Ecuador has been making a bit of a name for itself recently in the U.S: first, it was voted the top country in the world to retire to by International Living (and boasts a sizable and growing American retiree and expat population), and now it’s become the first foreign nation to ever buy a tourism commercial during the Superbowl, which will run today during the halftime break (this comes hot on the heels of last year’s Beatles-themed “All you Need is Ecuador” tourism campaign). The ad will promote the varied delights of this tiny South-American country to the world, a country that, despite its size, features breathtaking mountains and volcanoes, carefully-preserved Colonial cities, the vast Amazon jungle, and miles of unspoiled Pacific coastline. But the real jewel in Ecuador’s crown? Undoubtedly the astonishing Galapagos Islands, a unique living museum of endemic wildlife and ethereal landscapes that lies 600 miles out to sea.
UPDATE: See Ecuador’s Super Bowl ad here
Just a short hop away
For many, a visit to the Galapagos Islands is just a distant dream, but in reality a trip can be far more manageable and attainable than you might think. Ecuador is easily reached from the U.S: from Miami it’s a short three and a half-hour direct flight. Atlanta, Houston and New York also have direct five-to-six-hour routes. American Airlines, United, Delta, LAN and Copa are your best bets. And there’s no need to fear jet-lag: Ecuador is on EST time, while the Galapagos Islands are just an hour behind. Most people fly in to either Ecuador’s capital city Quito or its second city Guayaquil. From Quito it’s a three-hour flight to the Galapagos, and from Guayaquil it’s a speedy two and a half.
Americans have another advantage when visiting the Galapagos: currency. Since the year 2000, Ecuador has used the US dollar, so you won’t be faced with any exchange fees – and your money will go a long way. Here, a beer is $2. A typical three-course lunch starts at $2.50. Prices are higher in the Galapagos than on the mainland, but still very reasonable.
Mountains, beach and jungle
Thanks to Ecuador’s compact size, complementing a visit to the Galapagos with some additional sightseeing is a must. In just a few days you can explore the capital Quito (which has the largest and best-preserved colonial center of any South American city), visit a restored hacienda in the Andes mountains, and hike through the Amazon jungle. In-country flights are so quick you’ll barely have time to make it to the plane bathroom before you land, and they’re cheap – from around US$40 one-way.
And finally, unlike some other South American countries, US citizens don’t need a visa. As long as you have a round-trip flight and a passport that is valid for six months beyond the last day of your trip, you can stay for up to 90 days.