Galapagos, Ecuador – Mangrove finch
Finches were one of the many birds Darwin studied in the Galápagos Islands before publishing his monumental work on natural selection. Today, the mangrove finch is on the verge of extinction in the Galápagos. There are around 100 left, with just 20 breeding pairs. To keep the finches from disappearing altogether, the Charles Darwin Research Station and San Diego Zoo have engaged in a captive breeding program.
Recently, a third group of fledging mangrove finches were released on Isabela island. All birds are fitted with miniature tracking devices. Some returned to the aviary, but several finches released in past years have been seen in the wild. This showed finches raised in captivity are able to survive long-term.
Though dwarfed by its larger neighbors, Ecuador boasts one of the planet’s densest volcanic regions, including over a dozen craters on the Galapagos islands. One of Ecuador’s top volcanic areas is Imbabura in the north: lagoon country. It’s a favorite for active people, as well as anyone seeking relaxation or solitude.
Here are three easy and excellent hikes, ideally allocating at least one whole day for each. Regular hiking boots are sufficient, while camping gear and a week’s worth of food & water is recommended for the adventurous. Get out into the wild, and savor every second of the high-altitude, diverse and captivating experience!
To go deep into the lower Amazon basin, where biodiversity is highest, an extended canoe ride is a usual element of the trip. Though there are many wonderful rainforest lodges in Ecuador, only two cruise boats are licensed to operate along the Napo River, which courses through all the main highlights of the Ecuadorian jungle.
Cruises vastly increase the range of attractions one is able to visit, since lodges rarely offer excursions to places more than a few hours away. In one week, a cruise boat will travel over 100 miles to the Amazonian border with Peru. There are also half-week cruises.
The two available boats are the Manatee and the Anakonda, catering for lower and higher budgets respectively. Their itineraries are identical, with the only likely differences arising due to weather and other unforeseeables. Both boats are equipped with canoes for all passengers, and experienced guides accompany guests on all excursions.
Chimborazo Mountain in Ecuador
Ecuador really does boast the highest peak in the world, when measured as it should be — from the Earth’s core. Those who wish to stand on the planet’s closest point to outer space must come to the Andes in South America, close to the Equator line.
In this ultra-volcanic region is Mount Chimborazo, a giant inactive volcano over 20,000 feet tall which impresses not so much with its height as its sheer bulk. Its four peaks (from west to east) are Veintemilla, Whymper, Politécnica and Nicolás Martínez.
The tallest of these peaks is Whymper, named after the Briton Edward Whymper who ascended Chimborazo twice in 1880, and spent a night on the summit of Ecuador’s second most famous volcano: Cotopaxi. His resulting book is entitled Travels amongst the Great Andes of the Equator.
It isn’t only the abundant wildlife that makes Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands totally unique.
Arriving at opposite sides of the same island (there are roughly 20 in total) can be like landing on different planets. You can even start climbing directly from some beaches to elevations of several thousand feet.
That’s because the Galapagos Islands are all relatively recent volcanic creations, between 2-5 million years old. The most geologically active are Isabela (the largest) and Fernandina, pictured left. They are also the most westerly (and thus youngest) islands.
The Galapagos boast the highest concentration of active volcanoes on earth. The most recent eruption of Wolf volcano (see top of picture) in 2015 was preceded by eruptions of Fernandina in 2009, Cerro Azul in 2008, Sierra Negra in 2005 and Alcedo in 1993.