Have you ever thought about traveling to the middle of the world? What do you think it will be like – perhaps a tall mountain or a valley surrounded by green trees, perhaps a beautiful beach, a jungle, or a beautiful island? Well, it’s all of these things and more. The actual point where the equinoctial line divides the northern and southern hemispheres is located in Ecuador, a beautiful and diverse country that is covered by beauty from the famous Galápagos Islands to the Amazonian jungle, from Pacific beaches to snow-covered volcanoes. Ecuador is a biodiversity heaven full of culture, history and fun. Ecuador has also been recently awarded the #2 spot in the list of best retirement places by the International Living magazine.
So, what’s the weather like in Ecuador? The answer is a bit complicated. Although Ecuador is a small country almost the size of Arizona, it’s got different regions. La Costa (Pacific Coast) is tropical and hot with average temperatures of 80°F while La Sierra (The Andes Highlands) is a bit colder depending on the altitude with average temperatures of 60°F and less. Ecuador is very diverse – you can drive four hours and go from a warm beach to a snow-covered mountain, drive for another 4 hours and you could probably reach an Amazon rain forest. Just like rest of South America, the seasons in Ecuador are the opposite from the seasons in the northern hemisphere, therefore beach season starts in December and ends in March.
Where to Go
One of the most visited cities in Ecuador and South America is Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Quito is located about 2,800 m (9,200 ft) above sea level making it the second highest capital city in the world. Because of its location, Quito enjoys a nice temperate weather and a beautiful view with three snow-capped volcanoes surrounding the city. There is a “Teleférico” (cable-car) which allows passengers to see the whole city from the sky. The city hosts all kinds of art and music festivals, cultural and nightlife activities. Avenida Amazonas is usually the place to go if you are looking for some fun in the town.
The Andes offers skiing and hiking activities for those adventurous souls. The Cotopaxi and Chimborazo volcanoes are some of the tallest peaks in Ecuador at 5,897 m (19,654 ft) and 6,310 m (21,031 ft) each. Looking for hot springs, waterfalls, water and outdoor activities? Head to Baños, located near the Tungurahua volcano. This small town is very popular among tourists and sports enthusiasts – the town offers tons of activities such as rafting, mountain climbing and hiking excursions. Cuenca offers lots of historic, natural and cultural sites. Ibarra, which is located two hours north of Quito, is a town surrounded by beautiful lakes.
Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, is the commercial artery of the country. Guayaquil offers shopping and tourism combined like no other city – just visit the Malecón 2000, a beautiful riverwalk lined with cafés, bars, monuments and shops. The riverwalk also offers magnificent gardens, boat rides, and the opportunity to ride in a romantic horse-ridden carriage. El Parque Historico (The Historic Park) is another popular attraction that hosts a tropical zoo and a replica of early 20th century Guayaquil that displays the architecture and traditions of that era. Guayaquil is a tropical town, and as such, nightlife abounds – from restaurants to bars and clubs, there are plenty of places to dance and have fun.
The Ecuadorian coast, one of the best coastal regions in the Pacific, is something you cannot miss. The beautiful honey beaches, the blue water, and the lively beach towns will enchant you. The best way to travel the coast is through La Ruta del Sol or Highway to the Sun, which is a coastal highway stretching all the way from Salinas, one of the most visited beach towns in Ecuador, to the relaxing beaches of Manta and Bahia in Manabí. Montañita, a surfer’s paradise, is one of the best kept secrets in the world. This small town can really feel like a multicultural heaven where young people from all parts of the world get together for some great waves, good seafood, fruity drinks, and the best party atmosphere this side of the Pacific.
Famous as the place where Charles Darwin discovered his Theory of Evolution, the Galápagos Islands is one of the most ecologically-diverse countries in the world. With thousands of different species of birds, reptiles, plants, amphibians, and fish, the islands have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to Eat
Because of Ecuador’s biodiversity, there is a rich variety of food and agricultural products that will satisfy even the most discerning palate. Ecuador has some of the best seafood in the world; in fact Ecuador is one of the top world exporters of tilapia, shrimp, and lobster. But if seafood is not your thing, you will always have an immense selection of fruit – from mangoes to bananas to passion fruit. Most restaurants offer all kinds of all-natural fruit juice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make sure you try passion fruit juice – it’s something out of this world. Ceviche (seafood cocktail) with chifles (fried thin plantains) is a common dish in the coast that can be found in most restaurants. In the highlands, most meals are served with rice and potatoes, and you will also find the traditional cuy (guinea pig) in a stick – it’s an acquired taste. Meals at restaurants can be as cheap as $2 per plate, but exercise caution when choosing a restaurant. More expensive restaurants tend to have in place more strict standards for food preparation, which is something very important for tourists coming to Ecuador for the first time.
Where to Study
Ecuador is one of the most popular destinations for students who want to learn Spanish or study abroad. Here is a list of some of the most popular universities in Quito and Guayaquil.
Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Universidad de Especialidades Espiritu Santo
Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral
Universidad Internacional del Ecuador
Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
Universidad Católica Santiago de Guayaquil
Visas & Documents
Citizens of the UK, US, Australia, Canada, EU countries and most South American countries do not require tourist visas for stays of up to 90 days. However, passports are required. There is an international departure tax charged by Ecuadorian airports of $40.80 USD from Quito and $26 USD from Guayaquil that is not included in the airplane ticket. The official currency in Ecuador is the US dollar. Please contact the Ecuadorian consulate in your area for further visa information.
Denisse is a study abroad and travel advisor. Her website MacQuil.com – http://www.macquil.com – contains articles and advice about international travel and education.