I have said in this blog and in the past that I wouldn’t select a favorite country and that “my favorite country is the world” but now I am ready to actually change that decision! People might be a little surprised and there are a lot of qualifiers to the above statement. So, let me fix it – sort of. So, as it stands, after (currently) having visited 59 countries, if I were told that I could pick just one of these countries to visit, I would choose Ecuador and now I will explain the reason.
In my consideration Ecuador has the greatest diversity of unique reasons to visit a country within reasonably easy access. What does that mean? It means that Ecuador has amazing wildlife, amazing geography, oceans, beaches, mountains, surfing, amazing cities old and new, cultural diversity to explore, adventure tourism, astounding views, relatively easy transportation and all for very low budget prices. Ecuador is also very safe to visit as long as normal thoughtful awareness of surroundings is taken into consideration. I spent six weeks in Ecuador and it was amazing. I know most people can’t afford this much time but you can still see a lot in two weeks.
Ecuador cheat sheet:
Why Go: Wildlife, plant life, Mountains, beaches, colonial cities, budget prices, jungles, the Amazon, waterfalls, adventure.
When to Go: Anytime, the country has multiple climates and so at any point in time the weather will be great in part of the country and not great in the other part but for beaches and Galapagos the best time to go (surprisingly) is April/May.
-Plan your Galapagos trip by yourself. As of 2017 you can still find great inexpensive hotels on the islands themselves at a fraction of the cost and food at the local restaurants is cheap. Fly into Santa Cruz and out of San Cristobal. This allows the best use of time. Don’t pay for expensive long day boat trips unless you want to shark dive. You can see all of the other species by renting bikes on Santa Cruz and Cristobal plus taking the less expensive part day boat trips.
– Internal flights are inexpensive ways to get between cities especially if you are short on time but the bus system is well developed, safe and provides some amazing scenery.
– Make sure to visit Cuenca and Banos if you have time to make it to both.
– Plan a couple of days in Quito at least. It’s a great city with a cool mix of modern and old. If you can be in Quito on a Sunday they close the entire 50Km main road through the city to bicycles and you can rent good quality bikes for around $5 for the day in several places.
If I get the chance I will post a separate blog about Galapagos because it really deserves one but for now just a bit of details –
I am a wildlife enthusiast and Ecuador provides a unique perspective similar to Madagascar that if you include a trip to the Galapagos Islands you will be able to encounter wildlife which doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet. The uniqueness of this experience can not possibly be understated. On the Galapagos you will find three distinct species which you can’t see anywhere else: Giant tortoises, the strange birds called Boobies (with actual red and blue feet) and giant black marine Iguanas (the only place in the world where Iguanas swim and eat in the Ocean). It should be mentioned that you are 100% guaranteed to see all of these animals in their natural environment. All three are both abundant as well as more or less unconcerned about humans. This is not like a safari to search for hidden creatures which you may or may not be lucky to see. The Iguanas in particular are all over the place. The Boobies are accessible with organized trips but you are guaranteed to see them and the same with the tortoises.
In terms of wildlife, these unique species are only the start as well because the Galapagos are home to countless sea lions and seals who claim the beaches and the wharfs for their lounging pleasure and the clear blue water provides diving and snorkeling opportunities which are hard to match. Sea turtles and sea lions will frolic with you and for the adventurous there are shark diving trips with a near guarantee of seeing hammerheads and a guarantee of seeing other smaller sharks.
Here is a video I made of an amazing day playing with Sea Lions in a lagoon which I walked to from my hostel. If you are a marine enthusiast this should be enough to get you packing your bags:
I’ve spent so much time talking about Galapagos and the reality is that Galapagos is just a small fraction of the reason why I love Ecuador so much so in order to make this more simple I will add a couple of sentences about each part and a couple of pics to whet your appetite.
Quito, the capital city is a great place to see Colonial Architecture and churches as well as enjoy fabulous new cuisine. It’s hip, trendy and indigenous at the same time. Cultures old and new bump together and make a fascinating walking or bike riding experience. The cool air is refreshing. If you go when the weather is good for the beaches it can be quite cool in the city.
Cuenca feels like a part of Europe got dropped into the middle of the Andes. The food is amazing with quaint cafes and a big expat community, the air is fresh and you have access to amazing day hiking in the national park nearby. If you are adventurous with food make sure to visit the central market and try the Pork – it’s cut from a whole pig right in front of you which was cooked under ground long and slow. Delicious!
The valley city of Banos feels like an entirely different country. This city is a bastion of “adventure tourism” which means zip lines, waterfall rapels, downhill mount biking and breath taking “swings” over giant drop offs. Unlike other places in the world where such activities are promoted, the prices in Banos are dirt cheap. Make sure to rent a mountain bike and spend a day riding mainly downhill on the “ruta de cascadas” and bask in so many waterfalls I am not even sure how many there are!
I am running pretty long here. I could say so much more. I could tell you about the gorgeous lake hike you can experience visiting the Rural town of Quilotoa where you could visit with inigenous villagers at around 14,000 feet elevation —
I could tell you about visiting the Amazon or the surfing beaches or hiking outside of Quito or visiting the hot springs in the Andes or stopping at the botanical garden or …. more, more, more!
There is so much to see and do in my favorite country I would say just buy a ticket now 😉 Until next time!
PS – yes! You can visit the Equator when you are in Ecuador and straddle the line in the ground which represents the middle of the world! Is it the most exciting or worthwhile thing to do in the country? Let’s just say if I had limited time I would probably skip it – but – for giggles and the photo I made a stop on my last day (oh, and BTW, you can get a taxi from the airport there if you have a long gap between flights – by long I mean you need about 4 hours but with that said especially if you have that setup it’s worth the visit. 🙂