When I was invited last month on an 11-day Ecuador safari it had been eight years since I was there; 25 years since my first visit. The trip rekindled my love for this county and I discovered how it had changed…and not changed.
What had not changed is Ecuador’s beauty: misty cloud forests, thrumming Amazon rainforests, the high alpine Páramo, ranges of volcanoes, waterfalls, rivers, the coast and, of course, the iconic Galapagos Islands. Ecuador is one of the most megadiverse countries in the world. All packed into a tiny country the size of Colorado. In one or two days you can visit vastly different landscapes and climates! There’s so much to see and do, I always can’t wait to go back.
On this visit I was reminded of Ecuador’s rich cultural heritage including Inca, Spanish colonial and multiple indigenous groups. On several occasions, we visited local indigenous villages and were humbled by their hospitality and fascinated by how they live so grounded in nature. Perhaps the best known and most affluent indigenous group is the Otavalans, renowned for their handcrafts and market, 90 minutes from Quito.
The country’s Spanish colonial treasures are amazing and the capital, Quito, was named the first World Cultural Heritage Site for its exquisitely preserved Old Town, which looked as beautiful as ever. One evening we followed a winding procession through Old Town with women dressed as Ecuador’s religious virgins. The procession ended with music, a maypole and everyone dancing– locals and tourists, old and young.
I learned more about Ecuador’s cuisine and had so many delicious meals from fish wrapped in banana leaf and smoked under coals and ash at a tiny village to gourmet meals looking out on cloud forest or down over the brilliant valley of Quito at night.
Aji is a spicy sauce of hot peppers, onions, cilantro, garlic and lime that sits on every table at every meal. Unfortunately, early on in the trip, I mistook it for salad dressing and had quite a rude awakening! It’s wonderful…in small doses. You’ll often be greeted by canelazo, especially in cooler climates–a warm drink combining local aguardiente, sugar and cinnamon. Excellent local teas and fruit juices are everywhere. We saw how the local indigenous brew, chicha, is made out of yucca root and tasted various stages of fermentation. At its freshest, chicha is a mild stimulant drank by all members of the family, including children, in the morning. Left to ferment it is potent! Micro beer breweries are popping up around the country and the product is good. Ecuador is also famous for its chocolate and roses. We had a chocolate tasting by a very passionate man who works to improve the communities who gather cocoa; and we visited a rose plantation, which proudly displayed a sign that “No children are employed here” – a sign of recent legislation banning child labor.
What had also changed since my first visit was oil discovered in the oriente, or “the east,” and the money the oil brought into the country. Oil revenues have enabled Ecuador to invest in industries it sees as the future and tourism is a top investment. The impact of these investments is that tourism services, roads, medical, communications and other infrastructure are excellent. While I have always felt safe in Ecuador, it seemed even safer this time. The country’s official currency is now the US dollar.
Ecuador has always had wonderful scenery and places to stay, but now it’s easier to visit Ecuador, and you have modern conveniences and people who are so proud of their country and glad you are there. This country is unspoiled, authentic and beautiful. I bet it will quickly become one of your favorites, as it has mine. Please contact me to customize a special trip to Ecuador just for you.