As the drama of Ecuador’s Andean spine ends, lofty volcanoes make way for the misty grasslands and rugged lakes of the paramo. Open plains break up quaint towns and the fertile valleys and lowland forest welcome visitors as though from the pages of a fairy-tale. The chief urban areas here, Guayaquil and Cuenca, form the gateways to more magical climbs from the Galapagos to the Ingapirca ruins.
Hiking trails through this mystical landscape, as well as the fascinating Inca ruins at Ingapirca, can be reached from nearby Cuenca, a pleasant town famed for its colorful flower market and traditional panama hats.
Further west, the vibrant coastal city of Guayaquil forms the gateway to the Galapagos. Having recently undergone a complete revival, Guayaquil’s waterfront malecón makes for a pleasant stroll with its gardens, museums, galleries and shopping centers, and is the beating heart of this bustling metropolis. Colorful barrios rise up on the hillside creating a toy-box like feel and this fun and infectious energy extends right through the city’s parks and plazas to the restaurants and bars which make up its lively nightlife scene.