Ecuador Vacation Travel Guide
Ecuador’s cities make colonial history come alive. In the Andes you can see glimpses of the indigenous culture, woven into the handmade textiles. We can find you guides to take you through wild national parks — venture through the breathtaking Sierra highlands and the steamy Amazonian jungles. Join a cruise to see the volcanic islands of the Galápagos, and see the land that inspired Darwin while traveling in style.
Ecuador is located on the northwestern edge of South America, between Colombia and Peru. And as the name implies, it’s right on the equator.
Ecuador has a diverse landscape, from its rolling alpine hills to dense Amazonian jungles, azure coastlines, and the Galápagos Islands. Nearly 400 species of mammals and over 1,600 bird species reside here. All of this fits into an area of 109,483 square miles (283,560 sq km), which is roughly the size of Colorado. Ecuador’s small size allows travelers to easily visit different environments during their stay. If you have time, include a trip to the 18 islands of the Galápagos, which are home to wildlife seen nowhere else in the world.
Cities and Towns of Ecuador
Metropolitan cities and quaint towns are scattered throughout the highland valleys and along the coast. Each major city has its own culture, history, and speciality commerce. The bustling capital city of Quito is at the heart of Ecuadorian history and tradition. Guayaquil is known for its nightlife, and Cuenca has a lovely array of colonial churches. No matter what parts of Ecuador you choose to visit, the breathtaking landscape and friendly people ensure that you’ll have rewarding travels.
Ecuador’s Geography & Terrain
Ecuador’s mainland divides into three distinct regions — the Andes, the Amazon Basin, and the coast. West of the coast you’ll come to the volcanic archipelago of the Galápagos. You’ll find that the climate varies widely from one region to the next.
Climates of the Coast and Sierras
Ecuador’s coastline spans 1,390 miles (2,237 km) from Peru to Colombia. The southern coastline has swaths of mangroves. Head north and the coast eventually transitions into a drier climate, with white sand beaches and intense surf. Temperatures can range from 75°F (23.8°C) to 85°F (29.4°C) throughout the year. December to April brings clear skies to the coast, while the rest of the year it is often blanketed in cloud cover.
The Sierras region is subdivided into northern, central and southern regions. In Ecuador, the Andean peaks gives way to majestic, widely spaced volcanoes. The surrounding foothills are likely where you’ll spend the majority of your time. Sierras have elevations ranging from 6,000–10,000 feet (1,828–3,048 m). Temperatures here range from 60°F (15.5°C) to 45°F (7.2°C). Generally, the higher up you are, the colder it will be. The Sierras’ rainy season lasts from January to June, and the dry season lasts from July to December.
Climates of the Amazon Basin and Galapagos
Further east is Ecuador’s Amazon basin, which has a hot and humid climate. The Amazon Basin is home to only 3 percent of Ecuador’s population, meaning much of the region is still regarded as a wild and uninhabited place. The elevation is considerably lower here, with few places higher than 1,500 feet (457 m). Temperatures range from 77°F (25°C) to 84°F (28.9°C). Because this region gets over 200 inches (508 cm) of annual rainfall, be sure to pack a rain jacket if you plan to visit the Amazon.
The Galápagos Islands lie 600 miles (965 km) off the coast of Ecuador. This archipelago has 18 islands and a handful of other rock outcroppings. The temperatures here range from 75°F (23.8°C) to 85°F (29.4°C), usually mirroring conditions on the coast. The dry season lasts from June to December, but both air and water temperatures are cooler during this time of year.
Ecuador’s relatively small size and roughly 15 million inhabitants make it South America’s most densely populated country. As such, Ecuador has often struggled to balance its economic, social and environmental priorities. Its government has a tumultuous past, with over 80 major changes in the regime since the country gained independence from Spain in 1830.
In the last few years Ecuador’s government has seen some major improvements. Social spending has increased tremendously, with over $16 billion spent on education and healthcare. The poverty rate has dropped from 42 percent in 2005 to just 25 percent in 2013.
Society & Economy
Ecuador is a representative democracy. The current president, Rafael Correa, has enacted sweeping social reforms, focusing on welfare programs and education since taking office in 2007. He was re-elected in 2013, a victory that proved that his liberal spending policies were well-received. In recent years, relations between Ecuador and the United States have been strained, mostly because of tensions stemming from oil drilling by U.S. companies in Ecuador’s Amazon. In 2011, Ecuador expelled the US ambassador amidst accusations of corruption. Despite these tensions, the US remains Ecuador’s largest trading partner.
Powering Ecuador’s economy is a vast wealth of natural resources, the most important of which is oil. Other major exports include bananas and seafood products. Crude oil production accounts for roughly 30 percent of the GDP. This revenue has helped fund the public spending initiatives. Oil is, however, also a major point of contention in Ecuador. Environmental and indigenous-rights lawsuits are increasingly challenging drilling practices.
Cultural Makeup of Ecuador
Ecuadorian people come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Indigenous groups first settled the region some 15,000 years ago. In the 16th century, Spaniards arrived, mostly as conquistadors. Like many other South American countries, Ecuador’s population has a mix of Amerindian and Spanish heritage. This interracial, or mestizo, population makes up nearly 72 percent of the total population. Throughout the Sierras and in much of the Amazon, Amerindians make up 7 percent of the population. Along the coast, a prominent Afro-Ecuadorian population accounts for another 7 percent.