Talking Travel: Ecuador

Ecuador maybe small, but there's no shortage of things to see - from snow covered mountains to Amazonian rainforest and incredible wildlife - in this small Andean nation. 

For an insight into Ecuador, tune into ‘Talking Travel’ at Women's Radio Station later this month - where Ecuadorian, Monica Alexander, will be revealing why if homeland isn’t on your bucket list, it’s because you have already been…...

Discover Ecuador

Andean mountains, Amazonian forest, Idyllic islands and coastline, postcard-pretty colonial centres, Kichwa villages… Ecuador may be one of the smallest countries in South America but don’t be fooled by its size for there is plenty to see, do and experience in Luz de América (the light of America).

Planning a visit to this Andean country? Let Best in Travel be your guide…


Welcome to the jungle

TNT boards a slow boat for an adventure along the Amazon


My journey through the astonishing Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, was one of lovely juxtaposition.

On board the ultra-modern, 40 passenger capacity, luxury MV Anakonda vessel, guests sipped Canelazo cocktails - a mixture of boiled water, sugarcane alcohol, lemon, sugar, and cinnamon typical of the Andean region - and listened carefully to lectures about the river’s history.



My fellow passengers were mostly fellow Europeans and wealthy Ecuadorians, exploring this small South American nation’s section of the Amazon Basin.



Despite the fact that indigenous people had been living in the Amazon for at least 10,000 years, the Amazon River itself was ‘discovered’ by a Spanish explorer and conquistador - step forward Don Francisco de Orellana. 

The expedition left Quito - capital of Ecuador - in 1541, in search of gold, cinnamon and the elusive El Dorado (the lost city of gold).

Fast forward 12 months and Don Francisco de Orellana et al found neither cinnamon, nor gold. Rather they found the greatest river on earth, arriving at the junction of the Napo and the Amazon on 12th February 1542.


Back to the boat (although calling the Anakonda a boat is a serious understatement). The vessel employs an army of smiling staff (who easily outnumber the guests) and offers an expansive observation deck, outdoor jacuzzi, al fresco lounge - ideal for reading, relaxation or simply enjoying the spectacular vistas  - plus a screening area for lectures on everything from the history and culture of the region to the Amazon’s bird, animal and plant life.



The food was an impressive mix of Ecuadorian dishes such as as empanadas (super South American pies), cuy (roasted guinea pig) and ceviche, as well as simpler seafood dishes, soups and salads for the less adventurous.  A highlight was the final night’s barbecue dinner which was enjoyed outside on deck with the Anakonda’s captain - and washed down with copious copa de vinos, natch.

Elsewhere the Anakonda Amazon River Cruise features 18 cabins, all of which boast every conceivable amenity a twenty first century traveller could desire: think private balconies from which to watch the sun rise over the canopy of the rainforest and hear the forest come to life as dawn breaks, jacuzzis, full-frame panoramic windows and, astoundingly, Wifi.


There were canoe trips downstream to the remote and pristine Pañayacu River Delta in search of squirrel monkeys, pink river dolphins, piranhas, water monkey fish (arawana) and white caiman, and hikes through the Panacocha Protected Forest with experienced guides which revealed all manner of extraordinary flowers, plants and creatures.



We were also rowed to shore to meet the local Kichwa tribe - who continue to resist contact with the outside world - and tour their traditional village in order to learn a little about Kichwa culture, customs, cuisine and everyday life.



Another magnificent memory was travelling upstream on a tributary of the Amazon to the Yasuni National Park - one of the most  biodiverse places on earth - to gawp at hundreds of parrots, parakeets and amazons. (Ecuador happens to possess the highest density of bird species anywhere, with over 1,670 species in an astoundingly-reduced geographical area).



Yet the standout was sailing through the Amazon  - a place that still shows its best self from the water - on the Anakonda, which made for a magical equation: immersion in the the thrill of the wilderness, followed by a retreat  to cosseted comforts.



I wasn’t an intruder in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, but part of it. And this is the magic of arriving by water.



“If man doesn't learn to treat the oceans and the rainforest with respect, man will become extinct.” 

Peter Benchley, American author


It’s a shore thing
A typical day on board the Anaconda ( runs as follows:

6am: wake up call
6.30am: breakfast
7.30am: disembark, morning excursion
12.00: return on board
12.30: lunch

1.30pm: optional lectures
4.30pm: disembark, afternoon visit
8pm: dinner
9pm: briefing for next day activities
9.30pm: optional movie or video presentation

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland


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Quito chic

Cloud-high in the Andes and hemmed in by the snow-capped peaks of two active volcanoes, Ecuador's capital Quito is a colonial stunner says Kaye Holland


What to see and do


If you were in Quito for an hour and asked a local what to see, there’s no doubt the magnificent La Compania church- which took 160 years to build- would be number one on their list of suggestions. La Compania ( is a knock out on every level - an architectural gem excessively smothered in gold-leaf with glorious shafts of light penetrating the interior from the divinely measured skylights.
Other churches - a legacy of the city’s Spanish colonisation - worth seeing include San Franciscan Monastery which has wonderful carved and painted wooden saints, while its beautifully tended cloisters are now home to several friendly parakeets rescued by resident monk Father Wilson.
Had your fill of churches? Don’t miss the spectacular changing of the guard - in 18th century replica blue, red and gold uniforms - outside the Palacio de Gobierno, the seat of the President, every Monday at 11am.


Then take the cable car 12,000 feet to the top of a mountain where superb views of the city and a chain of snow capped peaks await.
One caveat: regardless of your itinerary, don’t forget to layer up as the weather in Quito is extremely unpredictable. Quitenos say that they experience all four seasons in a day so be ready to take your coat and sweater off and put them back on in a matter of hours.

Top shops


Shopaholics should wander to La Ronda - a restored colonial barrio (once a hub for bohemians) that has been turned into a place to shop, walk and meet artisans like Gerado Zabala. Monsieur Zabala can make a wooden toy in front of your eyes in minutes. His favourite? The spinning top (including state of the art designs you’ll want to take back home with you). Find him at Casa 925.


Need a sugar rush? Look to Luis Banda. The Quitoan's family business has been making and selling colaciones - sensational sugar coated peanuts - using his Grandmother’s 100 year old recipe, since 1915, in Quito's San roque neighbourhood.


Ecuador has also become famous for its flower industry. The small South American country is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers, 73 per cent of which are roses thanks to the country’s volcanic soil, perfect temperatures and abundant sunlight. And no one beats the equatorial sun in terms of rose variety.


Even better? Visitors can discover unparalleled colour, radiance and aroma - for a pittance. You read right: it costs as little as US$2.50 for 25 long stemmed red roses - which can be snapped up on every street -meaning even cash poor travellers can play Romeo.


Best bites


Lunch time (almuerzo) is sacred in a Quiteno’s home and one dish is simply not enough. Whether you stop at an improvised stand, a humble dive, an upmarket restaurant or have an Ecuadorian homemade meal, the classic locro de papa - a thick and simple soup where the potato is its star ingredient  - is a must in your culinary check list. Soup is invariably followed by cuy - roasted guinea pig, hornado (slow roasted pork) or a ceviche and  great place to get stuck into the aforementioned delicacies is Achiote (



For lunch on the run, try a humita - a cornmeal, egg and cheese dumpling like snack that works well when washed down with a locally brewed Pilsner - from a stall at Mercado Central (Av Pichincha, Quito 170136, Ecuador).

Just north of Quito, lies the most visited attraction in the country - the Mitad del Mundo monument and complex dedicated to the equator and the fact that Quito lies close to it. A tourist’s favourite will forever be the joy of standing on the thin yellow line painted on the cement that (fictitiously) divides the planet in two. 


If you want to genuinely stand with one foot in each hemisphere, you’ll need to head 240m down the road to the real equator - a site that was discovered only a few years back thanks to Global Positioning Services (GPS) devices. The true spot is called the Intiñan Solar Museum ( and aims to answer all your equator related science queries including “Can you balance an egg on a nail?” and “Does water really change direction in different hemispheres?”
If you’re in town on a Saturday, seek out the small craft town of Otavalo. Thanks to one of Ecuador’s most effective marketing operations (which back in the 1950s involved ponchos at the UN and pan flutes on Times Square) a livelihood was secured for the ever industrious Otavalenos, making their Saturday street fair an every day event flocked to by tourists from around the globe.


South America’s largest street fair begins at dawn at the fascinating animal market where locals buy, sell and trade all possible domestic creatures (from guinea pigs to llamas), and continues in the town with the produce market and the arts and craft fair where you can haggle for straw hats, brightly coloured rugs and traditional crafts. A true shop till you drop adventure.



Feeling stressed? Look to Señora Rosa, a limpiadora - essentially a herb healer - who waits in her corner stall, at Mercado San Francisco, for her patients to arrive to perform her ‘limpia’ spiritual cleansing process. With herbs and flowers, she cures everything from angst to nervous tension, insomnia and depression. Healer’s tip: Tuesdays and Fridays are the most propitious to banish the evil eye.


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Quito calling

Cloud-high in the Andes and hemmed in by the snow-capped peaks of two active volcanoes, Ecuador's capital Quito is magical enough as it is. 

However in 2018, Latin America's best-preserved colonial city - which took the titles South America's Leading Destination 2017 and South America's Leading Meetings & Conference Destination 2017 at the 2017 World Travel Awards, aka the travel industry’s leading awards programme - gets even better.

The central plaza's Catedral Metropolitana recently opened its catacomb filled crypt to visitors for the first time in centuries and now guests can follow a Friar along narrow spiral staircases unto the domed rooftop for superb views of the city, for just £4.50. 

What’s more, no reservation is necessary: simply ask to “subir a la cúpula” at the front ticket office (9.30am-5.30pm; Monday to Saturday).

For the full low-down, visit

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