Ecuador, one of the world's most diverse countries in relation to its size, holds one of the greatest amounts of plant and animal species in the world. It is a coastal country, bordered by Columbia to the north, Peru to the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the West.
Ecuador has four diverse and completely different regions, each with its own offerings for tourists:
- The Pacific Coast, with great beaches
- Amazon Rain Forest -- exotic jungle, rivers and wide range of plants and animals
- Highlands of the Andes -- Snowcapped mountains, volcanoes, Indian villages, and colonial cities
- Galapagos Islands -- inhabited by animals not found elsewhere in the world
Many travelers refer to Ecuador as one of the most attractive, peaceful, and friendly countries in South America, and costs are relatively low in most areas. It is a premier destination for bird watching, with 17 percent of all the species of the world living here. In fact, the flora and the fauna attract not only nature lovers but leading botanists and scientists.
Since it's located right on the equator, Ecuador as a whole has no extreme weather changes, with climate changes determined by altitude rather than latitude.. As a general rule it is far cooler in the highlands and more tropical with humid, wetter climates in the Amazon and Coastal areas.
Ecuador's inexpensive and generally reliable buses are the country's preferred form of travel. In contrast, the train network covers only a small portion of the country. The road network is limited and less than 15 percent of the highways are paved, and floods and landslides can cause havoc. Finally, some primary domestic air carriers are relatively inexpensive, with the exception of trips to the Galapagos Islands.
Ecuador has a wide range of cuisine, with Western cooking, as well as a wide variety of international cooking, available throughout the country. Fruits and juices appear in great varieties.
Accommodations are plentiful, ranging from international luxury hotels to meager shelters. If you're on a mid-range budget, you'll be pleased with the numbers of clean low-cost hotels in most cities and towns. Again, the Galapagos Islands are an exception.
Come prepared to wear lightweight woolens, with warm jackets for the evenings, in the highlands, and light tropical attire in the Amazon area . Cobblestone streets make high heels a bad choice.
The predominant religion is Roman Catholic, with many celebrations and holidays revolving around the church calendar. When visiting churches, monasteries, and shrines, those in shorts, miniskirts, or similar attire will offend others.
When to Go:
The Highlands -- the dry winter from June to September, but also enjoyable other months
The Amazon Basin -- the dry season from May to November, avoiding the rainy season when the jungle may be impenetrable
The Galapagos Islands -- May to December is fine. Ideal is March through May and November and December. (July, August and December are costlier). Surfing season is December through February.
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Passport Requirements: All visitors need valid passports to enter Ecuador. Note that the country does not always allow entrance if the holder's passport expires in under six months. Under a new law, no visas are necessary.
Language: Ecuador's official language is Spanish, but Quichua, an Inca language, is spoken by the Indian population. Besides Spanish, ten native languages are spoken in Ecuador.
Currency: The U.S. dollar is Ecuador's currency. The country has coins ranging from one to 50 cents, all equivalent to the American coins. U.S. coins are accepted as well.
Things to Avoid:
Lack of Personal Safety: At night, stick to busy well-lit streets and never admit you are traveling alone. Be sure someone at home knows your itinerary.
For transportation, think twice before driving, as roads are poor, and travel only during the day. Definitely do not hitchhike, particularly women.
Theft of Valuables: Bring as little with you as possible. Keep your cash, cards, and papers in a money belt, especially in large cities. And don't let your bags out of your sight while traveling from place to place.
Sickness: Inoculations: You are required by Ecuadorian law to show a vaccination certificate for yellow fever. Also, make sure you're up to date on your other vaccinations and boosters.
Food and Water: Tap water is unsafe to drink. Bottled water and sealed soft drinks are safe.
Sunburn: Use a high-factor sunscreen