Ecuador Holiday Planning Guide
With abundant opportunities to discover World Heritage Sites, a holiday in Ecuador remains among the most culturally enriching travel experiences. Home to the world's highest active volcano, this little country packs a big punch when it comes to tourist activities. Some of the most popular things to do in Ecuador include visits to its biodiverse wilderness areas, as the country is home to some 1,500 bird species, 840 species of amphibians and reptiles, and nearly 20,000 plant species. Of course, the highlight of many Ecuador vacations is a visit to the Galapagos Islands, made famous by naturalist Charles Darwin. Aside from nature, Ecuador also boasts many historic cities filled with photogenic colonial-era churches, mansions, and plazas.
Places to Visit in Ecuador
Regions of EcuadorGalapagos Islands
: A trip to Galapagos Islands, which were made famous by the works of Charles Darwin, reveals flourishing landscape and undisturbed, endemic wildlife--the invaluable natural heritage of Ecuador.Pichincha Province
: The governing area of the ancient native empires, the Spanish colonial state, and the modern country of Ecuador, Pichincha Province offers you a glimpse into interlacing cultures and legacies of Incan and Spanish influences.Manabi Province
: Pristine, tranquil nature preserved in many national parks enchants visitors of Manabi Province. Calm, secluded beaches persuade tourists to include it in their Ecuador itinerary.Cotopaxi Province
: Land of mountains, volcanoes, and lagoons, Cotopaxi Province invites thrill-seekers into its wild heart. Whether you climb its peaks or gaze down to its lakes, Cotopaxi will sate your thirst for adventure.Santa Elena Province
: A family-friendly place with lots of beaches, snorkeling spots, and scenic coastal landscapes, Santa Elena Province offers numerous sightseeing options in quaint towns, so be ready to go exploring.
Cities in EcuadorQuito
: A capital picturesquely set in the mountains, Quito still wears shapes and colors of the 17th century. Traditional healers and wool weavers walk among its squares with cathedrals and monuments of the colonial periods, making a visit to Quito the most popular Ecuador vacation.Guayaquil
: A sprawling port and major commercial center, Guayaquil is a city that fashions a modern look. Movie, theater, and art scenes are quickly developing, along with bustling nightlife, making this city an excellent addition to Ecuador tourism.Puerto Ayora
: Puerto Ayora serves as a standard city, with the exception of seeing creatures like sea lions, giant turtles, and iguanas strolling on its outskirts. It is the largest town in Galapagos, and serves as a gateway to the islands’ natural treasures.Cuenca
: Old-world charm defines Cuenca, where architectural details, like those of old Catholic churches set in cobblestone squares, meld the past with the present. Many cultures have left their traces here, and each part of Cuenca is eager to tell its story to tourists.Banos
: If outdoor experiences are top on your list of Ecuador vacation ideas, Banos is your place. Whether you prefer climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, or some other activity, this city surrounded by mountains provides the setting for such adventures.
Popular Ecuador Tourist AttractionsIglesia de La Compania de Jesus
: Characterized by stunning golden interior decoration and an elaborate symmetrical facade, this more-than-two-and-a-half-centuries-old Baroque Catholic church stands as one of the most popular Ecuador attractions.Quito Old Town
: A plethora of monuments, churches, and government buildings preserved in their numerous architectural styles make up this World Heritage Site’s Old Town core, making it a well-visited attraction.Galapagos Beach at Tortuga Bay
: Defined by thriving marine and coastal wildlife, relaxing spaces, and a pristine atmosphere, this famous beach draws travelers from around the world.Malecon 2000
: Loaded with monuments, gardens, and cafes right next to the river, this boardwalk bustles with people and provides plenty of green space and sightseeing opportunities along its pathway, creating one of the most popular waterfronts in Ecuador.Basilica del Voto Nacional
: The European, Neo-Gothic style of this prominent religious and historical landmark has an endemic twist--carvings of sharks, monkeys, and iguanas on the exterior add to the already imposing look of this cathedral. Charles Darwin Research Station
: This scientifically important conservation center leads major efforts in the environmental education about Galapagos wildlife, especially giant tortoises, that also find home and shelter here.La Ronda
: Hosting abundant quaint cafes, small gardens, and artisan shops, this cobblestoned pedestrian street provides glimpse of the city’s historical district and the area’s colonial Spanish-style architecture.Parque de las Iguanas
: Though it might appear intimidating because of its inhabitants, this small square is home to a significant population of iguanas--who pose for photos and charm tourists.El Cajas National Park
: This place of rugged peaks and glacial lakes is one of the most prominent Ecuador attractions for adventurers seeking near-surreal, tundra-like terrain, which provides a stunning backdrop for hikes and treks.Mitad del Mundo
: Visit this park for a chance to stand in both Hemispheres of the Earth in the same time and climb the tower to gaze upon the land from the center of the world.
Planning a Ecuador Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Ecuador with Kids
With some careful management of your itinerary, your holiday in Ecuador can be rich in experience for each member of your family, as Ecuador has plenty of child-friendly activities, especially in Galapagos Islands
where interesting wildlife sparks curiosity, at beaches of Manabi Province
and Santa Elena Province
. Families will also find plenty of outdoor activities and wildlife reserves at Pichincha Province
, Cotopaxi Province
, and Napo Province
. The climate is mild and pleasant, and attractions are easily accessible thanks to good infrastructure and quality transportation, making a trip to Ecuador fun and enjoyable for kids.
Things to Do in Ecuador with Kids
Things to do in Ecuador with children are numerous. Explore unspoiled nature with exotic marine animals at Las Loberias
, visit Charles Darwin Research Station
to pet a giant turtle, and watch iguanas play atGalapagos Beach at Tortuga Bay
. Grab your snorkeling gear and dive into schools of colorful fishes on Playa de los Frailes
, introduce your young ones to the culture of colonial people at Parque Historico Guayaquil
, and observe traditional native dances, festivals, and artsMuseo Templo del Sol Pintor Ortega Maila
. Let your kids observe water art and play with giant bubbles at Yaku Water Park Museum
, take a family tour of numerous animal species roaming in large enclosures at Amaru Zoologica
, or opt for a more conventional zoo experience at El Pantanal
Tips for a Family Vacation in Ecuador
Although the climate of Ecuador is mild, bear in mind that temperature varies with altitude, so high places may be quite cold for young children. Mind the altitude sickness, too. If traveling with kids, beaches are often a good bet, as they are one of the most popular attractions of Ecuador for families. Pack your sunscreen--sunburns are a common problem for tourists. For fun and budget-friendly accommodations, consider haciendas, which are often turned into guesthouses and frequently act as attractions themselves, with activities like llama feeding and horseback riding, for example. Because Ecuador is a popular destination, try to book your accommodation in advance.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Ecuador
Cuisine of Ecuador
Ecuadorian cuisine is diverse and often underestimated. Split into highland, coastal, and Amazonian variants, it is rich in carbohydrates (usually pork, beef, and chicken) served with staples like corn, rice, and potatoes. Try cuy--roasted guinea pig--a traditional dish that predates the Incas and was eaten by the locals on special occasions, especially in Cuenca
. Grilled choclo (corn) and potatoes are popular street food, and llapingachos--mashed potato and cheese balls served with avocado or meat--gets promoted widely in the cities as Ecuador’s most famous dish. As in other South American cultures, soups have an important role in lunch courses; try potato-based Locro Soup. Street vendors sell good, low-cost food, but be careful about hygiene. The general rule is to buy where locals frequently shop.
Shopping in Ecuador
Ecuador offers numerous shopping options, from conventional malls to traditional artisan and craft shops of indigenous cultures. If shopping stands as one of the reasons of your visit, then Quito
should be among the top destinations on your Ecuador itinerary. Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal
acts as a test to your bargaining skills, and offers souvenirs, leatherworks, and clothes made by the locals. Most of the revenue that comes from art and crafts as part of Olga Fisch Folklore
goes to preserving local folk traditions and artists, while providing tourists with beautiful pieces like weaved shigras and carved wooden tiles. Mercado Artesanal El Aborigen
stands as another traditional market, while more commercial shopping ideas get realized in malls like those in Ambato
, and Guayaquil
. Quaint market towns Otavalo
and modern plazas like Plaza Lagos
cater to different tastes, but every shopping urge can be sated in Ecuador.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Ecuador
Interesting Facts About Ecuador
● In 2008, Ecuador officially gave nature constitutional rights”‘to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles,” and became the first country to officially recognize the rights of nature.
● Ecuador is the closest country to the sun and space in general (via the highest peak of Mount Chimborazo
, which is also a point of Earth that is farthest from its core) because of the location on the equatorial bulge.
● Ecuador contains the most biodiversity per square kilometer of any other country.
● Ecuador is the only existing country in the world that carries a name after a geographical feature. The name, República del Ecuador, means “The Republic of the Equator” in English.
● The world’s first and second World Heritage Sites are both in Ecuador. At the first UNESCO conference in 1978, 32 sites were initially chosen. Each World Heritage Site has a number – site #1 is the Galapagos Islands
and #2 is the capital city, Quito
Things You Should NOT Do in Ecuador
Although Ecuador is a pretty open-minded and tourist-friendly country, there are a few things you should avoid doing. Yawning in public is considered rude. Openly pointing at something is also considered rude. Business in Ecuador runs slowly, and you should be especially careful not to rush things and let business transactions it take their time. Don’t arrive on time when you’ve been invited to a party, it is best to come half an hour to an hour late. You will be considered impolite if you leave immediately after dinner--stay for a while and chat with the host and guests.
Holidays & Festivals in Ecuador
Ecuador boasts a great number of holidays and maintains its reputation as a festive country. At least once a month there is a festival or a colorful ceremony that lasts for several days throughout the country. Since the great majority of the population (over 90 percent) are Roman Catholic, most of the celebrations follow the religious calendar, like feasting and dancing on Carnival and parades on Santa Semana. Christmas and New Year’s are widely celebrated, but the most peculiar festival is Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, when people in rural areas have meals on the graves of their deceased family members.
Useful Ecuador Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Ecuador
Ecuadorians are very friendly and welcoming people. When meeting for the first time, people shake hands and say “buenos dias/tardes/noches (morning/afternoon/evening)” or “muy buenos,” which replaces all three of these phrases. Saying “hola” roughly corresponds to “hi” in English, and reflects more informal ambience. “¿Cómo está usted?” (formal) and “¿Cómo estás?” (informal) mean “how are you?”.
Climate of Ecuador
Despite being a small country, Ecuador has four types of climates, largely depending on the altitude of the region--the Sierra (mountains), the Oriente (rainforests), the La Costa (coastal area), and the Galapagos Islands, with alternating dry and wet seasons different for each. For example, when in Quito
you will experience mild, springlike temperatures year-round, as high as 76 F (25 C) during the day and as cold as 50 F (10 C) at night because equatorian sunlight disguises the effects of the altitude of the Andes. In rainforests and coastal areas, expect tropical temperatures around 85 F (30 C). Everything in between these two extremes can be experienced throughout your Ecuador trip. Being on equator, the whole country experiences 12 hours of daylight.
Transportation in Ecuador
Being the fourth-smallest country of South America, Ecuador is compact and, due to good infrastructure, easy to traverse. In rural areas you can hire local pick-up trucks which can take you across dirt roads. Bus transport in the cities is slow and crowded, but very affordable. Taxi services can be easily located in more populous areas. If you travel over longer distances, using domestic air services could be cheaper than traveling via land.
Tipping in Ecuador
Tipping is not obligatory in Ecuador, but is looked upon favorably. In some more luxurious hotels and restaurants, tipping is included in the bill; however that’s not so in mid-range and economical services, so tip 5-10 percent of your bill. In rural areas, tipping is not expected. For taxis, rounding up your fare will suffice; for maids and bag carriers, tipping up to a dollar would be appropriate.