You may know Ecuador for its volcanoes or the Galapagos islands, but there’s so much more to the small South American nation than that! A spectacular cycle path, rival cities, Inca words mixed in with Spanish, popcorn with everything and a new president called Lenin are just a handful of other reasons to put this compact Latin American nation on your travel bucket list…
Ecuador’s president elect is called Lenin…yes, really!
The citizens recently voted for former Vice President Lenin Moreno to take over the reigns from President Rafael Correa when he stands down in May. Moreno is expected to continue Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution, which has overseen poverty reduction and massive infrastructure improvements. The election of Moreno also came as a big relief to Ecuador’s most famous resident, Julian Assange, whose asylum at the country’s London embassy would have been under threat had the opposition candidate won.
The two main cities are total opposites
Any anthropologists out there will love comparing and contrasting the two main cities and learning about the mountain vs. coast rivalry. Capital Quito is not only smaller than second city Guayaquil (both in area and in population), but it is completely different in climate, architecture and character of its inhabitants. In their people, you’ll see reflected the results of mountains versus flat, chilly vs. sweltering, dry vs. humid, Andean vs. estuary, and ancestral vs. modern among many contradicting traits. There is a real difference in the way people speak, their sense of humour, work ethic, recipes and food, way of life, and politics: the conservative mayor of business-minded Guayaquil has been at loggerheads with the socialist government in Quito since it came to power in 2007.
Popcorn doesn’t have to be just a snack
Think of popcorn only as a cinema treat? Think again. You may know that maize originated in the Americas, but it is less well known that South Americans are crazy for popcorn. Ecuadorians are no exception; they put popcorn on the table as a snack, or with ceviche, or as an accompaniment to just about anything. Most commonly, you’ll get a bowl of it with your soup! Scatter it in for a delicious salty crunch.
The country’s top exports might surprise
If you pay attention to the labels on your fruit, you’d be correct in taking a stab at bananas. And anyone guessing oil because of the Chevron case would also be right. But you may not know that Ecuador’s other top products are prawns and… roses! The area around Quito has fast-become one of the best places for growing roses in the world over the past 30 years, thanks to its latitude, altitude, natural light and stable year-round climate. Unfortunately, those buying them in Europe will often not realise their stems come from South America, as European importers put their labels (and price tags) on the flowers.
It’s a twicher’s paradise
Ecuador is often the smallest country on lists of megadiverse and biodiverse countries (try saying that after a couple of drinks at altitude!). It has 50+ endemic bird species among the 1,600+ species that can be found in the country, and you don’t have to go to the Galapagos or Amazon to see some of them – many can be spotted just an hour or two from Quito in and around Mindo.
It has one of the best cycle paths in the world
The Chaquiñan, which Longhaultrekkers.com crowned “the best in South America”. The superbly maintained route along an old railway track, lined with aloe and bougainvillea and complete with spooky disused tunnels, might only be 20-odd kilometers (44km round-trip), but the variety of terrain it traverses is immense. Starting in the valley below Quito, in the affluent city of Cumbaya, you’ll whizz through California-like arid desert complete with cacti, lush Alpine-like pastures, and zig-zag over the River Chiche, all in the foothills of the peaks and volcanoes this part of the world is spoiled with. Also providing respite are the manned gateways or “portals” you’ll find every few kilometers, which have water fountains, toilets, maps and even bike tool stations.
You already know some local words
You should have already made the connection that the Spanish word for “equator” is…ecuador! Spanish is easy! Not so easy is Kichwa, the local dialect of the Inca language Quechua. Take the name of the cycle path above – Chaquiñan (cha-key-nyan) – means “footpath”. But the most important word for your trip (slip it into conversation to feel like a local!) may well be the Kichwa word for a hangover – chuchaqui (chew-cha-key)!
Planning a trip to Ecuador? We have lots of guide books, maps and literature: Stanfords.co.uk/Ecuador
Georgia Platman spent two years living in Ecuador working as a journalist and has covered Latin America from every angle for teleSUR English , Rough Guides and the Bilingual
Ñan Magazine. Her creative and journalistic work has also been published in various zines. She
is currently working on children’s cookbook Little Cookery. Hear her speak about the election of Lenin Moreno at Friends of
Ecuador’s next event.
Sources: teleSUR, Ñan magazine, Rough Guides, Lonely Platnet, Jocotoco Foundation, FT, quito.gob.ec