For those looking to experience South America for the first time, Ecuador is a decent choice, being both small and relatively safe for visitors. There is also a wide range of options for learning Spanish in Quito--one of the most pleasant capital cities on the continent--and the jungle in Ecuador contains the richest birdlife in the world. But, on a continent where things can go wrong, it is vital to have a good guide, and this book fits the bill. Here you will find tips on where to wash your socks and have your teeth pulled in Quito, as well as a richer look at history and culture than is provided by some of the competition.
Guidebooks can give travel writing a bad name, but Rough Guides are rarely among them, and it is good to see that this new guide to Ecuador is part of an expanding list for Latin America (other recent additions include Argentina, Chile and Cuba). Illustrated with photographs of high quality, and written by old Latin American hands, the book comes with essential information for visitors while casting an erudite eye over everything from flora and fauna to the fascinating histories of Andean weavers at Otavalo and Darwin's visit to the Galápagos. The South American Handbook remains the best overall guide to the continent but, for Ecuador alone, this book will prove hard to beat. --Toby Green
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
WHERE TO GO: some highlights Thanks to its compact size, travelling around Ecuador is easy and relatively fast, with few places more than a fourteen-hour bus ride from the capital. Unlike the larger South American countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile whose immense distances dont lend themselves easily to a two- or three-week trip, and where itineraries demand careful forward-planning Ecuadors contrasting regions and highlights are within easy reach of each other, allowing for a more flexible approach to route-planning. The majority of visitors fly in to Quito, whose glorious if chaotic colonial centre a maze of narrow streets and exquisite monasteries and churches demands at least a couple of days of your time. Its modern new town, meanwhile, is packed with hotels, restaurants and useful facilities that make it, for many travellers, a convenient resting-post between excursions. Striking north from Quito, the northern sierra, green valleys dappled with glistening lakes and crested by volcanic peaks, is famed for its artesanias, with centres of weaving, leather goods and woodcarving all within a short bus ride of each other. Of these, Otavalo is undoubtedly the biggest attraction thanks to the towns enormous Saturday market one of the continents most renowned and its flourishing weaving industry. The region also offers plenty of scope for walkers and riding enthusiasts, who should consider splashing out on a stay in any of several beautiful converted haciendas. The attractive regional capital, Ibarra, is dominated by elegant nineteenth-century architecture and makes a far less touristy alternative base to nearby Otavalo. South of Quito, the central ! sierra is home to the most spectacular of the countrys volcanoes, including the snow-capped cone of Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo, Ecuadors highest peak at 6310m. In this deeply rural region youll find some of the most exciting markets in the sierra, with those of the villages of Saquisili and Zumbahua, and the small town of Guamote, standing out in particular. One of the most rewarding off-the-beaten-track destinations is the dazzling crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa, with its remote paramo setting, while more established attractions include the busy little spa town of Baños, framed by soaring green peaks, and the train ride down the Nariz del Diablo ("the Devils Nose") from Riobamba, the most attractive of the central sierras cities. In the southern sierra youll find Ecuadors most captivating colonial city, Cuenca, recently declared a UNESCO world heritage site, and a convenient base for visiting Ingapirca the countrys only major Inca ruins and Parque Nacional El Cajas,! a wild, starkly beautiful wilderness area. Further south, the charming city of Loja is a jumping-off point for visits to the Parque Nacional Podocarpus, whose humid lower reaches are particularly sumptuous, and the easy-going mountain village of Vilcabamba, a popular gringo hangout. The Oriente embodies one of Ecuadors greatest wildernesses a thick carpet of tropical rainforest unfurling for almost 300km east to Peru that, until the late 1960s when oil reserves were found here, was only inhabited by isolated indigenous groups and the odd Christian mission. Since then, the regions infrastructure has developed at pace, allowing easier access to Amazonian jungle than any other Andean country. Two of the countrys largest protected areas the Reserva Faunística Cuyabeno and the Parque Nacional Yasuni and a number of other private reserves are the guardians of substantial forests that have survived the incursions of the oil industry and colonists. Jungle lodges, many of them a canoe ride down the Río Napo, make for the most comfortable way of experiencing the thrill of the worlds most diverse and exciting habitat, while guided tours are often inexpensive and straightforward to arrange. You cant do better, however, than staying with an indigenous commu! nity for a glimpse of the jungles human dimension, and opportunities for this are becoming widespread throughout the region. In the north, Tena and Misahualli are the best towns to organize a jungle trip, though the bigger and grittier centres of the oil industry, Lago Agrio and Coca, are the gateways to the remotest forests and reserves. Tourism is considerably less developed in the southern Oriente, though the towns of Puyo and Macas offer possibilities for ecotourism in association with local indigenous groups, while many of the more remote destinations in this region can be reached only by light aircraft. As in the jungle, you dont have to be a wildlife enthusiast to appreciate the beauty of the cloudforests, otherworldly gardens of gnarled and tangled vegetation, wrapped in mosses and vines, and drenched daily in mist. The country has a number of private cloudforest reserves that provide accommodation and guides, some of the best being on the western slopes of the Andes, a few hours drive from Quito on the way to the coast. These reserves have long been favourites of bird-watchers and the village of Mindo, enveloped in richly forested hills brimming with endemic species, is regarded as the birding capital of the country. Continuing westwards, Ecuadors varied coastline begins at the Colombian border in a confusion of mangrove swamps, protected by the Reserva Ecologica Manglares Cayapas-Mataje, and best visited by canoe from San Lorenzo, a down-at-heel town rich in Afro-Ecuadorian culture. The north coast is best known, however, for its beaches, and the resort at Atacames is one of the most popular and boisterous; quieter places to enjoy the warm Pacific waters include Súa, Same, Muisne and Canoa. Among the chief attractions of the southern coast is Parque Nacional Machalilla, with its dry and humid forests, superb beaches and impressive birdlife on its offshore island, Isla de la Plata. Further down the coast, grungey Montañita is rapidly gaining popularity with surfers and backpackers, while Salinas is considered by Ecuadorians to be the countrys most prestigious seaside resort. Guayaquil, the regions main port and the largest city in Ecuador, is too frenetic and humid for most visitors ta! stes: quieter destinations include the mangrove forests of the Reserva Ecologica Manglares Churute, the warm, picturesque hill village of Zaruma and the petrified forest of Puyango. Finally, Ecuadors showpiece, the Galapagos Islands, is, for many, the initial lure to the country, and arguably the most compelling nature spot in the world, more so even than the Oriente. Almost 170 years since Darwin dropped anchor there, the forbidding volcanic islands and their motley creatures are still fascinating all those who see them.
CLIMATE Theres no real summer and winter in Ecuador, with weather patterns varying according to geography, and temperatures determined more by altitude than by season or latitude. As a general rule, the warmest and driest months in the sierra are June to September, though this is complicated by various microclimates found in some areas. Outside these months, typical sierra weather is characterized by sunny, clear mornings and cloudy, often wet, afternoons. In the Oriente, you can expect it to be warm, humid and rainy throughout the year, though there are often some short breaks from the daily rains between August and September and December to February. In the lowland areas it can get particularly hot on clear days, with temperatures easily topping 30°C. The coast has the most clearly defined wet and dry seasons, with the best time to visit being from December to April, when youll get frequent showers but also clear blue skies and warm weather. From May to November, the southern coas! t, in particular, is often overcast and relatively cool, with less chance of rainfall. The Galapagos climate sees hot, sunny days interspersed with the odd heavy shower from January to June, and dry and overcast weather for the rest of the year, when the garúa mists are also prevalent. Its worth noting that El Nino years (see pp.421 & 433) can bring enormous fluctuations in weather patterns on the coast and at the Galapagos archipelago, when levels of rainfall can be many times the norm.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.