A wonderland of incredible wildlife and plants within its Amazon Rainforest and Galapogos Islands, Ecuador has cocoa beans, bananas, Cotopaxi - the world’s largest active volcano, and even real-life (komodo) dragons, among its most famous things. With the clue in its name, the equator runs through Ecuador, where it is possible to stand on this significant ‘line’ in Quito. A colourful melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, traditions and art forms, Spanish is classed as the country’s official language, although the Indian population speak Quicha. Pan flutes, woven bracelets, blankets and ponchos, brightly coloured paintings, and beaded jewellery are just some of the stunningly beautiful handiwork you can expect to find, in every colour imaginable. Warm ocean water, gentle sea breezes and a temperature that rarely goes above 90oF (32oC) in many parts of the country, result in a pleasant climate.
Why not begin your South American adventure with a journey to the Galapagos Islands?
When journeying through Ecuador, by visiting the 'Middle of the World' at Quito’s Equatorial Line Monument, it is possible to stand in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres simultaneously. Within the Monument lies the Ethnographic Museum, housing an incredible collection of traditional costumes, musical instruments and all manner of objects significant to the varying regions, cultures and history of Ecuador.
The historic centre of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, steeped in colonial history, that was founded on Incan ruins in the 16th century. The old town includes the La Compañia Church, which is a wonder for anyone who enjoys architecture, as it has an incredibly ornate and richly sculptured façade and interior. The Galapagos Islands are a magnificent place to learn about the unique ecosystems and biodiversity. If seeing a giant tortoise has always been on your wish list then the El Chato Reserve is a must, as one of the best places in the archipelago to observe them in their natural habitat.
Meanwhile on the Eden Islet, located off the coast of Santa Cruz, it is the perfect spot for sighting blue footed boobies, reef sharks and frigates. Snorkelling and riding in a glass-bottom boat are popular activities here. Bartolomé Island is a Galapagos icon, where anyone who ascends the wooden staircase is rewarded with spectacular views from the top. It is possible to travel around the colossal Pinnacle Rock by dinghy, taking in this mammoth structure that was originally formed from molten lava. Another picturesque spot is that of Sullivan Bay - a white coral sand beach, ideal for swimming and snorkelling, with a trail running above a lava field that flowed here less than 100 years ago.
Soup and rice dishes play an important role in Ecuadorian cuisine, with ‘biche de pescado’, (a seasoned soup containing sweet plantains, fish, peanuts, yucca), ‘arroz con camarones’ (rice with shrimp) and ‘arroz con pollo’ (rice with chicken) being favourite staples in South American dining. Given Ecuador’s location, fresh seafood is abundant in coastal areas, making ceviche (raw seafood and shellfish in citrus juices) and trucha (trout) a popular choice with locals and visitors alike.
Guinea pig pet owners will perhaps not wish to indulge in cuy - a roasted guinea pig dish that leaves nothing to the imagination! Adventurous eaters might like to try librillo which is made from the chopped lining of a cow’s stomach and is typically served with rice. If you’d like to stick to more conventional food, papas rellenas (stuffed potato dumplings) and llapingachos (potato patties with cheese) can accompany meat and vegetarian dishes. Flour made from yucca roots is combined with cheese, butter and eggs to make ‘pan de yuca’ – a soft bread that can be found throughout Ecuador.
If you have strong teeth, chewing on delicious melcoca (a type of crunchy toffee or taffy candy) is a must for anyone who loves sweet treats. If you happen to visit Ecuador during a festival celebration or go to a local fair, give huevitos chilenos a try. These balls of fried dough are the equivalent to doughnut holes. Espumillas look like ice-creams in a cone or glass but are actually meringue cream desserts that are not served cold. Ice-cream and fruit sorbets come in fabulous flavours, given that Ecuador has a rich supply of tropical fruits like mangoes, bananas, pineapples and passion fruit.
Fresh fruit juices, watered down juices in the form of ‘refrescos o frescos’, guarapo (sugar cane juice) and coconut water are in plentiful supply in Ecuador. The sweet-tasting horchata lojana is a floral, herbal tea that is equally delicious when served hot or cold. Another well-liked warm beverage is morocho, with a thick, pudding-like consistency, combining morocho cracked corn with milk, cinnamon, sugar and raisins. Chica is an alcoholic drink that dates back to Incas and still proves popular today. Key ingredients include cornflour or oatmeal, aromatic herbs and fermented pineapple (or other fruits).
When it comes to rum, quality varies and can usually be deciphered by the price. Popular types include Ron San Miguel, Norteño, Pagaro Azul, Ron Mitad del Mundo, Ron de Chimborazo and Canelazo. Ecuador also brews its own beers, with the Doggerlander Brewing Company’s ales and stouts proving to be well-liked. A unique, golden, fruity liquor named Espiritu del Ecuador (Spirit of Ecuador) is drunk neat like brandy, or mixed with carbonated sweet soft drinks and comes in a bottle shaped like Quito’s Equatorial Line Monument.
Landscape and wildlife
Four regions define Ecuador geographically: the Amazon, the Galapagos Islands, the highlands of the Andes, and ‘La Costa’ - the Pacific coast, which spans 530 miles (853 kilometres). Each one is rich in biodiversity and offers contrasting habitats, fauna and flora. A multitude of reptiles inhabit the Galapagos Islands, such as geckos, iguanas, caimans, lizards, giant tortoises, komodo dragons and enormous anacondas, together with green turtles, seals, dolphins, whales, sharks and rays. Unusual birds like albatrosses, cormorants Galapagos penguins, frigates and boobies also reside in this area.
The Amazon River has everything from river dolphins, stingrays and catfish, to eels and piranhas. On land, monkeys, sloths, jaguars, ocelots, and anteaters reside in the jungle. For wildlife spotting in the Andes, look out for Andean foxes, pumas, spectacled bears, mountain tapirs, hummingbirds, toucans and condors. Ecuador’s endangered animals list is lengthy, and includes the blue whale, bush dog, giant anteater, giant otter, giant armadillo, and the Amazonian manatee. Measures have been taken in Edcuador’s National Parks, refuges and reserves to protect its wildlife and natural areas.