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Although Ecuador, next to Uruguay ranks among the smallest countries of South America, it is probably one of the most rewarding and popular travel destinations for Eco-travelers. Ecuador's compact size makes travel reasonably easy and allows travelers to see more of its widely varying habitats in their precious little time. Ecuador is regarded as one of the most species rich regions of the world. This is due to the many different ecosystems that can be found within its boundaries.
Ecuador can be roughly divided into three main regions: the coast, the mountains and the jungle. Ethnographically Ecuador is a colorful mix of Mestizo and indigenous cultures. The coastal strip, once forested lowlands, has largely been turned over to agricultural production and instead of jungle, now sprouts banana and cacao plantations - quite understandably, as this is the flattest and easiest region to cultivate. In the south, however, the lush lowland gives way to more arid conditions, as can be found in the northern coastal region of Peru.
Further inland the coastal strip rises swiftly to form the foothills of the Andes, and beyond, their peaks often engulfed in lofty clouds, lie some of the highest Andean volcanic peaks. In the northern part of the country, surrounded by snow-topped mountains lies the capital, Quito, which once was the northern capital of the ancient Inca kingdom. It is a picturesque and pleasant town with an agreeable climate. It makes a perfect travel base for exploring the eastern, jungle covered slopes of the Andes, as well as starting off on treks into the mountains themselves.
Ecuador seems to make more of an effort to preserve its natural diversity than many other South American countries and there are many destinations of outstanding cultural and natural beauty to explore.
Last, but certainly not least Ecuador has become famous as the home of the unique habitat that inspired Darwin's theory of evolution. Within its boundaries, although a long way off shore, lie the Galapagos islands, volcanic outcrops that have never been connected to the mainland and thus are ideal habitats for studying the evolution of various species unique to these islands. The Galapagos Islands have become a Mecca for biologists and continue to attract numerous (some say far too many) nature lovers, both amateurs and professionals each year, who all come away equally enchanted by the island's magic charm.
Although Ecuador is comprised of many districts it can be roughly divided into three distinct regions: The arid coastal desert, the Andes and the rainforest region on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Each bioregion is unique and has its own natural wonders to offer. The links below offer some general information about attractions within each of the departments and also point out some of the lesser-known National Parks, Wildlife sanctuaries and other protected areas.
Ecuador ranks among the more eco-conscious countries of Latin America and there are many national parks, nature reserves and protected areas throughout the country. Some can be visited and have facilities for camping and hiking. The ones listed below is just a small selection.
Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world. Covered handsomely with permanent snow-caps on top of the crater, several nearby lakes and streams are ideal sites for observing the local avi-fauna. Located in Cotopaxi Province, 44 miles from Quito, it contains 82,514 acres. There are camping sites, footpaths and basic tourist infrastructure.
This 669,653 acre park is located in Morona-Santiago and Chimborazo provinces, 174 miles from Quito. There are camping sites and places to sleep, as well as basic tourist infrastructure. Sangay is an active volcano and large areas of the park have been formed by recent eruptions. Two other active volcanoes are located in the area: Altar and Tunguraqua. Both are suitable for mountain climbing. The area supports several ecosystems, from the snow and alpine zones to humid, subtropical forest. Plant observation is very interesting and varied, especially in transition areas.
A coastal park equipped with basic tourist infrastructure located 310 miles from Quito. 135,905 acres of Manabi Province have been dedicated to this park. The landscape is composed of beaches and sea steppes, bays and coastal forest. There are a great deal of archaeological sites on the coast, as well as on La Plata, Ahorcado and Salango Islands. There are small anthropological museums on Salango and Agua Blanca. Vegetation takes on three different forms: rain forest, dry forest and very dry forest. The most notable plant species are cecropia, balsa, ecus, baisamo, palm, guayacan, cactus, vines, kapok and silkcotton trees.
Located in Napo Province, the western limit of Yasuni is only 190 miles from Quito. The park, which has camping sites, extends for 1,679,643 acres. This biosphere reserve is Ecuador's most bio-diverse area. The Huaorani Indian tribe lives in the Tiputini, Yasuni, Cononaco and Nashino river basins, as well as on lagoon shores and navigable streams. There are many types of vegetation, e.g., riparian, flooded forest or varzea, as well as firm ground forests, where relevant plant species vary over the hills and plateaus.
Montane cloud forest park in the province of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe extending over 146,280 acres over a high mountain river basin. Temperate humid zone with coniferous vegetation.
There is no doubt that the islands are a true living laboratory for the scientists of all times. This sactuary of wild life and volcanoes lies about 1.000 Km off the coast of continental Ecuador and is composed of 13 islands and dozens of islets and reefs: a refuge for a plethora of endemic species. See the UNEP information about the Galapagos
Situated in the central Andes this park is the largest area of unaltered wild land in the country’s eastern Cordilleras. It has outstanding natural beauty, two snow-capped active volcanoes and an entire range of ecosystems from the tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin to mountain glaciers. Its isolation has contributed to protecting a wide range of species including endemic ones, such as the mountain tapir and Andean condor.
Thanks to its widely varied topography, Ecuador has much to offer to adventure seekers. The coast offers some decent swimming beaches at Atacames, San Vicente, Bahía de Caráquez, Bahía de Manta, Salinas and Playas with warm pleasant coastal water year round. Watch out for the strong undercurrent at Atacames, which claims victims every year.
Some operators offer Scuba diving in the Galápagos Islands, but you'd be well advised to make your booking a long time ahead. You can go snorkeling in the archipelago - bring your own gear and book ahead.
Sacred Earth offers some fascinating excursions - explore the avenue of the volcanoes, or the mysterious cloud forest...Or perhaps you would like to go for an adventure in the Amazon, stay at an eco-lodge and learn about native people, their culture, lifestyle and what it is like to live in the rainforest? Then you should check out our
Ecuador is officially a Catholic country and many of its official holidays comply with the Christian festival calendar. However, the many varied indigenous cultural traditions tend to contribute their own flavor to the celebrations. Rural areas in particular enjoy brightening up their daily routines with a feisty party energy.
|Between Christmas and January 15||
Santos Reyes & Santos Inocentes
(fiesta dedicated to children)
|Celebrated throughout the country|
|June||St. John the Baptist celebrations||Otavalo, Iluman, Araque, San Antonio|
|December||Christmas & New Year Celebration||Cuenca|
Ecuador's weather is pretty unpredictable, expect the unexpected. Straddeling the Equator means that there are usually only two seasons, wet and dry. If only things were that simple - but local weather patterns can vary greatly depending on topography. The mainland coastal areas and the Galápagos Islands are both influenced by ocean currents and tend to be hot and rainy between January and April. Between May and December the temperature is a few degrees cooler and it hardly ever rains.
In the highlands, the dry season refers to between June and September and around Christmas. However, even the mountains' wet season isn't necessarily all that wet. The central valley has a very pleasant spring like climate all year round, with temperatures around 24°C (66°F).
The eastern slopes of the Andes (the Oriente) on the other hand are wet almost all year round with July and Augustusually being the wettest months whilst September to December is considered to be somewhat dryer.
Tourist visas are automatically granted to citizens of most countries upon entry at the border except for citizens from France, Cuba, People's Republic of China, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Sikhs from India. Citizens of these countries must request a visa in advance from the Ecuadorian consulates or embassies in their countries.
Visitors must have a passport that remains valid for more than 6 months after entering the country. Sometimes the Immigration Police asks for proof of sufficient funds i.e. having 20 USD per day and a return ticket.
Tourist visas may be extended for an extra month for a charge of approximately 3 USD (may vary). This may be done at immigration offices in some of the provinces' capital cities although not in all of them. Once your visa has been extended and you have remained within the country for 4 months you may not return to Ecuador for 1 calendar year with a tourist visa, although you may request a different type of visa from your consulate or embassy. It is always a good idea to keep photocopies of your passport in several different places and also to always keep a copy with you. In areas where you are likely to run into patrols (e.g. jungle or airports keep your original passport handy).
There is usually a tax payable when leaving the country. When you enter Ecuador you are given a tourist card. Hold on to this piece of paper - you have to return it when you leave the country.
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