GETTING THERE: American Airlines flies to Ecuador's capital Quito, via Miami, with October midweek fares starting at $675 round trip; Continental flies via Houston with midweek fares starting at $690.
GETTING AROUND: Latin American Escapes (800-510-5999, www.latinamericanescapes.com) offers customized tours of Ecuador. My 11-day tour, booked through the California company, included several nights at the Sierra Madre Hotel in Quito, a four-day Quito-to-Cuenca trip and a four-day stay at Sacha Lodge. It cost $1,830 per person, including two internal flights but not international airfare. In Ecuador, the largest tour operator is Metropolitan Touring (011-5932-298-8200, www.metropolitan-touring.com), which can arrange last-minute day trips as well as several day tours.
WHERE TO STAY: Flights to Quito can arrive late at night, so a hotel in the city is essential. The rooms are basic at the Spanish villa-style Hotel Sierra Madre (Veintimilla 464 and Luis Tamayo, 011-5932-250-5687, www.hotelsierramadre.com), but the breakfast room is quite charming and the price is right: Singles begin at $35. On the plusher side is the Grand Hotel Mercure Quito (Roca 653 and Amazonas, 011-5932-256-2345. www.mercure.com), a high-rise with rates starting at $90 for a single, although better rates can sometimes be found on the Internet.
In Cuenca, I stayed at the Santa Lucia Hotel (Antonio Borrero 8-44 and Sucre, 011-5937-282-8000, www.santaluciahotel.com), located in a beautiful historic building on a cobblestone street. Rates start at $74 a night for a single with breakfast. Sacha Lodge (www.sachalodge.com), on a 5,000-acre private reserve in the Amazon basin, has three- and four-night stays that include all meals, boat transport (two-hour ride from Coca), lodging and excursions with a naturalist and local guides. Four-night stays Monday through Friday are $750 per person; three-night Friday-Monday stays are $595 per person.
WHERE TO EAT: At La Terraza del Tartaro (Veintimilla 926 and Amazonas), the view of Quito is fantastic, and the menu includes such local cuisine as ceviche and local fish and a large selection of soups with quinoa or almond. Entrees are less than $10. The Bacus Cafe at the Santa Lucia Hotel (see above) in Cuenca serves an enormous portion of grilled trout, as well as chicken and beef entrees, for less than $10. Most of my other meals were at restaurants on my tours. It is customary in Ecuador to begin meals with soup: Locro de papas is a typical soup made with potatoes, cheese and avocado; sopa de patacones is made from green bananas; and sopa de mote is made with very large kernel corn. This is not a low-carb nation.
INFORMATION: Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador, 011-593-2-2507-559, www.vivecuador.com
-- Ellen Perlman