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Galapagos aerial view
Galapagos, view over bay
|Seals on the beach; Galapagos amazing scenery; Iguana; ||
|South American Information|
This tour visits the following countries. Please select one to view its details.
| Ecuador |
|To see our current selection of tours in Ecuador click here.|
Weather varies greatly, depending on the altitude. The coastal and Amazonian lowlands have a wet equatorial climate, but the higher you go, the colder it becomes. Most large cities are located in a fairly comfortable subtropical zone, although it can be very cold at night in Quito. Further up, it can be cold at all times. Ecuador is a year-round destination, but highland areas are best visited during the dry season - from June to September.
Lightweight natural fabrics; rainwear in subtropical areas. Warmer clothes are needed in upland areas.
272,045 sq km (105,037 sq miles).
55.9 per sq km.
Democratic republic since 1978.
Ecuador comprises a number of very distinct, dramatic geographical regions. The Andes run north-south through the country and form a mountainous spine with a number of peaks over 5,000m (16,404 ft) and some climbing to 6,500m (21,325ft). There are two main ranges, the central Cordillera and the Western Cordillera, which are separated by the Central Valley. At 400km (249 miles) long, the valley is just 50km (31 miles) wide. Its two rims are connected by a series of high plateaux that are separated by a series of gentle ridges. Rivers from the peaks run east to the Amazon and west to the Pacific Ocean.
The rims of the valley are crowned with the cones of more than 50 volcanoes, many of which are active. The highest is Chimborazo at 6,310m (19,685ft), although this behemoth is now extinct. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world at 5,897m (19,347ft) but hasn’t had a major eruption since the 19th century. Pichincha on the other hand issued an enormous mushroom cloud in 1999, Reventador has erupted several times sine 2002 and Sangay continuously fumes and emits ash. Earthquakes are also common in this region.
The Sierra, or central highlands, is a central trough. Home to almost half the population, it is also where the oldest and most important cities are situated. The Costa, or coastal plain, in contrast is a lowland area with a belt of hillier ground north of Guayaquil. In the extreme north there is tropical rainforest, whilst in the south the forest thins out and becomes tropical dry forest.
East of the Central Cordillera the forest-covered slopes descend into the jungle of the Oriente. This vast region comprises about a third of Ecuador’s total surface area but is very sparsely populated and in fact home to just 5% of the population, most of whom are indigenous Indians or adventurous agriculturalists.
The Galapagos Islands lie 1,000km (621 miles) to the west of Ecuador, on the equator. These atolls are in fact the tips of massive volcanoes jutting above the sea and mark the point where two tectonic plates meet. Several of the islands are still active today; Fernandina, which last erupted in 2009, is the most active here. This extreme isolation is what has allowed the evolution of the unique flora and fauna found here.
Spanish is the official language, but Quichua (Kichwa) and other indigenous languages are common.
Christianity, with 95% Roman Catholic.
Mainland: GMT - 5.Galapagos Islands: GMT - 6.
Casual wear is widely acceptable, other than for business. Smart clothes are often required when visiting hotel dining rooms and better restaurants. Revealing clothes should not be worn in towns.Photography: A tip may be requested if you wish to take someone's photograph and it is better to seek permission first.
120 volts AC, 60Hz. Plugs used are American-style (two perpendicular flat blades above a circular grounding pin) and Japanese-style (two perpendicular flat blades).
Head of Government
President Rafael Correa Delgado since 2007.
Head of State
President Rafael Correa Delgado since 2007.
Elected in October 2006, Ecuador's left-wing president Rafael Correa, aligned with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, has pushed through a new constitution which gives him more power. He has pursued nationalization policies, pledged to close a US military base and broken relations with the neighbouring Colombia over a border incident. The two countries were on the brink of war after Colombian forces attacked a guerrilla camp on the Ecuadorean side of the border.
US Dollar (USD; symbol US$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of US$100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Coins are in denominations of US$1 and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cents. Some coins are usual US cents and some are Ecuadorean centavos. They have the same value.
Foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks and at casas de cambio (exchange houses), the latter being generally the best option. It may be difficult to exchange money in the Oriente. The rate of commission varies between 1 to 4%, so it is worth shopping around.
Credit/Debit Cards and ATMs
Major credit/debit cards are accepted in most businesses. ATMs are available at most banks in urban areas. On the Galápagos Islands, currently only Mastercard is accepted.
Traveller's cheques are generally accepted in the larger cities and can be exchanged into currency at most banks and casas de cambio.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding US$10,000 must be declared.
Generally Mon-Fri 0830-1600/1700; Sat mornings.
Exchange Rate Indicators
1.00 GBP = 1.55 USD 1.00 EUR = 1.31 USD 1.00 CAD = 0.99 USD Currency conversion rates as of 9 May 2013
Ecuador is a tiny country by South American standards, evidence if proof were needed that the best things come in small packages. Bisected by the equator, one part lying in the southern hemisphere and the other in the northern, it’s the smallest of the Andean nations and it is a sort of South America in miniature, a microcosm of everything that is exceptional and appealing about this fascinating continent.
Tucked between Colombia to the northeast, Peru to the south and east and bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Ecuador manages to hold its own against these heavyweights, by being compact, with a good infrastructure, and small enough to travel round easily. It has such an extraordinary geographical and biological diversity that all itineraries make for excellent excursions. In a single days’ drive it’s possible to breakfast on exotic jungle fruits and then drive from the Amazon and the heavily forested interior, across a range of volcanoes, through verdant cloud forest to arrive on the Pacific coast in time to dine on fresh, exquisite seafood.
It was this diversity that initially attracted early scientists and explorers, including Charles Darwin. These days you don’t have to be a pioneer or an academic to appreciate everything that you’re seeing and discovering for yourself. This is especially true if you get off the beaten path, Although the main cities boast contemporary facilities and a wide range of hotels, cafés, restaurants and bars, Ecuador is essentially still a wild, natural, culturally authentic place.
It is a land divided into three distinct geological regions – Costa, Sierra and Oriente. These regions seem like three different planets squeezed into one tiny country. In addition, Ecuador controls the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago that is even more like a distant universe.
The Andes range runs through the centre of the country, with the highest peak towering well above 6,000m (19,685ft). Still, the country is full of startling contrasts in scenery and landscape, boasting tropical rainforests, windswept highlands, snow-capped volcanoes and palm-fringed beaches. What’s more, all of these are within easy reach of the capital, Quito.
Quito itself is one of the tourist centres of South America. The second highest capital, it boasts a spectacular location and has UNESCO World Heritage status. Smaller towns such as Guayaquil, Cuenca, Otavalo and Banos have an even more authentic atmosphere and a multitude of attractions and reasons to tarry. As you travel, look out for attractive colonial architecture, colourful indigenous markets or traditional fiestas and archaeological sites that hint at the country’s rich history.
Ecuador has lots of national parks and reserves, and is one of the richest places for birdlife in the world. The Galapagos are also a world-class wildlife destination, making the country as a whole ideal for eco-tourists.
Ideal for birdwatching and nature tourism, Ecuador also has superb diving and snorkelling on offer. For those that want to remain on dry land there are some exceptional treks and breathtaking climbs. Explore the country on two wheels or four hooves; choose to raft, kayak, surf or paraglide. Whatever adventures you seek out, you’ll certainly find them in Ecuador.
From www.worldtravelguide.net copyright Columbus Travel Publishing Ltd, May 2013.