Story by Isabella Mejia
South of Colombia and north of Peru lies the small but diverse country of Ecuador, made up of four main geographical regions that span beaches, snow-covered peaks, and tropical rainforest. With the US dollar as its national currency, it’s a destination that’s affordable and convenient for American travelers.
The Insular region is made up of the Galápagos Islands, located about 600 miles from the mainland. The islands are a hotspot of biodiversity, and are well-known thanks to Charles Darwin, who studied the archipelago’s plants and animals extensively. Some notable residents include giant Galápagos tortoises, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, Galápagos sea lions, Darwin’s famous finches, and many more unique species. The Galápagos is an important national park and marine reserve, as its scientific value is immeasurable. Sadly, due to poor management and an increase in tourism and other recreational activities as sources of income, the islands are quickly deteriorating. Human impact is taking its toll on the fragile ecosystem, and all travelers should be extremely considerate of their activities on the islands to minimize any possible negative effects.
West of the Andes mountain range, the coastal region is Ecuador’s most fertile, growing the country’s cash crops like rice, bananas, coffee, and cacao. The tropical climate can best be enjoyed on the beautiful Pacific beaches, the best of which are in the provinces of Esmeraldas and Manabí. It’s also home to Guayaquil, the country’s largest city and most important port. The coastal region is filled with beautiful scenery, and fresh seafood is plentiful. Common and delicious dishes include ceviche (raw cured fish) and encebollado (fish stew).
The Sierra, or highlands, has a dry, temperate climate and encompasses the Andean mountains. Its provinces are at extremely high altitudes, so visitors need to allow their bodies a few days without much physical activity to adapt to the reduced oxygen levels in the air. The country’s capital, Quito, is 9,350 feet above sea level in the province of Pichincha, and is the highest capital city in the world. Quito has a beautiful historic downtown with gilded churches. The Sierra is the location of many of the country’s volcanoes, and all of its perennially snow-covered peaks. It’s also home to a large indigenous population, as well as their artisanal markets, the largest of which is in the city of Otavalo. The Sierra has a distinct cuisine which consists largely of dishes of pork, beef, grains, potatoes, and corn. Adventurous visitors can try cuy, or guinea pig, and fritada, a fried pork dish, both of which are traditional Ecuadorian dishes.
El Oriente, or the Amazonas region, consists of Amazonian jungle provinces and has many national parks and indigenous zones. It’s the home of many of Ecuador’s original peoples, including the Shuar and Huaorani, and numerous other tribes that live deep within the rainforest. The area is rich in oil and has been extensively exploited, as it is one of the country’s biggest sources of income. Large oil companies have caused extensive amounts of destruction to the jungle, which has led to natural catastrophes and irreparable damages.
This story appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Baedeker.