Park, the largest natural reserve in Ecuador. Because of its unique and diverse ecosystem, UNESCO named the Yasuni National Park a Biosphere Reserve in 1989. Here at Yasuni National Park, you can glimpse more than 500 species of birds, 173 species of mammals, 62 species of snakes and more than 100 species of amphibians living in their natural habitat. Some of the exotic species that live here are giant river otters, harpy eagles, manatees, howler monkeys, jaguars, pumas, and boas. Plus, a wide variety of tropical plants grow here, including an array of valuable medicinal plants, and the chonta palm, which produces one of the hardest woods on earth.

In relation to its surface, Ecuador holds the greatest amount of species of plants and animals on the planet. It is an amazingly diverse place, and promises to provide you with experiences that you will not soon forget.

Stuart