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Ecuador Travel Tips

Many people overlook mainland Ecuador en-route to and from the Galapagos Islands and this is a truly a shame.

Many people overlook mainland Ecuador en-route to and from the Galapagos Islands and this is a truly a shame. Ecuador is a small country with incredible biodiversity and human diversity due to its distinct regions: the Andean highlands, where indigenous villages and excellent hiking opportunities abound; the Amazon rainforest, where intimate nature experiences are accessed via jungle hikes and canoe rides; the Pacific coast, where laid-back beach towns and high-quality waves attract international backpackers and surfers; and, of course, the infamous Galapagos Islands where visitors can come face to face with fearless animals on land and in the water. Therefore, our first tip is simply to incorporate more of it into your travel plans, but below are a few other tips to keep in mind during your trip planning as well:

  1. Stay in Quito's Historical Center
    Quito's historical center, or "Old Town," is the most picturesque and interesting part of the city and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
    It is considered the best preserved historic center in Latin America and seems worlds apart from the more modern areas of the city outside its borders. The historical center has cobblestoned streets, expansive plazas, and impressive churches and monasteries that reveal a mix of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous influences. In this neighborhood, you will find a few heritage boutique hotels and a 5-star beautifully restored historic mansion, all of which have a lot of local flair.
  2. Embrace Adventure
    Ecuador is a playground for adventure enthusiasts. The mainland alone is home to over 25 volcanoes (some active, some semi-active and some dormant), many of which offer top-notch hiking and climbing possibilities in unique settings. Ba?os, at the foot of Tungurahua Volcano, is the country's adventure mecca, where travelers can find adrenaline-pumping activities like puenting (bridge jumping), canyoning, excellent whitewater rafting, downhill biking, rock climbing, zip-lining, parasailing and more. Amazon lodges encourage adventure as well, whether it be walking across a suspension bridge high above the forest floor among the treetops or fishing for piranha. In the Galapagos, adventure-seekers will be rewarded on land when hiking the second largest volcanic caldera in the world or in the water when snorkeling or scuba diving with swarms of sharks.
  3. Experience Ecuador's Diverse Regions on the Plate
    Ecuador's different regions each has its own distinct landscapes, culture and cuisine. If time does not allow you to visit all of them then at least try to sample the typical regional food from the various areas. Ecuador's coastal cuisine is seafood-heavy and ranges from the famous ceviche, or raw fish marinated and "cooked" in citrus, to seafood simmered in coconut and garlic lime sauces. The coast also uses a lot of plantains and the bolon de verde, or fried green plantain dumpling stuffed with cheese, is a staple breakfast item. In the Andean region, you will find much more pork, yucca, potatoes and varieties of corn, from fresh corn humitas to fried or baked whole pig, to llapingachos, or fried mashed potato pancakes. Due to the chillier climate in the highlands, soups are also core to the Ecuadorian Andean diet, and of course the cuy, or guinea pig, is considered a local delicacy. The Amazonian cuisine of Ecuador incorporates a lot of exotic fruits, yucca, plantains and river fish. The most typical dish from this region is maito, or slow-steamed fish in bijao leaves. Ecuadorian cuisine is truly a feast for the senses!
  4. Head into the Countryside for Cultural Experiences
    While Ecuador's cities offer great infrastructure and important historical context, the countryside offers a completely different perspective. Many are surprised by how modernized the capital city is in particular, but just outside its borders, local indigenous life can still be observed and is fascinating to see and experience. Women wear typical indigenous dress, agricultural communities make way for small artisan villages where local weaving and crafts techniques are preserved, and sprawling markets give visitors a peak into the everyday life of the local people.
  5. Visit the Cloud Forest for more Accessible Nature Experience than the Amazon
    The Amazon jungle is a unique experience but not everyone is up for (or has the time for) a domestic flight followed by a several-hour canoe ride to arrive to their eco-lodge for the next few nights. While the environment and cultural texture of the Amazon is distinct, the cloud forest outside of Quito is much more accessible and can likewise provide for amazing nature experiences. The cloud forest is a particular ecosystem within the persistent fog created due to mixing of air from the coastal lowlands and interior highlands. This ecosystem is cooler and lusher than lowland rainforest but is similarly very green and moist, and is abundantly biodiverse. The cloud forest around Quito is a haven for bird-watchers and orchid-lovers, as hundreds of species have been identified in these areas. While the Amazon requires at least 4 days, visitors can head to the cloud forest around Mindo for just the day from Quito, but those will more flexible time or a strong interest in birding will want to spend a few nights there or consider going to the spectacular Mashpi Lodge, about 3 hours from Quito, instead.

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