Ecuador is surprisingly diverse and generally affordable for Westerners. Its pleasant climate, vivid culture, and great food have become a very popular holiday and retirement destination.
What attracts people to Ecuador? Here are ten – very subjectively chosen – reasons to visit or live in Ecuador. Treat them as a teaser and not a complete guide.
1. The Equator
Ecuador owns its name to its location. The equator line is an imaginary line that divides the Earth into north and south hemispheres. Points that are located on the Equator have the latitude of 0° 0′ 0″.
Ecuador is one of 15 countries where the Equator traverses lands, but none of them has a name that would mark that fact.
What are the consequences of Ecuador’s location on the Earth? First of all, the climate, of course. A climate typical for the equator zone is a tropical rainforest climate, and obviously, that applies to Ecuador. A part of the country called Oriente is indeed a rainforest with very high average temperatures and high humidity.
However, Ecuador has other parts too: sierra, a stripe of land located in the high Andes and costa at the ocean so that the climate can be very different. It’s commonly said that the city that has the best climate is Ibarra, located in the province of Imbabura at an altitude of 2200 meters above sea level.
Ecuador celebrates its location at the equator line. Near the capital city – Quito – there is a landmark called mitad del Mundo (“the centre/middle of the world”), where you can take a classic picture of half you being in the northern hemisphere and half at the southern.
Over disputes about the exact location of the equator line, a very smart Ecuadorian built his own mitad del Mundo – few feet away from the “official one”.
The equinox occurs two times in the year (the 20 of March and the 23 of September). In places located on the Equator, it means the sun is directly overhead (in the zenith), and you won’t be able to see your shadow!
The location on the Equator also means that the day and the night have almost the same length – 12 hours. No more dark winter days!
2. The nature
From warm blue Pacific ocean to chilly, snowy peaks of the Andes. From humid and green jungle to cold, clear lakes in the mountains. From wild wolves and bears to colourful toucans, hummingbirds and turtles. Ecuador has it all–jungle, ocean, and mountains.
The country has four regions and thus four climate zones:
- Costa – the coast.
- Sierra – the mountains.
- El Oriente – the rainforest jungle.
- Galapagos Islands.
This means you can discover different types of fauna and flora without leaving the country.
The Galapagos are especially worth mentioning as it’s knowledge of having numerous endemics – species that only live there, such as Galapagos land iguana, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos tortoise or famous Darwin’s finches.
3. The cities
When you decide you are already full of nature, you can chill out in one of the Ecuadorian cities.
Most of the major cities have a typical landscape of square blocks with a plaza in the centre. Although you won’t find monuments as old as in Europe – of course – the city centres generally preserved the colonial architecture.
Quito, being the capital city, is home to many government offices. You will visit it anyway if you have some paperwork to do – like visa, residency or other.
On your list, there should be Cuenca with its sizeable historical part, Guayaquil, the biggest city in the country and Salinas, the Miami of Ecuador. However, if you’re looking for a place to stay, Ibarra and its surroundings will offer excellent prices and potentially the best climate.
4. The culture
The government puts lots of effort to promote the local culture of indigenous (indigenous people) and what’s left from pre-Spanish times.
So you will see traditionally dressed people walking by the streets (yes, they wear their clothes daily), you will have a chance to taste traditional stuff (for instance famous Ibarra’s ice-creams, which supposedly were invented by indigenous) and try to say ‘Hello’ in Quichua, which is the native indigenous language, very different from Spanish, of course.
You will also hear the legend of the Blood Lake (Yahuarcocha) and learn about the Incas’ kingdom and the sad history of Atahualpa – the last great Inca king.
Finally, you could try karaoke – which seems to be the Ecuadorian national sport – and see for yourself how bad they are at singing.
5. The food
Leaving the good old stuff behind, you will encounter new, sometimes exciting, sometimes baffling food.
You will try balls made of banana stuffed with cheese, or deep-fried empanadas or mote, not to mention all sorts of meat grilled directly on the streets.
If you like seafood, perhaps you will become a fan of ceviche (a sort of cold soup or salad made of shrimps/prawns and lime juice) or encebollado (a kind of fish soup with onion and yuka). And, of course, you will get to try tasty crab or spiny lobster.
If you are ready for extreme experiences, why not try cui, which is essentially a grilled guinea pig. Or you can stay with a soup – locro quiteño will be something more usual.
6. The ocean
The coastline of Ecuador has a length of 2,000 kilometres and offers sunny beaches, high temperatures and a warm ocean. You can pick up a lovely hotel just at the beach and enjoy the view and a fresh mojito in your Panama hat.
Swimming, snorkelling, surfing or whale-watching – this is only a sample of what you will experience.
7. The mountains
If you’re not exactly the sea person, don’t worry – you won’t be disappointed. Having the most extended continental mountain range in the world within its borders, no wonder the mountains of Ecuador are something extraordinary.
A large part of the country lies in the Andes, including some major cities, such as Quito (2,850 meters above sea level), Cuenca (2,550) or Ibarra (2,225).
Ecuador’s top 3 highest mountains are:
- Chimborazo (6,310 meters).
- Cotopaxi (5,897) – which is also an active volcano.
- Cayambe (5,790) is also the highest point on the Equator and the only point on the Equator with snow cover.
The good news is most of the peaks can be easily climbed without special equipment.
8. The Panama hat
If you thought the famous Panama hat comes from Panama, you were wrong!
The original, the genuine, the unique Panama hat is a national treasure. This distinctive hat is hand-made of toquilla straw, which is so strongly related to the tropics was added to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists on the 6 of December 2012.
9. The people
In Ecuador, you’re going to meet some nice and friendly people! Generally, they’re more relaxed and open for a casual conversation, even if they don’t completely understand you.
But be aware! While the Ecuadorians generally have lots of patience towards foreigners that try to speak Spanish, they are terrible English speakers. So if you don’t speak any Spanish, you will find it very difficult to communicate. So better start now!
10. The bananas
Banana. What can be so exciting about a banana? First of all, no fruit would be called just “a banana” in Ecuador (which is the number 1 world exporter of the fruit).
Think apples. In Europe, they come in a great variety of styles, flavours and colours (if you don’t believe, visit Poland – the largest producer of apples in Europe).
So, the banana is like the Ecuadorian apple.
There are yellow bananas (called guineos) which are commonly known as “bananas”.
They’re generally sweet, but they come in different sizes, different “angles”, and different tastes. Some of them are sweeter, some smell a bit like raspberry, and some are tiny.
Then you have Verdes, which are green bananas used for cooking. You can make excellent stuff out of them.
And finally, you have maduros which are pretty huge and typically grilled before eaten.
The best part is the prices: in a typical shop, you can get a banana for 7-8 cents, but you can also buy a big, giant bunch for a dollar—the banana-eaters paradise.