“We are a country full of colors,” proclaimed Freddy Ehlers, Ecuador’s Minister of Tourism, as he unveiled the new pre-Columbian logo and slogan in 2011. “Ecuador ama la vida,” which translates to “Ecuador loves life.” An ample summary of the wonders in this exuberant nation, Ecuador is rich in tradition and natural diversity. From snow-capped volcanoes and cloud forests in the high Andes to the coasts and the Galapagos, Ecuador is full of things to see and do.
Only in Ecuador can tourists stand at the center of the earth and enjoy simple science experiments such as watching water drain in different directions on either side of the equator. Natural wonders are complemented by interesting history, with World Heritage city centers in both Quito and Cuenca. Panama hats are another unique aspect of Ecuador’s living heritage, with master weavers still crafting by hand in Montecristi.
Ecuador’s consistent climate attracts tourists at several peak times throughout the year, usually coinciding with European school holidays. The main season for the highlands and the Oriente is between June and September, while December to May is high season for the coast and the Galapagos Islands. Christmas and Easter are popular times for locals to travel, which can hamper availability and push up prices.
Visitors planning to hike in the rainforests of Napo Wildlife Center may prefer the dry season, while surfers will find the best waves between January and May. June, July and August are prime time for whale-watching. Visitors may wish to avoid the cool weather and rough seas of the Galapagos from June to December and the heavy rains in the Oriente between April and July.
Currency: The United States Dollar (US$)
Official language: Spanish
Ecuador was originally populated by disparate Native American tribes who came from different places and spoke various languages. The geography led coastal people to developing a hunter-gatherer fishing culture and the people of the Andes to focus on farming. When the Incas arrived from Peru, it took two generations of rulers to incorporate all the existing structures into their own. A shared culture and language saw the highlands of Ecuador became part of the Inca Empire in 1463, while coastal Ecuador and the Amazon jungle remained hostile to invasion.
When the Spanish arrived, the Incan empire was engaged in a civil war that eventually saw the new Inca Atahualpa emerge victorious. After failing to convert the Inca to Catholicism, the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro and his associates subjugated the population to their rule as part of the Viceroyalty of Peru in 1563. During the ensuing 300 years, the indigenous population was decimated by European diseases and incorporated into a forced labor system.
The leaders of Quito city were the first to call for independence by establishing a local government in 1809. It only lasted for two months, but inspired the wider region to develop a thirst for emancipation. The states of Ecuador, Venezuela and Cundinamarca subsequently formed the Republic of Great Colombia, with the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil being the first to gain freedom in October 1820.
Most of Ecuador’s population is Mestizo, people with blended Spanish and indigenous ancestry that share a Hispanic culture influenced by Roman Catholicism and Amerindian traditions. The Ecuadorians are a religious, family-oriented group with traditional gender roles, who enjoy music, dancing, food, and sport (especially soccer and horseback riding). The nation has produced many globally-recognized artists and writers over the centuries.
The remaining native communities are fairly integrated into the mainstream culture, while still retaining some of their original traditions; particularly rituals which have been incorporated into more recently introduced Catholic religious festivals and events.
The capital, Quito, is situated in the mountains and has low temperatures and unpredictable weather typical of the subtropical highlands. The average daily temperature is 65°F, falling to 50°F at night. The “summer” dry season extends from June until September, while the “winter” wet season runs from October to May. The coastal areas enjoy an average temperature of 77°F, with the hottest, rainiest months being between January and April. The Galapagos Islands have a consistent climate and temperatures that tend to hover around 77°F, without a lot of precipitation.
If you are a citizen of India and want to visit Ecuador, then you don't need a visa in advance. Though, in order to get visa on arrival traveller should have financial documents, passport with validity of 6 months and two blank pages, a return ticket, and travel insurance.
Most of Ecuador’s large towns feature at least one reliable taxi company. American Taxi (+593-2-222-2333) and Taxi Express (+593-2-211-1111) are two of the popular firms in Quito. Official cabs are yellow and bear a code, don’t risk using unlicensed cars. In Quito, during the day, make sure the meter is on at the start of the journey. At night, and in other cities, negotiate the price before starting a trip.
The Galapagos Islands can be reached by boat, with charters, cruises and regular ferries departing from the mainland ports of Ecuador to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. From there, speed boats provide regular service between Puerto Ayora, San Cristobal Island, and Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, departing every two hours. These journeys are mid-priced, noisy, and rough, but are the most practical way to get around the Galapagos. There are various operators offering multi-day cruises, some with a focus on diving or sport fishing.
Ecuador’s rail network is in a state of disrepair, with trains running only in a few tourist areas. The most famous is the scenic route from Alausi to Sibambe along the notorious Nariz del Diablo line (named for the numerous workers who died building it) through the Andes Mountains.
Bus travel is the standard way to get around Ecuador and is efficient, affordable and often picturesque. Intercity buses link the entire country and most schedules are available online at www.ecuadorschedules.com. Tickets can be booked at the central station (terminal terrestre) in each town, although visitors should bring a Spanish phrasebook as staff rarely speaks English. The levels of comfort can vary greatly between operators, with ejecutivo (first class) buses being the most expensive, the safest and most comfortable. Advance reservations are recommended for peak times such as Christmas and Easter.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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