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Ecuador travel guide - Travel S helper

Ecuador

travel guide

Ecuador, formally the Republic of Ecuador (Spanish: Repblica del Ecuador; Quechua: Ikwadur Ripuwlika), is a representative democratic republic in northwestern South America, bordered on the north by Colombia, on the east and south by Peru, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Ecuador also includes the Galápagos Islands, which are located in the Pacific, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) west of the continent. What is occurring today Ecuador was home to a number of Amerindian tribes that were eventually absorbed by the Inca Empire in the 15th century.

Spain occupied the area in the sixteenth century, and it gained independence in 1820 as a member of Gran Colombia, from which it emerged as an independent state in 1830. Ecuador’s ethnically varied population reflects the heritage of both empires, with the majority of its 15.2 million inhabitants being mestizos, followed by sizable minority of European, Amerindian, and African ancestors. Spanish is the official language and is spoken by the majority of the population, although 13 Amerindian languages, including Quichua and Shuar, are officially recognized. Quito is the capital, but Guayaquil is the biggest city. In 1978, the historical core of Quito was designated a UNESCO World History Site, reflecting the country’s rich cultural heritage.

Cuenca, Peru’s third-largest city, was also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 as an exceptional example of an inland Spanish-style colonial city in the Americas. Ecuador’s economy is in the process of development and is heavily reliant on commodities, particularly petroleum and agricultural goods. The nation is categorized as having a medium level of income. Ecuador is a presidential republic governed by a democratically elected president. The 2008 new constitution is the world’s first to establish legally enforceable Rights of Nature, or ecological rights. Ecuador is also renowned for its diverse ecosystem, which is home to many unique plants and animals, including those found in the Galápagos Islands. It is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse nations.

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Ecuador - Info Card

Population

17,715,822

Currency

United States dollar (USD)

Time zone

UTC−5 / −6 (ECT / GALT)

Area

256,370 km2 (98,990 sq mi)

Calling code

+593

Official language

Spanish

Ecuador | Introduction

Weather & Climate in Ecuador

The climate is very different and is mainly determined by altitude. The mountain valleys have a mild climate all year round, the coastal areas have a humid subtropical climate and the lowlands are tropical forests. The Pacific coastal zone has a tropical climate with an abundant rainy season. The climate of the Andean highlands is temperate and relatively dry, and the Amazon basin, on the eastern side of the mountains, shares a climate with other rainforest areas.

Due to its location on the equator, Ecuador experiences little variation in daylight hours throughout the year. Sunrise and sunset occur at six o’clock every day.

Geography Of Ecuador

Ecuador has a total area of 283,520 km2 (109,468 sq mi), including the Galapagos Islands. Of this territory, 283,520 km2 (109,468 sq mi) is land and 6,720 km2 (2,595 sq mi) is water. Ecuador is larger than Uruguay, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana in South America.

Ecuador is located between latitudes 2°N and 5°S, bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, and has a coastline of 2,337 km (1,770 mi). Its land borders extend for 2,010 km (1,250 mi), with Colombia to the north for 590 km (367 mi) and Peru to the east and south for 1,420 km (882 mi). It is the westernmost country on the equator.

The country has four main geographical regions:

  • La Costa, or “the coast”: The coastal region consists of the provinces west of the Andes – Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Ríos, Manabí, El Oro, Santa Elena. It is the most fertile and productive land in the country and is home to the large banana plantations for export of the Dole and Chiquita companies. This region also produces most of Ecuador’s rice crop. The actual coastal provinces have an active fishery. The largest coastal city is Guayaquil.
  • The Sierra, or “highlands”: The Sierra consists of the Andean and inter-Andean provinces of the highlands – Azuay, Cañar, Carchi, Chimborazo, Imbabura, Loja, Pichincha and Tungurahua. This land contains most of Ecuador’s volcanoes and all its snow-capped peaks. Agriculture is concentrated on the traditional cultivation of potatoes, corn and quinua, and the population is predominantly Kichua Amerindian. The largest city in Sierro is Quito.
  • La Amazonía, also known as El Oriente, or “the East”: The Oriente consists of the Amazon jungle provinces of Morona Santiago, Napo, Orellana, Pastaza, Sucumbíos and Zamora-Chinchipe. This region is mainly made up of the vast Amazonian national parks and the untouchable Indian zones, which are large areas of land reserved for the Amazonian Indian tribes to continue their traditional way of life. It is also the region with the largest oil reserves in Ecuador, and parts of the upper Amazon have been exploited by oil companies. The population is mainly mixed Shuar, Huaorani and Kichua Indians, although there are many tribes in the deep jungle with little contact. The largest city in the Oriente is probably Lago Agrio, in Sucumbíos, although Macas, in Morona, is not far from Santiago.
  • The Región Insular is the region encompassing the Galapagos Islands, about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) west of the mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

The capital of Ecuador is Quito, located in the province of Pichincha, in the Sierra region. The largest city is Guayaquil, in the province of Guayas. Cotopaxi, located south of Quito, is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. The summit of Chimborazo (6,268 m above sea level) is considered to be the furthest point on the earth’s surface from the centre of the earth, due to the approximately ellipsoidal shape of the planet.

Demographics Of Ecuador

Ecuador’s population is ethnically diverse, with a 2011 estimate of 15,007,343 inhabitants. The largest ethnic group (as of 2010) is the Mestizos, the descendants of Spanish settlers who intermarried with Amerindian peoples, accounting for approximately 71% of the population. White Ecuadorians (white Latin Americans) represent 6.1% of the Ecuadorian population and are present throughout the country, especially in urban areas. While during the colonial period the white population of Ecuador was mainly composed of descendants of Spain, the current white population is the result of a mixture of European immigrants, mainly from Spain, and people from Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland who settled in Ecuador at the beginning of the 20th century. Ecuador also has people of Middle Eastern origin who have also joined the white minority.

These are economically well-off immigrants of Lebanese and Palestinian origin, who are either Christian or Muslim (Islam in Ecuador). In addition, there is a small European Jewish population (Ecuadorian Jews) residing mainly in Quito and, to a lesser extent, in Guayaquil. 7% of the current population are Indians. The mainly rural Montubio population of Ecuador’s coastal provinces, which could be classified as Pardo, represents 7.4% of the population. Afro-Ecuadorians constitute a minority population (7%) in Ecuador, which includes mulattos and zambos. They live mainly in the province of Esmeraldas and, to a lesser extent, in the predominantly mestizo provinces on the Ecuadorian coast – Guayas and Manabi. In the high Andes, where the population is predominantly mestizo, white and Amerindian, the African presence is almost non-existent, with the exception of a small community in the province of Imbabura, the Chota Valley.

Religion

According to the Ecuadorian National Institute of Statistics and Censuses, 91.95% of the country’s population has a religion, 7.94% are atheists and 0.11% are agnostics. Of those who have a religion, 80.44% are Latin Rite Roman Catholics, 11.30% are Evangelical Protestants, 1.29% are Jehovah’s Witnesses and 6.97% are others (mainly Jews, Buddhists and Latter Day Saints).

In rural Ecuador, the Indian faith and Catholicism are sometimes syncretised. Most of the annual festivals and parades are based on religious celebrations, many of which involve a mixture of rites and icons.

There are small numbers of Eastern Orthodox Christians, Amerindian religions, Muslims (see Islam in Ecuador), Buddhists and Baha’is. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to its own figures, represents about 1.4% of the population, or 211,165 members (end 2012). According to its own data, there were 77,323 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country in 2012.

The first Jews arrived in Ecuador in the 16th and 17th centuries. The first Jews arrived in Ecuador in the 16th century. Most of them are Sephardic Anusim (Crypto-Jews) and many still speak the Judeo-Spanish language (Ladino). Today, the Jewish community of Ecuador (Comunidad Judía del Ecuador) is based in Quito and has about 200 members. However, this number is decreasing as young people leave the country for the USA or Israel. The community has a Jewish centre with a synagogue, a country club and a cemetery. It supports the Albert Einstein School, where courses in Jewish history, religion and Hebrew are offered. There are very small communities in Cuenca. The “Comunidad de Culto Israelita” unites the Jews of Guayaquil. This community operates independently from the “Jewish Community of Ecuador” and has only 30 members.

Nations

The Ecuadorian Constitution recognises the “pluri-nationality” of those who wish to exercise their belonging to their original ethnic group. Thus, in addition to CriollosMestizos and Afro-Ecuadorians, some people belong to indigenous peoples who live scattered in a few places on the coast, in Quechua-Andean villages and in the Amazon jungle.

Population genetics

According to a 2015 genealogical DNA test, the average Ecuadorian is 52.96% Amerindian, 41.77% European and 5.26% sub-Saharan African overall.

Population density

The majority of Ecuadorians live in the central provinces, in the Andean mountains or along the Pacific coast. The rainforest region east of the mountains (El Oriente) is sparsely populated and contains only about 3% of the population. The birth rate is 2:1 for every death. Marriages are generally from the age of 14 with parental consent. About 12.4% of the population is married between the ages of 15 and 19. The divorce rate is moderate.

Immigration and emigration

A small East Asian-Latino community, estimated at 2,500 people, is composed mainly of people of Japanese and Chinese origin whose ancestors arrived in the late 19th century.

In the early years of the Second World War, Ecuador still allowed a number of immigrants, and when several South American countries refused to accept 165 Jewish refugees from Germany on the ship Königstein in 1939, Ecuador granted them permission to enter the country.

In recent years, Ecuador has become increasingly popular with North American expatriates. They are attracted by the authentic cultural experience and the beautiful natural environment. Ecuador’s favourable residency conditions make the transition easier for those who choose to settle permanently.

Another advantage that attracts many expats to Ecuador is the low cost of living. With everything from gas to groceries costing much less than in North America, it is a popular choice for those looking to make the most of their retirement budget.

Even real estate in Ecuador is much cheaper than in the tropics. However, as more and more North Americans discover Ecuador’s potential, property prices are beginning to rise from where they were a decade ago, especially in areas popular with expats and tourists.

Internet & Communications in Ecuador

Internet

Internet cafés are almost everywhere in the big cities and in many of the smaller towns. The cost is between $1 and $2 per hour in the big cities, and the better places have high-speed access. In some cafés, restaurants and hotels you will find free wifi access, usually protected by passwords; in most cases you just have to ask for the password.

Phone

For most visitors, the easiest place to call is an internet café, most of which offer VoIP service at reasonable prices. You can call the United States for about $0.10 per minute, and Europe for a little more. Avoid calling through an operator; the cost of an international call can be $3 or more per minute. For calls within Ecuador, it is possible to use a phone booth. This is a whole shop window filled with telephones. Usually the owner will assign you a booth, you make your call and then pay when you leave. Calls within Ecuador are more expensive than domestic calls in most countries, but not unreasonably so, except calls to mobile phones, which generate most of their revenue through charges to the caller.

In addition, prices for calls within Ecuador increase depending on distance, based on city, province, etc. Visitors planning an extended stay should consider purchasing a mobile phone. Most are sold on a prepaid basis, and top-up cards can be bought in all but the smallest towns. It is also possible to ‘unlock’ a modern GSM mobile phone so that it will work in Ecuador (you can take your own phone if it is compatible with GSM 850MHz), but this should be reserved for emergencies as the cost of such a call is usually exorbitant (about $0.45 per minute).

Radio and television

Radio and/or television is available in Spanish, except in some particularly remote areas. English language films are usually shown in the original language with Spanish subtitles. Many hotels have cable TV, which may include English language channels and/or premium movie channels with subtitled movies in the original language.

Newspapers and magazines

Spanish-language newspapers and magazines can be bought in the streets of the cities, but are difficult to find elsewhere. Some hotels catering to foreigners may have a small selection of English-language reading material.

Economy Of Ecuador

Ecuador has a developing economy that is heavily dependent on raw materials, namely oil and agricultural products. The country is classified as a middle-income country. Ecuador’s economy is the eighth largest in Latin America and grew by an average of 4.6% between 2000 and 2006. From 2007 to 2012, Ecuador’s GDP grew at an average annual rate of 4.3%, above the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, which was 3.5%, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Ecuador has maintained relatively higher growth during the crisis. In January 2009, the Central Bank of Ecuador (BCE) set the growth forecast for 2010 at 6.88%. In 2011, the country’s GDP grew by 8%, placing it third in Latin America, behind Argentina (2nd) and Panama (1st). Between 1999 and 2007, GDP doubled, reaching $65,490 million, according to the ECB. Inflation was about 1.14% in January 2008, the highest rate in the last year, according to the government. The monthly unemployment rate remained at around 6% and 8% from December 2007 to September 2008; however, it rose to around 9% in October and fell back to 8% in November 2008. The average annual unemployment rate for 2009 in Ecuador was 8.5% as the global economic crisis continued to affect Latin American economies. From then on, the unemployment rate began a downward trend: 7.6% in 2010, 6% in 2011 and 4.8% in 2012.

The rate of extreme poverty decreased considerably between 1999 and 2010. In 2001, it was estimated at 40% of the population, while in 2011 this figure had fallen to 17.4% of the total population. This is partly due to emigration and the economic stability achieved after the introduction of the US dollar as the official currency. However, from 2008 onwards, with the poor economic performance of the nations where most Ecuadorian emigrants work, poverty reduction has been achieved through social spending, particularly on education and health.

Oil accounts for 40% of exports and helps maintain a positive trade balance. Since the late 1960s, oil exploitation has increased production and proven reserves are estimated at 6.51 billion barrels (in 2011).

The overall trade balance for August 2012 shows a surplus of almost $390 million for the first six months of 2012, a huge figure compared to that of 2007, which was only $5.7 million; the surplus had increased by about $425 million compared to 2006. The oil trade balance was positive in 2008 at $3,295 million, while the non-oil trade balance was negative at $2,842 million. The trade balance with the United States, Chile, the European Union, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and Mexico is positive. The trade balance with Argentina, Colombia and Asia is negative.

In the agricultural sector, Ecuador is a major exporter of bananas (first in the world in terms of production and exports), flowers and the seventh largest producer of cocoa. Production of shrimp, sugar cane, rice, cotton, corn, palm trees and coffee is also important. The country’s main resources include large amounts of timber throughout the country, such as eucalyptus and mangroves. Pines and cedars are planted in the La Sierra region and walnut, rosemary and balsa wood in the Guayas River basin. Industry is mainly concentrated in Guayaquil, the largest industrial centre, and in Quito, where industry has developed rapidly in recent years. This city is also the largest business centre in the country. Industrial production is mainly for the domestic market. However, exports of industrially manufactured or processed products are limited. These include canned goods, spirits, jewellery, furniture, etc. Tourism revenues have increased in recent years as the government seeks to showcase Ecuador’s diverse climate and biodiversity.

Ecuador has negotiated bilateral treaties with other countries and is also a member of the Andean Community and an associate member of Mercosur. The country is also a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF) and other multilateral organisations. In April 2007, Ecuador repaid its debt to the IMF, ending an era of IMF interventionism in the country. Ecuador’s public finance system consists of the Central Bank of Ecuador (BCE), the National Development Bank (BNF), the State Bank, the National Finance Corporation, the Ecuadorian Housing Bank (BEV) and the Ecuadorian Credit and Scholarship Institution.

Between 2006 and 2009, the government increased social spending on welfare and education from 2.6% to 5.2% of GDP. From 2007, as the economy was overwhelmed by the economic crisis, the government subjected Ecuador to a series of economic policy reforms that helped move the Ecuadorian economy towards financial stability and sustainable, substantial and targeted social policies. These policies included expansionary fiscal policy, access to housing finance, stimulus packages and limits on the amount of cash reserves banks could hold abroad. The Ecuadorian government made huge investments in education and infrastructure throughout the country, which improved the lives of the poor.

In 2000, Ecuador switched from sugar to the US dollar after a banking crisis.

On 12 December 2008, President Correa announced that Ecuador would not pay $30.6 million in interest to lenders on a $510 million loan, claiming it was illegitimate. He also claimed that the $3.8 billion foreign debt negotiated by previous governments was illegitimate because it had been approved without an executive decree. At the time of the announcement, the country had $5.65 billion in cash reserves. worlddiplomacy.org notes, “With Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa winning a third term in 2013, this should bring more stability and a good growth rate to the Ecuadorian economy.”

Ecuador, which is part of Mercosur, signed a free trade agreement with Lebanon on 18 December 2014.

Entry Requirements For Ecuador

Visa & Passport for Ecuador

In 2008, the President of the Republic amended the regulations so that citizens of any nationality could enter Ecuador without a visa and stay for a period of ninety days per chronological year, in order to strengthen relations between Ecuador and all countries of the world and promote tourism. Since then, however, a visa requirement has been introduced for citizens of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, China and Somalia. Chinese citizens can obtain a visa-free stamp if they are permanent residents of Canada or the United States (there may be other exceptions). Members of the Andean Community can only enter with a national identity card and do not need a passport.

Ecuador requires Cuban nationals to obtain a letter of invitation before entering Ecuador through international airports or border crossings. This letter must be legalised by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and meet certain requirements. These requirements have been developed to ensure an organised migration flow between the two countries. Cuban nationals who hold a US green card must go to an Ecuadorian consulate to obtain a waiver of this requirement.

Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your travel dates. A return ticket is required to prove the duration of your stay.

How To Travel To Ecuador

Get In - By air

Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) is located in the municipality of Tababela, approximately 30 km (20 mi) east of Quito. Travellers with very early departures or very late arrivals from Quito airport, as well as those not staying in Quito but travelling elsewhere, may consider accommodation in Tababela or Puembo, as they will not have to drive into the city to find accommodation.

Another port of entry is Guayaquil (GYE), which has a modern airport with typical amenities such as restaurants and duty-free shops. The airport is located north of the city centre.

The Galapagos Islands are part of the Ecuadorian provinces and have two airports, one in Baltra and one in San Cristobal. Aerogal, Tame and LAN all offer flights to the Galapagos. All flights are via the Ecuadorian mainland and do not include international flights.

Quito airport charges an international departure tax of $40.80. From Guayaquil, the tax is $26. This tax is already included in the cost of the flight since February 2011.

Get In - By train

There are no international rail links to Ecuador. The national railway from Quito to Guayaquil (via Latacunga and Riobamba) is being rebuilt, but in the meantime several sections are in service for tourists. The most popular is the line from Alausi to Nariz del Diablo (it was reopened in 2011 after a $4.6 million renovation).

Get In - By car

It is not recommended to enter Ecuador by car. It is best to enter by plane or boat, as there are border problems with neighbouring countries.

Get In - By bus

To/from Colombia

The main border crossing between Ecuador and Colombia is at Rumichaca, near Tulcan and Ipiales. Crossing the border at San Miguel (near Lago Agrio) in the Amazon is not recommended due to security concerns and the complexity of entry and exit.

To/from Peru

There are two places to cross the border with Peru, Huaquillas (near Machala) receives the vast majority of tourist crossings, was dodgy and relatively unsafe, but a recent clean up may have improved security issues. Macara has a border crossing, but is not recommended due to security concerns.

Get In - By boat

As Ecuador is located on the coast and has very large rivers, a boat trip can be a fun way to get around. Especially in the rainforest, a boat trip can take you to places you would not normally go.

How To Travel Around Ecuador

Get Around - By bus

Intercity buses go almost everywhere in Ecuador. Many cities have a central bus station, called the Terminal Terrestre, where you can buy tickets for the different bus routes that serve the city. Long-distance buses generally cost between $1 and $2 an hour, depending on the distance and type of service; groups can negotiate discounts. Buses run frequently on the main roads.

Reservations or advance bookings are not usually necessary, except during peak periods such as public holidays. Bus toilets, if available, are normally reserved for women. However, men are allowed to ask for the bus to stop so they can relieve themselves. The bus journeys themselves are often very beautiful, with views of the mountains in the clouds. These changes in altitude cause the same problems with ear pressure that occur on air travel.

The bus driver will stop en route to allow other passengers to board. Many buses arrive at their destination with passengers standing in the aisle. There are some first class buses, called “Ejecutivo”, which cost a little more than ordinary buses. They are generally more comfortable and safer.

Get Around - By car

It is possible to rent a car in major cities such as Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, where car rental agencies are usually located outside airports. Ecuadorian roads are always well maintained in the cities, but poorly maintained in the countryside.

However, there are few laws for drivers in Ecuador and they are rarely (if ever) enforced. If you choose to drive, you take your life into your own hands. If you only drive in cities like Guayaquil or Quito, it may be a little safer, but driving in the countryside would be crazy.

In addition, Ecuadorian roads are rarely maintained (especially along the coast). Potholes are common and it is very likely that one or two tyres will burst if you hit one.

Get Around - By taxi

Taxis are widely available. Taxis are usually yellow with the taxi licence number prominently displayed. Taxis in Quito are metered (fares under $1 are rounded up to the minimum fare of $1). Agree a fare before you get in, or ask the driver to use the meter (which is often cheaper than a negotiated fare); short journeys usually cost no more than $1 or $2, and for longer journeys you should usually pay no more than $10 an hour, or more. In the evening, fares are often twice as high. As in any country in Latin America (or the world), you should not get into a taxi without a licence. It’s a good way to get hijacked.

Get Around - By air

Domestic flights to major cities on the continent cost between US$50 and US$100 one way, and there are sometimes special return flights at about the same price. Flights between the larger cities are operated by jets, while some of the smaller cities are served by propeller planes. The national airlines in Ecuador are Lan Ecuador, Tame, AviancaEcuador (formerly Aerogal and VIP) and Saereo. Most airlines in Ecuador offer excellent service and relatively new aircraft. You can buy domestic tickets from agents or directly from the airlines – some sell tickets online and you can buy them at the airport or at ticket offices for those that don’t.

Get Around - Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is possible in Ecuador. Many people drive pick-up trucks in which you can simply throw your backpack in when they take you away.

On roads with little bus traffic, trucks may pick up passengers or hitchhikers who ride either in the back or in the cab. In some cases the driver charges the usual bus fare, in other cases he simply takes a passenger for the company and refuses to pay the fare.

Destinations in Ecuador

Regions

  • Amazon rainforest
  • Andes Highlands
  • Coastal lowlands
  • Galapagos Islands – Isolated archipelago world-famous for its unique wildlife and Darwin’s evolutionary research.

Cities

  • Quito – Second highest capital in the world, with a well-preserved colonial centre. The weather is generally spring-like and relatively unpredictable throughout the year, and changes quickly.
  • Ambato – The central city of Ecuador. Special celebrations during the carnival season.
  • Baños – An adventure capital of Ecuador at the foot of Tungurahua volcano, an active volcano with small eruptions of ash and lava. There are also many hot springs mineral baths, as the name suggests.
  • Cuenca – The third largest city in Ecuador and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Guayaquil – Largest city in the country and largest port city.
  • Ibarra – town of 100,000 inhabitants halfway between Quito and the northern border.
  • Loja – The oldest colonial town.
  • Otavalo – Small town one and a half hours north of the capital; famous for its Saturday market with indigenous handicrafts and livestock.

Riobamba – starting point of the famous train ride down the Nariz del Diablo and gateway to Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador

Other destinations

  • Baeza – gateway to the northern Oriente and up-and-coming mountain town – still has a sleepy small-town atmosphere.
  • Canoa – Small beach town.
  • Esmeraldas – A less visited town in the north of some of Ecuador’s most popular beaches.
  • Guamote – A cosy and authentic Andean village that is nevertheless easy to reach.
  • Guaranda – A small Andean town famous for its Carnaval celebrations.
  • Mindo – Excellent bird watching in a cloud forest setting.
  • Montañita – World famous surfing beach and beach meeting point.
  • Puerto López – Beautiful small town by the sea, access point to Machalilla National Park and Isla de la Plata “poor man’s Galapagos”.
  • Puyo – town in the Amazon rainforest, frequent destination of bicycle tours from Baños.
  • Quilotoa Loop – An Andean itinerary that includes the volcanic crater lake Quilotoa, Zumbahua and Chugchilán. Quintessential Andean landscapes and cultural experiences.
  • Salinas – Beautiful beach and promenade, flooded with Guayaquileños during the holidays.
  • Tena – town in the Amazon rainforest known for some of the best white water rafting and kayaking in Latin America.

Vilcabamba – Popular with expats who live and retire here, and famous for its legendary elderly residents who claim to have some of the longest life spans in the world.

Accommodation & Hotels in Ecuador

There are many budget hostels to be found throughout Ecuador. Often the hostels in smaller towns are actually private homes that welcome travellers. As with most things, locals can help you find an excellent hotel at a very low price ($6-14). Again, large groups can haggle for lower prices. Air conditioning is an amenity that often comes with an extra charge of a dollar or two per night.

Ecuador also has a growing number of eco-lodges, including many renovated traditional haciendas.

Food & Drinks in Ecuador

Food in Ecuador

Throughout the country, there is a great variety in what is typically eaten, depending on the place. In the Sierra, potatoes are almost always part of lunch and dinner; on the coast, rice is popular. Soup is also a big part of lunch and dinner. Breakfast often consists of toast, eggs and juice or fruit. Batidos, or fruit shakes, are popular breakfast items or snacks. Especially on the coast, Ecuadorians make a variety of breakfast dishes based on green or sweet plantains and yuca, such as bolonoes, empanadas, patacones, corviches, muchines, pan de yuca, humitas and others. They are prepared with either cheese, pork or fish. They are very filling and inexpensive meals.

Restaurants vary widely in terms of menu, quality, hygiene, opening hours and prices. Simple meals can be had for less than $2, or it is possible to pay almost US prices in the tourist areas, especially for food from American chains.

If you are on a budget, it is best to order an almuerzo (lunch) or a merienda (dinner). These usually consist of a soup, a main course with meat and a dessert for $1-$2.

More expensive restaurants (e.g. those charging $4 per meal or more) often add a 12% sales tax and a 10% service charge.

Coffee or tea (including many herbal varieties) is usually served after the meal, unless you ask for an earlier time.

Except in establishments aimed at foreigners, it is customary not to present the bill to the guest until he or she asks for it. While many waiters are used to rude tourists, rubbing fingers together is not as accepted as in Europe, although it is not considered as rude as in the United States. The best way to get the bill is to tell the waiter, “La Cuenta, Por Favor”.

Smoking is allowed in most restaurants, but the law specifically prohibits smoking in enclosed areas, so it is a good idea to ask for a smoking area or ask if the restaurant allows smoking.

Locro de papa is a famous Ecuadorian soup with avocados, potatoes and cheese.

Ceviche is a common dish on the coast. It is a cold seafood cocktail usually served with “chifles”, thin fried plantains, and popcorn.

Encebollado is a hearty fish soup with yuca, also found on the coast: a tomato and fish soup filled with pieces of yuca, marinated vegetables and “chifles” for extra crunch.

In the highlands, Ecuadorians eat cuy, or guinea pig. The whole animal is roasted or deep-fried and often served skewered.

Empanadas are also a common local food, usually eaten as an afternoon snack. The most common variations of this filled pastry are cheese and/or chicken.

Bollo Made with ground sweet plantains with peanuts and white bread. This is a very typical dish on the Ecuadorian coast.

Bolón Made from chopped plantains with cheese or pork. It is eaten for breakfast with coffee. It is mainly eaten on the coast in the province of Manabí.

Drinks in Ecuador

Bottled water is very common and is safe to drink; there is gaseous (carbonated) and siniform (non-carbonated). Tap water is not safe to drink. Even Ecuadorians usually only drink bottled (or boiled) water.

Coffee is widely available in cafés and restaurants and is also sold in bean form. Tea is also common, usually with a good selection including herbal tea.

Fruit juice is plentiful and good, and you often have many options: Piña (pineapple), Mora (blackberry), Maracuyá (passion fruit), Naranja (orange), Sandía (watermelon), Naranjilla (a jungle fruit), Melon, Taxo, Guanabana, Guava, etc. If you want it made with milk, like a less frozen milkshake, ask for a batida. Note that juices are often served lukewarm.

Aguardiente, often made from fermented sugar cane, is the local firewater. If possible, have some freshly ground from the sugar cane in your cup.

Money & Shopping in Ecuador

Currency

Ecuador adopted the US dollar (USD) as its currency in 1999. Other types of currencies are not readily accepted.

Ecuador has its own coins. These are exactly the same size and weight as American coins, and both are accepted. U.S. dollar coins are widely used and preferred over $1 notes. American notes are used for higher denominations, Ecuador does not print any itself.

Many traders check large notes ($10 and over) carefully to make sure they are not counterfeit. Often shops do not accept fifty or hundred dollar notes at all. You usually have to go to a bank to break hundred dollar notes. Outside the tourist areas and Quito, many traders do not keep large amounts of money, so it can be difficult to change large and small notes. This is especially true on the cheaper buses. Take plenty of one and five dollar notes with you; you should also take new notes if possible. Worn notes are often viewed with suspicion, and it is not uncommon for a merchant to ask you to pay with another note if the one you gave him seems old or worn.

Banking

Travellers’ cheques can be exchanged at some (but not all) banks for a reasonable fee (usually no more than 3 per cent). They are also accepted in some hotels that cater to tourists, although it is difficult to use them elsewhere. There is often a surcharge for using travellers’ cheques.

Credit and debit cards are accepted in many places that cater to tourists, as well as in some upscale shops. However, many places charge a commission for their use as reimbursement for what the banks charge them. You may be asked to show your passport when using a credit or debit card.

ATMs are widely available in major cities and tourist areas. Most claim to be connected to large international networks, making it theoretically possible to withdraw money from foreign accounts. Depending on the transaction fees charged by your bank at home, ATMs offer very good exchange rates. Be aware that you may have to try a few different ATMs before you get any money. TIP: Banco Austro is the only national banking chain that does not charge withdrawal fees. The others have taken a cue from the US and usually charge $1 or more per transaction. Avoid using ATMs on the street, as their users are often the target of street thieves. Hotels or other places with a security guard nearby are the best choice.

Tipping

In bars, restaurants and hotels, a service charge of 10 % is included in the bill, so tipping is not necessary. In the case of restaurants, it is customary to leave some small change as a reward for good service. Some restaurants include a small note on the bill where the customer can indicate a tip if paying by credit card.

Shopping

Prices in Ecuador vary widely. Costs in upscale hotels and restaurants seem close to what they would be in the United States, perhaps 10 per cent less. Outside the tourist areas, costs are much lower. It is possible to get a meal in a clean restaurant for less than $2 or pay less than $10 for a clean but basic hotel room.

Even though Ecuador is a very beautiful country, it does not know how to sell itself very well. In Quito, a very famous tourist place is El Mercado Artesenal, where you can find many souvenirs, but after looking around thoroughly, you will find that there is a bit of redundancy in the items, in the sense that everyone is selling basically the same thing. Therefore, after buying a few main items, it becomes difficult to find much more variety. Almost everything you can buy has a price that you can negotiate. If you are not a local, they will try to get higher prices out of you, which is why it is recommended to go with someone who either speaks fluent Spanish or is local to be able to negotiate more effectively.

Things To Do in Ecuador

The capital Quito, is a city with a lot of history where you can walk around the city centre and enjoy the beautiful colonial buildings. There is also the “Teleférico” (cable car) that takes passengers from the highest mountain in Quito to see the whole city from the sky. Admission costs $8.50 per person (as of November 2010). There are many inviting cafés as well as many dance clubs that are open every weekend, often until 5am.

In Guayaquil, an excellent place to visit is Malecón 2000, which is very similar to Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois, and offers dining, shopping, boat rides and a beautiful view of the river. With the exception of electronics, prices are quite low; however, almost everything sold with any brand name is a knock-off. This area is very well guarded and quite safe. For a real adventure, it is possible to visit the more authentic, less expensive, but far more dangerous Bahía or “Informal Market”. It is not advisable to visit it without a local. It is possible to buy a knock-off of almost anything here. Pirated video games and movies also abound; it is also possible to buy modified game systems to play such games. However, before buying, ask the owners to confirm that the films or games you buy actually work. On the bahias, it is necessary to haggle for all items.

Baños is the perfect town for nature lovers and extreme sports enthusiasts, offering rafting, mountaineering and backpacking of all kinds. It is possible to get an English-speaking guide. Make sure you have all the necessary vaccinations, as it is possible to get some nasty infections if you are in the water for a long time. Baños also has a public mineral bath with hot springs that only costs $1 to enter. There are other, more expensive baths, but they are fed by exactly the same water. It is best to come to these baths when they open, as the water is freshest and cleanest then.

Ibarra – and the whole province of Imbabura – is about 90 minutes from Quito and offers many tourist activities such as community tourism, adventure tours (rafting, swing jumping, kayaking, trekking, etc.) and visits to the indigenous people. The most recommended places to visit in Imbabura are: Ibarra, Otavalo, Intag and Cotacachi.

Northern Ecuador offers the best beaches, including Bahia de Caraquez, Manta, Crucita, San Jacinto and San Clemente. They offer very cheap hotel accommodation, great food and friendly people.

Ecuador is perhaps the country with the greatest biological diversity in the world. The Galapagos Islands are justifiably famous for their wildlife, but there is also plenty to see on the mainland. Ecuador has over one hundred different species of hummingbirds. Good places to see them are the Cuyabeno Wild Life Reserve, Mindo and San Luis de Pambil.

Montañita City On the coast, 3 hours from Guayaquil, this is a growing city with many features that make it great to visit: Goog Beach and the incredible surroundings, the people, the incredible nightlife and the surfing. There are many people who live permanently in the city, from all over the world.

Volunteers

Many people who visit Ecuador choose to give back to the community through volunteering. The Peace Corps alone has more than 200 volunteers in Ecuador at any one time. From conservation projects to building houses to teaching English, there are many ways to support development in Ecuador. You can choose to volunteer through an external organisation that will find you accommodation and connect you with a local organisation where you can work. The other option is to work directly through a local NGO. This requires more time and research, but can also be much cheaper.

Fundacion Bolivar Education [www] is a volunteer foundation based in the capital Quito and has many volunteer projects in all regions of Ecuador, including the Pacific coast, the Amazon, the Andes and the Galapagos Islands. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and can volunteer in one of the following categories: Children and Youth, Health, Environment, Teaching, Gender, Elders, Development and Animal Welfare. No previous training or experience with organisations is required. Students, families, seniors and groups from different schools, universities or programmes can work with Fundacion Bolivar Education. Accommodation options include host families or dormitories. Packages are also available for those who not only want to volunteer but also travel throughout Ecuador.

Cinema

One way to improve your Spanish is to go to the cinema. Films in modern cinemas cost around $3 to $4 in the bigger cities, less in smaller towns. Foreign films are usually shown in the original language with subtitles – but not always, so ask beforehand.

Festivals & Holidays in Ecuador

Date English name
1 January New Year’s Day
February – March Carnival
March-April Good Friday
1 May International Workers’ Day
May 24 The Battle of Pichincha (1822)
10 August Declaration of Independence of Quito (1809)
9 October Independence of Guayaquil (1820)
2 November All Souls’ Day
3 November Independence of Cuenca (1820)
25 December Christmas Day

Traditions & Customs in Ecuador

The usual greetings are “Buenos días”, “Buenas tardes” or “Buenas noches”, (Good morning, good day or good evening respectively). Greetings are usually followed by a handshake, among men, and a kiss on the cheek, among women or between a man and a woman. “Hola” is the most common greeting between friends and acquaintances. Note that, as in most Latin American countries, it is considered normal and polite to stand fairly close to the other person during the conversation.

When speaking Spanish with Ecuadorians, be aware of the difference between the two forms for the pronoun “you”: the informal “tú” and the formal “usted”. It is common to address older people and people with whom you are not familiar as “usted”. Ecuadorians are generally lenient with non-native speakers, but use “usted” when in doubt.

Among many other cultural peculiarities, it is considered impolite in the Sierra regions to use the palm facing downwards as a reference for a person’s height. Instead, the hand is placed on the side and the measurement is taken from the bottom edge to the ground. Gesturing with the palm down is only appropriate for animals.

When you ask someone to “come here”, it is impolite to move your hand palm up. Instead, sweep your hand palm down.

Acceptable clothing varies depending on the region of the country. In the mountainous Sierra region, including Quito, clothing is usually warmer due to the weather. On the coast, on the other hand, more casual clothing predominates.

Culture Of Ecuador

Ecuador’s mainstream culture is defined by its Hispanic mestizo majority and, like their ancestors, is traditionally Spanish in origin, influenced to varying degrees by Amerindian traditions and in some cases by African elements. The first and most significant wave of modern immigration to Ecuador consisted of Spanish colonists, following the arrival of Europeans in 1499. A smaller number of other Europeans and North Americans migrated to the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in smaller numbers Poles, Lithuanians, English, Irish and Croats during and after World War II.

Since African slavery was not the order of the day in the Spanish colonies in the Andes, as the subjugation of the indigenous population took place through missionisation and encomiendas, the minority population of African descent is mainly found in the northern coastal province of Esmeraldas. This is mainly due to the shipwreck of a slave-trading galleon off the northern coast of Ecuador in the 17th century. The few black African survivors swam to shore and, under the leadership of Anton, the chief of the group, penetrated into the then dense jungle, where they remained as free men and preserved their original culture, which was not influenced by the typical elements found in other provinces of the coast or in the Andean region. A little later, runaway slaves from Colombia, the so-called cimarrones, joined them. In the small Chota valley of Imbabura province, a small community of Africans exists among the predominantly mestizo population of the province. These blacks are descendants of Africans brought over from Colombia by Jesuits to work as slaves on their colonial sugar plantations. In general, small elements of Zambos and mulattos coexisted among the overwhelming mestizo population of the Ecuadorian coast throughout history as gold miners in Loja, Zaruma and Zamora and as shipbuilders and plantation workers around the city of Guayaquil. Today, a small community of Africans can be found in the Catamayo Valley of the predominantly Mestizo population of Loja.

Ecuador’s indigenous communities are integrated into mainstream culture to varying degrees, but some also practice their own indigenous cultures, particularly the more remote indigenous communities of the Amazon basin. Spanish is spoken as a first language by more than 90% of the population and as a first or second language by more than 98%. Some of the Ecuadorian population may speak Amerindian languages, in some cases as a second language. Two percent of the population speak only Amerindian languages.

Music

The music of Ecuador has a long history. Pasillo is a genre of indigenous Latin American music. In Ecuador, it is the “national genre of music”. Over the years, many cultures have brought their influences together to create new types of music. There are also different types of traditional music such as Albazo, Pasacalle, Fox Incaico, Tonada, Capishca, Bomba (very established in Afro-Ecuadorian societies), and so on. Tecnocumbia and Rockola are clear examples of the influence of foreign cultures. One of the most traditional forms of dance in Ecuador is Sanjuanito. It originates from northern Ecuador (Otavalo-Imbabura). Sanjuanito is a type of dance music played by the mestizo and indigenous communities during festivals. According to Ecuadorian musicologist Segundo Luis Moreno, Sanjuanito was danced by the Amerindians on the birthday of San Juan Bautista. This important date was set by the Spanish on 24 June, coincidentally the same date that the Amerindians celebrated their Inti Raymi rituals.

Cuisine

Ecuadorian cuisine is varied and varies with the altitude and associated agricultural conditions. Most regions in Ecuador follow the traditional three-course meal of soup, a course that includes rice and a protein, and then dessert and coffee to finish. The evening meal is usually lighter and sometimes consists only of coffee or herbal tea with bread.

In the highland region, pork, chicken, beef and cuy (guinea pig) are popular and served with various grains (especially rice and maize) or potatoes.

Seafood is very popular in the coastal region, with fish, shrimp and ceviche being an important part of the diet. Generally, ceviches are served with fried plantains (chifles y patacones), popcorn or tostado. Dishes based on plantains and peanuts are the basis of most meals on the coast. Encocados (dishes containing a coconut sauce) are also very popular. Churrasco is a staple in the coastal region, especially in Guayaquil. Arroz con menestra y carne asada (rice with beans and grilled beef) is one of Guayaquil’s traditional dishes, as is fried plantain, which is often served with it. This region is a leading producer of bananas, cacao beans (used to make chocolate), shrimp, tilapia, mango and passion fruit, among other products.

In the Amazon, a staple food is the yuca, also called cassava. Many fruits are available in this region, including bananas, tree grapes and peach palms.

Art

The best-known art styles from Ecuador belonged to the Escuela Quiteña, which developed from the 16th to 18th centuries, examples of which are on display in various old churches in Quito. Ecuadorian painters include Eduardo Kingman, Oswaldo Guayasamín and Camilo Egas from the Amerindian movement; Manuel Rendon, Jaime Zapata, Enrique Tábara, Aníbal Villacís, Theo Constanté, Luis Molinari, Araceli Gilbert, Judith Gutierrez, Felix Arauz and Estuardo Maldonado from the Informalist movement; and Luis Burgos Flor with his abstract, futuristic style. The indigenous people of Tigua, Ecuador, are also world-renowned for their traditional paintings.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Ecuador

Stay Safe in Ecuador

Tourists should use common sense to ensure their safety. Avoid problems by not showing large sums of money, not visiting areas close to the Colombian border, staying away from civil unrest and not using the side streets of major cities at night. The biggest threat in most places is probably petty theft: don’t leave your belongings unattended on the beach, for example, and pickpockets can be found in some of the busiest areas, including Quito’s trolebus (metro), bus terminals and the buses themselves. Buses allow hawkers to board briefly and try to sell their wares; however, they are often thieves themselves, so keep an eye on them. Hotel staff are usually a good source of information on where to avoid.

You can always ask the tourist police, police officers or the tourist office about dangerous areas.

Ecuador offers great hiking and climbing opportunities. Unfortunately, some travelers have been attacked and robbed in remote sections of known climbing routes – several rapes have also been reported, so female hikers/mountaineers should be extremely careful. Travelers are strongly advised to avoid solo treks and to go in large groups for safety reasons.

Stay Healthy in Ecuador

Ecuador is widely regarded as a developing country and health risks are a major problem. Food-borne diseases are among the most important, but are easily treated with digestive drugs such as antacids or antidiarrhoeals.

Bottled water is the watchword in Ecuador if you don’t want to get sick. This applies not only to foreigners who don’t have the stomach for Ecuadorian food, but also to Ecuadorians who know that they can get very sick if they don’t boil their water or drink it from the bottle. As a result, you can buy water almost anywhere (even in the most remote places) for well under $0.25 to $0.50. Sometimes hostels and hotels provide bottled water that you can use to brush your teeth.

It is advisable to be vaccinated against typhoid and possibly yellow fever, depending on the region you are visiting.

Outside the major cities and tourist areas, malaria can be a problem during the rainy season on the coast.

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