Ecuador is a tiny Andean country on South America’s west coast. Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is in the Andean foothills at an elevation of 2,850m and known for its diverse landscape including the Amazon jungle and Andean highlands.
The Spanish colonial center, with 16th and 17th century palaces and religious sites, like the Compañía de Jesús Church is another Quito tourist favorite. The major tourist attraction in Ecuador however is the wildlife-rich Galapagos Islands, situated at the junction of three main oceanic currents.
Ecuador Travel Info
Language: Over 90% of Ecuadorians speak the official language which is Spanish. The second most used dialect includes Shuar and Kichwa and the only international language spoken in Ecuador is English.
Currency: United States Dollar.
Visa: Ecuador has one of the most relaxed visa policies in the world and most travelers to Ecuador are not required to obtain a visa for stays of up to 90 days. This excludes citizens of Peru and Venezuela however, who are allowed a maximum stay of 180 days, and citizens of China who are allowed to stay for 90 days per calendar year.
Electricity: Ecuador operates on 120 volts with a frequency of 60 Hz, just like the United States. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each country you visit.
Ecuador Festivals & Celebrations
Guaranda’s Carnival: Guaranda’s Carnival is the most renowned and famous festival of Ecuador. Many thousands of people gather in the city of Guaranda and take out colorful parades full of joy; locals also participate in dance and games events. The festival takes place in February.
Santa Semanta: Since most of the population in Ecuador is Catholic, therefore Santa Semanta or The Holy Week is the central religious event. During Lent many devout Catholics observe fast, huge parades are a common sight on Good Friday where people reenact Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion. Quito, the capital city, is famous for holding the biggest parade.
New Year: The New Year celebrations are usually grand in Ecuador; Ano Viejo puppets made from sawdust are the principal element of this fest. These puppets represent evil doings of the preceding year along with an explanation of the same embossed over it. As soon as the midnight approaches, these puppets are set on fire to welcome the New Year.
Safety In Ecuador
Just like most countries in South America, Ecuador is a relatively safe place to travel to. Thefts, bag snatching and scams are prevalent in all big cities so be mindful of this. Based on my own travel experiences in South America, I wouldn’t leave home without travel insurance no matter how safe the destination is considered. You can still miss flights, lose your luggage or break a leg, especially if you’re as accident prone as I am. For this reason I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks or months before you plan to visit Ecuador.
Top Things To Do In Ecuador
Explore the Galapagos Island
Galapagos Islands got discovered in the 16th century, and since then they have been inspiring and intriguing visitors from across the world. The main highlights are the giant tortoises that call the island home. This island is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the ecosystem is unique and as no outside influence. It is the perfect place for wildlife viewing. The islands are also among the world’s most active volcanic regions.
Head to Galapagos National Park
Galapagos National Park is a part of the Galapagos Islands and is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is unique, and the visitors are expected to participate fully in the natural landscapes and wildlife preservation. The park is beautiful with the rarest and most iconic marine and wildlife. Camping is allowed in some parts of the park so that the visitors can experience the place to the fullest. You can also do fishing is in selected areas.
Lose yourself in Quito, the Historic Andean Capital
The capital of Ecuador, Quito is a city located in the Andes. Rich in colonial architecture, the city, is South America’s most extensive historic center. There are many churches, world-class museums, public squares, the most important being the San Francisco Church and the San Francisco Plaza. The city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quito is also a favorite among artisan, and you can get the best local craft items here.
Visit the Nariz del Diablo
Nariz del Diablo or the Devil’s Nose is spectacular and must top every visitor’s bucket list. Even if you are not a train enthusiast, this section of the Andes Mountains, just around Alausi, has the most beautifully restored railways, a part of whose network covers the most scenic parts of the nation. The highlight is the 12-kilometer return trip which is a perfect opportunity for sightseeing aboard a train that is running zigzag, climbing the mountain to reach the viewing station that is at the top.
Have a fun-filled day at The Hot Springs of Banos
The small town named Banos de Agua situated in Central Ecuador is a hub for hot springs and lush landscapes. Banos is located at the Western edge of the Amazon Basin and is known for the numerous recreational activities like mountain biking and hiking that take place here. The best features of the site are the mineral-rich hot springs and numerous waterfalls that some of which are accessible from the city via rope bridges and fun trails.
Explore the Otavalo Market
Otavalo is a picture-perfect town located amid mountains and is well-known for the excellent market that is frequented by both tourists and locals. Here you can buy locally-made blankets and rugs in vibrant colors, bags, sweaters and other items made of wool. Other favorite things that you can get here include leather goods, jewelry, and many locally produced spices and food items. If you are visiting in June, you can enjoy Inti Raymi or the Festival of the Sun as well.
Explore the Upper Reaches of Amazon
The city of Tena is an excellent place from where you can experience a part of the cosmic Amazon Basin. Tena is also called the cinnamon capital of Ecuador and was set up by missionaries soon after the Spanish came to South America. It soon became a trendy tourist destination as it had several opportunities for adventure. You can explore the jungle, go on river journeys, and enjoy the thrills of whitewater rafting, kayaking, and canoeing along the Napo, Tena and Misahualli Rivers.
Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station
The Charles Darwin Research Station is located on the Galapagos Islands and is devoted to filing the new plants and animals found on the island. This scientific organization works in coordination with the Galapagos National Park Directorate to preserve the wildlife that called the national park home. It also aims at educating the travelers regarding the future and history of the Galapagos. Researches are also conducted here on conservation, sustainability, and invasive species.
Visit the Beaches of Ecuador
Ecuador boasts some of the most beautiful beaches which are a must visit, whether you are there for a short while or on an extended vacation. The Coastal town of Salinas is among the most popular tourist area as it has several unique resorts and a pleasantly warm climate throughout the year. Apart from this, the Bahia de Caraquez, a city on the Pacific coast is also quite popular among tourists due to its spectacular beaches.
Swing at the end of the world
Swing at the end of the World is in the proximity of the hilly town of Banos and the area around it is incredibly serene and magical. The swing is attached to a tree-house, and you can pay a small amount and spend a while swinging over what appears to be the end of the world. Visitors can also opt to hike the Bellavista Cloud Forest to witness some fantastic scenery.
Other than these top things to do in Ecuador, there is so much more to see and experience in this amazing country. Be prepared to be flexible because sometimes other travelers that you meet on your travels will have the best suggestions for things to do in Ecuador that are off the beaten path.
What To Eat In Ecuador
The cuisine of Ecuador is incredibly colorful and flavorful and some traditional Ecuadorian dishes that must be tried during your visit are listed below.
Fanesca: Fanesca is an extremely hard, thick and sacred stew which is traditionally served only once every year, the week before Easter Sunday. It is made of fig-leaf gourd, types of beans and squash and includes lentils, fava beans, corn, and parsley.
Chugchucaras: The literal meaning is ‘chest-feet-skin,’ and it gets made of pig. Deep fried chunks of pork, pig’s feet, and pork rinds are a part of the platter. Along with this boiled hominy, potatoes, plantains, roasted corn, and a mini cheese-filled empanada is an essential inclusion in the plate.
Guaguas de pan: These are bread children that are prepared for the Day of the Dead rituals and is an exotic food associated with a religious ceremony. Sweet pastries get filled with jelly resembling infants that are swaddled perfectly.
Fried Plantains: Common street food of Ecuador, large plantains are slit from the middle and stuffed with a mozzarella slice, and then roasted on a grill. It is an inexpensive and healthy fast food sold in Ecuador since ages.
Ecuadorian Ceviche: Ceviche is marinated seafood served cold, and you can find it in every coastal country. The Ceviche in Ecuador is different and gets served along with its juices. The locals generally serve the dish with popcorn, toasted corn, and plantain chips.
Where To Stay In Ecuador
Ecuador is a very affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Ecuador is easy even if you’re on a tight budget. Ecuador hostels and dormitories make travel here very affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget.
Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best accommodation options have already been snapped up. Ecuador is a very popular year-round destination.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Ecuador.
If you’re backpacking in Ecuador or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in South America very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
Ecuador Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Ecuador
If you like sunbathing on beaches then surprisingly Ecuador’s rainy season from December/January to April/May is actually the best time to visit. The coast has the most clearly defined wet and dry seasons and this is when showers alternate frequently with bright blue skies and the temperatures stay high.
Ecuador Travel Budget
Ecuador is generally an affordable destination for travelers on a tight budget. The cost of your trip to Ecuador really depends on the level of comfort you will want while here. If you’re backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating fast food then budget between $35 to $50 a day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $50 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget about $250 plus a day.
- Budget: $15 – $35
- Mid-range: $35 – $100
- Splurge: $100 +
Meal For One
- Budget: $8 – $25
- Mid-range: $25 – $60
- Splurge: $60 +
Ecuador Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Ecuador, like most places in South America is easy, just remember to pack lightweight and breathable clothing for dry season and warm, waterproof clothing for trips during the rainy season.
Be prepared for the weather to get extremely hot during the summer so pack a high factor sunscreen and a sun hat. If you forget to pack something you can buy anything you need while you’re in Ecuador. Prices are generally higher in smaller boutiques (aimed at tourists) than they would be online so expect to pay a premium if you don’t have the option of shopping around due to time restraints on your South America trip.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Ecuador include a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Ecuador check out the Jetset Bunny Ultimate South America Packing List For Female Travelers.