Ecuador, a country that is famous for Galapagos, is a place that has been taken lightly by travelers. Although it has a mix of Spanish heritage, American traditions, and Inca influence, many travelers I met in South America skipped Ecuador.
As someone who spent three weeks there, and traveled from the Colombia and Ecuador border, to Quito, one of the most beautiful capital cities in South America, along the stunning coastlines, to the south with diverse landscapes, I hereby reveal why Ecuador is a beautiful country to visit.
Equator is here, as calculated by GPS
If the calculation of the Mitad De Mundo monument in Quito is inaccurate being 240 meters off the equator, then it is obligatory to visit the red line at Museo de Sitio Intinan that splits the planet between the northern and southern hemispheres, with a sign that marks “Ecuador in the middle of the world, latitude 00’00’00.”. The museum has places for experiments for you to feel the difference of being on the equator- difficulty balancing an egg on a nail head, water draining in the different directions on different sides of the equator, and walking on the equator with your eyes closed can be a challenge because the equator affects gravity.
The unique geographic location makes Ecuador a place to pique your interest in geography and science. Owing to its central location, the days and nights are divided by half and you will experience the same hour of sunrise (6 am) and sunset (6 pm) all year around.
For the highest snowy volcano in the world
Did you know Ecuador has one of the world’s highest snow-capped volcanoes? Yes, that is Cotopaxi, at an altitude of 5,897 meters high, and visible from Quito and on a road trip between Quito and Otavalo. With the high altitude and extreme climate, climbing this volcano demands strong physical capability and mountaineering techniques, and you need to follow a licensed guide if you decide to trek to the top for a dreamy view of the sunrise.
To eat cheap and a variety of delicious local food
Ecuador has many different local cuisines with its own flavor and twist, with seafood on the coast, meat and rice in the Andes, soups and street food, and its famous drink, Chicha. With its unique location, moderate climate, unspoiled countryside, various street vendors and farmers market, you are guaranteed to have the best fruit and juice you have ever had.
Roasted guinea pigs are a local delicacy, and you can find it in restaurants in Quito and the countryside. Joys Café and Restaurant is where we went for the best guinea pig dish, with the entire pig roasted on a wooden fire, added with potato soup, fish, salad, rice, and Chicha.
For the gorgeous coastal region
Although many people rave about Galapagos, Ecuador has more than a 2,000-kilometer coastline in the middle with mangrove forests, white-sand beaches, pristine water, and quaint fishing villages.
I spent four days in Manta, the second largest port city in Ecuador, with a side trip to Playa Santa Marianita, through windy roads passing through magnificent seascapes, rugged cliffs, and lush forests. Montanita, Isla de la Plata, and Puerto Lopez have some beautiful beaches and marine creature-watching opportunities. You want to take it slow and give yourself ample time to discover the beautiful coastal region of Ecuador.
For a beautiful trek in the Andes through Cajas National Park
Cajas National Park is a UNESCO heritage site with diverse highland landscapes and it has the highest concentration of the lakes in the world. 60% of Cuenca’s drinking water is supplied from El Cajas. The park encompasses110.2 square meters of paper tree forest, lakes, lagoons, valleys, ravines, and mountains.
Visitors can spend a day trekking inside the park or a few days camping and hiking through the lovely lakes and Andes mountain range and observe endemic species including the South American Condor. I visited the park in September, which gave me a rare experience to embrace the highland scenery and observe the paramo landscapes that I have hardly seen anywhere else.
Read more: A Beautiful Day Trip to Cajas National Park
For stunning road trips
If Cali to Ipiales offers the most beautiful road trip in Colombia, the journey from Tulcan to Quito in northern Ecuador is its extension, with sweeping views of the Sierra Highlands, the summit of Mount Cotopaxi, and the beautiful Laguna Cuicocha. If you travel from Quito to the coast, you will see sugar cane, corn fields, traditional villages, and the stunning coastline. In the south from Cuenca to Guayaquil, you will be surrounded by crystal lakes, green pasture fields, and rivers and mountains carved out of glaciers.
The best road trip I had is a drive from Apuela to Otavalo, where we gained the elevation of 800 meters and were constantly traveling through the sweeping mountain passes and the clouds. The clouds coming through the driveway, made the air crispy and fresh and the landscape dreamlike. Sometimes we saw the clouds congregate over the mountaintop next to the road and that created a fantastic sight for us to stop and appreciate the view. One time, we even maneuvered through a herd of cows on the road with greenish farmlands on both sides.
To experience the best of Ecuadorian people
Despite nearly 50% of its people living under the poverty level, most locals I met in Ecuador were happy and generous, and they greeted me and were patient with me when I had a hard time speaking the language and needed help. They were never annoyed when the bus driver spent ten minutes in Apuela figuring out how to get me to the Pacheco Farmhouse. At the bed and breakfast I stayed in Manta, the owner took me out on a day trip and waved my payment for an extra night. On the street of the countryside and the bus station, people would smile, chat with me and help me with directions. They are welcoming, curious and take things slowly, which teaches you patience, kindness, and makes you appreciate this beautiful country more.
Although three weeks only gave me a taste of the surface of Ecuador, I was able to experience some beautiful places, delicious food, and hospitable people this country had to offer. These are just a few reasons why Ecuador is a great country to visit. It is difficult to reveal all the beauty of this country in words and pictures, but I hope it rekindled your wanderlust and convinced you not to skip Ecuador on your South America trip.
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