5 Highlights Of Ecuador & The Amazon To Check Out Before (or After) You Visit The Galapagos

By Naomi K. Cissy Shapiro
Last updated: Apr 09, 2021
Ecuador Andes (Courtesy photo)

The perfect combination for anyone planning to visit the Galapagos is to experience highlights of Ecuador’s diverse and enchanting mainland, then fly to the Galapagos Islands and board a luxury yacht for a tour of the magnificent islands.

First, here are some pleasant sounds of Ecuador to enjoy as you read the post…
Turn the sound on/off and adjust the volume to your liking… especially when you come to the other videos and music, below…


For starters, a pleasant four-hour flight from Atlanta, Georgia  brought us from the United States to Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. 

Quito, Ecuador at night (Courtesy Photo)

Quito is at once cosmopolitan and cultured, with significant history, magnificent churches and museums, fine food and entertainment, and really pleasant people…

As of 2019, about 1,978,376 people lived in Quito (the second largest city in Ecuador after Guayaquil). The Historic Center in Quito is one of the largest, least-changed and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas.

World Cultural Heritage Site.
Quito was designated a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978, the first city to be honored in such a way. (Wikipedia). 

Mittad del mundo / Center of The World  

You can literally put one foot in each hemisphere (North and South of the Equator) at the same time, at the “Middle of the World” in/near Quito. I say “in or near” as there was a question of where they put the attraction vs. the exact point on the compass where it might officially be, so they’ve worked on establishing the accurate location… 


The Imbabura Province offers a magical landscape of snow-covered mountains, lakes and farmlands.

Driving through the Imbabura Province on the way to the Otavalo Market (about two hours north of Quito), offered opportunities to stop at large, colorful plantations (haciendas/guest houses), replete with music, flowers, showing of plantation assets, and fine dining:


At Otavalo we observed the very handsome Otavalo people in their colorful attire… shopping in their own native market for… everything… i.e. vegetables, flowers, staples, meat, poultry, cockroaches (a local treat?), household items, etc.  


I can still hear the delightful one-man-band guy rhythmically clanging up and down the aisles at the Otavalo Market… see photos and video, below…

Just outside of the food and vegetable market was the open market known for its weavings, alpaca hangings and other local crafts, “manned” by more handsome women, knitting their crafts as they waited near their booths. I still enjoy wearing the charming little black and silver necklace I bought there.    

Following our visit to the market, we were invited into the home shop of local weavers, who actually craft those familiar carpets and hangings… and happily demonstrated their weaving and color-blending techniques.


There’s nothing like a thrilling ride through the Andean countryside riding on top of a bus-like train (or is it a train-like bus)? 

The Chiva Express, with chairs firmly fastened to the top — and equipped with seatbelts — make it possible for travelers to ride safely on top and watch the Ecuadorian world (including snow-capped Mount Cotopaxi) go by… See photos and video, below.


A half-hour plane flight from Quito brought us to the Amazon rainforest frontier town of Puerto Francisco de Orellana (called El Coca by the locals).

Getting to Sacha Lodge…

At El Coca, we boarded long boats that took us on a two-hour journey on the Napo River, where we disembarked not far from the Sacha Lodge. From there, we had to hike a short way on a boardwalk through the forest until we reached one side of Lake Pilchicocha. From there, long, narrow boats took us to the other side of the lake, to Sacha Lodge, our home for the next few days…

Sacha Lodge is home to myriad fascinating jungle experiences involving, of course, animals (e.g. monkeys, kinkajous, jaguars, ocelot, agouti, you-name-it), insects, birds, fish… and anything jungle you can think of…

PS In case you didn’t already know (but probably suspected), the Amazon jungle is wet and humid and sticky about 100 percent of the time. Rain is almost always imminent, there’s nearly-permanent sucking mud on the trails, thorns everywhere, including on tree trunks (I found out the hard way), and tons of small, medium-sized and large mammals, birds, and insects everywhere you go.   

The lodge provided boots and ponchos to help cope with the ubiquitous rain and mud. It’s impossible for things to “dry” by themselves in the wet natural environment, so the lodge’s laundry service to help keep things clean and dry was a most welcome service! 

Our rooms also boasted a small “dry box” in the cupboard where you could put your electronic devices to protect them from the humidity. (Then there was the instance where I left some paper-wrapped cough drops on the bed, and when I returned later in the day, they had self-disintegrated into a sticky mess, thanks to the humidity, I guess).  

Activities when we were at the Lodge: 


***A night tour into the rainforest to see what’s going on in the forest at night:

With headlamps and sharp eyes of our guides, we spotted Insects, a kinkajou crawling through the trees above, snakes, and other creatures of the night.

***The Rainforest Canopy 

A daytime hike to Sacha Lodge’s canopy-view towers, climbing the 300 steps up to the bridges to glimpse what was going on ABOVE the forest canopy…

***Parrots & Piranhas: 

Some of our party made an excursion to see parrots at a salt lick some miles down the river…

***Fishing for piranhas and swimming in the lake near the lodge… 

First, you should know that the piranhas were small and non-threatening. However, piranhas are very hard to catch because they clean the bait in an instant – and, boy their teeth are sharp! 

PS Sorry to destroy the scary myth, but the idea that piranhas are monsters who eat humans is greatly overrated — there is no known case of this happening…

***Waterway Tour, Monkeys & All: 

While the guys made a long outing to the parrot salt lick, I was treated to my own special excursion down a narrow water passage in the midst of the rainforest, not far from the lodge.  

As Antonio, my guide, paddled down the waterway, monkeys clattered through the trees above, chattering noisily and raining down loose branches on our heads.

The jungle concealed every turn in the overgrown passage, and it felt mysterious and quiet, we didn’t go far…

As we explored, I chatted with Antonio about his life and hopes and dreams (thanks to my high school Spanish classes and the small dictionary I had brought with me in case I’d need it).  What a wonderful, special experience this was for me. 

There was much, much more to our time on the Ecuador mainland…

Following our excellent Ecuador land experiences, we flew to Ecuador’s biggest city, Guayaquil. We walked on Guayaquil’s magnificent, long promenade along the sea, and visited the city’s labyrinthine indoor market, filled with hundreds of vendors. 

Then, from Guayaquil, we took a pleasant ninety-minute flight to the mystical Galapagos Islands…

Be sure to see related story: Why The Galapagos Islands Are #1 On Everyone’s Bucket List

A version of this story appeared in TravelAgeWest. 

Photo credits to Metropolitan Tourism, Ecuador Tourism, Seth at Sacha Lodge, and the author. 

The author was a guest of Ecuador Tourism, Metropolitan Tourism, Avalon Waterways, and other entities mentioned in the story, which had no influence whatsoever on any viewpoint or reporting.
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Tags: Chiva Express Ecuador forest canopy Guayaquil Imbabura Province Mittad el Mundo Otavalo piranhas Quito Sacha Lodge

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