Ecuador was populated for thousands of years by Amerindian tribes, including the prolific Incas, whose northern capital was at Quito, modern Ecuador's capital. The Spanish arrived in 1522 and added it to their vast South American Empire, until independence was declared in 1822. As well as a rich cultural heritage, Ecuador has an amazingly diverse geography, from the peaks of the Andes to the beautiful coastline to the Amazon basin; the country has natural beauty of all kinds.
Despite political and economic instability (the country had 25 Presidents between 1934 and 1988 and one of the highest inflation rates in the world) Ecuador is a relatively peaceful and safe country, which has escaped much of the violent turmoil that has plagued many of its neighbours.
Spanish is the official language of Ecuador. The version spoken is very close to standard Spanish; many people go to Ecuador to learn the language, as it is cheaper than going to Spain and has little dialectical influence.
There are several Amerindian languages still in use in Ecuador, especially in the Andean regions, where Quichua is widely spoken.
English is spoken in hotels and restaurants and around the country's tourist attractions.
In 2001, the US Dollar replaced the Sucre as the unit of currency as part of attempt to quell record inflation levels, which stood at 104% at the time.
Bills over $10 are often regarded by suspicion by street vendors, especially if the bill is old or worn. Coins are used more than in the US, with the dollar coin in wide circulation.
Ecuador's banks are well connected to international banking networks, so you shouldn't have a problem withdrawing from cash points (which are fairly common) or transferring from your domestic account.
Ecuador's great variety of geography means that weather is changeable and unpredictable. It is a tropical region, so doesn't experience much seasonal variation in temperature, although rainfall varies dramatically. The low-lying coastal regions have an average temperature of 25 degrees Celsius with December to May very wet and humid. In the higher altitudes, the average temperature is 15 degrees Celsius, but there is still considerable humidity and rainfall.
Quito, the capital city, is built on the site of an ancient Inca settlement, which was destroyed when the Spanish arrived. The Old Town is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and has some of the best-preserved colonial architecture in South America. To learn more about this, visit the City Museum, which has exhibitions about local history set in an attractive colonial building. La Mariscal is the backpacking capital of Ecuador. You will find lots of young people from various countries congregating in the variety of bars and clubs. This is the area of Quito that you are most likely to hear English being spoken.
The Galapagos Islands are 600 miles west of the Ecuadorian coast, and are considered a Mecca for ecologists and those with an interest in fauna and flora, or simply those who appreciate natural beauty and diversity. It is these islands that gave Darwin the inspiration for his theory of natural selection. He was amazed, as many others have been since, to find such a unique and yet diverse ecological system so perfectly adapted to its environment. The island is home to the famous giant Galapagos tortoise, many unique finches, albatross, and sea lions to name a few. To preserve the delicate and compelling ecological system, visitors to the island must be accompanied by an approved tour guide. Coupled with the distance from the mainland, this can make for an expensive excursion.
Quito, Cuenca and Gualaceo have bustling crafts markets that are excellent places to pick up souvenirs of your visit. Popular items include native woodcarvings and weapons, leather goods and tiles. The Indians are skilled weavers, and produce fantastic woollen sweaters that you will find useful for a reasonable price. Bargaining is a way of life among these vendors, and when shopping on the street expected to haggle for a good price.
Quito has a range of bars, which usually close around two, and clubs, which may stay open until dawn. La Mariscal area is the best place to find clubs playing European and American dance music as well as traditional Ecuadorian music, including the 'Salsatec' club Green Olive. Often in these clubs you will pay a cover charge on the door that includes a token for one or two drinks inside the club.
Outside Quito, a worryingly high proportion of the nightlife takes place in karaoke bars.
Only 15% of Ecuador's roads are paved, and flooding and landslides make many roads in rural areas totally impassable for periods. In Quito, drivers are fairly respectful of regulations and rights of way, but this is not the case on the coast and in the mountains. It is not unusual to come across drivers who are clearly under the influence of alcohol, despite the fact it is illegal.
Food and Drink
The staples of the Ecuadorian diet are potatoes, rice and maize, with beef and chicken being the most common meats. On almost every table you will find a bottle of Aji, a pepper sauce used to flavour dishes. Popular dishes are seco de pollo and seco de chivo, chicken and goat stew respectively. These are always served with rice or potato salad.
If you have a curious palette, you could try some of Ecuador's more specialist dishes, such as roasted guinea pig (cuy) or bull's penis soup (tronquito). Ecuador is famous for its huge variety of fascinating soups, and whenever you visit a new region you should find out what the local speciality is and give it a try.
Drinking tap water is not recommended, and when buying bottled water, you should specify 'agua sin gas', otherwise you will be given sparkling water.
- Ministry of Tourism, Quito
- +593 (0)2 250 7559
All car hire locations in Ecuador
- Camilo Ponce Enriquez Airport
- Chachoán Airport
- Eloy Alfaro International Airport
- General Manuel Serrano Airport
- General Rivadeneira Airport
- General Ulpiano Paez Airport
- Jipijapa Airport
- Mariscal Lamar Airport
- Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional Mariscal Sucre Airport
- Santo Domingo De Los Colorados
- Simon Bolivar International Airport