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Ecuador Tours and Travel
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In a country no larger than Nevada, you wouldn’t expect so disparate a mix of landscapes or such biodiversity. With the Amazon on one side, the Andes down the middle, cloud forests filled with orchids and jungles to the west, surfing and whale watching on the coast and the piece de resistance, the Galapagos Islands beyond, Ecuador has it all.
ADVENTURES FROM THE ANDES TO THE AMAZON
Mainland Ecuador is a paradise for adventure travelers, offering spectacular hiking in the Andes, including day-hikes on many volcanoes and the opportunity to hike on the world’s highest active volcano, Cotopaxi. Head east of the Andes and you can be in the Amazon in a few hours, for a bicycle day-trip by or a longer stay at a choice of indigenous eco-lodges. Ecuador contains forty national parks and other protected areas, including three in the Amazon which are the largest, sixteen on or near the Pacific Coast, and several down the Andean center of the country plus magnificent Galapagos National Park.
WEAVING FLEECE INTO GOLD
Without the gold deposits found elsewhere in their conquered lands, Spanish colonists who settled in what is today Ecuador zeroed in on the riches it did contain: fleece from its endemic alpaca and llamas, arable land where sheep could be raised, and the weaving expertise of its indigenous population. The conquerors imposed a system of organized forced labor in factories, called obrajes where villagers were put to work weaving. The first of these operations was located in Otavalo in the northern Andean highlands. For centuries, weaving drove the economy, and it was on the sprawling haciendas where these crafts were produced. Today many of Ecuador’s haciendas have opened their gates to welcome overnight guests to relax in the world of the former land barons. To travel to Ecuador is to step back in time.
Ecuador, not Panama, is the source of the Panama hat, as you will see during your Ecuador travel. The lightweight straw hat found much popularity among workers constructing the Panama Canal to shield them from the tropical sun. When President Theodore Roosevelt donned it while inspecting the project’s progress, photos of him in the American media sealed the hat’s fate, known forevermore as the Panama hat. The toquilla herb which grows on the coast produces the fibers used in weaving the hat and is where the fine weaving begins. Travel south of Quito to Cuenca and you will see craftsmen adding the finishing touches before the hats are shipped worldwide. Thank Ecuador too for dark chocolate, all the rage today among foodies and health nuts. Just 5% of the world’s cacao consists of flavorful beans, and fifty percent of that is grown in Ecuador.
CRAFT MARKET CENTRAL
Located north of Quito in the Imbabura Valley, Otavalo is the world’s most important craft market. The villages that surround it are known for the individual crafts they produce most, such as leather goods, wooden musical instruments and Christmas ornaments. There are many craft villages between the capital and Cuenca too.
MIDDLE OF THE WORLD
An imaginary line we take for granted today, the equator, was first pinpointed when the French Royal Academy of Science sent expeditions to South America and the Arctic Circle in 1735. The site they pinpointed and the equator’s exact location are both a few miles north of Quito and remain mainland Ecuador’s most visited attraction.