Ecuador Travel Guide

Ecuador Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration

PureTravel Says: “The Republic of Ecuador is a small country on the North West Coast of South America. It straddles the Equator and is bordered by Colombia, Peru and the Pacific Ocean. The country includes the Galapagos Islands, which are an archipelago of unique wildlife species which are endemic to the Islands. The Galapagos were brought to fame by Darwin, who developed his theory of evolution while studying the wildlife there.”

Country Overview

The capital city of Ecuador is Quito, one of four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country, which is situated high in the Andean Mountains. Ecuador is considered an incredibly diverse country, as within a 300km radius there are almost as many ecosystems as in the whole of the United States. Like most of South America, the official language is Spanish, and the currency is the US dollar. English is spoken in the holiday areas.

Ecuador covers 256,370km square (98,985 square miles), which is approximately the same size as the state of Colorado. It has an estimated population of 13.7 million. The main attractions for visitors are the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon River and rainforest, the Napo River, the Andes, and the Avenue of Volcanoes. Buses are a good cheap way to travel around the mainland and they cover all the major routes. The views can be quite breathtaking as you travel through the mountains.

Ecuador is an agricultural country, which grows fruit, flowers, coffee and other crops. Handmade crafts include pottery, jewellery, woven fabric and carved wooden animals.

History and Culture

Many ancient cultures and civilizations have influenced Ecuador. Archaeological evidence suggests that human civilizations were established there as long ago as 3500BC. Civilizations such as the Valdivas, the Machalilla, the Quitos and the Canari had their own distinctive architecture, pottery and religions. It is thought that pre-Colombian societies worked with platinum here long before it was used in Europe.

In 1463 Ecuador was finally absorbed into the Inca Empire. Civil war weakened this kingdom and it eventually was taken over and became a Spanish colony. All these cultures left their influence on Ecuadorian life, until it became a republic in 1830. Today most are ethnic Mestizos, with a minority of Amerindians and Criollos.

The Roman Catholic faith has a large influence on the culture of Ecuador. Most festivals and annual parades are celebrating religious festivals and incorporate many traditions, icons and rites.

Local food includes pork, chicken and guinea pig, along with rice, corn and potatoes. Tropical fruits and seafood are also part of the diet along the coastal areas.

Futbol, aka football, is something of a local passion and the Ecuadorian national football team represents the country in international football competitions and play at the home stadium of Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa in Quito.

The most notable export, the Panama hat, actually originated here in Ecuador. It was exported in huge numbers through Panama to the rest of the world, and became known as the Panama hat.

Marimba is the cultural music of the Esmeraldas province. Dancers dressed in local costume and hats sing folk songs and wave handkerchiefs, whilst dancing to the characteristic music.

When to Go

The climate ranges quite dramatically across Ecuador, due to the range of altitudes. The coastal area has a tropical climate averaging 77F (25C) with a heavy rainy season from December through May.

The highlands of the Andes are much cooler and dryer. Although it is so close to the Equator, temperatures in Quito remain cool due to the elevation. Year round average temperatures reach 68F (20C) and do not drop below 42F (6C).

On the east of the Andes, in the Amazon region, the climate is typical of a rainforest zone, being warm and wet and humid with regular afternoon showers. The average daytime temperatures are around 77F (25C). The dry season varies depending upon the region, but it is usually best to visit between November and February.

The temperatures on the coast of Esmeraldas are a pleasant 70-77F (21-25C) year-round. However the best and driest months to visit and enjoy the beach are from June through November.

The Galapagos Islands are good to visit at any time of year. They enjoy a warm and relatively dry climate with temperatures averaging 81F (27C).

Holidays In Focus

Galapagos Islands

The nineteen islands that make up the fascinating Galapagos are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are one of the most important locations for marine species on earth.

Galapagos Cruises - The ultimate trip for naturalists is a visit to the strange Galapagos Islands. It is a delight to explore the Islands and find extraordinary creatures that have no fear of humans. Several tour companies offer 5-day cruises offering voyages of exploration and natural wonders. Close-up encounters in small groups are a delightful way to see this wonder of nature.

Galapagos Wildlife - Following in Darwin’s footsteps, the pristine Galapagos Islands are a unique microsystem comprised of remote islands some 972 km (604 miles) west from mainland Ecuador. There are many exceptional inhabitants on this dry, moonlike landscape including 400pound tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and more.

Galapagos Birdwatching - The Galapagos Islands have many indigenous species of birds including thirteen species of finches, which are only found here. In total there are 38 indigenous birds on the Islands. There are also blue-footed boobies and many other fascinating species. Penguins are also found here. Pink flamingos are a stunning sight in the lagoons. Flightless cormorants dive in the waters and it is truly like nowhere else on earth.

Galapagos Snorkelling - Snorkelling is unmatched in the clear blue waters around the Galapagos Islands. The sea is teeming with beautiful marine fish. Tiny penguins join you in the water and there are sea lions everywhere.

Galapagos Diving - The Galapagos Islands are just as amazing underwater as on land. The archipelago hosts an amazing variety of underwater marine life. Scuba divers will see the tiny penguins and flightless cormorants diving through the waters. There are dolphins, marine iguanas and even whales pass by as they migrate. The Humboldt Current has a cooling effect on these waters.

Hammerheads and huge numbers of manta rays exist here, which are a thrilling experience on your tours Galapagos.

Nature and Scenery

Visit a Volcano - Banos is reputedly the adventure capital of Ecuador. The Volcano Tungurahua is one of the most active in the world. It continually spurts ash and lava into the air. It is known for its hot springs. The hot mineral bath costs just $1 admission and is a great experience. It is a good idea to visit the baths early in the day, as the water is at its cleanest and freshest then.

Banos is also known for its extreme sports. It offers rafting, mountain climbing, backpacking and trekking in the mountains. It is advisable to be fully vaccinated against infection if you are taking part in the watersports or mineral baths.

Bird Watching - Ecuador is a real birdwatcher’s delight, with some 1,600 different recorded species on the mainland and a further 38 species which are endemic to the Galapagos Islands. Mindo is considered the bird-watching capital of the world and lies just 75 minutes from Quito, high in the mountains.

There are over 100 different types of hummingbirds alone in Ecuador. Mindo and San Luis de Pambil are good places to see them.

Beaches - Ecuador’s most famous beaches are found in the beautiful province of Esmeraldas. The weather is excellent, and it is very cheap to stay and to dine here. Esmeraldas is located on the northwestern coast of Ecuador and it is called the Green province.

The temperatures year-round are a pleasant 21-25C. Esmeraldas has a number of beaches with hotels, restaurants, bars and markets.

Adventures and Activities

Explore the Rainforest - The best way to experience the tropical rainforest is on a jungle walk expedition with English-speaking naturalists as your guide. The Sasha Lodge is situated on the Napo River amidst its own 3,000 pristine acres of unspoiled rainforest. There is an amazing diversity of birds, fish and mammals along the lowlands of the mighty Amazon River. Local Indian communities are also seen on these trips.

The lodge has a 135-foot high observation tower from which to view the orchids, air plants and bromeliads high in the trees.

Explore the Amazon River - Book a trip with naturalists who take visitors in primitive dugout canoes along river and Lake Safaris. They encounter many communities of local Quecha Indians. Parrots and parakeets are both heard and seen in the rainforest canopy. It is an unforgettable experience within the natural jungle.

Surfing - There are a few excellent surf schools which are found along the beaches and also on the Galapagos Islands. For beginners there is a surf school package and there are great surfing conditions from December through May.

Visit the Andes - The capital, Quito, is an interesting city high in the Andean Mountains. It is 2,850m (9,350 ft) above sea level. It is a sizeable community with a population estimated at over 1.3 million. Quito is built on a plateau on the side of the Pichincha volcano. The snow-covered peaks all around make a stunning view. There is a cable car (teleferico) from which passengers can see the whole of the city from the sky.

Although it is so close to the Equator, temperatures in Quito remain cool due to the elevation. Year round average temperatures reach 68F (20C) and do not drop below 42F (6C).

Otavalo is another ancient and important city and market high in the Andes. Every Saturday for over 4,000 years this ancient market has traded, and it has changed very little, apart from the curious visitors who arrive here.

There are visitor souvenirs including jewellery, pottery, carvings and weaving. Locals trade their chickens and livestock. Saddles, hemp, vegetables and grain are all bought and sold and bartering is the norm. The atmosphere is incredible, and quite unique, as the colorful market trades high in the remote Andes. See the Indians in their local traditional dress, with babies strapped across their backs as they work.

Take a Train Ride through the Mountains - Riobamba is four hours south of Quito and it is the start of the famous Riobamba Railway. There is a choice of traveling in the antique refitted carriages or the autoferro bus-on-rails where you can sit high on top of the train and see the dramatic mountain views all around.

The railway passes the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes before reaching the Nariz de Diablo (Devil’s Nose). This hair-raising feat of engineering has the train take a series of hairpin bends. The journey passes the Cotopaxi volcano and Mount Chimborazo before returning passengers back to Riobamba.

If you take the ride on Saturday, there is also a famous market at Riobamba. It stretches across the town’s eleven squares. Each Indian community who comes into the town to sell their wares can be identified by the design of hat they wear.

Water Sports - There are many opportunities to enjoy water sports including windsurfing, kite surfing, kayaking, sailing, jet skiing, banana boat rides and parasailing. The waters are clear, generally calm, and warm.

Top Tips

- Always carry water with you when you travel.
- If you're planning on trekking or taking a self-led 4 wheel drive trip make sure you are equipped with a map of the country.
- Always take a sun hat and sunscreen. Even though temperatures are cool in the mountains, the sun is at its most intense at the Equator.
- Carry a Spotter’s Guide to identify the many animals and birds you will see.
- Check the local news for updates on weather, traffic and events
- Never hike, climb or trek by yourself, there are countless dangers and you may need help.
- Check whether entry visas are required prior to travelling.
- If you are visiting Quito, take time to acclimatize to avoid unnecessary tiredness.
- Check the local Ecuador airlines for up to date flight information.

Fast Facts

- The Ecuador capital city is Quito
- Ecuador's local currency is the US dollar (USD)
- The languages of Ecuador are Spanish which is official and also Amerindian languages, such as Quechua
- The Ecuador flag has been in use since 1860 and has horizontal bands of yellow, blue and red

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

- City of Quito
- Galápagos Islands
- Sangay National Park
- Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca

Public holidays, events and festivals

1 January - New Year's Day
March/April - Easter: Maundy Thursday
March/April - Easter: Good Friday
1 May - International Workers' Day
24 May - The Battle of Pichincha (1822)
24 July - The Birthday of Simón Bolivar (1783)
10 August - Declaration of Independence of Quito (1809)
9 October - Independence of Guayaquil (1820)
31 October - Dia de La Bandera (2009)
2 November - All Souls' Day
3 November - Independence of Cuenca (1820)
6 December - Foundation of Quito (1534)
25 December - Christmas Day
31 December - New Year's Eve

Travel Resources

By Julie Bowman


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