Travel to Ecuador

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Ecuador flagThe smallest country in the rugged Andean highlands, Ecuador is among the most rewarding travel destinations in South America. With its array of vibrant indigenous cultures, well preserved colonial architecture, otherworldly volcanic landscapes and dense rainforest, it packs its perimeters with more points of interest than many countries twice its size. Touch down in its picture-perfect capital, Quito, and you are no more than a day's drive from a slog through all-swallowing Amazonian jungle, a snow swept ascent of an active volcano, a sociable haggle with indigenous artesanos or a welcome wallow on a tropical beach. And all that in a nation no bigger than the US state of Nevada.

Squint your eyes at a map of the region and Ecuador looks something like a grinning skull, gazing across the Pacific at its lone 'overseas' holding, the blissfully distant Galápagos Islands. Owned by Ecuador since 1832, the far-flung islands are lauded as one of the world's greatest natural history treasures, their unique diversity of plant and animal life providing a living textbook for ecologists and oglers alike. It'll cost you plenty to get out to see them, but when you weigh that against the immense affordability of mainland adventuring and the rarity of the experience, you'll be hard pressed to let your purse strings tie you down.


Full country name: Republic of Ecuador
Area: 283,520 sq km (175,780 sq mi)
Population: 12,920,092 (growth rate: 2.1%)
Capital city: Quito (pop 1.5 million)
People: 40% mestizo, 40% Indian, 15% Spanish descent, 5% African descent
Language: Spanish, Quechua, Quichua, other indigenous languages
Religion: Over 90% Roman Catholic, small minority of other Christian denominations

Government: Democracy
GDP: US$58.7 billion
GDP per head: US$4,800
Inflation: 43%
Major industries: Oil, bananas, shrimp, fish, coffee, textiles, metal work, paper products, wood products, chemicals, plastics, fishing, lumber
Major trading partners: US, Latin America, EU, Asia, Caribbean


Visas: Citizens of most countries can stay a maximum of 90 days a year without needing a visa.
Health risks: Dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, typhoid, and a minor risk of cholera, rabies and diphtheria. Get a yellow fever vaccination if you plan to visit the rainforests of the Oriente or eastern forest of Ecuador.
Time: GMT/UTC minus 5 hours
Electricity: 110V, 60Hz
Weights & measures: Metric

When to Go
Travellers can visit Ecuador year-round; certain areas are better at certain times of the year, but there are no absolutes. In terms of the weather, El Niño hits hard about one winter every decade, playing havoc with road and rail connections and making communication spotty in some outlying areas.

If you're visiting the Galápagos, you'll find the warm rainy season from January to April is the best time for snorkelling; the rest of the year the water is cooler, typically around 20°C (68°F).

The mainland coast has similar weather patterns, and its beaches fill up from January to May during coastal Ecuador's school holidays. June through August sees gringo vacationers descend, though the weather's generally gone chilly by then.

The highlands' dry season (the best time for hiking and climbing) is June to August, which coincides with the wettest months in the Oriente. Trekking in the Oriente is best done in the dry season, from late August through February.

As for crowds and costs, the high season both on the mainland and in the Galápagos tends to be mid-December through January and June to August, when most of the vacationing foreign visitors arrive.


Region: South America

Neighbours: Colombia borders Ecuador to the northeast, Peru is to the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean is to the west and northwest. The Galápagos Islands, situated about 965 kilometres (about 600 miles) off the coast, are part of Ecuador.

Size Comparison: Less than one-fourth the size of Colombia

Physical Features
Ecuador is divided into four distinct regions. The Costa, or coastal plain, is home to nearly half of the population and covers about one-fourth of the country's land area. The Sierra, or central highlands region, lies between two chains of the Andes, the Cordillera Occidental and Cordillera Oriental. Cotopaxi (5,897 metres/19,347 feet), one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, is located between the two mountain chains. The gentle slopes east of the Andes make up the Oriente, or eastern forest, covering about one-half of the country. The six larger and nine smaller islands of the Galápagos Islands comprise the fourth geographic region. The Galápagos are noted for their native wildlife.

Major Rivers and Lakes
The many mountains of Ecuador give rise to numerous streams. The lengthy Río Napo rises in north-central Ecuador and crosses Peru before emptying into the Amazon. In the west, many relatively short rivers flow from the steep slopes of the Andes to the Pacific. Several other of Ecuador's rivers flow eastward into Peru.

Weather and Climate
As its name implies, Ecuador lies on the Equator (Ecuador is Spanish for equator). Despite this, varying elevations give the country a wide range of climates. The Costa is generally hot and humid, with a mean annual temperature of about 26°C (about 78°F). On the Sierra, the temperatures range from about 7° to a mild 21°C (about 45° to 70°F), depending on the elevation. The city of Quito, which is some 2,850 metres (some 9,350 feet) above sea level, has a mean annual temperature of 13°C (55°F). The Oriente is much warmer and more humid than the Costa. Temperatures here approach 38°C (100°F), and annual precipitation is about 2,030 millimetres (about 80 inches).

Environmental Issues
Forest currently covers 40.2 percent (1995) of Ecuador's total land area. Deforestation rates have declined since the rapid clearing of the 1980s, but remain high nonetheless—1.62 percent (1990-1996) of the country's forests are lost each year. Ecuador has the second highest rate of deforestation in South America, behind Paraguay. Deforestation is encouraged by government policies that promote timber felling and the colonization of uninhabited or sparsely inhabited areas.

The majority of the forestland that has been lost in Ecuador was primary forest, home to much of the country's rich biodiversity. Considering the country's high concentration of species—a large proportion of which are endemic—this loss of forest is significant. In addition to species loss, deforestation in Ecuador also contributes to soil erosion, flooding, and desertification.

In contrast to its deforestation record, Ecuador has one of the highest percentages of protected land in South America. Parks and reserves make up 43.1 percent (1997) of the country's land, compared to 2.7 percent in Peru, 9 percent in Colombia, and 4.2 percent in Brazil. The government of Ecuador was one of the first to participate in a debt-for-nature swap, which allows developing nations to trade national debt for domestic currency that is applied to the design and implementation of environmental management plans. Ecotourism has become increasingly popular, primarily in the Galápagos Islands, which boast an abundance of unique species.

Petroleum is one of Ecuador's major natural resources and is an important source of revenue. But industrial waste, particularly from oil production, has led to severe water pollution. Wetlands along the Ecuadorian coast have been destroyed to make room for shrimp farming, a rapidly growing segment of the country's fishing industry.

Ecuador is party to treaties concerning biodiversity, climate change, desertification, endangered species, hazardous wastes, ship pollution, tropical timber, wetlands, and whaling.



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Ecuador tour map
Smallest country in the rugged Andean highlands, Ecuador is among the most rewarding travel destinations in South America. With its array of vibrant indigenous cultures, well preserved colonial architecture, dramatic volcanic landscapes and dense rainforest, it packs its perimeters with more points of interest than many other larger countries. Arriving in Quito, among the prettiest colonial cities in Latin America, your are no more than a day's drive from the Amazonian jungle, towering active volcanoes and a sociable haggle with indigenous artisans in the best Indian market of the subcontinent. The Otavalo market, dating back to pre-Inca times is a vivid and festive affair with the Otaveleños who host it in their traditional dress. You find it all in a nation just a bit larger than U.K. This active and adventurous tour will take you from the capital - declared a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 1978 - filled with colonial treasures, to the Inca site of Ingapirca through the Avenida de los Volcanes and the Amazon Basin comprising huge areas of rainforest. A paradise for the visitors interested in natural history, ecology, tropical habitats, indigenous tribes, birdwatching and jungle treks. An all-in-one cultural eco-tour for active travelers from 12 to 72 years old!

The Galapagos tour mapExtraordinary land where fauna and flora reign supreme, the Galapagos form a mid-ocean archipelago dating back to only three million years and yet formed of prehistoric-like islands and coasts. Located in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of South America, the islands are inhabited by an amazing fauna which inspired Charles Darwin his theory of the evolution: giant tortoises, marine and terrestrial iguanas, blue-footed boobies, frigates, albatross, facetious sea lions, fur seals and strange finches are among the species you will have the pleasure to observe here. And there's this sea cooled by the Humboldt current and this sky filled with thousands of stars at night perfectly set between the two hemispheres... Hikes, dives, snorkelling, relaxation, photography and observation, some museums, friendly new faces; combining comfort and discovery, an adventourous cruise for nature lovers!
Apart from the seven days guided eco-cruise across the Archipelago - tourist class or luxury class - this tour offers a guided exploration of Quito: an historical and lively fresco!

Peru, Eucador and Bolivia tour map
A colourful adventure through an original route exploring a territory filled with cultural and historical treasures. Traversed by the longest and among the highest mountain chains on the planet, set between the immense Pacific Ocean and the deep Amazon Basin, Peru and Ecuador are fascinating countries forged by an intense pre-colonial and colonial history that left impressive remains we explore with great interest. This vast territory conceals infinite possibilities of adventures and discoveries and is home to a cordial and picturesque people who, with one glance, one look, one smile, can already say so much! From the Bolivian capital, La Paz, perched high in the Andes, to the lowland rain forests of Ecuador, through the major archaeological sites of Peru, experience a true encounter with the land and the people in the footsteps of the Inca.
Bolivia: La Paz > Tihuanaco archaeological site > Peru: The Island of Taquila and Puno > Sillustani archaeological site > Cuzco > Machu Picchu archaeological site > Lima > Ecuador: Cuenca > Ingapirca archaeological site > Banos > Latacunga > Canyon of Toachi > Rio Toachi/Chugchilan > Otavalo > Quito.

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