In the second of a two-part feature on destinations in South America, Chris Moss explores remote islands, well-preserved ruins and breathtaking beaches
In the second part of our guide to South America, visit nations from Ecuador to Uruguay from your armchair.
ECUADOR AND THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Arguably the origin of The Origin of Species – and the place to see them
In August, Quito hosted Sal Quitena, its first food festival, complementing the yearround roster of arts and music events. Perhaps the capital most devoted to tourism, the competitive streak hasn’t taken away its charm. An odd mix of indigenous markets, trendy hostels and eateries, and dashing social-cumartistic statements like the Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man), it’s a bustling little city.
A short drive takes you to the Avenue of the Volcanoes – soaring crater-topped summits, some active, some dormant – which in turn lead into the Amazon, or to the Cloud Forest of the globally important Choco-Darien bioregion. Here, glass-walled, gloriously isolated Mashpi Lodge continues to expand its activities with the Mashpi Centre, where guests get to work alongside resident biologists on surveys of butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, bees and wasps.
From Quito, it’s a 90-minute flight – stopping at steamy Guayaquil – to Isla Baltra in the Galapagos. Sensitively managed, the islands are best accessed on a small ship or yacht cruise. Low-impact trails and swimming sites allow close contact with land and marine iguanas, giant tortoises, green sea turtles, flightless cormorants and reef and hammerhead sharks.
Those who want a slower, more settled experience can stay over at properties such as Scalesia Lodge on Isla Isabela, a luxurious safaristyle tent resort set in 40 acres of coastal forest.
On September 4, the La Cumbre volcano on uninhabited Fernandina blew its top for the first time in eight years. This doesn’t affect travel, except that cruise passengers may catch sight of further eruptions.
Don’t miss: Quito, Avenue of the Volcanoes, Galapagos Islands.
How to do it: Exodus (exodus.co.uk) has a 15-day Avenue of the Volcanoes group tour that combines five days’ walking, including a trek in the highlands of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve, and five days’ ice-climbing skills - suitable for beginners. Departure: Nov 18.
Wexas Travel’s (wexas.com) 13-day tailormade journey starts in Quito, transferring to the Galapagos Islands to embark on a yacht cruise. As well as the wildlife, there are stays at the Finch Bay Hotel on Isla Santa Cruz and Scalesia Lodge.
Fauna lovers will enjoy a trip to the Isla Baltra (RIGHT) while those who enjoy arts and music can head to Quito, which has a year-round roster of arts and music events