Difference between revisions of "Ecuador"
Revision as of 19:07, 26 February 2008
Cotopaxi is the world's highest active volcano. Many cities and sites are integrated in the prestige Unesco World Heritage Sites. Such cities and best known places are the Galapagos Islands, and the city of Cuenca.
Depending on which activity you intend to pursue, such cities of glamour or culture are available to your choice.
The "Republic of the Ecuador" was one of three countries that emerged from the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830 (the others being Colombia and Venezuela). Between 1904 and 1942, Ecuador lost territories in a series of conflicts with its neighbors. A border war with Peru that flared in 1995 was resolved in 1999.
Radio and Television
Radio and/or television in Spanish, is available except in some of the particularly remote areas. English-language movies usually are shown in the original language with Spanish subtitles. Many hotels have cable television that may include English-language stations and/or premium movie channels that feature subtitled movies in their original languages.
Newspapers and Magazines
Spanish-language newspapers and magazines can be purchased on the streets of cities but can be hard to find elsewhere. Some hotels catering to foreigners may have a small selection of English-language reading material.
There is also a national English newspaper published under the name Moving Ecuador. You can find it in tourist areas.
Ecuador adopted the United States dollar (USD) as its currency in 2000.
Tropical along coast, becoming cooler inland at higher elevations; tropical in Amazonian jungle lowlands
Quito's airport has an executive lounge shared by all the airlines with drinks, snacks, and seating areas. The view is not of the airplanes and runway, but there is a view of the airport entrance and the surrounding mountains. Business class travellers get a free invitation. Economy passengers may enter by paying USD $15 as of August 2006.
Another port of entry is Guayaquil, which has a modern airport that includes the typical amenities such as restaurants and duty-free shopping. The airport is located north from downtown.
The Galapagos Islands are one of the Ecuadorian provinces and of course have their own airport on the only island which is not considered part of the national park. Aerogal is the name of the airline which flies to Galapagos and of course there is no way to get to the Galapagos without first coming to Ecuador.
The Quito airport charges an international departure tax of $40.80. The tax is $26 from Guayaquil. This tax usually is not included in the cost of the flight.
There are no international train services into Ecuador.
Driving into Ecuador is discouraged. It is preferable to enter the country by airplane or boat because of the frontier issues with neighboring countries.
If you enter Ecuador by bus you usually have to switch buses at the border. If come from Colombia you have to cross the border at Rumichaca near Tulcan and Ipiales (Colombia). There are several places to cross the border with Peru. As of December 2007, the Ecuador/Colombia border crossing is reguarded as a safe and hassle free while the Ecuador/Peru border crossing is much more dangerous with the likelihood of being scammed out of hundreds of dollars.
Since Ecuador is situated at the coast and has some very large rivers, a boat ride can be a nice way to get around. Especially in the rainforest a boat ride can get you to places you usually wouldn't be able to go.
Intercity buses travel to almost everywhere in Ecuador. Many cities have a central bus terminal, known as the terminal terrestre, where it is possible to buy tickets from the various bus lines that serve the city. Long-distance buses typically cost from $1 to $2 per hour, depending on the distance and the type of service; groups may be able to negotiate discounts. Buses are frequent along major routes. Reservations or advance purchases usually aren't needed except during peak periods such as holidays. The bathroom on the bus, if any, is usually reserved for women. However, it is permissible for men to request that the bus make a stop so that they might relieve themselves. The bus rides themselves are often quite beautiful, through mountain views in the clouds. These altitude changes cause many of the same ear pressure problems which are associated with an airplane ride.
Taxis are widely available. Taxis are generally yellow and have the taxi license number prominently displayed. Taxis in Quito have meters (fares under $1.00 are rounded up to the minimum fare of $1.00). Agree upon a price before getting in or ask the driver to use the meter (often cheaper than a negotiated rate); short trips generally don't cost more than $1 or $2, and you generally shouldn't end up paying more than $10 per hour, if that, for longer trips. Evening rates are often double. As with any country in Latin America, (or the world for that matter), don't ride an unlicensed taxi. It's a great way to get kidnapped.
Hitchhiking is possible in Ecuador. A lot of people drive pick-ups which you can easily throw your backpack into if they give you a lift. We practised it on the Panamericana from Quito to Riobamba and in the Northern Part on the coast.
On roads not frequently serviced by buses, cargo trucks may take on riders or hitchhikers, either to ride in back or in the cabin. In some cases the driver charges the going busfare, in others he may simply be taking on a rider for the company and refuse a fare.
Spanish (official), Amerindian languages (especially Quichua) are really only spoken by the elderly women who live in the more rural, especially mountainous villages. English is widely spoken in hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to high end travelers. Ecuadorians are generally tolerant of foreigners who attempt to speak Spanish but make mistakes.
Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency. Other types of currency are not readily accepted.
U.S. paper money is used for most transactions. Ecuador has its own coins, which are exactly the same size and weight as U.S. coins up through 50-cent pieces; both they and U.S. coins are used. U.S. Sacagawea dollar coins are also widely used, more so than in the U.S. Susan B. Anthony dollars, however, are not generally accepted. Many merchants examine large bills ($10 and above) carefully to make sure they aren't counterfeit. Outside of tourist areas and Quito, many merchants do not keep large amounts of money on hand, so getting change for large bills (or even small ones) may be difficult or impossible. This is especially true on cheaper buses. Take lots of one and five dollar bills with you; you will also want to bring the newest possible bills. Worn bills are often reguarded with suspicion, and it is not uncommon for a merchant to ask you to pay with another bill if the one you handed them appears old or worn.
Travelers' checks can be exchanged at some (but not all) banks for a reasonable fee (usually not more than 3 percent). They are also accepted at some hotels that cater to tourists, although it is difficult to use them elsewhere. There is often a surcharge added to use traveler's checks.
Credit and debit cards are accepted at many places that cater to tourists as well as at some upscale shops. However, many places charge a commission for their use as reimbursement for what the banks charge them. You may be asked to show your passport when using a credit or debit card.
Automated teller machines are widely available in major cities and tourist areas. Most claim to be tied in with major international networks, in theory making it possible to withdraw money from foreign accounts. Depending on the transaction fees charged by your bank at home, ATMs offer very good exchange rates. Be aware that you may have to try quite a few different machines before receiving money. Avoid using ATMs on the street as their users are frequently targeted by street thieves. Hotels or other places with a guard nearby are your best choices.
Prices vary widely in Ecuador. Costs at upscale hotels and restaurants seem to be close, maybe 10 percent less, to what they would be in the United States. Outside of tourist areas, costs are much less. It is possible to get a meal at a clean restaurant for under $2 or to pay less than $10 for a clean but basic hotel room.
Even though Ecuador is a very beautiful country it does not know how to sell itself very well. In Quito a very famous touristic site is El Mercado Artesenal where many souvenirs can be found but after a thorough look around you will realize that there is a bit of redundancy in the items in the sense that everyone is basically selling the same thing so after buying a few main items it becomes difficult to find much more variety. Almost everything that can be bought has a price that can be bargained and if you are not a native, they will try and get higher prices out of you which is why it is recommendable to go with someone who is either fluent in spanish or native, to bargain more effectively.
Throughout the country there is a lot of variety, and what is typically eaten depending on where you happen to be. In the sierra rice almost always accompanies lunch and dinner, and in the coast it's potatoes. Soup is also a big part of lunch and dinner. Breakfasts often consist of toast, eggs and juice or fruit.
Restaurants run the gamut in terms of menu, quality, hygiene, hours and price. Basic meals can be had for less than $2, or it is possible to pay close to U.S. prices in the tourist areas, especially for food from the American chains.
If you're on a budget, your best bet for a good and local meal is to order an almuerzo (lunch) or a merienda (dinner). These normally consist of a soup, a meat main course and a dessert for $1-$2.
More expensive restaurants (say, ones that charge $4 per meal or more) often add a 12% sales tax and a 10% service fee.
Coffee or tea (including many herbal varieties) is typically served after the meal unless you ask for it sooner.
Except at places that cater to foreigners, it is the custom not to present the diner with the bill until it is requested. While many servers are used to rude tourists, rubbing your fingers together isn't as accepted as in Europe although it's not considered downright rude as in the United States. The best way to get the check is to tell your server "La Cuenta, Por Favor".
Smoking is allowed in most restaurants.
Locro de papa is a famous Ecuadorian soup with avocados, potatoes and cheese.
Ceviche is a common dish found on the coast. It is a cold seafood cocktail that is usually served with "chifles" Thin fried plantains.
Encebollado is a hearty fish soup with yuca, also found on the coast: A tomato-fish soup filled with chunks of yucca, marinated vegetables with "chifles" thrown in for added crunch.
In the Highlands, Ecuadorians eat cuy, or guinea pig. The entire animal is roasted or fried and often served skewered on a stick.
Aguardiente, often made from fermented sugar cane, is the local firewater. If possible, have some ground freshly into your cup from the sugarcane.
Bottled mineral water is very common and is guaranteed safe to drink; it comes in both carbonated (con gas) and noncarbonated (sin gas) varieties.
Coffee and tea are widely available. Herbal teas are also common. Probably needless to say, but Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other types of soda can be found everywhere in Ecuador.
Fruit juice is plentiful and good. Ask the server what kind of juice they are serving and you are often presented with a long list: piña (pineapple), mora (blackberry), maracuya (passion fruit), naranja (orange), sandia (watermelon), naranjilla (a jungle fruit), melon, taxo, guanabana, guava, etc. You can get them made with milk if you ask for a batido. Fruit juice and yogurt are available at some street stands. However, not all juices are served cold as many people expect; it's more than likely a lukewarm juice will be served to you.
There are many low-cost hostels that can be found throughout Ecuador. Oftentimes the hostels in smaller towns are actually privately owned homes that welcome travellers. As with most things, natives can help you find an excellent hotel at a very low price ($6-14). Again, large groups will be able to bargain for lower prices. Air conditioning is an amenity which often comes at an extra cost of a dollar or two a night.
Ecuador has so many attractions. The capital Quito, is a city with a lot of history where you can walk in downtown, enjoying of the beautiful colonial buildings. There is also the "Teleférico" (cable-car) which takes passengers from the highest mountain in Quito to see the whole city from the sky. Regular admission is $4 per person or you can pay $7 for an express ticket that bypasses the line. There are many welcoming cafes as well as many dancing clubs open every weekend, often until 5 am. The beaches in Ecuador are great, the weather is just perfect and the food is delicious and unique. One can eat a lobster for $15 and stay in a hotel for $10.
In Guayaquil, an excellent place to visit is the Malecón 2000, which is very similar to Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois, offering food, shopping, boat rides and a beautiful view of the river. Except for electronics, prices are quite low; however, almost everything sold with any sort of brand name is a knockoff. This area is very well patrolled and quite safe. For a real adventure, it is possible to visit the more authentic, less expensive, and far more dangerous Bahía or "Informal Market". It is not advisable to visit it without a native. It is possible to purchase a knockoff of almost anything here. Pirated video games and movies also abound; it is possible to purchase game systems modified to play such games as well. Make the proprietors prove to you that any movies or games you might purchase actually work before buying though. In the Bahía, it is necessary to haggle for all items.
Baños is the perfect city for the outdoors or extreme sports enthusiast, offering rafting, mountain climbing and backpacking excursions of all sorts. It is possible to get an English speaking guide. Be sure to get all the necessary vaccinations, as it is possible to get some nasty infections from prolonged exposure to the water. Baños also offers a public hot spring mineral bath, which only charges $1 admission. Other, more expensive baths also exist, but are fed from the exact same water. It is best to arrive at these baths as they open, as the water is freshest and cleanest then.
Many tourist don't take the time to visit the northern part of the country. The north of Ecuador offers the best beaches, Bahia de Caraquez, Manta, Crucita, San Jacinto, San Clemente are just a few. They offer very inexpensive hotel accommodations, great food and even warmer people. In the coast it is no surprise that travellers find a more relaxed place, where the people only are welcoming. Manabi is a providence that you MUST visit.
Ecuador is perhaps the most bio-diverse country in the world, so don't miss the chance to see some of the wildlife. The Galapagos Islands are justly famed for their wildlife, but there is also lots to see on the mainland. Ecuador has over fifty different types of hummingbird - good places to see them include Mindo and San Luis de Pambil. One local charity offers a photo gallery of hummingbirds to give you some idea of what you might see. 
Learn Spanish in Ecuador There are many language schools in Ecuador where you can take full immersion programs with Individual or group lessons. The most of them are recognized by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Ecuador and have very experienced Spanish teachers. You can choose to study in Quito, Cuenca, Manta or Banos.
One way to work on your Spanish skills is to go to a movie. Films in modern theaters cost about $3 to $4 in the larger cities, less in smaller towns. Foreign films are typically shown in the original language with subtitles - but not always, so ask first.
An excellent way to get to know and understand more of the country is to do some voluntary work. There are several organisaitons such as Travel to Teachthat arrange work for international volunteers in Ecuador and other countries in the region.
Tourists should use common sense to ensure their safety. Most tourists who avoid flashing large amounts of money, visiting areas near the Colombian border, civil disturbances, side streets in big cities at night and that sort of thing report few problems. Probably the biggest threat in most places is simple thievery: Belongings should not be left unguarded on the beach, for example, and pickpockets can be found in some of the more crowded areas, especially the Trolébus (Metro) in Quito, in bus terminals and on the busses themselves. Busses allow peddlers to board briefly and attempt to sell their wares; however, they are often thieves themselves, so keep a close eye out for them. Hotel personnel are generally good sources of information about places that should be avoided.
Ecuador offers great opportunities for hiking and climbing, unfortunately, some travelers have been attacked and robbed in remote sections of well known climbs. Travelers are urged to avoid solo hikes and to go in a large group for safety reasons.
Ecuador is widely considered to be a developing country and health hazards are a significant issue. Of the most significant are foodborne illnesses, though they can easily be treated with digestive drugs such as antacids or antidiarrheals.
Bottled water is the key in Ecuador if you don't want to get sick. This doesn't only apply to foreigners who don't have the stomach for Ecuadorian food but also Ecuadorians who know that if they don't boil their water or drink it from the bottle that they can get very sick. As a result, it can be purchased almost everywhere (even in the most remote places) for well under $.025-.50. Water bottles are sometimes provided by hostels and hotels, which can be used for brushing teeth.
It is advisable to receive a typhoid vaccination, and possibly a yellow fever vaccination, depending on your specific area of travel.
Outside the major cities and tourist areas, malaria can be a problem along the coast during the rainy season.
Among many other cultural idiosyncrasies, it is considered impolite to use a downward-facing palm as a reference for the height of a person. Instead, the hand is held on its side, and the measurement taken from the lower edge to the floor. Gesturing with the palm down is appropriate for animals only. When motioning for someone to "come here," it is impolite to motion your hand with the palm facing up. Instead, use a downward swipe of the hand with the palm facing down.
Acceptable clothing varies by region of the country. In the mountainous Sierra region, including Quito, clothes are usually more warm because of the weather. On the coast, meanwhile, more casual clothes predominate.
Internet cafes can be found nearly everywhere in the major cities and in many of the smaller ones. Cost is from $1 to $2 per hour in the large cities, and the better places have high-speed access.
For most visitors, the easiest place to make phone calls is an Internet cafe, most of which provide VIP service at reasonable rates. You can call the United States for about $0.10 per minute and Europe for a bit more. Avoid making a phone call through an operator; the cost cost for an international call can be $3 or more per minute. For calls within Ecuador, it is possible to use a telephone cabin. This is an entire storefront filled with telephones. Generally, you are assigned a booth by the proprietor, you make your call, then you pay as you leave. Calls within Ecuador are more expensive than domestic calls in most countries, but not unreasonable, except for calls to cell phones, which generate most of their revenue by charging the caller. Also, call prices increase depending on the distance of your call within Ecuador, based on city, province, etc. Visitors making an extended stay should consider purchaing a cell phone. Most are sold on a prepaid-call basis, and phone refill cards can be purchased in all but the smallest towns. It is also possible to get a modern GSM cellular phone "unlocked" so that it will function in Ecuador (you can take your own phone, if it compatible with GSM 850MHz), however, this should be reserved for emergencies as the cost of actually making such a call is usually exorbitant (about $0,45 per minute).