South America is a vast continent with heaps to offer. Choosing a single country to visit almost seems unfair to the rest of them. But, hey, we can’t go everywhere at the same time. Tough choices need to be made.
If you’re having trouble picking where to go as temperatures drop this fall, let us make a strong case for the always resplendent Ecuador. One-and-a-half million wanderlusting travelers visited last year, making the country a hot spot for savvy adventurers, and when you take a deeper look into the vastness of the relatively small nation, it’s easy to see why. This is a country teeming with volcanoes, indigenous culture, colonial architecture, pristine beaches with killer surf, and an abundance of unique wildlife. It’s an adventurer’s dream.
Here are a few of our favorite reasons to put Ecuador on your must visit list.
Ecuador’s food game is strong. Huge markets with assortments of tropical fruit and veg, fresh local fish and proteins, and motley assortments of local dishes temp the eyes and the stomach.
The nation has long been a mixing pot of cultures from pre-Columbian movements to post-contact colonization to the 21st century’s globalization. Ceviche, churrasco (similar to Brazil’s grilled meat extravaganzas), fanesca (pictured above), encebollado (a spicy, sour, funky seafood stew), and cuy (roasted guinea pig) are all “must taste” dishes. Still, they barely scratch the surface of the wonderland of food awaiting your palate across Ecuador.
When you go to Ecuador, you’ll need one word to quench your thirst, ‘Colada.’ Colada morada and Colada de avena are the most popular versions. Colada morada is a refreshing fruit forward drink that blends a little spice, water, and purple corn flour. Colada de avena is a thicker and more fortifying drink that blends oats, naranjilla fruit, brown sugar, water, and cinnamon into a drink that doubles as a superb hangover cure.
Speaking of hangovers, you’ll also find Ecuador is home to the white lightening that is often referred to as a proto-rum called Aguardiente. It’s sugary and often has a certain grassiness. If you want to drink it mixed, we recommend the Canelazo cocktail. It’s a smooth blend of Aguardiente, cinnamon, and brown sugar.
Ecuador is one of 17 countries worldwide that are considered “megadiverse” by Conservation International. The country has four distinct regions to explore: La Costa (the coast), La Sierra (the highlands), La Amazonía (the Amazon), and La Región Insular (the Galapagos Islands).
Exploring Ecuador is really a dealer’s choice of what draws you in. If you want surfing, they’ve got it. Mountaineering? Yup, they’ve got that too. Plus the climate is fairly stable given its location near the equator. You’ll find the most variation in weather pinned to a particular altitude. You’ll find humid rainforest in the Amazonia. But you’ll also find snow-capped peaks like the Chimborazo Volcano — a mountain with a peak that boasts the farthest point on the earth’s surface away from the earth’s core, due to its location on the equatorial bulge. Side note: Yes, the earth has a bulge.
There has been a little bit of an economic boom, in part due to tourism, in Ecuador as of late. This has led to the country investing in their infrastructure and rebuilding and modernizing their highways and airports. Ecuador has also revamped and reopened many of its railway lines to help shuttle people around the country.
In fact, taking a train is a great way to see Ecuador. The famous Tren de la Libertad (Liberty Train) is an idyllic day trip — winding through the highlands. If jumping the train on your own is a little too much adventure, tour companies like Friendly Planet Travel make sure to include the iconic train on their itineraries. Trust us, it’s worth the day just to take in the stunning views while rattling along through the mountains.
Mestizos make up over 70 percent of the local population of 15 million. That’s a mix of white (usually Spanish), colonial blood, and local indigenous blood. This gives Ecuador a distinctly indigenous vibe. Along with the varying regions of Ecuador comes varying groups of indigenous cultures, still thriving in the jungles of the Amazon, the highlands and mountains, and along the coastline.
Perhaps one of the more fascinating and unique cultures in Ecuador is the small Jewish population who arrived from Spain as early as 1580 (after the Inquisition). Although their numbers are in the hundreds today, the community serves as a intrepid and curious example of preserved colonial life. Two communities exist presently with synagogues, schools, and cemeteries in Quito and Guayaquil.
Picking one special reason to visit Ecuador is tough — the chance to visit a country that is largely indigenous, trekking along live volcanoes, surfing the perfect break in the Pacific… Yet one destination stands above the rest, and not just for its natural wonder, but for its historical significance to the history of all humanity — The Galápagos.
Most people take an organized tour of the Galápagos, and that’s perfectly fine. Honestly, it’s more about getting there and experiencing, respectfully, those islands than it is about how you got there. Made most famous by Charles Darwin’s voyage on The Beagle and being the biggest part of his inspiration to write On the Origin of Species, the Galápagos offer a near pristine view of wildlife allowed to evolve and adapt with little to no outside meddling. There are few corners of the world this unique. Just, please, be a respectful tourist when you’re there.