Once an important part of the Inca empire, Ecuador no longer holds the same international political importance that it did in the past. In terms of tourism however, it is slowly gaining ground. The country’s star attraction is undeniably the Galapagos Islands, but a visit to Darwin’s paradise may not fit into the budget of every traveler. Still, that’s no reason to sidestep the country. Here are some reasons why you should add Ecuador to the top of your To-Visit List, as well as some photos below.
Stand in Both Hemispheres at Once: In Grade Two, I first learned about the equator and imagined a place of unbearable heat and constant sun. I was wrong on both counts, but coming to Ecuador still fulfilled a childhood fantasy of visiting the “Mitad del Mundo” (Middle of the Earth) and walking the equator line. However, although the Mitad del Mundo site promotes itself as a sort of Equator Disneyland, it is important to realize that it is not actually the correct equatorial line. GPS technology has revealed the actual equator to be around 240 metres north of the monument at the Mitad del Mundo site.
Get up Close to Some Rare Species: With the world-famous Galapagos Islands and a section of the Amazon rainforest within national borders, Ecuador’s abundance of flora and fauna is no surprise. What did catch my attention, however is that scientists consider Ecuador to be the most biodiverse country of its size on the planet. According to the Biodiversity Group, “It holds about 8% of all the species of amphibians on Earth and 16% of bird species–all in a country about the size of Arizona!”
Explore one of the Continent’s Best-Preserved Colonial Capitals: The first thing I visited in Quito’s historic centre was the Basilica del Voto Nacional, an immense Neo-Gothic cathedral. I felt like I had teleported to medieval Europe, but then I stepped outside and noticed that the outer church walls were lined with shops selling empanadas and I realized that it was just one of Quito’s many examples of the fusion of old and new world culture.
Cross the Country in a Matter of Hours: The convenient thing about traveling Europe is that countries are so compact that you can cross them in less than a day with public transportation. After numerous 24-hour buses in Argentina and Peru, it was a relief to arrive in Ecuador. Here, you can get pretty much anywhere in ten hours or less. This makes daytrips and weekends away easy and affordable, which brings me to the next point:
Discover Jungles, Mountains, Beaches and Volcanoes in Just a Week (Or Day, if You’re Crazy Enough!): Despite its small size, Ecuador has plenty of different regional landscapes, and they are all in easy reach of one another. Scale Cayambe volcano one day, whale-watch off Puerto Lopez’s beaches the next, and venture into the Amazon jungle at Puyo the next. Countless options are out there; it just depends how much time you have.
Keep Your Wallet Happy: It’s no secret… South American backpackers love Bolivia for its appealing budget. I would say the same for Ecuador. It may not be as cheap as Bolivia, but it is the second-most affordable country I’ve visited on the continent. For example, while a ten-hour bus ride in Peru would cost upwards of $20 USD (and don’t even ask about Argetina!!), the equivalent in Ecuador would cost $10, (with $1 USD/hour of travel being a good rule of thumb).