Its colonial history for one – the cities of Quito and Cuenca are filled with 17th century cobblestone streets lined with mansions, churches and monasteries, interspersed with the occasional plaza. Traces of the pre-colonial civilisations can also be found, for example the Incan ruins at Ingapirca, just outside Cuenca.
If you head out of the cities into the incredible natural environment, you’ll discover an immense range of wildlife among the Galapagos Islands or mountainous regions filled with volcanoes, hot springs and cloud forests. Here you’ll also discover Andean villages where markets display stall after stall loaded to the brim with colourful textiles, handcrafted jewellery and other crafts.
This is also another access point to the Amazon. Although the country contains only a small swathe of the vast rainforest, there is still much to see.
And if beaches are more your thing, then coastal towns such as Olon, Ayampe or Canoa offer sunny days filled with seafood snacks, sand between your toes and some decent surf.
It may be one of the continents smaller countries, but it is easy to navigate and there’s plenty to see.
Places to Visit in Ecuador
- Galapagos Islands
- Cotopaxi National Park
Unique Things to See and Do in Ecuador
- Bathe in the thermal springs at Papallacta
- Peruse the textiles and handicrafts at Otovalo Market
- Stay at a hacienda in the Andean Highlands
- Explore the spectacular diversity of the Galapagos Islands
- Climb active volcano Cotopaxi
Ecuador – Once Part of Greater Colombia
Ecuador was once part of the Republica de Gran Colombia, or Greater Colombia, which was founded by freedom fighter Simon Bolivar in 1819 amid the war for independence from Spain.
Grand Colombia was made up at first of Colombia, Venezuela and Panama, which Bolivar had succeeded in freeing from colonial rule. He was named the president of the new republic which had its capital at Bogota. Francisco de Paula Santander was named vice president.
However, Bolivar’s ultimate goal was to unite the whole of South America and so he departed in 1819 to continue his mission in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. In 1822, he managed to free Ecuador which joined Greater Colombia, but in 1826, during his continued absence, Venezuela rebelled against the new republic. Bolivar finally returned in 1827 and following tension with Santander, he implemented a dictatorship. But that didn’t prevent the crumbling of Greater Colombia. In 1828, he faced opposition to his proposal for a new constitution which was only recognised in Colombia and Panama. Later that year, Venezuela decided to separate entirely. In 1829, Ecuador followed suit.
Bolivar resigned in 1830, with Jose Domingo Caicedo replacing him as president. His dream of a unified South America was never to be fulfilled, and he died later that same year in Santa Marta in Colombia.
Getting Around Ecuador
There are a number of ways for getting around Ecuador ranging from bus networks to rides in the back of pick-up trucks. The former can be slow and crowded, but they are an affordable way of getting around. The latter is a popular way of getting around highland areas local style and are known as camionetas. On the coast and the Oriente, local transport takes the form of chivas or rancheras – quirky buses with open sides.
Taxis can also be hired as a way of travelling longer distances for those not so keen to take a turn behind the wheel. But if you hire one for a few days, you’ll be expected to fork out for the driver’s food and board. You can also hire 4WD’s with drivers from some tour operators in some of the bigger cities, or even pick-up trucks in some of the smaller towns if you’re trying to get out to remote areas such as one of the national parks.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Ecuador
Ecuador is named for its position right on the equator, a latitude that gives the country wet and dry seasons.
If you’re headed for the Galapagos, then January to May offer the best conditions with warm temperatures and calm seas, although you can still expect a shower from time to time.
Did you know…?
In 1998, Ecuador experienced one of its worst economic crises as El Niño caused $3 billion in damage. The price of oil, its principal export, plunged and the inflation rate hit 43% making it the highest in Latin America.
Did you ALSO know…?
On August 16, 2012, Ecuador confirmed it would grant political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who had been seeking refuge at the country’s embassy in London. The decision further strained relations between Ecuador and Britain.
Crowds are minimal throughout the year, even in peak season, although the Galapagos can be the exception to this rule.
Ready to plan your visit to Ecuador? Check out these popular guides and trips.