ECUADOR TRAVEL GUIDE
Things to Do and See
Located in northwest South America, “Ecuador,” when translated to English, means “equator.” The equator passes through Ecuador as well as Colombia and Brazil in South America. Ecuador also includes the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago of 18 volcanic islands located the in the Pacific Ocean approximately 1,000 km or 612 miles) west of the country.
The diverse geography in the country ranges from sea level at the Pacific Ocean and climbs to an elevation of over 6,300 meters or 20,000 feet in the Andes. In fact, Ecuador boasts some of the tallest mountains in South America, and is home to 2 World Heritage Sites, 11 National Parks, 9 ecological reserves, 4 biological reserves, 31 active and dormant volcanoes, and 26 pristine beaches.
Roughly the size of Colorado, Ecuador, which is the smallest country in South America, borders Colombia to the north and Peru to the south. The Andes Mountains forms the country’s spine. Cotopaxi, in the Andes, is the highest active volcano worldwide. Also part of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands features unique species of birds, reptiles, and plants.
In Ecuador, La Costa, which is the western coastal area, includes a broad coastal plain, rising to the foothills of the Andes on the east. Most of the world’s bananas are grown here.
The Sierra of Ecuador is a mountain region that spans about 27,500 square miles or takes up about one-fourth of the country. Despite being along the equator, the Sierra’s elevation gives the area a comfortable and temperate springtime climate. The capital of Quito is located here.
Also called Amazonia, Oriente, in east Ecuador, is covers the east slope of the Andes as well as the lowland region of the rainforest inside the Amazon basin. This part of Ecuador is known for its rich reserves of oil.
Many people in the country grow only enough crops to feed their family, and therefore subsistence farming is widely practiced. For recreation, Ecuadorans play and watch soccer, the country’s national sport.
The Capital of Quito
Located in the Ecuadoran mountains, the capital of Quito shares the Ecuador culture and history, being home to local foods, nightlife, and a UNESCO world heritage site. As one of the largest cities in the world, Quito sits at 9,350 feet (2,850 meters) or 2 miles high, making it the highest constitutional city in the world. The city, founded in 1534, displays architecture from that time in its historic Old Town. A quick fast-forward to the present day, and visitors to the city will see that Quito is a mesmerizing mix of old-meets-new.
When you stroll through the capital, you will be greeted by baroque buildings set against a backdrop of steel skyscrapers and trendy restaurants. To describe Quito is to describe a landscape of contrasts – one that depicts a sprawling and busy metro area surrounded by Andean peaks and volcanoes.
Because the capital is home to Ecuador’s largest international airport, it is often used as a gateway to the other areas in the country. Many travelers visit Quito as a stopover to the Galapagos Islands. However, you can do plenty of things to keep you occupied in Quito itself, which gives you plenty of reason to stay more than 1 or 2 days.
The Plaza Grande
The Plaza Grande lies in the heart of Quito Old Town. It only takes 10 minutes to stroll the plaza and see the notable buildings and attractions in the historic center. One of the must-see sites in Old Town, the Presidential Palace, is where the Ecuadoran president lives and presides over the country. Old Town also features La Compania de Jesus, a seventeenth-century Jesuit church several blocks from Plaza Grande. Its gold-covered interior makes the church one of the sites to include on a Quito itinerary.
Plaza San Francisco, another Quito plaza features St. Francis, the capital’s oldest church, as well as cafes, religious art, a museum and street vendors. Another important landmark is San Agustin, a convent built in 1617. Ecuador’s Independence Act was signed in the building, which displays seventeenth-century paintings by the artist Miguel de Santiago. You can take an hour-long tour of the halls and courtyard for only $2.00. If you want to get learn more about Quito, visit the City Museum. Chronological exhibits make up the displays in the former hospital.
Indeed, Quito enables you to explore and escape. Even if your interest is casual, it is easy to stroll hours over the cobblestones of the city’s historic center.
The City of Cuenca
Another destination of note is Cuenca, a beautiful city located in southern Ecuador – one, like Quito, that is fun and interesting to discover on foot. The designated UNESCO World Heritage site brims with architectural landmarks covering a span 400 years, all which showcase Indian and Spanish elements.
One of Cuenca’s main attractions, the Old Cathedral of Cuenca, was built in 1567. The church was constructed from stones taken from Inca buildings nearby. The Old Cathedral features an organ, built in 1739, a Museum for Religious Art, and a tower clock that dates back to 1751. A newer Cathedral of Cuenca, built in the 1960s, highlights 3 splendid, blue-tiled domes. One other church of note, the Church of San Sebastian, mixes Neoclassical and Gothic elements in its architectural design.
Breaking away to the Great Outdoors is easy to do from Quito and Cuenca, as Ecuador features Cotopaxi National Park (near Quito) and Cajas National Park (near Cuenco). Of the 2 parks, Cotopaxi, which lies about 50 kilometers or 30 miles south of the capital, is better known, as it features the active Cotopaxi volcano. Smaller volcanos also dominate the landscape. The Ruminawi and Sincholagua volcanoes represent two extinct volcanoes in the area.
The Cajas National Park, about 30 kilometers or 19 miles from Cuenca offers the ideal venue for biking or hiking. Other park activities include kayaking or canoeing, both of which are made possible by 270 lagoons and glacier-fed lakes inside the park.
Ecuador is a small country with a lot to offer anyone seeking an escape or adventure. Add life to your travels by planning an Ecuadoran holiday.
Ecuador is the 9th largest country in South America and comprises about 2% of its total land area of the continents land area. It shares its northern border with Columbia, eastern and southern border with Peru and with the Pacific Ocean on the west, and shares the Amazon river with Peru, Brazil and Columbia. The country has 2,239km (1,453 mi) of coastline and over 2,000 rivers and streams. From north to south (vertical measurement), the country measures about 450 km (280 mi) in length and between 40 km (25mi) and 241 km (150 mi) in width.
The head of the Ecuadoran Government is the President, and the government is divided into the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. Ecuador is divided into 32 limited, self-governing council areas (administrative subdivisions) and comprised of 7 regions with administrative cities in Ibarra, Tena, Riobamba, Ciudad Alfaro, Milagro, Cuenca, and Loja). Ecuador is a member of the United Nations, Organization of American States (OAS), and World Trade Organization (WTO). In 2008, Ecuador was the first country to recognize Rights of Nature or “ecosystem rights”.
Below is our country profile containing facts and information to familiarize you with Ecuador.
- Country Name: Ecuador
- Official Name: Republic of Ecuador, Republica del Ecuador (Spanish)
- Government: Democratic Republic
- Formation: Recognized by Spain in 1840, and its current Constitution enacted in 2008
- Historical Nicknames: none
- Country Motto: “Dios, patria y libertad” (Spanish); “God, homeland and Liberty” (English)
- Government: Unitary Presidential Constitutional Republic
- Capital: Quito
- Largest City: Guayaquil
- Select Cities: Cuenca, Santo Domingo, Manta, Machala, Portoviejo
- Points of Interest: Galapagos, Cotopaxi, Basilica of the National Vow, El Panecillo, Cajas National Park
- Nationality: Ecuadorian
- Major Religions: Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestants
- Population: 17,300,000 (2018)
- Life Expectancy: 73.9 years for males and 79.8 years for females
- Largest Ethnic Groups: Mestizo, Afro Ecuadorian, Amerindian, White, Montubio,
- Languages: Spanish plus 13 Amerindian languages
- National Anthem: “Salve, Oh Patria” (Spanish); “Hail, Oh Homeland” (English)
- Area: 284,516 Km (109,846 mi)
- National Symbols: The Rose, Andean Condor- National colors yellow, blue and red.
- Average Temperature: Daily: 70°F (21°C), Annual 64°F (17.8°C)
- Climate: Winter runs from June to September, with the wet season from October to May.
- Highest Elevation: Chimborazo, elevation of 6,263m (20,548ft)
- Longest River: Maranon (1080 miles); Amazon is shared by three other countries
- Deepest Lake : Cuicocha Lake 100 m(656 ft)
- Largest Lake: Laguna San Pablo, 4km (2.4 m)
- Location: South America
- Calling Code: +593
- Geographic Coordinates: 2 00 S, 77 30 W
- Currency: United States Dollar (USD; $) and Centavo coins (together replacing the Sucre in 2000)
- Driving Side: Right
- Time Zone: Two time zones, the mainland following Greenwich Mean Time (UTC-5). The Galapagos Islands are in a different time zone.
- Internet TLD: .ec
What currency is used in Ecuador?
The official currency of Ecuador is the US Dollar commonly represented by the symbols (USD; $). It replaced the Sucre in 2000.
Where should I visit when in Ecuador?
Ecuador is one of the lesser traveled tourist destinations in South America which means that many parts of the country have been undiscovered and unspoiled by masses of foreign visitors.
If you like outdoors, there are more than 30 protected areas and national parks such as Podocarpus National Park, wildlife and bird sanctuaries refuges like Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge and El Condor National Park. Ecological reserves and forests such as Ollinizas Ecological Reserve, Cuyabeno Forest Reserve, and Yasuni National Park are a must see.
For visitors preferring to explore cities and towns, Ecuador offer many rich and diverse cathedrals like the Metropolitan Cathedral in Quito, monasteries such as the one at San Augustine, as well as plazas Plaza de San Francisco in Quito, palaces Palacio Arzobispal, and historical parks like Guayaquil Historical Park.
When is the best time of year to travel to Ecuador?
Because of the diverse geography and climate, there is no “best time of year” to visit Ecuador. However, there are peak seasons with June to September considered the busiest. In most parts of Ecuador, January to May is the wettest, coolest time of the year. Average daytime temperature is about 70 °F (24°C) with nighttime temperatures more than twenty degrees cooler. Ecuador’s proximity to the equator is misleading as the climate varies by region due to the differences in elevation that span sea level to the highest point in the country measuring 20,000 ft.
What are some of the “must see” destinations in Ecuador?
The Galapagos Islands are definitely on the list as well as the white sand beaches dotting the Pacific coastline in Atacames such as Tonsupa and Mompiche, and in Salinas. Other memorable activities include volcano tours in Banos, adventure travel in the Andes, and whale watching as humpback whales make their annual migration off the shores of Ecuador.
How expensive is Ecuador?
Youth hostels and accommodations are plentiful with season prices ranging between USD$10 and USD$15 a night. Mid-range hotels in the larger cities such as Quito range between USD$48 to USD$150 a night but bargains abound. When planning your trip account for meals, ground transportation, entrance fees, and entertainment. flights, day tours, and rental car costs will vary based on your travel itinerary and length of stay. There are many river tours on the Amazon River as well as dozens of companies offering cruises to ports of call such as San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands and the port city of Guayaquil.
Do I need a visa to visit Ecuador?
Depending on your citizenship and country of origin, a visa and other travel documentation may be required to visit or study in Ecuador. For most visitors, a visa is not required to enter Ecuador, but such stays are generally limited to 90 days. There is a special exception for visitors from Peru red. No visa is required if you are U.S. citizen unless you are planning to stay longer than 90 days. If you are planning to visit the Galapagos Islands obtain a Transit Control Card as it will be required.