Ecuador: Experience South America
January 1, 1970
by María José Mera Washburn
Ecuador’s incredible diversity
If you want to experience South America saving time and money, Ecuador is the place for you. Ecuador is a country located in the mid-center of the Earth, right on the equator line, between Colombia and Peru. Something I find very interesting is that despite its very small size it is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world where food, climate, animal life and landscapes can drastically change from one region to the other. Ecuador also uses American currency (US dollars) but the expenses are much cheaper than they would be in Europe or North America. Ecuador is divided in 4 regions: The rainforest, coast, highlands and the well-known Galapagos Islands. These regions are an average of only 5 hours away from each other and have their own weather, local staple dishes and culture. Read for yourself why Ecuador is the very best option to start experiencing South America.
The Ecuadorian Rainforest
In the rainforest you will get to experience a jungle-like setting, the weather is pretty humid but it is worth going because you get to see nature at its purest. Some of the things you can do in the rainforest are watching animals such as exotic birds, snakes, monkeys and going for a boat ride in the river where you might see anacondas and piranhas. You might also get to see pretty amazing things such as learning how chocolate is made from scratch. There are some beautiful and comfortable hotels located in the middle of the rainforest and they provide daily meals and experienced tour guides; you would definitely want to go with one of those options if this is the place you want to visit. You can find many different options online. The best thing is you don’t have to travel for days, in a matter of hours you can go from the city to the jungle!
The coast area of Ecuador is usually warm. You can go to shopping malls, good restaurants and beautiful beaches here. Some areas have a third-world feel to them but others look very modern. The biggest and main cities are Guayaquil and Manabi. You will find small towns within these cities and find local handcrafts,delicious food and fun things to do in nature as well, all for a cheap price. If you are more into the city life but still want to experience South America to the fullest, you will enjoy visiting the coast.
The highlands is one of my favorite places to visit. The weather is chilly but not extremely cold, the landscapes are breathtaking and the handcrafts are amazingly beautiful for a ridiculously good price. Don’t get me started with the food, very different but fresh and tasty! You can also visit active and dormant volcanoes and buy hot chocolate while wearing a beautiful, warm, hand-woven Alpaca sweater. One of the closest highland’s cities is Cuenca, only 4 hours away from the coast and one of the top destinies where Europeans and Americans retire, when you visit this place you will totally understand why!
The Galapagos Islands
Finally, the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago (group of islands) located west of Ecuador. This is ”the most expensive place” to visit in Ecuador. You would have to buy an plane ticket to get there and since it is considered a natural national park, an entrance fee needs to be paid, which is obviously much more expensive for foreigners than for locals (around a $100 US dollars). The Galapagos Islands has been named one of the new 7 wonders of nature for a reason though. The turquoise water and the sea lions laying on the city benches are a phenomenal experience. The volcanic soil the islands possess is so good to grow watermelons they ask you to please don’t spit the seed on the floor lest a watermelon grows and they do! You can also watch the 100 year old tortoises and eat the freshest and most delicious fish you have ever had in your life, right out of the water, whether you want to eat in the market with the blue footed boobies and sea lions watching you or in a comfortable restaurant with A/C, I assure you it will be an experience worth your money.
Things you need to know
Ecuador has two seasons, winter and summer, but not the type of winter and summer you may think, their summer is sunny and a little more windy whereas their winter in rainy and humid, so if you decide to visit Ecuador between November and February (Ecuadorian winter time) you will want to take boots, umbrellas and mosquito repellent with you, this is why the best months to visit are on summer, which would be the remaining months, especially on May. Even though Ecuador is a developing country,South America is not as ”safe” as first world countries so make sure you have your electronics out when you are going to use them and then put them away in your purse or backpack, don’t be walking around distracted with them on your hands to avoid attracting unwanted robbers.
Recommendations for this trip
Always drink bottled water. Tap water in Ecuador is not fitted for consumption, the positive aspect is bottled water is very cheap and sold everywhere, literally. Also, another important thing to know is public transportation is very cheap in Ecuador. City buses go as low as 0.25 cents (US dollars) and a taxi charges around $4 to take you quite far. A bus from the Guayaquil (which is in the coast) to Quito (which is in the highlands) should charge you around $10. If you are a foreigner, for your safety, ask in the hotel, airport or to people you know for a contact of safe taxi cabs. Ask about the rates so they (the drivers) don’t overcharge you. You can even arrange a deal with them to take you anywhere during your trip.