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With its colourful Andean culture and fascinating wildlife, Ecuador is a delight to discover.

Nestled between Colombia and Peru on the Atlantic coast, Ecuador is a relatively small country on South American terms. But don’t let size deceive you. From snow-capped Andean peaks and volcanoes to remote Amazon rainforest, stunning colonial towns and traditional highland villages, there’s so much to see and experience in Ecuador.

And then there are the Galapagos Islands – that sun-drenched archipelago that inspired the works of Darwin himself. Tempted? We thought so. Named after the equatorial line it straddles, Ecuador is, after all, at the very centre of the world.

 

Things to do

Saga’s holidays to Ecuador give you a real flavour of the country’s distinctive culture. Wander the colonial streets of high-altitude Quito, take a trip to the centre of the world at the Equatorial Monument and museums, and travel through the Andes to the vibrant indigenous market town of Otavalo. Take a cabin on a boat bound for the Galapagos Islands to explore sun-kissed beaches and bizarre volcanic landscapes, and get to know its incredible wildlife and history with our expert guides. Combine your adventures with a trip to Peru or set sail on one of our world cruises, stopping off in Ecuador’s port city of Manta along the way.

The Galapagos Islands 

This string of isolated volcanic islands sits nearly 1000 kilometres off the coast of mainland Ecuador and is on many a wildlife enthusiast’s ultimate bucket list. With human intervention kept to a minimum, the animals here have evolved over the centuries, many of them becoming entirely unique to the islands. It was here that Charles Darwin first developed his theories of evolution and natural selection and it is a fascinating and otherworldly place to explore, with strange volcanic landscapes and an enthralling history. Among the many characters you’ll meet on the islands are blue-footed boobies, giant Galapagos tortoises and iguana, dolphins, hawks, seals and penguins. The archipelago comprises 20 islands, with Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana and San Cristóbal among the largest, as well as numerous islets.

 

Culture and history

The vast majority – 95% – of Ecuadorians are Roman Catholic, although the indigenous population blend Christian beliefs with ancient indigenous customs.

The Ecuadorians have a distinctive dress code, especially in Quito. Men usually dress in a blue poncho, a fedora and white, calf-length pantaloons. The Shimba (a long braid that hangs down nearly to the man's waist) that dates back to pre-Inca times is a very traditional piece of clothing.

The Ecuadorian women dress in costumes similar to the outfits worn by Incas in the Andes: usually a white blouse, blue skirt and a shawl. Jewellery is also very important, with necklaces of gold beads and red coral bracelets worn in layers.

Ecuador has some very tasty but rather strange combinations in their cuisine: expect to find lemon-marinated shrimps, toasted corn on the cob and a huge variety of pastries filled with different types of stuffing.

It is thought that the first inhabitants of Ecuador migrated west from Brazil around 4000BC and set up home on the fertile Atlantic coast. Several cultures developed and thrived over the centuries, both on the coast and across the Andean highlands. Sophisticated societies developed with some inevitable conflict as the cultures of the highlands and the coast vied for supremacy.

Meanwhile, in Peru, the Inca Empire began to foster expansionist leanings – and at the beginning of the 15th century they set out from Cuzco in Peru to conquer present day Bolivia, Ecuador and beyond. On arrival in Ecuador they met with fierce resistance and it took several years for them to conquer the whole territory. After the death of their leader he passed on power to two of his sons, essentially splitting the empire and ultimately sowing the seeds of its demise.

Infighting and civil war weakened the Incas, and when the Spanish first arrived in 1532 with their cannons, their armour and their outlandish appearance they struck terror into the hearts of the people and just one year later claimed Ecuador for the Spanish crown.

Ecuador was then relatively peaceful for several centuries until the early 1800s when unrest grew and several attempts at independence were made. It was the Venezuelan, Simón Bolívar, who finally liberated Ecuador from Spain, initially uniting the country with Colombia and Venezuela up until 1830 when it became fully independent.