Despite being the smallest country in the Andean Highlands,Ecuador is one of the world's most bio-diverse destinations.Visitors will experience dramatic changes in altitude, scenery andtemperature while journeying between Pacific Coast beaches, thesweltering rainforest, the ice-covered volcanoes surrounding Quitoand the windswept highlands of the Andes Mountains. They will alsoencounter an astounding variety of birds, wildlife and vegetationin these contrasting climatic zones.
What's more, Ecuador's geographic environment has influenced thecultures and traditions of its people. Two mountain chains and over30 volcanoes make up the Andean highlands, the country's backbone.Between the two chains lies the central valley, the Avenue ofVolcanoes, at about 8,960 feet (2,800m) above sea level.
This valley, or sierra, is the heartland of cultural activity,punctuated by dozens of remote communities. It is also home to thebulk of the population. Larger towns like Saquisilí and Otavaloswell on market days, with villagers coming to sell their produceand handiwork in a vibrant, colourful, and festive atmosphere.
Additionally, the sierra contains most of the old andhistorically important cities, including the aforementioned Quito.The country itself is beautiful, with colonial architecture,magnificent, panoramic scenery and a welcoming people blendingtogether magnificently.
One of the world's greatest treasures of natural history lies inthe bewitching Galapagos Islands. Famed for its unique wildlifesuch as marine iguanas, giant tortoises, and colourful SallyLightfoot crabs, the island chain is the highlight of any holidayin Ecuador.
As a travel destination, Ecuador is most famous for itsecological wealth. Indeed, the country's most notable touristattraction is the Galapagos island chain, once the scientificplayground of Charles Darwin. On this small archipelago of volcanicislands, weird and wonderful animals like the giant tortoise andmarine iguana can be observed. Tourism on the Galapagos is strictlycontrolled to preserve the famous eco-system.
Other breathtaking natural wonders in Ecuador include the manyvolcanoes, particularly Cotopaxi, which is one of the highestactive volcanoes in the world, and home to one of the fewequatorial glaciers in the world. The Amazon rainforest attractsmany adventurous travellers, with the town of Tena the most commonlaunching point for jungle treks. Nature lovers will appreciate theCuyabeno Wildlife Reserve as well. It lies in the Andeanfoothills.
Those wanting to experience the scenic Ecuadorian coastlineshould to head to the southern coast, where numerous picturesquebeach resorts can be found. The most popular of these is the prettytown of Montanita.
The capital, Quito, is the transport hub of the country andattracts tourists in its own right, thanks to its colonialarchitecture, colourful markets, and Cotopaxi looming in thebackground. Cuenca is also a very attractive town and a hotspot onEcuador's tourist circuit.
The Plaza de la Independencia has always been the heart ofQuito. As the hub of the old centre, it is the best place to sit,enjoy a meal, and people-watch. The City Hall, the cathedral, theArchbishop's Palace and the Government's Palace are all locatedaround the square. The cathedral is the oldest church in SouthAmerica, and is one of the city's most impressive historical andarchitectural sites. Both the Government Palace and the cathedralwere scenes of shocking murders. In 1875, President García Morenowas murdered by machete, and in 1877 the Bishop of Quito waspoisoned during a Good Friday Mass. But despite this gory history,the Plaza Grande is now the happy, atmospheric heart of Quito andshould be the first stop for travellers.
The Iglesia de San Francisco is a peaceful place, without theshady benches full of people and the business of Plaza de laIndependencia. Inside, visitors will find chapels gilded in gold,splendid altars and many religious paintings and carvings producedby the Quito School. Its monastery holds some priceless examples ofSpanish sculpture and art. It is one of the biggest religiouscompounds in South America, with seven courtyards and buildingsstretching behind the church. These only become evident once thevisitor has ventured through the stone doorway of the mainentrance. The Iglesia de San Francisco is arguably Quito's greatesttourist attraction and a must-see for travellers in the city.
One of the few sights in Quito's New City is the round,glass-plated building of the Casa de la Cultura. It houses atheatre, a cinema, and two museums, the most impressive being theMuseo del Banco Central. Ecuador's premier museum, it contains anastonishing assembly of religious art, Columbian ceramics andpre-Hispanic gold, and a huge archaeological repertoire. Ofparticular interest are the ceramics of the La Tolita society (600BC to 400 AD) and the Gigantes de Bahía. On show too is the Sala deOro (an exhibition filled with gold), and the Sala de ArteColonial, which is packed with religious paintings and sculptures.English-speakers may find the information provided on exhibitslimited, but the artefacts themselves will not disappoint.
Ecuador's geography has endowed the country with a variety ofmicroclimates. The coast is hot all year, with a humid rainy seasonbetween December and May. In the mountains, climate depends onaltitude, becoming cooler the higher travellers go. The Amazonregion is hot, humid and wet, while the Galapagos Islands are drywith a steady year-round average temperature of 77ºF (25ºC).
The US Dollar (USD) is the official currency in Ecuador. It isrecommended that travellers bring US dollar notes as other foreigncurrencies are difficult to exchange outside of Quito, Guayaquil,and Cuenca. Small denominations in good condition are the easiestto exchange outside of the main cities.
In the main centres, most currencies can be exchanged at banksand exchange houses (casas de cambio) at variable commission rates.ATMs are available in the cities, and major credit cards areaccepted in tourist areas and large hotels, although a commissionof six to eight percent is often charged.
Spanish is the official language, but many speak anAmerindian language called Quichua.
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin, flatprong plugs are standard.
US citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond thedate of their arrival in Ecuador. No visa is required for stays ofup to 90 days.
British citizens must have a passport valid for six monthsbeyond the date of their arrival in Ecuador. No visa is requiredfor stays of up to 90 days, irrespective of the endorsement withregard to national status contained in the visitor's passport.
Canadian citizens must have a passport valid for six monthsbeyond the date of their arrival in Ecuador. No visa is requiredfor stays of up to 90 days.
Australian citizens must have a passport valid for six monthsbeyond the date of their arrival in Ecuador. No visa is requiredfor stays of up to 90 days.
South African citizens must have a passport valid for six monthsbeyond the date of their arrival in Ecuador. No visa is requiredfor stays of up to 90 days.
Irish citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyondthe date of their arrival in Ecuador. No visa is required for staysof up to 90 days.
US citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond thedate of their arrival in Ecuador. No visa is required for stays ofup to 90 days.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport valid for six monthsbeyond the date of their arrival in Ecuador. No visa is requiredfor stays of up to 90 days.
Passports should be valid for at least six months beyond thedate of arrival in Ecuador. All visitors should hold an onward orreturn ticket, and must demonstrate proof of sufficient funds fortheir stay in the country. Extensions are possible for travellerswho do not need a visa to enter Ecuador. Those who are travellingto the Galapagos Islands need to register with the government priorto arrival on the following website:http://www.gobiernogalapagos.gob.ec/pre-registro-tct/. It is highlyrecommended that travellers' passports have at least six monthsvalidity remaining after the intended date of departure from theirtravel destination. Immigration officials often apply differentrules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
A yellow fever certificate is required for those arriving frominfected areas, and is recommended for everyone entering Ecuador,particularly for those travelling to the Amazon basin. Vaccinationsare recommended for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. There is a highrisk of malaria and dengue fever in areas below 5,000 feet (1,500m)in Ecuador. There has been a dramatic increase in the number ofreported cases of dengue fever primarily in coastal and Amazonregions. The best prevention is to cover up and use mosquitorepellent liberally throughout the day. High altitude can affectsome people's health so visitors to Quito (6,500 feet/2,800m), forexample, are advised to take it easy for the first few days. It isadvisable to take seasickness tablets on a Galapagos boat cruise.Tap water should not be consumed; bottled water is available. Milkis unpasteurised so it is best to avoid dairy products. Medicalfacilities are often inadequate, especially outside of Quito, andcomprehensive medical insurance is highly recommended.
A 10 percent service charge is usually added to good qualityhotel and restaurant bills, but often the waitron does not receivethis fee, so it is discretionary to add another five to 10 percentas a tip. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped but tour guidesusually do.
Ecuador is generally a safe country to travel to but visitorsshould be vigilant with their belongings as most crime isopportunistic. Travellers are warned not to store belongings in theoverhead lockers or under seats on public buses and trains.
Due to a risk of kidnapping and armed crime, travel to thenortheastern areas bordering Colombia is not advisable, and travelto the northern provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana should beavoided. Travellers should also avoid hiking to Volcan Pichinchavia Cruz Loma as violent gangs are known to operate in the woodedareas; a cable car provides access, but there have been severalcases of armed robbery and rape reported in the area. Severalincidents have also occurred along the hiking trail up CerroMandango near Vilcabamba, Loja, in which hikers have been robbed ofall valuables by masked men.
Ecuador has many active volcanoes, which are rather poorlymonitored. Eruptions have caused the evacuation of thousands ofpeople, particularly in the Baños area.
There is an ongoing risk of disruption to travel due to socialand political unrest; all public gatherings and demonstrationsshould be avoided - as they should be in all foreign countries.
Violent demonstrations and road blockades have occurredthroughout Ecuador since October 2019, causing disruption tointer-city, inter-provincial and international travel. Protestaction can take place with little or no warning in anylocation.
Always ask permission to take photos of the local people. A tipis often requested for taking a photo. It is a legal requirement tocarry identification at all times. Dress is more conservative andmodest in the highlands compared to the coast. Politeness and goodmanners are essential for communication and a light handshake isthe practiced form of greeting.
An essential aspect of conducting business in Ecuador is havinga link with a reputable local partner. Business dealings aresomewhat formal; dress is usually smart and conservative,punctuality is important and greetings are made with a handshake.Dress can be more casual in hotter regions such as Guayaquil.Business cards are usually exchanged and it is recommended to havesome business cards, company brochures and presentations translatedinto Spanish. Note that business disputes that would in countriessuch as the United States be dealt with by civil litigation areoften, under Ecuadorian law, viewed as criminal, and can lead toarrest and imprisonment. Although the official language is Spanish,English is widely spoken and understood in the business sector.Business hours are usually 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, withsome businesses closing during lunch.
The international access code for Ecuador is +593. Hotels, cafesand restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. Asinternational roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaidSIM card can be a cheaper option.
Travellers entering Ecuador do not have to pay customs duty on400 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 500g tobacco; 3 litres of alcoholicbeverages; perfume for personal use; and gifts and personal effectsto the value of US$500.
Ministry of Tourism, Quito: +593 2 250 7559 orwww.quito.com.ec
Embassy of Ecuador, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 2347200.
Embassy of Ecuador, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 75841367.
Embassy of Ecuador, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 563 8206.
Ecuadorian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 346 1662
Embassy of Ecuador, Canberra, Australia (also responsible forNew Zealand): +61 2 6286 4021.
Ecuadorian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland, +353 1 280 5917
United States Embassy, Quito: +593 2 398 5000.
British Embassy, Quito: +593 2 397 2200.
Canadian Embassy, Quito (also responsible for Australia): +593 2245 5499.
Irish Honorary Consul, Ecuador: + 593 2 380 1345.
New Zealand Embassy, Santiago, Chile (also responsible forEcuador): +56 2 2616 3000.
El Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) is a purpose-builtcomplex of museums and shops that was constructed to mark theequator, the line that gives the country its name. The 96-foot(30m) high Equator Monument is the focus of the square, topped by abrass sphere representing the world. A painted line stretches outon either side of the monument marking the equator that divides theworld, and the complex into northern and southern hemispheres. Aset of weighting scales also lie on the square and illustrate thefact that visitors lose a bit of weight of the equator, as they'resubject to a lesser force of gravitational attraction than usual.An anthropological museum has interesting displays of Ecuador'sindigenous populations and their customs, and there is a sceniclookout at the top as well as a planeterium. Buses leave regularlyfrom Quito for El Mitad del Mundo. There is a small admission pricefor the complex.
Ecuador is famous for its colourful, indigenous markets, and thebest known of these is the market at Otavalo. It dates back topre-Incan times, when jungle products were brought up from thelowlands to be traded for highland goods. Every Saturday, visitorswill find a wonderful sprawling mix of rich colour, smells, and thesounds of energetic bargaining, an essential part of trade and anart in itself. Spread over three plazas and the surroundingstreets, thousands of local otavaleños in striking traditionaldress sit among their wares, doing hard business with tourists andlocals alike. The Plaza de los Ponchos is the main area for craftslike woollen blankets, bright ponchos and jerseys, colourful bagsand woven tapestries. It is possible to buy almost anything fromfresh fruit and rain sticks, to jewellery and dried lentils. Thenoisy animal market commences first thing in the morning. Locatedon the edge of town, locals visit it to buy and sell cows, pigs,horses and llamas, with much haggling over prices.
Parque Nacional Cotopaxi is Ecuador's most visited NationalPark, with one of the highest active volcanoes in the world at itscentre. At 19,350ft (5,900m) above sea level, Volcán Cotopaxioffers excellent hiking and climbing opportunities along with asmall museum, a llama herd and camping and picnicking facilities.There is also a good chance of spotting condors and deer. Anovernight mountain hut on the snow line is available for thosewishing to climb the volcano. The recommended months for climbingVolcán Cotopaxi are December through April. However, travellersshould always pay close attention to any alerts or warnings issuedby authorities regarding volcanic activity. Those not interested inclimbing the volcano will find picturesque walking trails aroundthe lake at the bottom of the mountain, and there is a restaurantnearby for refreshment.
The Spanish founded the charming city of Cuenca in 1557. Despitebeing Ecuador's third largest city, it is quaint and pretty, and afavourite for photographers, with its cobblestone streets and16th-Century buildings. It is a good idea to spend a few daysrelaxing in this special place, where colourful Ecuadorian culturemeets old-world colonial style. There are a number of museums andchurches to see, as well as bustling plazas and markets that can bevisited during a leisurely ramble around town. The nearby fortressof Ingapirca is a popular excursion. Located just outside Cuencaand in a town of the same name, the fortress' ruins constituteEcuador's only major Inca site.
The small town of Banos is a holiday favourite for its hotsprings. Framed by majestic mountains and volcanoes, it serves as agateway to the Amazon rainforest. Situated on the slopes of theactive Tungurahua volcano, Banos is also on constant alert forsigns of activity from "The Black Giant". The town is popular withEcuadorian and international travellers alike, as a place to relaxin unspoilt, peaceful surroundings. The best known of Banos'therapeutic hot baths is the Piscina de La Virgen, which is next toa waterfall. For the traveller looking for more holiday action,there are numerous activities, including horse riding, hiking, andmountain biking. It is also possible to organise trips to theOriente, the forests of the Amazon Basin, where travellers can seewildlife, visit indigenous communities deep in the jungle, andexperience life in the isolated far reaches of the country. Thereare many bars and restaurants throughout the town, often with livefolk music.
Banos is also home to Ecuador's most famous candy, taffy, whichis made from sugarcane. Hanging from hooks in the doorframes ofalmost every shop, it is an integral part of the Banoslandscape.