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ECUADOR: A Natural Selection

Embark on a journey of discovery with us through Ecuador’s natural mega-diversity, following the path of the sun on its daily passage across the Equator (after which the country is named) and its four worlds, each different, each inspiring in its own right. As the sun rises over the steamy eastern jungles of the Amazon, explore the rainforest beneath gigantic trees, paddle dugout canoes up creeks and rivers, and climb observation towers for a close encounter with the forest canopy, haven of monkeys, sloths and screeching pairs of parrots.

As the sun rises to its zenith, one can understand why the sun was sacred to the earliest inhabitants of the Andean highlands. It illuminates every inch of the country: the snow-capped volcanoes and the green valleys – ploughed into colorful patchwork patterns by people with a strong bond with the Earth – the cloud-shrouded forests and the gleaming façades of the churches of Quito. The capital city was the first to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and today boasts the largest and least-altered historic center in the Americas.

The sun wends its way west, warming the tropical beaches on the Pacific, before it sets over the Galápagos Islands, a harsh, rugged land where species must adapt or perish: the archipelago that inspired Charles Darwin in 1835 and continues to amaze every visitor since.

Unveil the magic of this hidden jewel and discover the many faces of contemporary Ecuador, its culture, history and traditions together with world-class lodging and cuisine, following in the footsteps of La Condamine, Humboldt, Bonpland, Darwin, Wolf and Whymper.

QUITO & THE EQUATOR

Ecuador’s Capital & UNESCO World Heritage Site

Ecuador’s capital is a modern city with a long and fascinating history. At the time of the Spanish conquest of the Andes, Quito was the second-most important city in the Inca Empire after Cuzco. The city is proud of its heritage and its intriguing Old Town, the first to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and today beautifully restored. Visitors adore this extensive neighborhood with its churches, museums, curio shops and hidden patios, while also enjoying the first-class hotels, restaurants, parks and culture of its modern quarters.

MASHPI RAINFOREST

Choco bio-region – Biodiversity Hotspot

Shafts of light that filter through the canopy… The aroma of the forest’s plants and flowers… The swirl of clouds through branches and trees. The sound of rain drops cascading onto leaves… Everywhere you look, you find life, in all its varied, surprising and multi-colored forms. Nowhere is this truer than within the Masphi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve.The 1,200-hectare reserve enjoys a privileged position, harboring both lower montane forest and rainforest, part of the globally-important Choco bio-region.

OTAVALO

The Biggest Indigenous Market in South America

Barely two hours from Quito, the market town of Otavalo draws visitors every week who come to this native community to shop at the world-famous handicraft market. The market features a dazzling array of handicrafts including tapestries, hammocks, jewelry, paintings and colorful native clothing. Otavalo itself lies in scenic northern Ecuador, surrounded by volcanoes, rivers and lakes. For lodging, try one of the wonderful local haciendas: centuries-old estates now converted into elegant hotels.

AVENUE OF THE VOLCANOES

Snow-capped giants along the way

The Andes Mountain chain runs north-south through Ecuador, scything the country in two and dividing the steamy jungles from the warm, tropical Pacific coast. Within the chain stand dozens of volcanoes, several of them still active. Visitors delight in travelling “the Avenue of the Volcanoes,” enjoying the stunning scenery, shopping for colorful handcrafts which make wonderful gifts, and hearing the guides tell the stories behind each and every snow-capped giant along the way.

THE AMAZON RAINFOREST

Home to the Most Diverse Ecosystem on Earth

The Amazon Basin starts in eastern Ecuador on the slopes of the Andes, as rainwater rushes down the mountains and into the rivers and streams that make up the mighty Amazon. This vast ocean of green is home to the most diverse ecosystem on Earth: 10% of all species known to man live in the Amazon, more than any other region. The Ecuadorian Amazon is where you’ll find comfortable jungle lodges in remote rainforests, where you can visit millenary indigenous communities, spot toucans and monkeys in the treetops and swim with piranhas in the warm rivers.

GUAYAQUIL & PACIFIC COAST

Ecuador’s Largest City & Main Port

Ecuador’s largest city and most important port, Guayaquil is Ecuador’s economic powerhouse, a city with much to offer visitors, such as year-round pleasant temperatures, first class hotels and cuisine, and some of the best nightlife in the country. Its riverside has benefitted from a stunning regeneration project, and many neighborhoods have been revived, making them inviting and intriguing for visitors.

THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Living Museum & Showcase of Evolution

There is no place on Earth like the Galapagos Islands. Far out in the Pacific Ocean, this archipelago – part of Ecuador’s national park system – was formed by titanic geothermic upheavals that created volcanic islands, some of which are still in the throes of creation today. When Charles Darwin visited in 1835, he observed a pristine, naturally-isolated living laboratory that would inspire and refine his theories, which he would release upon the world – to shattering effect – decades later. The islands have not lost their ability to inspire: the magic Darwin found over 150 years ago is still thriving in this remarkable environment. Here you can walk among unique species such as marine iguanas basking in the sun and observe the elaborate mating rituals of blue-footed boobies, albatrosses, and frigate birds. Unthreatened by predators, Galapagos creatures are undisturbed by visitors, who, one and all, come away inspired and changed by their experience of Nature here.

CUENCA

A Charming Colonial City & UNESCO World Heritage Site

In the southern Ecuadorian Andes lies the nation’s best-kept secret: the charming colonial city of Cuenca. Its marvelous historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that still retains all of its traditional charm. Cuenca is a city to be visited leisurely with strolls along flower-lined, cobblestone streets. Take photos along the riverbanks, stop at one of the many colonial churches, or peek into one of the many antique shops and art galleries. The city includes some fine museums and religious art collections, excellent restaurants and wonderful boutique hotels. Beyond the city, adventure opportunities abound in nearby nature reserves, or one can visit towns renowned for their crafts and jewelry. Cuenca is also one of the best places to purchase the ‘misnamed’ Panama hat, at one of the small factories that produce them and cater to visitors.

Country Name: Republic of Ecuador
Area: 109.500 Square Miles (283.560 Square Km.)
Population: 14.5 million (growth rate: 1:44%; 2011 estimated figure)
Capital City: Quito
Country Code: (593) Quito (2); Guayaquil (4); Galapagos (5); Cell Phones (9)

Capital Population: 1.9 million inhabitants (Estimated for 2011). If the rapidly growing satellite cities on neighboring valleys are included, the population would be above 2.5 million inhabitants.

Language: According to the country’s Constitution, Spanish and Quechua (also written as “Kichwa"), are the official languages of Ecuador. While the Spanish language predominates throughout the country, Kichwa and almost ten other native languages are spoken by the diverse ethnic groups and cultures living in various parts of the nation. English is widely spoken in major hotels and the main tourist centers and facilities throughout the country.

Religion: The Roman Catholic religion predominates, followed by Evangelical groups. The native cultures maintain a mix of Catholicism or Evangelical, with their own ancestral rites, spiritual and religious practices and beliefs.

Currency: The official currency of Ecuador is the United States Dollar.  Paper notes are the same as those of the U.S and can be used in Ecuador or abroad.  Metal coins of 5, 10, 20, 25 and 50 cents have the same value but are different than those in the U.S. and are only valid inside Ecuador.

Time Zones: Mainland Ecuador: GMT – 5.  Galapagos Islands: GMT-6. No Daylight saving time observed.

Measures System: Decimal Metric System.  1 meter equals to 3.3 feet.  1.6 kilometers equals to 1 mile; 1 Kilo equals to 2.2 pounds and 1 liter equals to 0.26 gallons.  Temperatures are measured in Celsius Degrees: 0 Celsius equals to 32 Farenheit and 100 C equals to 212 F.

Passports and Documentation:  A valid Passport is necessary for travelling as tourists to Ecuador. Passport’s validity must extend to six months after the visit. When travelling to the Galapagos Islands you must bring your passport with you. Nationals of the United States, Canada and most European and Latin American countries do NOT need visas for tourism visits to Ecuador. For other nationalities, please ask us or contact the nearest Ecuadorian Embassy or Consulate.

Electricity: 110 volts AC in mainland Ecuador and on major cruise ships in Galapagos*. Most outlets are for two flat prongs. *Please check separate Special Information Section for Galapagos

Water: Tap water is not recommendable for drinking anywhere in Ecuador. Thus, the best option is to drink bottled or filtered water, available most everywhere.

Transportation: Ecuador is easily accessible through its two main International Airports in the capital city of Quito and the main seaport of Guayaquil. An ample network of domestic flights serves more than a dozen national airports in the four geographical regions of Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands. International cruise ships seasonally dock at the sea ports of Guayaquil and Manta. A wide network of increasingly better quality roads provides the facilities for land travel in all of Ecuador. Intercity bus services are available and inexpensive. The capital city of Quito, as well as the main seaport and largest city, Guayaquil, have good mass-transportation systems. Local city buses are not recommendable for tourists.  However, Quito, Guayaquil and several other cities have a wide array of taxis and car rental services. Train services are available in various segments of the famous Inter-Andean railway and constitute not only a means of transportation but a popular tourist attraction.

Communications: Telephone communications for local, national and international calls are available at public cabins and booths, as well as in hotels (some surcharges may apply) and other tourist venues.  Prepaid phone cards are also available, it is recommended to make sure to use reliable and compatible carriers.  Cell or mobile phones are also available and can be rented by tourists.  Internet services are also widely offered at hotels (usually free for guests); Wi-Fi zones at most tourist venues and on cyber cafes.

Opening Hours: Business Offices: usually from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 2:00 to 6:00 pm, Mondays to Fridays. Banks: Mondays to Fridays, from 9:00 am. to 4:00 pm. Some extended services are available at large malls beyond 4:00 pm on weekdays and during some hours on Saturdays.

Currency Exchange, Credit Cards & Banking Facilities:  Foreign exchange transactions can be made at Banks. Licensed Exchange Houses or Bureaus exist but are not very abundant, considering that the national currency is the U.S. dollar, accepted naturally everywhere, but they can serve for the exchange of other currencies like the Euro.
Credit and debit cards are accepted at most tourist locations, hotels and facilities. Do check with your credit or debit card companies for details about acceptability and possible restrictions. ATM machines are found in the main cities and tourist venues.

Shopping and Souvenirs: Ecuador is a real paradise for shoppers.  A combination of a large variety of goods and unique handicrafts, along with very reasonable prices, makes the country a shoppers’ delight.  You find everything, from elegant shops to art galleries, handicraft markets, Indian markets and street vendors throughout the country. There are exceptional bargains to be found and bargaining is a way of life with street vendors.  Most major credit cards are accepted in Ecuadorian shops.  Among the most popular goods are the famous “Panama Hats", a native handicraft of Ecuador; “tagua" or “vegetable ivory" pieces; woolen garments; embroidered dresses and blouses; leather goods; fine silver and gold jewelry and a host of other truly unique and mostly hand-made objects, whether for decoration, practical uses or souvenirs can be obtained everywhere.

Shops are open Monday to Fridays from 9:00 or 10:00 am to 6:00 or 7:00 pm and only on smaller cities do they presently close for a noon break.  Quito and Guayaquil boast several international-class big shopping Malls, whose schedules usually run from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, Monday to Saturday and a slightly shorter schedule on Sundays.

Tipping:  Tipping, even though customary, is a personal matter, related to your impressions of how you were served.  To express your satisfaction, the following international guidelines, per person, can be followed for tours in the mainland:
$ 10, per day, for guide
$   5, per day, for driver

In restaurants and bars it is customary to give around 10% of the total charge, especially for good service provided. However, all food and beverage bills do include a 12% VAT and additional 10% service charge.

For ships and rainforest lodges the suggestion is:
$ 15, per person, per day for the aggregate crew
$ 10, per person, per day for the naturalist guide
10% of your bar bill for the bartender

TAXES

Airport Tax:  International departure taxes from Quito & Guayaquil should be included in the international air tickets by the airline.

SAFETY AND HEALTH

Security, Valuables: Just like anywhere in the world, normal precautions to be taken are not to venture alone or even in couples into solitary, marginal or poorly illuminated areas; not to accept offers, gifts or unrequested assistance from strangers and not to carry flashy objects such as jewelry, electronic gadgets and others that might tempt thieves.  In wild or nature areas, the main hazard is getting lost if walking or hiking alone.  The company of a certified and reliable guide, ranger or similar is recommended and, otherwise, to advice the nearest authorities or your lodging place what your exploration plans are. Your valuables are best kept at the hotels and lodgings’ safety boxes.  A photocopy of your passport or other photo ID is useful to carry handy with you.

Health and Medical Facilities: Quito, the capital, Guayaquil and Cuenca do have good quality and well equipped hospitals and medical facilities.  The major hotels offer on-call medical assistance on the main cities and in the most developed tourist centers.  Travelers are suggested to seek the advice of their physicians prior to travelling for dietary restrictions, altitude precautions if going to the mountains, etc. Inoculations are currently not necessary for travelling into any location in Ecuador.  However, it is worth checking the updated status when getting close to your travelling dates. The local tour operator should be informed in advance of dietary restrictions and medical conditions which might require special care.

CLIMATE AND CLOTHING

Climate and weather conditions vary widely according to seasonal factors; regional and ecological characteristics; altitude and other elements.  Thus, it is recommended to seek for specific advice regarding climate, weather and appropriate clothing, depending on the places you are planning to visit and the time of the year your trip is being planned for.  Please ask us for details.

GASTRONOMY AND CUISINE

Ecuadorian cuisine is just as varied as its nature and culture.  “Ceviches" of all kinds (mainly fish and sea-food, but now with certain regional variations of ingredients); are recognized as the “national dish".  However, the Pacific Coast is renowned for its delicious platters, mainly related to fish, seafood and plantain with savory seasoning’s touches.  Meanwhile, the Andes has amongst its most representative delicacies the roasted piglets (locally called “hornado"); roasted guinea-pig and the famous “llapingachos" (cheese-filled potato patties and a host of empanadas, turnovers, maize and potato-based dishes.  The Amazonian region has its share of local specialties, including the “palmitos" or hearts of palm; the fish “maitos", charcoal grilled and wrapped on banana leafs.  The entire country boasts a formidable array of unique and exotic fruits.  Galapagos boasts superb lobster (only on certain seasons) and its own share of delightful “ceviches".  Among the sweets, a classic is figs in syrup with fresh cheese; or the sherbet-like “helados de paila", a local sort of ice-cream, cooked on brass pots.  The indigenous groups’ traditional drink is “chicha", a fermented brew made mostly of maize in the Andes and of yucca or manioc in Amazonia.  Ecuador`s beer is famous for its great taste and quality and has won international awards, especially in the lager pils categories.  A few wineries are beginning to produce an increasingly better local wine.  However, most restaurants, hotels and ships serve mainly Chilean and Argentine wines.

RECOMMENDED RESTAURANTS

QUITO

  • El Ventanal Restaurant – International and Typical cuisine
  • La Choza Restaurant – Typical cuisine
  • Rincon La Ronda Restaurant – Typical cuisine
  • Lo Nuestro Café-Restaurant – Traditional cuisine
  • Mea Culpa – International and Typical cuisine
  • Pim’s Restaurant – International and National cuisine
  • Theatrum Quito Restaurant & Win Bar – Vanguard mediterranean cuisine
  • Rumiloma –  Ecuadorian & international

GUAYAQUIL

  • Lo Nuestro Café – Restaurant – Contemporary cuisine
  • Lo mejor de lo Nuestro Restaurant – International and National cuisine
  • Caracol Azul Restaurant – Sea food
  • Blu Restaurant – International and fusion cuisine

CUENCA

  • Villa Rosa Restaurant – Contemporary cuisine
  • Akelarre Restaurant – International cuisine
  • Los Capulies Restaurant – Nationao cuisine

RECOMMENDED READING

Ecuador in Focus, A Guide to the People, Politics And Culture
Wilma Roos, Omer Van Renterghem

Ecuador, a travel journal
Henry Michaux

Savages
Joe Kane

Birds of Ecuador
Paul Greenfield

TRIP PLANNER ECUADOR

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Ecuador promises 4 worlds of possibility. Bisected by the Andes, Ecuador is four countries in one: The Highlands, the Pacific Coast, the Amazon Rainforest and the famous Galapagos Islands. Altought the same size as Great Britain or the State of Colorado, few countries can match this small South American country’s ecological and cultural punch: measured by square mile, it’s the most biodiverse country on the planet.

Expert Travel to South America since 1974

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