For many luxury tourists, Ecuador travel means only one thing: Galapagos cruises around the islands. Too bad, because while a small ship nature cruise in the Galapagos Islands is a fantastic tour, the rest of the country deserves more than a quick stopover on the way traveling in or out.
Mainland Ecuador is the home of the Panama Hat, impressive Andean peaks, quiet beaches, and a jungle full of diverse wildlife. This country on the Equator is blessed with an impressive variety of natural attractions. Massive mountains and volcanoes attract casual hikers and serious climbers, while the Amazon jungle basin and rainforest of Ecuador attract a different kind of explorer. In much of the country, you've got a nice mountain view out your window: here you'll find one of the highest concentrations of volcanoes in the world.
Ecuador is improving its number and quality of luxury travel offerings each year and investing a tremendous amount in infrastructure—including one of South America's few working train lines. Besides small pampered yacht cruises for a Galapagos vacation, there are now more than a few Galapagos luxury hotels too for those who don't want to spend a whole week on a ship. Most of the travel to that island is self-contained though: there are (thankfully) no large hotels on the islands that would suck up lots of resources and add to the degradation.
Most of the top luxurious hotels and lodges are focused in the two largest cities of Quito and Guayaquil or the jungle, though Ecuador probably has the largest concentration of hacienda hotels anywhere in South America. As you explore the country on your vacation, you'll often have a memorable stay each night.
Read the tour stories below for Galapagos trip ideas and mainland Ecuador travel, then see our luxury hotel reviews for the best places to stay in Ecuador.
Although Quito is a vibrant city with plenty of attractions and a lot to see in the UNESCO World Heritage center, get out further if you can after a couple days to explore more of the country. The rural markets are a swirl of color and varying costumes, with great buys in every direction. The towns of Cuenca and Baños are worth more than just a stopover on a day trip. Adventure tour activities in the highlands and cloudforests are among the best in South America. Apart from a trip to the Galapagos Islands, almost everything you would spend money on in Ecuador is a terrific value.
The secret is out now on Ecuador as a place to retire or live abroad: it offers one of the best payoffs on the planet in terms of what you can get for your money as a resident and real estate investor.