Plan your next family vacation in Ecuador

Is it a good idea to go to South America with kids? No – it’s a great idea! Ecuador, a geographically diverse little equatorial country on the Pacific coast of Northwestern South America, is an ideal destination for a family vacation. With its temperate climate, fun activities, breathtaking wildlife, and access to the Andes, the Amazon, the Galapagos Islands, and historical colonial cities, Ecuador offers sights, sounds, and experiences that kids will remember for the rest of their lives.

Family vacation in Ecuador: Start in the highlands

The whole country of Ecuador is about the size of the American state of Colorado, but it offers beaches, mountains, jungles, and the world-famous Galapagos Islands, where visitors can see evolution in action. It’s a good idea to begin your Ecuador vacation in the highlands, because altitude changes between the islands or coast and the mountains can be hard on the body over the course of a short trip. That’s not to say it can’t be done, of course; and you could just as easily begin your trip on the islands and at the coast and work your way inward toward the mountains and the jungle, depending on what works best for your family.

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The colonial city of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-see. A few days in Quito will give you the chance to tour the historic Old City, as well as explore some of the surrounding sights. Two hours north of Quito on the Pan-American Highway, you’ll find the town of Otavalo, with its famous indigenous market, scenic hiking and biking, and boutique hotels operated out of colonial-era haciendas. Otavalo offers the country’s best shopping, with plenty of locally-made goods, including things kids will love, like dolls and painted wooden toys, jewelry, fluffy toy llamas, musical instruments, and CDs of local music.

If you have older kids or teens that enjoy outdoor adventuring, don’t miss Baños, a town in the Ecuador highlands famous for its thermal baths. Other activities in Baños include bungee jumping, rafting, kayaking, and biking. From Baños, venture into the Amazon, where you can take a day trip into the wilderness or stay at one of the area’s eco-lodges located smack-dab in the middle of the jungle.

If you have time, travel the 300 miles south of Quito to visit Cuenca. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Cuenca is another colonial city that is quieter and cleaner than Quito. It offers numerous cultural attractions, including the Museo Pumapungo and the Old Cathedral of Cuenca. Outdoorsy types should visit the nearby El Cajas National Park, known for its cloud forest trails and home to giant hummingbirds and Andean Condors.

Don’t miss the Galapagos

No trip to Ecuador would be complete without a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Strict local laws have managed to keep the Galapagos Islands relatively pristine, and the lack of local predators mean that Galapagos wildlife has no fear of humans. The Galapagos Islands are located 600 miles from the mainland, so you’ll have to catch a flight, and experienced Ecuador travelers recommend flying between islands, too, if you can afford it; transportation by boat is available, but it’s slow and the boats often break down, resulting in longer trips. If you can’t afford to fly between islands, boat travel is still feasible; book locally with companies who can give you information about the condition of specific boats, and add about 50 percent to the stated travel time to account for disruptions.

Galapagos

Make some time to visit each of the three main islands, Santa Cruz, San Cristobel, and Isabela, so that you get a chance to spot as much wildlife as possible. Santa Cruz is the best island to see the Galapagos tortoise, but San Cristobal offers many opportunities to watch sea lions. Go snorkeling off San Cristobal to swim with Galapagos sharks and sea turtles. Isabella sports stretches of pristine beach inhabited only by Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies, and marine iguanas; snorkeling here is great, as well.

Traveling with kids is always intimidating, but a vacation to Ecuador could end up being your family’s best vacation ever. One thing’s for sure – a family vacation to Ecuador is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you and your kids will remember fondly together for years to come.

Photo credit: John Solaro

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids

AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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