Ecuador Travel Guide
Stretching its beautiful lands between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador is certainly not the first name that pops into your head when dreaming of your next summer holiday but it definitely has the potential to become one of your favourite places around the globe. The little country is a home to the smallest Andean nation but the size does not stop Ecuador to be jam-packed with breath-taking natural contrasts. Often described as the microcosms of South America, a small world with its own rules and wonders, Ecuador is certainly a unique blend of different people (but all of them very friendly and hospitable), stunning colonial architecture, outstanding biodiversity, a lot of history and unique cultures, buzzing markets, and so much more! There is no wonder that once you visit the country it becomes a hard thing to leave it since Ecuador is offering plenty to do, see, and enjoy – from the snowcapped and marvelous Chimborazo volcano, through the exotic beaches of the Pacific coast caressed by palm trees, to a bunch of tropical forests and reserves such as Parque Nacional Yasuni.
Ecuador is a definitely a bright example that size matters. In this case, the smaller size of the country is definitely a win-win case since all of the most popular and attractive landmarks are within an easy reach of the magnificent capital Quito. While visiting the capital city is a must, something you simply cannot miss while in Ecuador is spending some time admiring the awe-inspiring diversity of fauna and flora of the country. A home to exotic species and views that leave you speechless, the jungle wilderness of the Oriente and the mist-covered lowland cloud forests welcome you in a world of biodiversity you can hardly witness anywhere in the world. In fact, Ecuador is a home to so many and different bird species, more than any other country in South America. On the other hand, the country holds the world’s leadership in orchids too. However, one of the most popular spots in the country is certainly the infamous Galapagos Islands. The remote archipelago and its extraordinary wildlife are what certainly changed the idea about the world and its species back in the centuries.
Back on the mainland, Ecuador is visually divided into three main regions. The middle one is the Sierra, the home to the eastern and western chains of the Andes, more than thirty volcanoes, series of high plateaux and hills. This middle part is definitely the heart of Ecuador not only because of its location but also because of how indigenous it is. A patchwork of fields, haciendas, remote farming villages, and the oldest cities of the country including the capital, the middle Sierra part is beating up in the rhythm of the traditional Ecuadorian culture and lifestyle.
Located east of the middle part is the Oriente – a large piece of land that is populated sparsely. The majority of the Oriente is covered by Amazonia tropical rain forests which make it a perfect destination for exciting adventures. Unfortunately, parts of the region are under the increasing threat from the oil industry and colonisation. On the other side of the Sierra is where the third coastal region of Ecuador is. The fertile land is the agricultural heart of the country with a major production of bananas, sugar, coffee, rice, and cacao. Bordering with the Pacific ocean, this western part is a home to some of the most beautiful and exotic palm-fringed beaches, a lot of ports, and prawn farms. Almost 10,000 kilometres away from the coastline is where the infamous Galapagos archipelago is, a home to an exotic and unique bird, mammal, reptile, and flora species.
The population of the country is saturated in the Sierra and on the coast. The majority of the local people are descendants of many ancient tribes and nations including Incas, Spaniards, African slaves brought by Spanish colonists. With many different ethnical groups around the country, the main part of the population nowadays is dominated by Kichwa-speaking communities of the rural Sierra, the various groups of the Oriente including Shuar, Achuar, Huaorani, Secoya, and the mainly black population of the western region. No matter the ethnical origin and the religious affiliation, the locals remain a friendly, hospitable, cheerful, and very welcoming group of people.
When to go?
In a nutshell, Ecuador is not following the classic understanding for seasons. There is no strictly determined summer or winter season as the weather and climate in the country is mostly determined by the altitude of the region you are visiting. When it comes to the Sierra, you can expect the warmest and driest months to be from June to September. Other than this sierra summertime, the rest of the year can be described as sunny in the morning and cloudy and often wet in the afternoon. The specific location of the Oriente region determines it as a warm, humid, and rainy place all year round. The time of the year with the least amount of rains is from August to September and from December to February. When it comes to the western coast, this is the region of Ecuador that has the most clearly defined wet and dry seasons. The best time to visit this area and enjoy your days on the beach is from December to April when temperatures are high and the sky is clear blue. From May to November it is often overcast, rainy, and chilly.
Where to go?
Travelling around Ecuador is easy and relatively fast and cheap. It is thanks to the smaller and compact size of the country. So whenever you are planning to visit the country, making sure that you will be able to visit and enjoy all attractions and main landmarks within a shorter period of time is not that hard. Most of the places you would like to visit are within no more than one day ride with a bus from the capital, most of them within an easy reach of each other. Make sure to allow yourself at least a couple of days for wandering around the capital Quito and enjoying its beautiful colonial style, narrow atmospheric streets, and exquisite monasteries and churches.
Whether you are looking for a more high-class accommodation or a budget-friendly option, the modern new town of Quito is offering plenty of hotel options and restaurants catering for all tastes and requirements. Just outside the capital in northern direction is where you can enjoy the northern Sierra and its green valleys, volcanic peaks, and sparkling lakes. This area is also famous for the artesanias or the centres of native artwork where you have the chance to dip your toes in the traditional culture of Ecuador. Out of all artesanias, Otavalo is certainly the biggest attraction because of the infamous Saturday market – the most renowned one in South America. In case you would like to spoil yourself to a bit more atmospheric and unique accommodation experience, the several beautifully converted haciendas in the area are the right place to do so.
However, if you prefer to hop on a more exciting adventure you should head up south of the capital where the central Sierra is offering hiking opportunities with breath-taking views of the spectacular volcanoes of the country – Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. In this region of the country is where you can find some of the most unique markets too, such as those of the villages Saquisili and Zumbahua. Some of the other must-visits in the region include the crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa, the little spa town Banos, the train ride down the Nariz del Diablo from Riobamba. The southern part of the Sierra is where you can visit the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, the country’s only major Inca ruins of Ingapirca, and the beautiful wilderness of Parque Nacional Cajas. Heading even further south is where you can visit the magnificent Parque Nacional Podocarpus and the popular gringo mountain village Vilcabamba.
The Oriente is a home to Ecuador’s greater wilderness with almost 300km of thick and exotic tropical rainforests. Since 1960’s thanks to the discovery of oil in the region, this area becomes easier to access and not that rural with a developed infrastructure. Two of the largest wild areas in the region are the Reserva Faunistica Cuyabeno and the Parque Nacional Yasuni, however, there are plenty of smaller reserves dotted around too. Experiencing the thrill of this diverse and mesmerising place is not a dangerous and inconvenient experience anymore with plenty of jungle lodges just a short canoe ride down the Rio Napo. Keep in mind that some of the most rural and isolated destinations can be reached by light aircraft only.
Just a few hours ride from the capital of Ecuador and you will find yourself surrounded by the beauty of the coastal regions and the mesmerising cloud forests drenched in mist and tangled in plants, mosses, and vines. Birdwatching is a popular activity in this region. The so-called birding capital of the country is the small village of Mindo surrounded by forests and hills. Head up west and you will discover Ecuador’s varied coastline including the Reserva Ecologica Manglares Cayapas-Mataje easily reached by canoe from San Lorenzo. However, if you prefer to spoil yourself to some good relaxation and sunbathing, the north coast is best known for its exotic beaches and amazing resorts such as Atacames, Sua, Same, Muisne, and Canoa. The southern coast is best known for Parque Nacional Machalilla and its offshore island Isla de la Plata. For a bit of more adventurous experience, Montanita offers amazing opportunities for surfers and backpackers. Head up to Salinas and the biggest city in the country – the port of Guayaquil – to dive into a more buzzing and touristic atmosphere.
No matter what time of the year you decide to visit Ecuador and what regions and areas you are going to enjoy, this South American country will win over your heart with its exotic and unique nature, romantic colonial style and atmosphere, friendly locals, and fresh and delicious cuisine.