Ecuador for Dummies
for Outdoor Dummies
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!.
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.
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.
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!
Cotopaxi Volcano icewalk, 4500 mts/14000 feet
Road from Guayaquil to beaches with many dangerous DETOURS like this. CAREFUL AT NIGHT.