CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Hertfordshire Life today CLICK HERE

Latitude zero: Ecuador

PUBLISHED: 17:01 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:39 20 February 2013

Cotopaxi over the rooftops of Quito

Cotopaxi over the rooftops of Quito

It's the smallest country in Latin America but has a huge amount to offer. Karen Bowerman travelled to Ecuador, to experience its volcanic landscape, colonial cities and crater lakes – all at latitude zero

Its the smallest country in Latin America but has a huge amount to offer. Karen Bowerman travelled to Ecuador, to experience its volcanic landscape, colonial cities and crater lakes all at latitude zero

It soars overhead, swoops behind a ridge and disappears, the mountain caracara, with red bill, black breast and impressive wingspan.

We were lucky to spot that, my guide, Jorge, says. For a few moments we stare into the vast, white sky but the bird of prey has gone.

We resume hiking through the Ecuadorean Andes. Above us is Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. At 5,897 metres its snow capped summit slips in and out of the mist. Jorges hacienda with its terracotta walls and thatched roof lies close to its foothills.

Dictating Ecuadors diverse ecosystem

The Andes run North to South through the centre of Ecuador. They dictate, by way of their altitude, the countrys diverse ecosystem. To the West theres the Pacific coast, to the East Amazonian jungle. And with Ecuador about the size of the UK you can drive easily in between.

But dont race around too much. Give yourself time to take in the countrys natural beauty and the friendliness of its people.

Mingle with the locals

Driveat a leisurely pacethrough the Lower Andes patchwork fields and women with bright shawls, leg warmers and sturdy shoes will look up from the dark, mineral-rich soil and wave.

Pick through chunky ponchos at stalls round the turquoise crater lake at Quilotoa and see the delight on the faces of the girls who made them. Buy an ice cream (a delicious mix of frozen milk and fruit juice) at the small town of Salcedo - before long children will approach to say hello and watch and laugh as the ice melts all lopsided on its stick.

The Centre of the World

If youre looking for a more typical tourist trail, it has to include the centre of the world - Mitad del Mundo - from which Ecuador got its name. Straddle the equatorial line with a foot in both hemispheres then worry afterwards that there are actually two - one marked out in the 18th century, the other by modern day GPS.

Haggle with traders at Otavalo market

From there take in Cuenca with its striking colonial architecture, haggle at Otavalos indigenous market (a perfect place for souvenirs) and head to Banos famous for its thermal springs. The town, wedged between the foot of Tungurahua volcano and a deep ravine, is still small and unspoilt.

The colonial capital, Quito

Quito, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is also a must-see. Gaze at the tonnes of gold leaf spread over the interior of La Compania Church or stand quietly in a corner of Carmen Alto Convent as hidden nuns sell communion wafers through a small turnstile in the wall.

Catch the city at festival time and youll be spoilt for colour, drama, and llamas - you might even find yourself joining in the street games. I was blindfolded and encouraged to smash the last piata to create a shower of Ecuadorian chocolates. I saved one for a cup of coca tea, said to help with altitude sickness, for here youre 3000 metres above sea level.

Ecuador may be the second smallest country in South America but its certainly all here: altitude, latitude, jungle, volcanoes, cloud forest and coast - all within easy reach of each other. And all under the arch of the warm equatorial sun.


Getting there:

BA & American Airlines fly direct from London Heathrow to Quito. KLM flies direct from London City.

Numerous tour operators offer packages to Ecuador, ranging from budget to exclusive: see for details

Information on Ecuador: Ecuador Tourism office in UK:

Information on Quito: Quito tourism office:

Hotels in Quito

Caf Cultura boutique hotel in centre of Quito

Hacienda Rumiloma (in the hills 5 minutes above Quito) offers luxurious eclectic/bohemian-style suites and an Irish/Ecuadorian pub!

Haciendas near Cotopaxi:

Hacienda el Porvenir, (Jorges place) in the foothills of Ruminahui Volcano Offers trekking/horse riding/zip lining activities

Hacienda San Agustin de Callo: on site of former Inca palace walls with fabulous views of Cotopaxi. (Offers horse riding, trekking and mountain biking)

Hotel near Banos:

Luna Runtun Spa Spa and hotel in Sangay National Park overlooking Banos. Hotel has individual chalet style rooms & private thermal pools


More from Out & About

Yesterday, 10:05

From Aldbury to Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire has a plethora of pretty villages. We have picked just 10 that you should visit

Read more
Friday, November 16, 2018

Christmas isn’t complete without a trip to a festive fair. From German-style food stalls to vintage fetes, Hertfordshire’s Christmas markets have it all

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We quiz author Kevin Exley about his new book that takes the reader on the trail of fascinating stories, new and old, around Berkhamsted

Read more
October 2018
Monday, October 29, 2018

Hertfordshire is a county with a vast, fascinating and sometimes dark and bloody history that has reportedly lead to more than a few angry ghosts sticking around to wreak havoc and take revenge on the living. We have gathered 10 of the most haunted places in the county

Read more
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Make the most out of autumn with these eight walking routes that take in a variety of Hertfordshire’s terrains and - most importantly – have a cosy pub along the way

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We've selected a variety of spooky activities in the county that are sure to delight the kids

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Charlotte Hussey explores the fascinating world of bats and new projects in the county to help conserve these remarkable creatures

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species is asking the public to look out for mammals on Hertfordshire’s roads as part of a citizen science project

Read more
September 2018
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From stately homes to skateparks, we have selected some of the best ideas for things to do in Hertfordshire

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The diverse parkland of Pishiobury Park in Sawbridgeworth is undergoing a five-year plan to promote its heritage and enhance its habitats. It makes for a royal day out

Read more
September 2018

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search