Ecuador for Dummies

Share |

Ecuador for Outdoor Dummies
By Ricardo Nuñez Cristiansen All rights Reserved 2000

A sort of a Introduction to this compact guide

This guide is made with the purpose of guiding active-adventure-sport-outdoors travelers who are, or would like to travel trough Ecuador rural areas. So in that sense I am not giving much information on city dwelling. Although, visiting cities is something you will need to do once here you could get more information on that by getting other books/guides etc. I thought also, that is easier to get along on a city but not the same at the rural or countryside, as we all know.

So, if you indulge me, and I thank you very much for that, here is this humble view of my country from a perspective of a traveler who has many miles or kilometers (that's what we use here) on the road and on the water (since I used to be a charter boat captain at Galapagos, as well as, naturalist guide, diver, surfer, hiker, birdwatcher, nature lover, etc. in short, an active traveler like you).

This Guide

Ecuador is a wonderful country. In this world of six packs combos, and globalization where everything goes packed as your bytes in your ram memory head, this country fits in perfectly with a packed list of attractions for active travelers, all in one small country with so much to see you have to believe in Buddha and its many lives to be able to see it all properly. With one of the highest biodiversity, etno-cultural diversity, handcraft shopping diversity, volcanic diversity (with 32 active volcanoes in a 260 km radius! ), climate diversity, altitude diversity (you can go from sea level to 3500+ meters/11000+ feet in an couple hours drive, be careful!), food diversity, ecological diversity (27 Protected areas with 4,669,871 terrestrial hectares and 14,110,000 marine), political diversity (it goes up and down in a congressmen twist of "principles" thumbs, like typical Latin american democracies, etc); in this planet.

No kidding, this place is really interesting anyway you want to look at it and can be a classic experience in many ways for the real outdoor/adventure/sport being especially. There's so much to see in such a small country, you won't have enough time to take a good look in a regular vacation time, being this a month or two. Even though it is so small (like Colorado US state) you can drive through it in less than 12 hours, but so much to see and observe. A week or two?. Forget it, it will never be enough. You will need only that for just one area like the Galapagos. Just think about this:

At the Coast/Islands or Lowlands, you have the World known Galapagos Archipelago World Heritage and a pristine mainland coast that just these years its being discovered by outdoor travelers; whalewatching-archeology-climate pleasant weather and a paradise for watersports like sport fishing, surfing, and kayaking.

At Sierra or Highlands; to name just a few attractions, 32 volcanoes (all actives) with highest in the world, and so much to see and craft shopping you wouldn't believe.

At the Oriente or Amazon basin: 9 etnias or Indigenous tribes in few hours drive: Cofanes, Sionas, Secoyas, Huaoranis (One of the most fierce tribes probably on the Amazon, therefore, of the world!), Achuars, Shuars, Quichuas de Napo and Bobonaza, and Zapara. This is where your head could get shrunk like when you go to your psychiatrist; but, quite in a different way. You will probably see a few of those shrunken heads on Indian markets as also in your neighborhood maybe..! Besides Amazon tribes, you get more on the Sierra or Highlands and at the Lowlands or Coast. Quichuas from several areas, on the Highlands, and Saraguros, Otavalos (really interesting people), Cayambis, Cañaris, Salasacas, Panzaleos, Guarangas, Puruhas, Natabuelas, Quitus. And Afroecuatorianos at Esmeraldas province and Awa-Quaiquer, Tscachilas (Santo Domingo town), Epera, Chachi, Huacavilcas, Mantas and Cholos Mestizos almost everywhere, like me at the Coast lands.

Ecuador claims probably the highest indigenous people density in the world. And they live freely and dress and speak as they whish still, the majority of them especially at Amazon and Sierra. We have all this languages: awapit(Awa people), cha'palaachi(Chachis), epera(Eperas), tsafiqui (Tsachilas), shuar-chicham(Shuar-Achuars), paicoca(Siona-Secoyas), Huao Tiriro(Huaoranis), aíngae(Cofanes) and Quichua(Quichuas) and of course spanish the rest, and spanglish also like me.

I do not want to bother you with such a long list of biodiversity because in that case you should drink a gallon of "sen" herb tea and head for the nearest bathroom and stay there for a long time while you see if you could finish reading that list. Just to sum up a few things: With only the 1.9% of the Amazon basin land of South America (that means you wont have to waste time traveling much) Ecuador its: 3rd in amphibians numbers, 4th in reptiles, fifth in monkeys, sixth in plants & flowers and 7th in mammals. In the Planet level is 3rd in amphibians, fifth in birds, and sixth in butterflies. At coastal ports you can find 1300 bird species (double the amount you could find in USA and Canada. We have 20-25000 species of plants. At Amazon we have 400 tree species, 449 bushes, 96 herbs, 22 palms, 380 reptiles, 1559 birds, 324 mammals. Better just come and find out.
Also, as you can imagine, about as many types of indigenous tribes and delicious real fresh food and typical dishes. Ecuadorian cuisine may be something to keep in mind and try, but at real restaurants if you are a delicate stomach person. Hygiene is not a high standard in the general public services, as you may imagine. We will get to that later. But, believe me, food here is something you will never feel bored. Then, we have Galapagos, there are good enough books and booklets and especial guides, that it will be a waste of time to try give you real information on that. Even though I am quite a so-called "expert" on that area; since my years living there as tour/charter operator guide etc.; as said before. At the Coast or Lowlands, we have whalewatching from May to September as well as probably the best "ceviches" (marinated crustaceans) you have ever try; best one maybe the one made out of a shell called "spondylus", that shell was used as currency about 3000-4000 BC between cultures from Mexico to Chile. At a town called "Playas", about only an hour from Guayaquil, you can see the "Balsawood" rafts that were used to navigate all this coasts of Central and South America in a commercial route. Archeology with one of the most ancient people living in South America (Valdivia culture 5000 BC) at a town still name after this past ancestors. Pristine beaches you can still really discover by yourself and companion especially at Southern to Northern Coast. Beautiful Beach life at northern coast with the afroecuatorianos living there who are a real nice people to be around. Just like being in a Caribbean town. Practically this people will make your day and with plenty of places to stay at different budgets and local drinks. Northern beaches (Esmeraldas) have a much hotter weather and are practically sunny year round as the beach town Playas by Guayaquil inside the Gulf with cooler and drier weather.


Another thing to keep in mind is the Climate. As said before, this is like the economy, it can change in a twist of thumbs. But always a nice change, nothing drastic like big storms or worse (we don't have that ever!). Just change, like we all like when we travel. Especially at Highlands and Jungle areas. Ecuador has mainly to Seasons we know of but varies from place to place or area. And let me tell you it does vary in short distances. Like at (more stable) Lowlands/Coast we have only hot rainy-humid (Ene-April) and cool-less humid-dry, rest of year, but if you are at south coast you may get a real pleasant weather year round especially on Jan-June months cause of Humbolt current from Peru (but not as cold just cool enough and sunny). Highlands/Sierra has a dry one from September-December and a rainy rest of year and here depends also where exactly you are. If at valleys or high ridges. But generally the Sierra has what is known internationally as permanent spring.
Amazon basin has almost no distinct seasons as far as we know. It can rain any minute real hard and stop just as quick. But, many knowledgeable people say its drier on Oct-Jan. Rest of year is wet and can rain for few days and also be sunny that long. Remember this IS the real "Rain"forest. Now, it does not necessarily rains 24 hours a day.

So as you see, you should be ready for all this with proper clothes and equipment depending where the hell are you going to stay. In fact if you plan to go to every zone in Ecuador, which will be great, you must have quite a luggage that includes all types of clothes. Or you could buy a great part of it as you go cause clothing can be really cheap at market days or "Ferias", especially at Sierra, all weekends. You can get nice coats, jackets, sweaters, jeans, shoes etc. It's really worth it to take a look. One way or another, you should think that coldest weather in towns could be no less than 5 C. approximate and no hotter than 40 C. So take your pick. But in fact, it may depend more on where you are coming from, I guess. Galapagos is pretty similar weather like the southern coast. But drier year round with much pleasant weather. I can say this for sure cause I lived there quite a while. I can also say that Guayaquil, the second city of the country, has a very pleasant weather during May-November but it gets very humid and hot the rest of year. I ca say also that for sure cause I was born there and live most of my live. I am not recommending either city for the purpose of this compact introduction of Ecuador have two main objectives, to be compact, and to get you to the real country where real Ecuador is at hand and at sight. For more on this please read another article written by yours truly on tourism as an eco-real development on my beloved country. So let's keep on with Ecuador out there.

Volcano lovers can have a real ball here with at least 32 active volcanoes in only 160 km. radius and as I write this, probably 3 are rising hell to their closest populations. So, not for nothing our Andes are called the Volcano Avenue of South America and why not of the world. Going through the main road from North to South on the Highlands you can see almost all of them in a clear day drive. Just that can make your day for sure. You can drive Ecuador from its northern border to its southern in around 8 hours.

All in all, Ecuador can be very easily an Eco-Adventure Playground of America. And one of the best Action/Sport Tourism in the planet. This is my introduction, and I tend not to exaggerate much, in fact, I underestimate more likely since I was born here and live all my life in continental and insular Ecuador. So certain things I may take for granted.

To summed it up, Ecuador can offer you all this top Action-Tourism activities:

Deepsea Sport fishing, Marlin, Sail fish records,etc. (Southern Coast, Salinas, World Class fishing, Galapagos, world class; restrictions applied) Sport fishing, medium size fish, beach fishing, (Playas-General Villamil area, Guayaquil Gulf estuary) Secluded Beach life (All Coast & Galapagos) Mountain Climbing (A classic for many experts) Hiking (Andes & Amazon, one of best in your life) Trekking (Andes & Amazon, one of best in your life for sure) Biking (Andes & Amazon, one of best in your life) Diving (Galapagos ultimate sanctuary for divers & Isla de la Plata; southern Coast, Parque Machalilla) Sailing (Southern to central coast & Galapagos; certain restriction applied for Glpgs, best months May-November both areas) Surfing (Galapagos; world class & southern to central coast; no crowds and better than Costa Rica) River rafting (Andes & Oriente, considered by experts as one of best in planet) River/Sea kayaking (same as above, Sea Kayaking: Machalilla N. Park and Esmeraldas coast) Volcanowatching (Andes & Amazon provinces) Whalewatching (Galapagos & Southern-Central Coast) Birdwatching (All Ecuador, world class) Plantwatching (All Ecuador, world class) Peoplewatching (All Ecuador, specially Amazon, Andes and Northern Coast) Foodtasting (All Ecuador, world class) Handcrafts shopping (All Ecuador)

And the list goes on & on.

So now, we can go to basics like bathrooms in Ecuador or driving (renting cars) or dealing with people. I like this part so indulge me a little. Because this is something that if you are not prepared it can change your whole situation/ecovacation mind thing. Let's get to that and a few more issues of my wonderful country.


One thing that will keep you really amazed all the time will be driving. Either if you dare to drive (something I would not suggest) yourself or if you are going as passenger. Ecuadorians by some reason or not, believe that God was born here and therefore once they have a symbol or poster or paint or whatever they think it represents HIM on their vehicle, nothing can happen. And man, it works! In fact, we have the highest car accidents, or one of the highest, in the planet especially at the Mountains Roads of course with lots of curves and precipices thousand of meters down!. See we keep on being very high in that list of "first in the world". So you can add to my list above: "accident diversity" too! Well, driving is very dangerous because two main reasons: One, its really hard driving on narrow roads and changing weather, steep Mountains and regular roads, but, especially NO DRIVING SIGNS! And please, don't forget this, Ecuador is really low on the Signs diversity. They are pretty much nonexistent. You will never know if a road may be on maintenance and you will find that just as suddenly as a bunch of school kids or just plain adults walk alongside THE ROADS after that curve and/or bridge, etc. or, maybe, a shepherd with his "Llamas", dogs, cattle, horses, are in the middle of it!. Also BEWARE OF THE SPEED BREAK BUMPERS ON THE ROADS APPROACHING A TOWN especially on the coast road to Montañita and further ("Ruta del Sol" should be actually Ruta de los bumpers"). They are very difficult to notice and of course specially AT NIGHT AND ON THE GUAYAQUIL TO MONTAÑITA ROAD (ATTENTION TO THIS: GUAYAQUIL ROAD TO "PLAYAS" and "SALINAS" IS FULL OF DETOURS CAUSE BY BRIDGES NOT FINISHED!!..very careful here in this road ESPECIALLY AT NIGHT!. So, drive very slow. Two, to get directions is not easy. So get a chauffeur or something if you are not the type to drive around and on your toes. Or, use bus, taxi, etc. Anyway, buses, taxis are super cheap for any First world citizen. Also, roof riding on buses with llamas and chickens and pigs, is quite a new thing to do and the sightseeing is great, believe me! Of course you don't have to do that. You can do also train roof riding here also. And it may be one of the best in the world. Very seriously too!. Ok lets keep on the sign thing and other items of driving in the navel on the planet. Also, signs to get to a certain place are hard to get, so often leave plenty of time for the amount of time you WILL GET LOST FOR A WHILE. But this in Ecuador is actually something nice so you can discover new places, and believe me also, you will.
Getting directions from people may be another chapter in this compact guide. But I will try to explain as much as possible..It´s HARD, especially at Sierra/Highlands but in general all Ecuadorians are bad at orienting tourist. And because they live a life of pretty much the present and nothing else, they are not worried if you get lost a while. One thing you will practically hear everywhere when you ask directions is: " Yes, you are OK, just keep going straight ahead, then go down and keep going straight". Also this: " Es aquisito no mas", meaning: "It's just right here, very near". This may well mean, quite some blocks somewhere.
So, in short, GET A GOOD ROAD MAP, CITY MAP, etc. By the way, maps are not usually actualized and road conditions may be in better shape than what the map will tell you. So, for that you need also to ask drivers and get good actual and regional maps. A list of good sources for maps is further down this guide. If you plan to go around Sierra and Amazon, be aware that one thing is the miles or kilometers you see on the distance table of a map, but another is driving up and down and usually it will take three times what you do on you regular road. Is not that roads are that bad, is just that roads at certain areas of Ecuador are VERY steep and winding. So you have to slow down, or go down real fast you know where.
Some precipices may have 500-800+ meters and you will be going through all the eco levels like Andes "Paramo" to "Cloudforest" to "Wetforest" to "Wetriver" in a nanosecond. And then maybe, to God. Talking about a nanosecond, there is one Ecuadorian joke about the definition of a nanosecond, what is it? They say a nanosecond is the time between a red light and a green one and the time when you hear the car behind you honking you to go!
Ecuadorians use the horn for anything, they use for saying hello, for light changing in a nanosecond, for street corners instead of stopping, etc. So get use to it. It's helpless. And that is why I don't recommend cities. There, honking is even worse.

Driving at night, avoid it for sure. Cars do not carry lights sometimes and maybe only one, either behind or front. People in Ecuador do a lot of swichting from low to high lights during nights. This meaning in ecuadorian driving language: to lower your lights SOB!. If a truck has stopped on the road very seldom they will park really on the side of it cause roads are not that wide or they just don't care. Signs are not night reflective, very few are. Especially, off road and/or off city limits. Animals can cross you anytime also as well as so called "rational" animals.
Just avoid it, if possible and if not, SLOW DOWN and drive very carefully. Also, a few more things; we Ecuadorians tend to think that the line in middle of the road is to be followed on the center of their cars. And that we can change lanes just anytime without notice. Forget turning lights. Here it really applies the shoe motto: "just do it"...
So all in all, driving here is very folkloric. Oh one important thing, avoid driving or being on a taxi ride or bus, on holidays or worst a day after. Drivers tend to be "chuchaqui" (hangover or still drunk). And accident rates grow as the steep Andes!
One last thing, probably drivers and the way they drive is not the only threat for non-indigenous drivers here, the other big problem is pedestrians. And this is something else; they do like to walk on the streets! since very seldom we have real sidewalks, many people on all areas of the country just walk on roads, streets, whatever. So, be careful with my people, please. And often, they may be kids or young people.


All right now, dealing with my people will be the second item and probably is the most interesting and not so dangerous as driving. So, I will take my time here.
As said before, there is so many races and tribes and in general types of people here. And each, pretty much, its own culture and way of being and behaving. But, one thing I think rules for most Ecuadorians: we are naive people. And they are very connected with the "just being here & now way of live". They like funny people and not so much of a deep talk or thought. That is boring. So enjoy yourself and show it to them and you will do fine. For example, afroecuadorians are very typical of any Afro anywhere but here they are not aggressive, arrogant, etc. They have all the happiness and well being and really good vibes. Very friendly people and open. Jungle tribes are very quiet, but also naive and open. But since their culture is SO different from ours civilized people, you may think otherwise. But as far as I know, and know little of these wonderful people, they are very open to tourist and seem very conscious of the positive side of tourism. Probably, I could say that in my experience, are the best native people in Ecuador as far as dealing with the tourist thing goes.
Highlands or Sierra people also very naive but in general these kind is reserved and shy. Also never aggressive or anything. Just very shy. Lowlands or Coast are like they are called "Monos" (monkeys), very open and funny and outspoken. So they are better for giving directions or explaining things or just having conversation, which they all love to do and listen to music quite loud! They are a blend of afroecuadorians with a bit of each other zone, Jungle type and Sierra type.
For women it's nice to say that luckily Ecuador is not high on the rape list. In fact, very hardly you hear every, may be, five years of raping tourist or something like that. But as always, caution or precaution is the best advice in all matters. As we all know, people in general can change. And there is always a crazy one in a Crowd, right? Right.


As of now (year 2000) we have become the first country in South America to adopt, use, and deal, with the american dollar. ( We have our own coined dollar and few similar coins valued same) This may be very good for hard currency visitors and maybe a little expensive for other currency, but do not get the idea that Ecuador has become expensive for that reason. In short words: you can eat a very good and decent lunch or dinner for just $ 5-8 USD. And this is a real full and clean complete meal I am talking about!. You can also get a very good meal for less than that of course, like $2-3 USD, but probably at a place where you may have to use the bathroom quite a while short after that. But if you have a strong traveled system, go for it! Ecuador for you can be a real bargain and cheap food for sure taste good!.
A big bottle of beer, the one you will never see in a developed country, is only $ 0.80 cts. (2008)
Warning: Galapagos is a different story cause of transportation expenses of food etc. Probably twice as expensive, or a bit more. Food is really rich and has lots of herbs and usually all goes with rice, plantain chips or fried corn, etc.
Ok I am going astride now and should keep on talking about money (I love to eat). And few important things are: Plastic money (Cards) are no good off city limits and always ask in advance if possible if you could pay with them and what kind they will accept. Although, most common accepted plastics are VISA, DINERS & MasterCard. In that order. AMERICAN EXPRESS is not that common but its beginning to appear around.
Always have cash and coins for change. I don't really know yet, but as long as I have lived here, change is some kind of mystery in my country, they NEVER have change!.
As in other areas of the world, people charge differently to tourist and of course higher, that's is why you should always, ALWAYS, bargain prices for hotels, food, transportaion (taxis), whatever. Because of the dolarization process, check your change twice. Many people especially at rural areas are not that good still at handling the currency change/prices thing or that is what they say anyway.

Bathrooms, Restrooms, or whatever you call them:

Pretty much this country is like being at Indonesia, India or that sort, if you have not been there that means, there is no much toilet paper almost anywhere as is change for your 10-20 bills. This applies to rural areas especially. In cities like Guayaquil or Quito, Cuenca or Manta, etc. you may head for nearest gas station or burger/chicken place. Still, I recommend you carry your own roll.
Taking a number one anyplace, is very common and of course in rural areas. And you may find somebody doing a number two too! But number one, is OK. For number twos, better find a hidden spot and also is Ok "ruraly". So, in general, do your numbers before getting on the bus, taxi or taking that long walk around.

Ecuadorian Time:

Time, for us Ecuadorians, does not mean much, since also, we don't make that much money anyway like first worlders in the first place. So, get use to it as much as possible, and in fact this custom may be something of a therapy for people who come all stress out. Remember this when somebody here makes an appointment at a certain time; it may well mean half an hour later very easily. Don't despair if your date, taxi or guide don't show up right on time. They will show up. Just learn to be patient and also learn to r-e-l-a-x...

About taking Risks and other Dangers:

As in any Latin America country, there are assault and robbery probabilities. Ecuador is nothing extraordinary and actually there are very few real bad statistics especially on tourist assaults, like rape, murder, etc. All you may be probably risking is your camera or whatever you may have with you that is hard to get or expensive and useful. Just let go of your things and nothing else will happen. They may take your shoes, especially nice sneakers that is all. But few hints should prevent you from getting totally ripped off. First the "NEVERS":

Never carry too many credit cards, just what you will use.
Never carry your passport if not needed or any other document.
Never have all those things above mentioned on the vehicle you are traveling on, neither.
Never show resistance.
Never play "smartass".
Never walk alone and drunk at night. Or sober up and don't show it.
Never leave your bags without an eye on them.
And well, the one we all know I guess: never, ever, show too much of whatever may attract too much attention.

More on this article will come soon. Please, feel free to send me your comments on this if you live or have been at Ecuador on a travel journey and can critisize anything you want and I will make proper corrections. Thanks!

Best wave in Galapagos and Ecuador, at San Cristobal Is.

Isla dela PLata red footed Boobie

Isla del Muerto off the coast of PLayas north of Puna island (Gulf of Guayaquil) Great fishing! and diving

Whale watching off Isla de la Plata (June-Augt)

Petroglifos at Amazon Archidona area

Cotopaxi province (Ilinizas bacground)

Cotopaxi Volcano icewalk, 4500 mts/14000 feet

Amazon river at Archidona Orchids Paradise Lodge Cabins

Fruit sale on road to PLayas

Hacienda San Agustin del Callo, close to Cotopaxi highest active volcano on earth

Amazon landscape close ro Archidona town (Tena-Napo province)

"Cincocerros" area, southern Coastal Cordillera

Snorkeling at Galapagos

Mompiche Casa Blanca Cabin

Amazon boat ride, Napo river


Balsa handcrafts from Amazon people


Birdwatching the Coastal area by "Playas"


Mountain climbing Cotopaxi


"Cincocerros" cordillera on southern coast between "Montañita" and "Ayampe"

Road from Guayaquil to beaches with many dangerous DETOURS like this. CAREFUL AT NIGHT.

Middle of road between Progreso and "Playas"

"Olon" beach from Montañita hills

Dolphin watching at Guayaquil Gulf river entrance

"Progreso"-"Playas" road vegetation

Sunset happy face at Shangri-La, "Playas"

"Tagua" nuts crafts from Bali-Indonesia