Hit the capital Quito for Spanish colonial splendour and a newly renovated historic centre (UNESCO World Heritage listed) with one of South America’s oldest cathedrals and plenty of museums, restaurants and shops. Then head 26km north of Quito to the equator monument, La Mitad del Mundo or ‘Middle of the World’, where you and the kids can make the stuff of which family holiday memories are made by standing with one foot in each hemisphere.
Discover the traditional market town of Otavalo just under 100km northeast of Quito. Test your bargaining skills at Ecuador’s most famous market in the aptly named Plaza de los Ponchos (expect to pay at least 20-25% below the asking price for the crafts on offer).
Head into the long valley of the Avenue of Volcanoes, beginning 40km south of Quito and containing more than 70 volcanoes, to see the snow-capped Andes in all their glory. The Cotopaxi National Park around the Cotopaxi volcano boasts spectacular glaciers and snowfields, while the surrounding countryside is dotted with haciendas offering accommodation and family-friendly outdoor activities such as horse-riding, mountain-biking, bird-watching and hiking.
Travel south via the Devil’s Nose switchback, to the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca (300km from Quito) and the Inca ruins of Ingapirca.
Venture east of the Andes, where the Amazon rainforest flourishes up to the border with Peru. Spend a few days delving into the jungle, spotting tapirs, lizards, monkeys and all manner of bird species in their natural habitat. Note that while the Amazon is easily accessible on family adventure tips (see Trips tab), the more remote lodges should only be attempted with older kids.
Travel west of the Andes, where the cloud-forest reserves that descend to the Pacific are the place for twitchers (both young and old) to spot an amazing diversity of bird species.
Whether you opt for a whistle-stop tour of the mainland, focus on the Amazon and/or the Andes in more depth, or skip Ecuador altogether, the Galapagos Islands are what it’s really all about. Kids who love animals (and which don’t?) adore getting up-close and personal with unique animal life that includes famous giant tortoises, the Galapagos land iguana and all manner of birds, from blue-footed boobies (there’ll be no avoiding the obvious jokes) to Darwin finches. Cool sea currents have also introduced coldwater species to the tropical seas – sightings of penguins, orca and fur seals can also be expected. Just remember that restrictions on visitor numbers to the Galapagos National Park means bookings may need to be made early.
Cruises are the usual way to visit the Galapagos Islands, with a huge variety of family-friendly options available, from private yachts to passenger cruise ships; Quasar Expeditions is among the firms offering specific Family Cruises complete with child-friendly guides and kids’ dishes at meal times. Island visits, kayaking, snorkelling, star-gazing and glass-bottomed boat-trips keep the kids well occupied. The minimum age on such trips tends to be 5 or 6, and they must be good swimmers.
Land-lovers or those with younger kids can base themselves in one place and access the other islands during the day (local nannies can look after younger kids if you want to do specific activities with the older ones). Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz is the largest town in the Galapagos Islands, with a good selection of shops and accommodation.