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Tips for travelling to Ecuador

In September I spent 2 weeks in Ecuador, my first visit to this country. I covered all 5 WHS on a self-designed tour around the country by public transport. The small Andean nation has its pros and cons – it is quite compact for example, saving one the hellish bus rides known from Peru – but it will not make my list of favourite countries in the world that I’d love to return to. Find below my Top Tips for Travelling to Ecuador as a World Heritage Traveller.

Galapagos Frigatebird displaying its inflatable red throat pouch

1. The Galapagos is expensive but not prohibitive

I spent 560 US dollars to get ‘into’ the Galapagos – and from that point the costs for lodging and food are similar to those in Quito. This expense was split between 440 dollar for the return ticket from Quito (getting there from Guayaquil is slightly cheaper), 20 dollar for a kind of visa fee (“transit control ticket”), to be paid at the departure airport, and 100 dollar for the conservation fee to be paid upon landing. So ‘ticking off’ the Galapagos is cheaper than seeing for example the gorillas in Bwindi. The islands still feature though on our connection High Entrance Fees, where I have updated the Galapagos entry from 100 to 120 USD (2017).

2. Take your time if you want to do the Galapagos on your own

I spent 5 days/4 nights on the Galapagos Islands, and that was actually a few days too little. You'd want a mix between exploring an island by yourself and joining a day tour for those islands that are only accessible with a guide. Besides a bit of personal freedom, this also lowers the cost as the day tours are not cheap at about 150 US dollar. A good additional thing to do would be to take the ferry to Isabela, and stay for 2 nights so you can take day tours from there too. A thing to consider is also the season: I visited in late September, and that was already the end of the summer season so not all day tours were available every day.

At the market of Guamote

3. Don’t miss the Andean towns for their active indigenous culture

Landscape-wise I found the area around Riobamba the prettiest: think Andes mountains plus mega-volcanoes. And that’s where you’ll find the largest share of indigenous population too. Probably only Bolivia rivals the percentage of people wearing traditional dress compared to this region. I recommend to visit the weekly Thursday market in Guamote, where you'll get a glimpse into the life of a small Andean farmer.

4. Don’t expect great pre-Columbian sites

One of the reasons that I didn’t like Ecuador as much as I would have wanted, is the near-absence of pre-Columbian archaeological sites. Where Mexico and Peru are literally covered in them, Ecuador only has the modest Ingapirca. A great place to visit however is the Casa del Alabado in Quito. It is a private art museum with an excellent collection of pre-Columbian remains from Ecuador. It has mostly ceramics, and these are in great condition. It highlights for example the Jama Coaque culture and the Chorrera culture.

Human figurine of the Ancient Jama-Coaque Culture

5. Ecuador’s Tentative List needs some further exploring

At the moment of writing, Ecuador has a Tentative List of 5. The country hasn't been very active nomination wise - actually I have not found any evidence of independent action since 1983. Only the Mining town of Zaruma has been in the news a few times, and if I had more time to spend in Ecuador I would for sure have checked it out. The other 4 sites are a petrified forest, an Andean railway track, an archaeological site with the world’s first traces of cocoa use and a coastal tropical forest. Noone has ever written a review about any of them on this website, so there's some unchartered territory to explore for the intrepid WH Traveller.

Els - 14 October 2017

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