Thursday, December 08, 2005

Active volcanoes, part of the travel plans

The Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador are among the world's most famous destinations, a once-in-a-lifetime trip near the top of many travelers' wish lists.

But the islands' capacity to accommodate visitors will reach its limit within two years, when 160,000 visitors are expected annually.

So a campaign called the "four worlds" of Ecuador is being launched to promote other parts of the country worth visiting. In addition to the Galapagos, those regions are the Amazon, the Andes and the coast.

"The Galapagos is the most famous destination in Ecuador, but Ecuador has much more," said Maria Isabel Salvador, the country's tourism minister, in a recent telephone interview.
These other three regions are a mere 30-minute flight from one another, perfect for visitors interested in exploring a variety of destinations in a short time.

The coastal region includes Guayaquil, a port city and the gateway to wild tropical beaches bordered by lush greenery; and a trading culture that goes back thousands of years and that includes a colorful pirate history. The country also has eco-lodges and interesting agritourism attractions, including rose farms, coffee and cocoa routes, farms where white shrimp are cultivated, and banana plantations. The World Banana Fair is celebrated each year on Sept. 24.

The Andes region offers spectacular mountain vistas and two cities that are on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites because of their Incan, pre-Incan and Spanish colonial history -- Cuenca and Quito. In Quito, the Avenue of the Volcanos provides a panoramic view of active volcanos -- including the tallest active volcano in the world, Cotapaxi -- and snowcapped mountains. A monument north of the city marks the equator.

The Amazon region is home to indigenous cultures and a huge variety of flora and fauna, from orchids and pink river dolphins to monkeys and some of the country's 1,600 species of birds.

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