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Travel Guide South America Ecuador





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Ecuador has plenty to offer the eager traveller: dense Amazon wilderness, magnificent volcanic peaks, great surf, quaint fishing villages and artisanal markets, the historic architecture of the capital city, Quito, not to mention the natural wonders of the Galapagos Islands. Ride on the roof of a train through a zig-zagging mountain pass, get your cuy (guinea pig) hot off the grill, and barter with the locals for goods at the Otavolo market, but make sure to learn some Spanish!



Brief History

Evidence of human cultures in Ecuador exists from around 3500 B.C. Many civilizations rose throughout Ecuador, such as the Valdivia Culture and Machalilla Culture on the coast, the Quitus (near present day Quito) and the Cañari (near present day Cuenca).

Through a succession of wars and marriages among the nations that inhabited the valley, the region became part of the Inca Empire in 1463. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived from the north, the Inca Empire was ruled by Huayna Capac. In 1531, the Spanish conquistadors, under Francisco Pizarro, arrived to find an Inca empire torn by civil war by Huayna Capac's sons, one of which ruled the north (based in Quito) while the other ruled the south (Cuzco). Atahualpa (Quito) defeated Huascar (Cuzco) though, and conquered the entire empire for its own. Atahualpa wanted to reestablish a unified Incan empire; the Spanish, however, had conquest intentions and established themselves in a fort in Cajamarca, captured Atahualpa during the Battle of Cajamarca (1532), and held him for ransom. Despite being surrounded and vastly outnumbered, the Spanish executed Atahualpa.

Disease decimated the indigenous population during the first decades of Spanish rule. In 1563, Quito became the seat of a royal audiencia (administrative district) of Spain and part of the Vice-Royalty of Lima, and later the Vice-Royalty of Nueva Granada

Plaza Grande in Quito/Ecuador

Plaza Grande in Quito/Ecuador

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It was in Quito, on August 10, 1809 (the national holiday), that the first call for independence from Spain was made in Latin America. On October 9, 1820, Guayaquil became the first city in Ecuador to gain its independence from Spain. On May 24, 1822, the rest of Ecuador gained its independence after Antonio José de Sucre defeated the Spanish Royalist forces at the Battle of Pichincha, near Quito.

Control over territory in the Amazon basin led to a long-lasting dispute between Ecuador and Peru. In 1941, amid fast-growing tensions between the two countries, war broke out. Peru claimed that Ecuador's military presence in Peruvian-claimed territory was an invasion; Ecuador, for its part, claimed that Peru had invaded Ecuador. In July 1941, troops were mobilized in both countries. This was the start of decades of tensions and war between the two countries. Ecuador and Peru reached a tentative peace agreement in October 1998, which ended hostilities, and the Guarantors of the Rio Protocol ruled that the border of the undelimited zone was indeed the line of the Cordillera del Cóndor, as Peru had been claiming since the 1940s. Still, Ecuador got a small piece of land from Peru in turn as well. The final border demarcation came into effect on May 13, 1999.

The 1970s saw a time of military governments but elections were held on April 29, 1979, under a new constitution. Jaime Roldós Aguilera was elected president, garnering over one million votes, the most in Ecuadorian history. He took office on August 10 as the first constitutionally elected president after nearly a decade of civilian and military dictatorships.

The emergence of the indigenous population (approximately 25%) as an active constituency has added to the democratic volatility of the country in recent years. The population has been motivated by government failures to deliver on promises of land reform, lower unemployment and provision of social services, and historical exploitation by the land-holding elite.






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Ecuador is a small country with a very diverse geography. Being located on the equator and with a coast line climbing up to mountains over 5,000 metres, makes for an amazing topography. This little country has rain forest, cloud forest, temperate pine forests, prairies and coast. To top it all off, Ecuador is home to the worlds' tallest active volcano, Cotopaxi, which is just south of Quito. The top of Mount Chimborazo (6,310 metres above sea level) is considered to be the most distant point from the center of the earth, given the ovoid shape of the planet.
Ecuador shares international borders with Peru and Colombia.

Ecuador is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean, and has 2,337 kilometres of coastline. It has 2,010 kilometres of land boundaries, with Colombia in the north (590 kilometres border) and Peru in the east and south (1,420 kilometres border). Ecuador continues to contest the boundary with Peru, which was established by the Rio Protocol of 1942 and ceded to Peru a large portion of territory east of the Andes. Ecuador has a total area is 283,560 km2, including the Galapagos Islands. Of this, 276,840 km2 is land and 6,720 km2 water.

The country has three main geographic regions, plus an insular region (see below) in the Pacific Ocean:

  • La Costa, or the coast, comprises the low-lying land in the western part of the country, including the Pacific coastline.
  • La Sierra, ("the highlands") is the high-altitude belt running north-south along the centre of the country, its mountainous terrain dominated by the Andes mountain range.
  • La Amazonía, also known as El Oriente ("the east"), comprises the Amazon rainforest areas in the eastern part of the country, accounting for just under half of the country's total surface area, though populated by less than 5% of the population.
  • The Región Insular is the region comprising the Galápagos Islands, some 1,000 kilometres west of the mainland in the Pacific Ocean.




Ecuador has 4 main regions, consisting of a total of 24 provinces.

Costa (Coast)Esmeraldas, Manabí, Los Rios, Guayas, Santa Elena and El Oro
Sierra (Andes)Carchi, Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Bolívar, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Cañar, Azuay, Loja and the newly created Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas province
Oriente (Amazon)Sucumbíos, Orellana, Napo, Pastaza, Morona Santiago and Zamora Chinchipe
Galapagos ArchipelagoGalapagos Islands




Quito 023

Quito 023

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  • Quito, located in northern Ecuador, is the capital.
  • Guayaquil is Ecuador's main port and the largest city in the country.
  • Banos - hot springs and mountain views high up in the Andes.
  • Cuenca, situated in Ecuador's highlands, is the third largest city.
  • Portoviejo is the capital of the Manabí Province.
  • Ambato, a market town in the province of Tungurahua.
  • Ibarra is the capital of Imbabura Province in northern Ecuador.
  • Riobamba is the capital of Chimborazo Province in central Ecuador.
  • Manta is located in the Manabí Province one of the country's most important economic cities.
  • Esmeraldas - port city and capital of the Esmeraldas Province in the northwest of the country.
  • Puyo - capital of the Pastaza province in central Ecuador.
  • Puerto Rico - beach town along the central coast.



Sights and Activities


Baños is a popular tourist destination on the eastern side of the Andes. What Baños is mainly known for its stunning hot springs and mountain views.


Ecuador certainly has a nice coastline with some superb beaches, good for relaxing and surfing. Some of the nicest stretches are found at Ayampe, Canoa and near Esmeraldas.

Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands around the equator, located about 1,000 kilometres west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean and were made famous by Charles Darwin. For more information about visiting the islands, go to the Galapagos Islands article. Galapagos Scuba Diving is considered to be some of the best diving in the world. It is one of the few places in the world that you can dive with Sea Lions, Giant Turtles, Hammerhead Sharks, Penguins and Sea Horses all in one dive! Lear more about the facinating wildlife in this special Wildlife In The Galapagos article.

Cotopaxi Krater ...

Cotopaxi Krater ...

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The Cotopaxi volcano in the Andes mountains is located just 75 kilometers from Quito and on a clear day you can see the mountain from the capital. It is part of the chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate known as the Pacific Ring of Fire and is 5897 meters high. Climbing it is possible but you will need experience and good equipment. For some more information, read the Famous Mountains article, in which the Cotopaxi is listed as well.

Historical centres

Ecuador has some fine examples of cities and towns with colonial architecture and historical building styles. The main ones are in Quito and Cuenca, which are both on the UNESCO World Heritage list.


Mindo is one of the best birdwatching destinations in the world and many species of bird can be found in its cloud forests. It's only a small village but has developed itself as a tourist destination. Read further in the Mindo article for some more details about bird watching.



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Otavalo is a highland village famous for its textile market and the beautiful traditional clothing worn by local women. It is also home to one of the largest traditional crafts markets in the world every saturday.

Salinas de Bolivar

Salinas de Bolivar is a small community north of Guaranda that is famous for its long time focus on fairtrade and responsible tourism.

Sangay National Park

The stunning Sangay National Park has great scenery with two active volcanoes and several ecosystems, ranging from tropical rainforests to glaciers. The park offers striking contrasts between the snowcapped peaks and the forests of the plains. Rare and endangered animals liver in this remote park and include species like the mountain tapir and the Andean condor.

San Luis de Pambil

San Luis de Pambil is an agricultural village on the western side of the Andes in the lower, warmer part of Bolivar Province. This little-visited area between the mountains and the sea has no famous tourist attractions but is worth a visit to get off the beaten track and see genuine rural life.



Events and Festivals


Carnival takes place 40 days before Easter each year, prior to the Catholic fasting period. In Ecuador, the festival incorporates an older indigenous tradition of celebrating the second moon by throwing flowers, water and flour. Most events begin with the Taita Carnaval (Father Carnival) being elected to preside over the festivities and head the parade of each city. Children and teenagers drench everyone around them with water pistols, water balloons and buckets of water. The parades and parties feature elaborate costumes, music, dancing, food, and drink. The city of Ambato celebrates the Flower and Fruit Festival, which includes the usual parades and music, as well as concerts, plays, a beauty pageant, and fireworks (and no water in the main area!).

Santa Semanta

Over 90 percent of the population of Ecuador is Catholic, so Santa Semanta (Easter Holy Week) is the major religious event of the year. Many of the devout fast during Lent and most towns hold massive Good Friday parades recreating Christ’s journey to the Cross and crucifixion. Quito has one of the largest parades where purple-clad penitents depict the suffering for their sins by walking barefoot for five hours down the streets while praying and bearing shrines or heavy crosses, whipping their backs or wrapping chains or nettles around their heads or ankles.

Inti Raymi

Inti Raymi is the Festival of the Sun and has been held in Ecuador and Peru since Incan times. The main event takes place in the city of Otavalo (in Imbabura) on the Summer Solstice of June 21st and 22nd, and features indigenous people dressed in native costume “taking over” the plaza to represent the rebellion against oppression. The week-long celebration features large barbecues, bonfires, traditional dances, and parades.

Día de la Raza

The Dia de La Raza (Day of the Races), also known as Columbus Day, is a public holiday acknowledging the day that Christopher Columbus brought the Spanish to the region. It isn’t necessarily a celebration, although the provinces of Guayas and Los Ríos mark the date with large rodeos featuring male and female riders showcasing their abilities to corral a horse. There is also a parade of horses and riders, a beauty pageant, dancing, and music.

Corn Festivals

Several regional corn festivals take place at harvest time in Ecuador. Tarqui’s Festival of the Corn is on August 16 and involves a Corn Queen competition, dances and music from local bands. The indigenous people in Otavalo hold the week-long Yamore Festival on September 1 to thank Mother Earth for the harvest and to pay homage to Nina Maria, the Catholic patron Virgin of Otalvo. Celebrations feature a special drink made from seven types of corn, folk parades, a Yamor Queen contest, food festival, bull and cock fights, fireworks, cart races, and competitions such as swimming across a freezing lake almost three miles across.

Day of the Dead

The Ecuadorian Day of the Dead takes place on November 2 when families in rural areas engage in a picnic feast on the graves of their ancestors, with a plate of food being set out for the dead. The meal usually includes bread babies filled with sweets or jam and an oat drink made from blueberries and spices. In the cities, families lay flowers on graves at cemeteries then enjoy the meal at home.


Christmas is celebrated with much religious and communal fervor. From early December, elaborate nativity scenes begin to appear and the days leading up to Christmas Day are marked with public Novena prayer sessions involving hymns, poems, incense, hot chocolate, and cookies. Christmas Eve is the main event, beginning with midnight mass, caroling, and a bonfire outside the church, followed by a feast. Christmas Day is usually a family affair involving social visits, gift-giving and food.

New Year

New Year is a huge celebration in Ecuador, with the traditional creation of sawdust stuffed Año Viejo (Old Year) puppets being a major feature. The puppets are masked with the face of someone representing all that is bad about the old year and are placed in a shelter decorated with messages and explanations of evil doings. Quito has some of the most elaborate displays that are often financed by large businesses. At midnight, the displays are set afire to banish the old and welcome in the new. There are lots of superstitions that can be seen at midnight and the revelry continues until dawn.




Ein Blick Richtung Gipfel

Ein Blick Richtung Gipfel

© All Rights Reserved sonja.b

Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands, are located on the equator. Still, there are huge variations in mainland Ecuador and the climate on the Galapagos Islands is different than you would expect of islands on the equator.

The interior is at high altitude and temperatures are moderate. In Quito for example, it is never hot. Average maximum temperatures are around 18 °C to 20 °C and drop to 10 °C degrees or a little lower at night. Although rainfall is possible in every month, June to August is fairly dry while March and April are the wettest months.

The east of Ecuador has roughly the same climate as the Brazilian part of the Amazon, with hot and humid weather. Temperatures are around 30 °C or more during the day and are just slightly below 25 °C at night. The wet season generally lasts from December to May, while June to September is relatively dry. October and November can be very hot sometimes.

Coastal Ecuador has hot and humid weather as well and the wet season lasts from December to April in a city like Guayaquil. More to the north, there is less variation regarding rainfall in each month, while more to the south towards the border with Peru some coastal areas almost arid with only 200 mm a year, almost the same compared to the wettest month in Guayaquil.

The Galapagos Islands are special in that they are never very warm. Although temperatures of 30 °C are possible, generally it's around a pleasant 25 °C and sometimes even lower. The wet season last from January to May but also is the season with the most pleasant weather, warmer and sunnier! From July to December it is a bit cooler and it can be cloudy and even foggy for days. Although it is generally drier, the colder temperatures (also of the water!) makes this a less pleasant time to visit.



Getting there

By Plane

LanEcuador is the main airlines based at José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (GYE) near Guayaquil. Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) near the capital Quito is another hub. Most flights are to and from Latin American cities and the United States, but Iberia serves Madrid and KLM has flights to both cities from Amsterdam and Bonaire.

By Car

You can cross into Ecuador from both Colombia in the north and Peru in the south. Crossings are quite straightforward and mostly along good roads, though be prepared to wait a while for controls. Be sure to have the proper documentation, insurance and driving permit.

By Bus

Buses travel along the Panamericana in northern and southern directions. Between Ecuador and Colombia, crossing is at Ipiales (Colombia) along the Panamericana. Once in Colombia, from Ipiales you can travel by bus or take flights to Cali and Bogota. Direct buses travel between Quito and Bogota. Between Quito, there are also direct services to and from Lima in Peru.

By Boat

There are a few ports along the Pacific coast of Ecuador, but few cruiseships come here and you will have to rely on getting a berth on a yacht or cargoship if you want to arrive in or leave Ecuador by boat. Salinas is a popular yacht port, Guayaguil for cargoships. Once every 10 days, a cargoship travels between Coca, Ecuador and Iquitos, Peru, taking about 8 days in total!



Getting Around

Check the Ecuador Schedules for planes, trains and buses in the country.

Land Iguana, North Seymour

Land Iguana, North Seymour

© All Rights Reserved neillkylie

By Plane

There are several major international and domestic airports across this small country. The largest airports are in Guayaquil, Quito, Esmeraldas and Manta. There are smaller airports with limited service in Ambato, Bahía de Caráquez, Cuenca, Coca and Ibarra. The Galapagos Islands and Nueva Loja mainly serve tourists trying to reach the islands or the Amazon.

By Train

The train system in Ecuador could use lots of work. That being said there is one famous train ride from Riobamba to Aluasi called El Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose). This 6-hour train ride takes people across some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Although one of the highlights of the trip used to be that people could ride on top of the train to enjoy the view since 2007 this activity has been 'officially' banned.

By Car

Driving in Ecuador is a possibility. On the other hand many of the roads off the main highway are in terrible condition and Ecuadorian drivers seem to have no rules. Paying a little extra for a driver may be worth it.

By Bus

Ecuador has a great bus system linking every city in the country. It does not seem that the buses really run on any kind of schedule and if wanting to catch a bus it is best to go to a station and listen to ticket sellers hanging on the outside of the bus yell the names of the destinations. Remember the bus can always handle one more passengers, therefore these buses can get very crowded.

By Boat

Many of the passenger boats of the past have disappeared from Ecuador. Even taking a boat to and from the Galapagos Islands can be very difficult unless on a pre set tour. Many trips to the Amazon will include boat rides but once again this will not be public ferries.



Red Tape

As of June 20, 2008, any person from any country can enter Ecuador without having to apply for a visa for a period of 90 days! However, since then, visa requirements have been instated for citizens of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, China and Somalia. Chinese citizens can get a no-visa-required stamp if they are Canadian or American permanent residents (there could be more exceptions). Colombian citizens must present a police record to enter Ecuador.

Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your travel dates. A round/onward trip ticket is needed to prove the length of your stay.




See also: Money Matters

The US Dollar, or "greenback", is the national currency of Ecuador. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.

Ecuador has minted there own coins that are the same value as the US coins. There is a larger 50 ¢, 20 ¢ and a 2 ¢ coin. Most people do not like taking bills that are larger then $10 and it can be quite hard to break $20 bills at most restaurants and shops. It is recommended to come into the country with plenty of $1, $5 and $10 bills. Most ATMs give $20 bills.




Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases

Spanish is the official language of Ecuador. Amerindian languages (especially Quechua) are generally spoken in the more rural, mountainous villages. English is widely spoken in hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to high-end travelers. Ecuadorians are friendly and generally tolerant of foreigners who attempt to speak Spanish but make mistakes.




Throughout the country there is a lot of variety as to what is typically eaten, depending on the location. In the Sierra, potatoes almost always accompany lunch and dinner, and in the coast rice is popular. Soup is also a big part of lunch and dinner. Breakfasts often consist of toast, eggs, and juice or fruit. Batidos, or fruit shakes, are popular breakfast items or snacks. Especially along the coast, Ecuadorians make a variety of breakfast meals based on green or sweet plantain and yuca, such as bolonoes, empanadas, patacones, corviches, muchines, pan de yuca, humitas and others. They are cooked with either cheese, pork or fish. They are very filling and inexpensive meals.

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.




There are many low-cost hostels that can be found throughout Ecuador. Often, 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. Air conditioning is an amenity which often comes at an extra cost of a dollar or two a night.

Ecuador is also home to an increasing number of eco lodges, including many renovated, traditional haciendas.




Bottled water is very common and is safe to drink; it comes con gas (carbonated) and sin gas (non-carbonated). Water from the tap is unsafe to drink. Even Ecuadorians generally only drink bottled (or boiled) water.

Coffee is widely available in cafes and restaurants, and also sold in bean form. Tea is also common, usually with a good selection including herbal.

Fruit juice is plentiful and good, and you will often have many options: piña (pineapple), mora (blackberry), maracuyá (passion fruit), naranja (orange), sandía (watermelon), naranjilla (a jungle fruit), melon, taxo, guanabana, guava, etc. If you'd like it made with milk, sort of like a less-frozen milkshake, ask for a batido. Note that often juices are served lukewarm.

Aguardiente, often made from fermented sugar cane, is the local firewater. If possible, have some ground freshly into your cup from the sugarcane.




See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Ecuador. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Ecuador) where that disease is widely prevalent. A yellow fever vaccinations is required anyway, when travelling in the Amazon rainforest east of the Andes.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Ecuador. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, tuberculosis, rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Malaria is prevalent in some parts of the country (below 2,000 metres, especiall in the rainforest but also some coastal areas, none on the Galapagos Islands) and it is recommended to take malaria pills and take other normal anti-mosquito precautions as well. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.




See also Travel Safety

Tourists should use common sense to ensure their safety. Avoid problems by not flashing large amounts of money, not visiting areas near the Colombian border, staying away from civil disturbances and not using side streets in big cities at night. 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 buses themselves. Buses 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.

You can always ask tourist police officers, police officers or in Tourist information center for the dangerous regions.

Ecuador offers great opportunities for hiking and climbing, unfortunately, some travelers have been attacked and robbed in remote sections of well known climbs - several rapes have also been reported so female hikers/climbers need to be extremely careful. Travelers are urged to avoid solo hikes and to go in a large group for safety reasons.



Keep Connected


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. In some cafes, restaurants, and hotels you can find free wifi access, most of them protected by passwords; in most cases, you just have to ask for the password.


See also International Telephone Calls

The international telephone code for Ecuador is 593. The general emergency number is 911, but there are special ones of police (101) and fire (102).

The centre of most towns, cities and villages have telephone 'shops', advertised in the street as 'cabinas'. Go in, ask for a free phone booth and call. There is usually a digital display giving the cost (per second) of your call, whether local, national or international. 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 for an international call can be $3 or more per minute. For calls within Ecuador, it is possible to use a telephone cabin.

Some mobile phone SIM cards of various networks have problems working in Ecuador - you can purchase a local network SIM (for an unlocked phone) for a few dollars in local mobile phone shops. The costs of calling are higher though at around $0.45 an hour.


Correos del Ecuador is the national postal service of Ecuador. It's fairly reliable to send postcards and letters to other countries, though count on at least 5 days up to weeks for it to arrive. In general, postal services to North America are much faster than to other western countries. Prices start at around $1 (up to 20 grams), but rise steeply after that. You can get stamps at post offices or small shops/kiosks. Post offices generally are open from 8:00am to 6:00pm Monday to Friday and 8:00am to noon on Saturdays, although there are slight variations throughout the country. If you are going to send heavier post or post which has more value, it might be better to contact private courier companies like DHL, TNT, UPS or FedEx, which are generally about the same price and much faster!


Quick Facts

Ecuador flag

Map of Ecuador


Presidential Republic
Spanish, American Indian languages
Christianity (Catholic)
US Dollar (USD)
Calling Code
Time Zone
UTC-5 (-6 for Galapagos Islands)


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    In 2007 I have been staying 9 months in Ecuador, I studied my first Spanish in Quito, I have been living, working and travelling there, I have done many routes on mountainbike ... and travellerspoint was and still is a good connection to family and friends while travelling, if you have questions I´ll try to help you out:o)

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