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There’s always a first time for everything. Life is full of firsts; riding your first bike, waiting intensely as you hope for your first sighting of big cat in the wild or the first time you step foot on a new continent.

Knowing you’re going to experience something for the first time gives all of us a buzz, an excitement that ripples and builds in the pit of your stomach all the way to your toes!

My trip to Ecuador was full of first-time experiences. For starters, it was my first time in South America.

Highlights of Ecuador

ecuador highlightsHighlights of Ecuador

This is an obvious one, to begin with, but Ecuador is such a diverse country that experiencing it for the first time offers you so much variety; biodiversity, landscapes, ecosystems. Ecuador could be described as four worlds within one country and often is: coast, mountains, highlands and jungle… Our trip spoiled us, as we experienced all four!

First Time: Seeing a Volcano

Ecuador boasts over 20 volcanoes – for a relatively small country, this seems like quite a lot to me! I was lucky enough to visit and see quite a few.

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting the Cuicocha Caldera Crater Lake sitting at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano. At 3000m, and 3km wide it was our first walking experience at altitude. When reaching the first viewpoint, the crater was covered in cloud – needless to say, we were all gutted, having been expecting our first real view!

But as we walked to a further viewpoint, the clouds teased us as they started to part, just increasing our excitement and impatience! Walking on, and the clouds performed a huge reveal showing us this expansive crater view. It was an incredible moment and all of us were gobsmacked and elated.

First Time: Standing on the Equator

First Time Experience in EcuadorThe Equator 

This was a real bucket-list moment – standing over the equator line with a foot either side meaning I was technically standing in two hemispheres at once!

First Time: Hummingbirds up Close

First Time Experience in EcuadorHummingbird, Ecuador 

On our descent into the Amazon basin, we were lucky enough to stop off and see a mixture of hummingbirds at a bird-watching garden. This Sword-billed hummingbird sat still just long enough for me to get a snap!

First Time: in the Jungle

We’d spent quite a while being at altitude in the Andes. I wasn’t sure that anything after this would really beat the landscapes we’d been spoiled with here. I was wrong…

jungle crittersJungle critters 

Our rustic rainforest lodge was so remote that the only way we could get to it was by travelling in a canoe styled motorboat along the rivers in the Amazon. This sunset moment was taken on the first night, shared with my best friend whilst sitting on the lodge’s docking steps.

Until Ecuador, I’d never ventured into a jungle – let alone the Amazon Rainforest. This was a brilliant first time, and one I will continue to brag about! The group enjoyed various journeys into this mysterious canopied world, but one of the highlights was a night walk on our first evening.

All wearing head torches, we all moved gingerly forwards never knowing what was going to be lurking in the blanket of darkness ahead. A few shots from the above and you can see we actually saw a scorpion, many spiders – one of which was a tarantula!! – and an hourglass frog.

First Time: Staying in a Hacienda

Our trip really spoiled us with some incredible, unique accommodation. Hacienda Leito was by far my favourite and I wasn’t alone.

First Time Experience in EcuadorHacienda Leito 

Hidden amongst the majesty of the Andes in the Tungurahua province (famous for its explosive volcano), Hacienda Leito is completely off the beaten track. Surrounded by the silence of the mountains, almost as if no other tourist has been here before and with each room having its own fireplace it feels like a home from home.

First Time: Walking at High Altitude

Having never experienced any kind of high altitude before, I was really excited about it. Our trip took us to quite a few high altitude spots – we were in the Andes after all!

The highest we ventured was to Chimborazo National Park at approximately 4300m – to begin with… we then continued up to 4800m. The desert-like landscape was dry and dusty underfoot, and although windy at 4800m, it was breath-taking – literally! Interestingly, due to the equatorial bulge, Chimborazo’s summit (6,268m) is the furthest point on the Earth’s surface from the centre of the Earth.

First Time: Seeing Inca Ruins

OK so it’s no Machu Picchu, but having never seen Inca Ruins or really understood much about the Incas, this was a fascinating cultural stop for me and completely unexpected.

These Inca ruins are at Ingapirca and are the largest known in Ecuador. The colonialists tried to destroy most of the evidence of Inca archaeology, but luckily these still remain. This picture is of the Inca Temple of the Sun, built without mortar, the stones fit perfectly together!

First Time: Cruising the Pacific Coast

After spending time in the highlands, jungle and mountains, we headed to the coast for our last couple of days in Ecuador. Boarding a small boat in Puerto Morro, a coastal fishing village on the Pacific coast, we set off to explore the huge mangrove forest that sprawls many of the river inlets and islands.

First Time Experience in EcuadorMangrove 

Not only were we lucky enough to see a plethora of birdlife on the way, but as the boat hummed along, dolphins played with each other, diving and blowing, right in front of us.

As we floated up to our island stop, thousands of frigate birds swirled in the sky above us. Walking into the mangrove, and they were everywhere! It was an incredible sight. Ecuador offers its visitors an abundant choice of landscapes and experiences, and many only think of this little country for the Galapagos Islands.

But if you are thinking about travelling to South America, Ecuador is the perfect place to experience a world of activities and surroundings; from the Andes and volcanoes to the jungle and coast, there is so much to see. I would highly recommend it!

Take a look at our trips to Ecuador below and follow in Laura’s footsteps.