Situated on the equator, Ecuador is the smallest country in the Andean Highlands. Despite its size, it is probably the world's most bio-diverse country, crammed with an astounding variety of wildlife, birds and vegetation existing in contrasting climatic zones. Within a short time the traveller can experience dramatic changes in scenery, temperature and altitude, journeying between Pacific Coast beaches and the sweltering, mosquito-ridden rainforest; to the charming capital city of Quito surrounded by ice-covered volcanoes; and to colourful highland markets that add character and warmth to the windswept highlands of the Andes Mountains.
The people, along with their cultures and traditions. have also been influenced by their geographical environment. The backbone of the country is the Andean highlands, made up of two mountainous chains and over 30 volcanoes. Between them lies the central highland valley or sierra, the Avenue of the Volcanoes, at about 8,960 feet (2,800m) above sea level. This is the heartland of agricultural activity, punctuated by dozens of remote communities, and is where the bulk of the population lives. Larger towns like Saquisilí and Otavalo swell on market days, when villagers come to sell their produce and handiwork in a vibrant and colourful atmosphere of festivity. The sierra is also home to most of the old and historically important cities, including Quito.
With its beautiful colonial architecture, magnificent panoramic scenery, vibrant indigenous groups and welcoming people, it is one of the most enticing and rewarding countries to visit in South America. And, as if it needed any further promotion, one of the world's greatest treasures of natural history lies in the bewitching Galapagos Islands - famed for its fearless and unique wildlife, the island chain is roundy considered the highlight of any holiday in Ecuador.
The US Dollar (USD) is the official currency in Ecuador. In 2000
the sucre was replaced by the dollar as the legal currency, but
despite dollarization, the sucre will likely persist in rural areas
for a while longer. It is recommended that travellers bring both US
dollar notes and travellers cheques as other foreign currencies are
difficult to exchange outside of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca. Small
denominations in good condition are the easiest to exchange outside
of the main cities. In the main centres most currencies can be
exchanged at banks and exchange houses (
casas de cambio) at variable commission rates. ATMs are
available in the cities, and major credit cards are accepted in
tourist areas and large hotels although a commission of 6-8% is
|US$ 1 =||US$ 1.00||Â£ 0.65||C$ 1.02||A$ 0.97||R 8.46||EUR 0.79||NZ$ 1.26|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
A yellow fever certificate is required from those arriving from infected areas, and is recommended for everyone entering Ecuador, particularly for those travelling to the regions of the Amazon basin. There is high risk of malaria and dengue fever in areas below 5,000ft (1,500m). There has been a dramatic increase in the number of reported cases of dengue fever primarily in coastal and Amazon regions. The best prevention is to cover up and use mosquito repellent liberally throughout the day. High altitude can affect some people's health so visitors to Quito (6,500ft/2,800m), for example, are advised to take it easy for the first few days. It is advisable to take seasickness tablets on a Galapagos boat cruise. Tap water should not be consumed; bottled water is available. Milk is unpasteurised so it is best to avoid dairy products. Medical facilities are inadequate and medical insurance is highly recommended.
Passports should be valid for at least six months beyond the date of arrival in Ecuador. All visitors should hold an onward or return ticket, and must demonstrate proof of sufficient funds for their stay in the country. Extensions are possible for travellers who do not need a visa to enter Ecuador. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Ministry of Tourism, Quito: +593 (0)2 250 7559 or www.quito.com.ec
Foreign Embassies in Ecuador
Quito, the capital city, is the central hub of Ecuador, and the starting point for all other destinations in the country. In a beautiful setting at an altitude of 9,350ft (2,850m), nestled in the Andes Mountains and the snow-capped 15,728ft (4,794m) Pichincha volcano, the city of Quito is a vibrant amalgam of modern business executives and the traditional culture of the 'indÃgenas', or local Andean people.
The city is divided into two areas: the Old Town, declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, with its history and the architectural influence of the Spanish evident in its red-tiled roofs lining steep, cobblestone streets; and the more tourist-oriented New Town, with its shopping centres, hotels, embassies and travel agencies.
Quito is the cultural centre of the country. IndÃgenas make up a large proportion of the population and evidence of their culture is all over the city, from the handicrafts displayed on street corners and ramshackle shops selling traditional everyday goods, to the women in thick woollen clothing and felt hats queuing for bus tickets. Quechuan language pervades the streets and central plazas (squares) throughout the city.
A city rich in historical churches, monasteries and convents, containing a wealth of religious paintings and sculpture dating back to the 16th century, there are also a few museums worth visiting in Quito, like the Museo del Banco Central with its beautiful pre-Colombian artefacts, the ethno-historical Museo Mindalae, and the contemporary art museum Museo Guayasamin.
Quito is a beautiful city with natural settings to enjoy, like the tranquillity of the Botanical Gardens with their glassed orchid houses; and the magnificent views from the Pichincha Volcano, which can be accessed by hiking or via the Telerifico, the world's second-highest cable car.
Also a popular base for learning the Spanish language, Quito has over 60 language schools dotted about the city.
The volcanic Galapagos Archipelago is made up of 13 major islands and six smaller ones lying about 600 miles (970km) from the mainland and located on the equator. It is the second largest marine reserve in the world, spread over 19,500 square miles (50,000 sq km), and was made a National Park in 1959. Positioned between three ocean currents, the climate is unique, and as a result, roughly 50 percent of the species are unique to the islands. Famous for its exceptional and fearless wildlife, it has become a paradise for nature enthusiasts and photographers.
The Galapagos Islands are a popular vacation destination, and the Ecuadorian government maintains strict control over tourist access in an effort to preserve the local ecosystem. All visitors must be accompanied by a certified tour guide, and there are additional restrictions regarding the size of tour groups and level of activity in a given area, so it's best to make bookings ahead of time.
Visitors to the archipelago will be guided around various islands, each one with different species of fauna and flora. It is possible to pass within inches of mating iguanas, walk between nesting frigate birds, stand beside blue-footed boobies feeding their chicks, gawk at fur seals, and watch thousands of brightly coloured Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttling across the black volcanic rocks. In the sea, visitors can swim, snorkel and dive with sharks and turtles, and come mask to face with sea lions and penguins. Also to be seen are albatrosses, lava lizards, flamingos, giant tortoises, masked boobies and Darwin finches.
Although the islands are volcanic and largely bare of vegetation, they have different geological features that make them dramatic and strangely beautiful. These include a 30-foot (10m) high cactus forest, exquisitely twisted lava flows, spatter cones and lava tunnels, bizarre rock formations, and red, black or white sand beaches.
The islands first became famous with the scientific voyage of the 'Beagle' by Charles Darwin during the 19th Century, where he was inspired to formulate his theory of evolution by natural selection. Today the archipelago draws an average of 65,000 visitors a year who want to experience for themselves the extraordinary wildlife of these otherworldly islands.
Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island, is the most developed town on the archipelago, and is the centre of the Galapagos tourism industry. Most visitors stay in this friendly little town while arranging a boat tour to the rest of the islands or anchor in the harbour during their cruise.
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