|Country Information & Lifestyle|
A Land Of Wonders and Diversity
Ecuador, as the name suggests, is situated on the Equator in Ecuador Western South America and and gets its name from the fact that it is crossed by the Equatorial Line. To the north is Colombia, Peru is to the south and east, and to the west is the Pacific Ocean.
Right through the centre of the country running north to south is the Andean mountain range with the country's highest peak Chimborazo reaching 6310 m. The Ecuadorian Andes are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a broad geological region characterised by its clusters of volcanoes and its propensity for earthquakes.
After a lifetime of being off the global tourism radar screen Ecuador is poised to emerge from its incognito status. Every year more and more people are discovering Ecuador's exhilarating diversity as reflected in its landscape, biology, people and culture. Add this to the near perfect climate, the low cost of living and the peaceful nature of its politics and you have a world class destination.
In addition, mainland Ecuador's natural diversity is complemented by the famed Galapagos Islands. These volcanic islands are located in the Pacific Ocean 960 km off the coast and the unique fauna found on the archipelago inspired the British naturalist Charles Darwin to discover the Theory of Evolution.
Ecuador's cultural diversity stems principally from its many colourful indigenous tribes. Unlike other New World countries, Amerindians are an integral part of Ecuador's authenticity and political landscape.
Although the smallest of the Andean countries, the Republic of Ecuador holds historical, cultural and natural wonders befitting an entire continent. Straddling not only two hemispheres, but also two worlds the ancient and the modern this tiny republic, with its remnants of past civilisations and Spanish conquests, offers the traveller a striking blend of landscapes, peoples and cultures.
From ancient markets of the indigenous peoples, Amazon tributaries, Inca ruins, Andean peaks, 16th century churches, and the wildlife-rich Galapagos Islands, Ecuador boasts an incredible diversity which belies its diminutive size. Indigenous cultures, tropical forests, active volcanoes, and a wealth of animal and bird life are all highly accessible within a matter of hours in a country no bigger than the U.S. State of Colorado.
As a result of Ecuador's small size, only 283,560 square kilometres, all these regions can be readily visited in a short time giving rise to the adage that in Ecuador "you can see the sun rise over the Amazon, have lunch in the Andes and finish the day by watching the sun set over the Pacific."
So come with us to The Land of the Volcanoes and see just what this amazing country has to offer the visitor and newcomer alike.
The Andes mountain range crosses Ecuador smack down the middle d's region of the Andes consists of over 30 volcanic cones, almost a third still active. One of these is the snow-capped Cotopaxi, the world's highest active volcano and Cayambe, the only place with snow on the equator.
Numerous national parks and protected areas of wilderness feature a wide range of micro-climates and enormous bio-diversity, making the Sierra a paradise for bird watching in particular.
The highlands provide exciting hiking and trekking and there are excellent routes for mountain biking and horse riding. One of the world's greatest train journeys is between Riobamba and Alausi passing through the famous "Devil's Nose". A trip like none other in the world!
Many inhabitants of the Sierra are Indians and there are fascinating indigenous markets and craft centres throughout the highlands. In Chimborazo province the town of Cajabamba has colonial houses and temples.
Guamote is located one hour south from Riobamba on the Pan-American Highway and has one of the most authentic and colourful markets in the country with many Indians coming in their traditional clothes from nearby mountain villages.
Quito, a UNESCO city, is situated in a circle of mountainous peaks, nestling in an Andean valley at an elevation of 9,000 feet, and is the world's second highest capital. The city is literally surrounded by volcanoes some like Mt.Pichincha, very much alive. Quito is considered to be one of the most beautiful capitals in the world.
The historic centre, known as the Old City, is the oldest and best preserved colonial sector in South America, replete with narrow and winding cobblestone streets, magnificent churches and open squares. The Spanish influence is reflected in the colonial buildings with their red-tile roofs, thick columns, balconies and central patios.
For its artwork, Quito has been termed the "Florence of America." The modern part of Quito contrasts greatly with the colonial part. Here you will find parks, shopping centres, banks and offices. There are also several handicraft markets. There are excellent restaurants, bars and hotels.
The active volcano Pichincha literally towers over the city of Quito and tours are available to visit the mountains peaks and the craters. Only 15 minutes from the capital Calderon offers visitors elaborate handmade products made of dough.
Approximately 20 minutes north of Quito is Ciudad del Mitad (The Middle of the World City) straddling the Equator. Here you can place one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere, and yes you weigh less here at the Equator!!
The Intag Valley is almost entirely unheard of by the outside world, this stunning valley offers lush beauty, clean living and getting back to nature are all part of the daily life. Tucked into the western slopes of the Andes, 40 miles north of the capital Quito, the Intag Valley possess that rare kind of climate in which nearly any plant will thrive. You will find more species of orchids that you can count.
Surrounding the scattered tracks of farmland is a dense jungle of towering palms, broad-leafed ferns and twisting vines. Papayas to passion fruit carrots to corn, it is all harvested her in this valley.
This thick cover acts as one of the few remaining intact habitats for elusive pumas, jaguars, and other smaller felines. The endangered spectacled bear also calls the Intag home along with hundreds of varieties of exotic birds.
As the condor flies, this cloud forest valley is not far from the market town of Otavalo. In fact, it's only 35 miles away by road. But for years now that one-and-only road has been a narrow, mountain-hugging dirt track accessible only from the towns of Otavalo or Cotacachi. That's all about to change. Road improvement projects have been carried out from the Amazon to the Pacific and now they've arrived at the Intage. The upgrade will make for a more pleasant ride and it will open up the way for expanded tourism.
The Mindo-Nambillo Protected Cloud Forest is located 70 km northwest from Quito and is rich in bird species like hummingbirds and the Cock of the Rock, and an abundance of plant life. The town of Mindo has a colourful and varied atmosphere.
The enchanting private Maquipucuna Reserve consists of 4,500 hectares of cloud forest surrounded by 14,000 hectares of protected forest. It was home to pre-Inca tribes known as the Yumbos, the local people are now dedicated to farming crops and raising cattle.
Extending from the north of Quito to the Colombian border is Ecuador's colourful Northern Andes region. This mountainous region is made up of green valleys blanketed with patchwork farmland and sleepy villages, surrounded by majestic peaks.
The Northern Andes is known for its indigenous markets, spectacular scenery and historic haciendas. Some of the finest inns and ranch-resorts are to be found here, along with ecological reserves cloud forests and spectacular volcanic lakes that give the Northern Andes the name of The Lake District.
Otavalo is located on the Pan-American Highway, two hours north of Quito and hour south of Ibarra. Otavalenos sell their famous textiles, like sweaters, pants, wall hangings, blankets etc every day in the Plaza de Poncho and on Saturdays, the main market day; there are more stalls with masks, statues, paintings and carvings as well.
Also early in the morning is the animal market, just outside the town where natives from around the rural regions gather to buy or sell their horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and other animals. Saquisili and Pujili are some 2 hours south from Quito, a little bit off the Pan-American Highway. Both towns have genuine markets, not as touristy as Quito.
In the Southern Andes ancient ceremonial temples tell the story of cultures that are more than alive. Colonial Cuenca near the Inca fortress ruins of Ingapirca is considered by many to be Ecuador's most beautiful city. It is a dream walking along its cobblestone streets among the historical architecture.
The beautiful Cuencan handicrafts come in many different styles, like embroidered blouses, wool sweaters, detailed jewellery bathed in gold and silver and ikati textiles. Cuenca has a strong tradition in ceramics. A leading industry in Cuenca and its surrounding areas is the making of Panama hats, originally from Montecristi.
Loja has many interesting sites like the entrance gates to the city, churches and in the historical centre colonial architecture. Loja recently received an award for being the most organised, cleanest and most ecological city in all of Ecuador. The colourful facades of the houses are part of the attraction.
Vilcabamba means Sacred Valley and is internationally known for the long lives of its inhabitants that live more than 100 years, it receives thousands of tourists and pilgrims every year attracted by the natural beauty of this town trapped in time.
On August 15th of every year, the faithful gather en masse in El Cisne, a small town in Ecuador's Southern Andes where they begin a 74 kilometre religious procession that will end in the city Loja. The centrepiece of the peregrination is a locally famous religious relic, the Virgin de El Cisne. For most of the year, the six-foot tall wooden statue resides inside the basilica of her namesake.
The Avenue of the Volcanoes makes the Central Andes one of the most beautiful and impressive of Ecuador's regions. Travelling through by train on the original railroads from 1900 you can appreciate the beauty of the mountains and the warm people of the Andean highlands will welcome you with their ever ready smile.
Latacunga presents Spanish colonial architecture and has cobblestone streets and small houses with red tiles. The area is famous for the Mama Negra festival with the primary figure in the traditional parade being Mama Negra accompanied by bands, fireworks and flowers.
Cotacachi, in the Imbabura province, has become a favourite destination for retirees and expats alike. Nestled in the Andes mountains with picturesque volcanoes always in the distance, this quaint town of around 8,000 people is the perfect place to relax and settle in to a slow-paced life.
With perfect weather, beautiful scenery, low cost of living, and the small-town colonial charm, it's no wonder that almost everybody that comes to Cotacachi falls in love with it. The nature is astounding, and one popular destination is the crater lake of Cuicocha only 15 minutes away.
Cotacachi itself is known for it's leather artisan goods, and Otavalo being only 30 minutes away boasts the largest and most famous artisan market in all of South America. Cotacachi is just 2 hours away from Quito for all of your international flight connections. This gives Cotacachi the unique appeal of a quaint remote town that is still well connected for all of your needs.
Ambato is known as The City of Flowers due to the large amount of production of flowers and fruits in the fertile land surrounding it. Banos is famous for its hot baths, waterfalls and endless activities within a small territory. Lots of adventure sports like rafting, bungee jumping and the proximity to the Priente, through the Route of the Waterfalls to Puvo, is one of the most exciting adventures for your stay in this town.
The Amazon tropical jungle, the world's largest remaining rain forest, stretches from eastern Ecuador to the Atlantic Ocean and covers an area almost as large as the continental USA. Fully one-third of Ecuador consists of Amazon rain forest and is one of the most accessible and traveller-friendly areas of the upper Amazon basin.
Ecuador's eastern jungle is often referred to as the Orient by locals. The area is characterised by the endless sea of green and tropical wet climate. Wildlife such as monkeys, parrots, river dolphins and caimans are all relatively easy to view and the Ecuadorian Amazon offers activities ranging from canoe journeys to visits to local jungle communities. The Amazon has some of the finest white water rafting routes in the country.
There are small communities of Indians such as the Huaorani, Cofan, Shuar and Siona-Secoya who live in jungle villages and carry on with many of their ancient traditions. An unforgettable adventure is walking through these tropical forests, sleeping in rustic cabins and sharing a day with the native peoples of this mysterious region.
An important city of the northern Amazon zone is Francisco de Orellana located at the confluence of the Napo and Coca rivers. Historically, this small city carries the name of the discoverer of the Amazon River. The indigenous people native to the surrounding areas, the Tagaieris or Sachas, know it as Coca because historically they went to this site to carry out their curative rituals with chewed up coca leaves.
In the southern Amazon zone Zamora is surrounded by a variety of flora and fauna, including tapirs, capybaras, agoutis, pumas and birds. It is known as the capital of the mining country and is home to the gold mines of Nambija, China Pinza and Guayzimi.
Babahoyo is the capital of the province of Los Rios and visitors are amazed to see floating houses on the river Babahoyo. Vinces is known as Little Paris and is characterised by ancient buildings, constructed in wood, that belonged to the rich cacao plantation owners of yesteryear.
Zaruma is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador and has colonial architecture with rich decorative elements and a wonderful mixture of traditional materials and techniques. One of the most coveted products is coffee that is produced here in a constant spring climate that hovers around 17 degrees Celsius.
But what has made this place famous are the multiple gold mines. Some 7 km from Zaruma is Portovelo, known for having the oldest gold mines in the country.
In El Oro is the island of Jambeli. It is a small group of islands surrounded by mangroves from which extend Pacific beaches, clean and rich in vegetation. Access is from Puerto Bolivar by motorboat.
In the eastern part of the mouth of the Guayas river is the Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve located 46 km from Guayaquil. This is an area of protected mangroves where several bird species and aquatic species live, along with howler monkeys, brown pelicans and sloth.
The Pacific Coast or Littoral possesses the most fertile land in Ecuador. Characterised by coffee and tropical fruit plantations, secluded beaches and excellent seafood dishes, the coastal lowlands provide some of the finest white water rafting routes in the country.
Ecuador's coastline is famous for its pristine tropical beaches, unique wildlife and quaint fishing villages. West of the Andes lie the coastal lowlands, home to Guayaquil, the largest and economically most important city in the country and said to have the country's greatest nightlife.
The region contains Ecuador's only coastal national park, Machalilla, with its ecologically rare tropical dry forest and the Isla de la Plata, known as the Poor Man's Galapagos for the animal species present on the island. A favoured habitat for whale species including the Humpback, Sperm, Pilot and the False Killer, and in the summer months the towns along the coastline become takeoff points for whale watching.
To the north in the province of Esmeraldas, a lush tropical region where the Afro Ecuadorian influences is strong. Esmeraldas is awash in dance-able rhythms which are banged out on marimbas and drums. Esmeraldas is also known for its beach resorts and towns which are popular vacation getaways for the people of Ecuador's Sierra.
South of Esmeraldas the province of Manabi contains wide spectacular beaches and is known for its dry tropical forests (unique in the world), national parks and important thousands of years old archaeological sites.
The unique Galapagos Islands, in all their dramatic and desolate volcanic beauty, lie 600 miles west of Ecuador's Pacific coast. The Galapagos Islands consists of 13 large islands and 6 smaller ones plus 42 islets. The Galapagos Islands is an experience that enthrals all visitors as the blue footed boobies, iguanas and turtles of Galapagos seemingly have no fear!
One can only wonder what Charles Darwin was thinking as he walked about these peculiar islands, enchanted 170 years ago.
The Galapagos Islands are not considered to be part of the Ring of Fire. Rather, these islands are the top of gigantic underwater volcanoes that form over a "hot spot' where two tectonic plates are separating. These volcanoes are much younger than the Andes.
The islands are recognised for their unique endemic species which include reptiles, birds and marine mammals. The giant tortoises of Galapagos are unique on earth. The Galapagos Sea Lion looks like the California Sea Lion and is endemic to the islands.
Ecuador cuisine is diverse, varying with altitude and agricultural conditions. In the Highland Region pork, chicken, beef and guinea pig are popular, served with rice, corn or potatoes. On the Coastal region seafood is very popular, shrimp and lobster are key parts of the diet. Ceviche is made from shrimp, lemon and in some places they add tomato sauce.
Plantain and peanut based dishes are the basis of most coastal meals. Churrasco is a staple food of the region also, especially in Guayaquil, along with the traditional arroz con Menestra y carne asada, rice with beans and grilled beef.
In the rain forest (Amazon Region), a dietary staple is the yuca, elsewhere called cassava. Many fruits are available in this region, including bananas, tree grapes, and peach palms. They are a lead producer of bananas, cacao beans (to make chocolate), shrimp, tilapia, mango, passion fruit, among other products.
In the province of Esmeraldas the costa cuisine is exquisite and includes such dishes as encocado de pescado (fresh fish served with coconut) and delicious fresh crab.
After having travelled Ecuador and experienced the hospitality of the people, the beauty of the scenery, walked the historic cobblestone streets and enjoyed some of the delicious food, perhaps you have now decided that this is where you would like to live. For sure you will not be disappointed, as nowhere is there such a small country with so much to offer.