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Continental Ecuador is located on the northwestern coast of South America, between Colombia to the north and Peru to the south and east. It is crossed by the Equator, from where derives its name. Ecuador also owns the Galapagos Islands, located approximately 970 kilometers westward off the coast. It is one of the smallest countries in South America, with 256,370 square kilometers. Mainland local time is -5 GMT (US Eastern Standard Time) year round. The Galapagos are on -6 GMT (US Central Standard Time) year round.
Geography and Climate
Ecuador is crossed from north to south by the Andes, which divides its continental territory in three big regions, generally known as Costa (Western Lowlands), Sierra (Andes) and Oriente (Amazon). These three regions are at no more than a 30-minute flight from each other and at a maximum of eight hours by car, which allows seeing dramatic changes in the landscape and sensations in a very short period of time.
In each corner of Ecuador, there are fascinating things, either in variety of species of animals and plants as well as the diversity of peoples and ancestral cultures.
In general, we can distinguish in the whole country 7 geographical zones, each of them with its own characteristic climate, and you can clearly notice the differences by the predominant vegetation in each zone.
The humid coastal region up North, with its humid tropical weather, where you can observe the always green vegetation and where some areas of primary tropical rainforests can still be seen.
The dry coastal region down South, characterized by the presence of dry tropical forests, and where annual rainfall is relatively low. It is in this region that the largest city of Ecuador is located, Guayaquil, with almost 2 million inhabitants. Across the coast there are Haciendas dedicated to livestock, farming products for exportation such as bananas and other tropical fruits. Temperatures on the coast are in the warm range of 18 - 32°C.
The western slope of the Andes, also known as Chocó, is covered by the presence of cloud forests and a great variety of Flora and Fauna that have remained relatively unaltered due to the land's irregularity. Temperatures here may vary from 20 to 26°C.
The Andean region, also known as Sierra, is formed by the Eastern and Western mountain ranges, and in between are the inter-Andean valleys, which Alexander von Humboldt named Volcano Avenue. The Highlands above 3000mts, are better known as Paramo, where a cold temperature prevails during the day (12°C or less) and can dramatically drop during the night to a few degrees below zero. Both ranges are decorated with the snowy Peaks, which exceed 4500mts of height. The highest point is Chimborazo, with 6,310mts. In the valley, haciendas and small towns predominate; the average temperature goes from 12 to 20°C.
Quito, the second largest city and capital of Ecuador is right on one of these valleys, with approximately 1.5 million inhabitants. There are a few small areas where some of the original forests that used to exist in these valleys can still be seen.
The western slope of the Andes is a place where a great variety of flora and fauna of the cloud forest can be observed. Some places in this region are also conserved intact due to the irregularity and ruggedness of the land.
The Amazon region is also the most humid region of the country, and it is crossed over by several rivers that flow to the mighty Amazon. Tropical rainforest prevails in this area, even though there are also great land extensions for livestock ranches and farms, specially in the western side, next to the main roads and rivers. Oil is extracted from this region, and it is at the present time the main source of income for the country. Temperature in this zone is similar to the coast's, but with more moisture and rainfall.
The Galapagos Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean at 970km from the Ecuadorian coast. The archipelago is a group of 13 major Islands, 6 minor Islands, 47 small, rocky islands and several rocks that cover a total surface of 7,850 km². The influence of different winds and currents throughout the year produce two different seasons, being the warmer Rainy season from January until May and the cold Garua season with from June to December.
On each of the different geographical regions of Ecuador exist numerous and varied ecosystems (45 on the Mainland), for which, besides we have an assorted cluster of landscapes that can be traveled across in relatively a few hours.
By its geographical characteristics and for its privileged situation in the planet, it is a country where it can be found one of the largest concentrations of bio-diversity in the world. This fact places Ecuador among the 17 countries nominated as "mega-diverse". This qualification corresponds to these countries because in them, more than 70% of animal species and plant species in the planet are concentrated. Among this group, the smallest country is Ecuador. With an area corresponding to 0.17% of terrestrial surface (256,370 Km²), it owns more than 11% of all land vertebrate species: 2794 species, of which 436 (15.6%) are endemic. This means that Ecuador is the country with the largest bio-diversity of terrestrial vertebrates per surface measure in the world.
In Ecuador, three of the ten zones known as "hotspots" can also be found. These zones are considered the worlds most important, of very high priority for conservation, and cover less than 0,2% of the earth's surface and possess 27% of all the tropical plant species and 13% of all plant species in the world. Three of these zones are in Ecuador, next to 11 bird endemism areas and 6 centers of diversity and endemism of plants. Next to all these is the importance that the Galapagos Archipelago has for its unique characteristic in the world.
So far, 1340 species of fish are registered, of which more than 800 are fresh water fish. Of these, 470 species live on the Napo river basin alone. 415 amphibian species, of which 60% are endemic. 394 reptilian species and 369 mammalian species, 30% are endemic. Each year, many new species are described, especially amphibians.
This country is the second in the world in bird variety, with a total of 1,616 species, (17.9% of the worlds species) of which 52 are endemic. 132 species of hummingbirds that makes 37% of these species in the world. Ecuador has more endemic bird species by square kilometer than the rest of South America and is the country that has more endemic species, surpassing in more than a 100% the rest of South American countries
The Invertebrate field is the least known in Ecuador. There is an estimate 500,000 registered species but only 45% of these have been identified.
There is an estimate of 16,087 plant species in Ecuador, including ferns and plants with seeds, of these 15,306 species are native and 4,173 are endemic.
Since 1975 around 165 new species are being described on a yearly basis, a new species every two days, 91 endemic. Grasses and epiphytes are the most diverse in Ecuador. One out of five plants in Ecuador is an orchid; so far 3,043 species have been identified and 43% of these are endemic. Ecuador is the country with the largest diversity of orchids in the world.
Up to now, 26 protected areas have been established and are part now of the Natural Protected Areas System of Ecuador (besides those privately owned) and cover approximately 4’666,871 hectares of terrestrial surface (18.21% of Ecuador's area) and 14’110.000 hectares of marine area.
Being such a rich and diverse country, we are not free of many problems, like the rest of the world, many species of plants and animals are in danger of extinction due to man's uncontrolled activities and as well, many of our cultures could also disappear.
Therefore, it is of vital importance not only for our country, but for our whole planet that we can manage it in an adequate way; to accomplish this, it is fundamental that our people have a dignified way of life so they can manage their resources in a sustainable way.
Tourism is an option that offers visitors the satisfying opportunity of knowing and learning from these fantastic places, its people and its natural wealth, therefore for us it is a very important source of income and can help improve the quality of life of our people and provide an appropriate management and control of our resources and the subsistence of our diversity.
In this country, we have also a great variety of human cultures, which makes us even more diverse. Besides the city dwellers, in our territory cohabit 27 nationalities and indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians, each one with its cultural wealth and invaluable ancestral knowledge.
One of the richest and fascinating experiences one can have in Ecuador is to know its cultures and share some time among its inhabitants.
The main language spoken in Ecuador is Spanish. The Indian towns of the Sierra and some from the Amazon mostly speak Quechua. Other Indian communities speak 9 different languages.
English is quite spread, and it is taught in most schools and High schools in Ecuador. Our guides speak fluid English as well as other languages. If you need a guide in a language other than English or Spanish, please contact us.
To enter Ecuador a valid passport for six months or more from the day of arrival is necessary. Most countries don't require a visa; you can ask for the visa requirements in your country or by filling our contact form.
At your arrival to Ecuador you will have to fill a tourist card, which will have to be presented with your passport to the immigration officer. Make sure your card is sealed, showing the number of days allowed for your stay in the country. You will be given a copy of these papers, which will have to be shown at the time of your departure. Carry your passport with you along with your tourist card through your whole trip around Ecuador, because it will be asked for at the internal flights, and in several control places in the interior. It is recommended to photocopy all your documents before starting your journey, since this would facilitate the recovery in case of loss.
At your departure from Ecuador, you will have to pay US $45.00 after checking at the counter and obtaining the boarding pass. Our tour leader will help you with the paperwork and our agency will take care of the flight reservation as well as any other necessary paperwork.
At your arrival to Ecuador, you will have to go through-customs control. Most of the time, the migratory control as well as the customs control is fast and efficient for tourists. However, remember that it is strictly forbidden to enter or depart with narcotics, guns or ammunitions; seeds, plants or animals as well as fresh food. It is permitted to enter with a maximum of 300 cigarettes or 50 cigars, and one bottle of liquor.
As a temporary visitor, you may enter Ecuador without any trouble and without the need of paying taxes for your luggage, including Photographic equipment, video, laptops and other items you may want to bring along.
For a trip to Ecuador you don't need to bring a lot, besides your outdoor clothing, Photographic equipment, good mood, and an adventuring spirit. We will suggest the proper items according to the places you will visit and each activity you will have. The basic recommended equipment can be checked out at Galapagos packing Checklist and Amazon Packing Checklist for these two regions. However, we will send you a proper list for each adventure. In your internal flights, only one package with a maximum weight of 20kg is allowed, in addition to your handbag.
The Ecuadorian Currency is the US Dollar. In Indian markets and in almost every souvenir stores inside or out of Quito, you can only pay in cash. Your tour leader from SWT will take the necessary precautions against theft possibilities, and will also give you the proper indications and recommendations. Traveler's Checks are quite useful to avoid carrying too much cash, and they can be cashed at any bank. Credit cards such as MasterCard, Visa, Diners and American Express are taken at almost every restaurant, hotel and first class store. In Galapagos, only MasterCard is honored to cash currency, others are accepted at most stores.
They vary from bank to bank. The usual schedule is from 9:00 to 13:30, but there are banks that open until the evening and even on Saturday. In bigger towns almost every bank has a cash machine, most of which are also connected to the main credit cards.
Each and every one of the parks and natural reserves has an entrance tax that has to be paid with cash at the time of entry. The amount varies from place to place, can change without previous notice and is not included in any package rate. The data regarding taxes will be given along with the information for each tour. The highest tax is from The Galapagos National Park, of USD $100,00 for adults, and USD $50,00 for those younger than 12 years old.
Tips are common in Ecuador, as web as in several other countries. Beside restaurants and Hotels, where a 10% service charge is set as well as taxes, in other services it is not legally mandatory; however, every person that gives a personal service, such as a guide, crew, drivers, and so on, expect always a tip that will be the way of showing satisfaction with the received services. It is also normal to tip the waiter in addition to the 10% charged in the check.
Markets and souvenirs
Among the main attractions of Ecuador are the Indian markets. Filled with color, culture and tradition, they are a source of exotic products, which you will not be able to resist buying. Even though you will probably find that the rates are incredibly low, this is also the main economic source for people who depend on your presence. Whole towns dedicate only to the manufacture of handmade products of different quality, for the touristic consumption. If you appreciate the handcrafts, you will find that Ecuador is a wonderful market, with very rich and varied products, all of great quality and taste.
Please avoid purchasing handmade products made out of protected animals or parts of them, such as feathers, claws, fangs, etc., since it's trade is forbidden. If you have any questions or you are not sure of the product, please ask your guide or your tour leader.
In all of Ecuador's land, the electrical supply is of 110 v. 60 hz. In all of our Galapagos Ships you will also have 220v and 12v. There are some places that lack electric energy, or have solar electricity of 12v, like a few eco-lodges in the Amazon and in other protected areas. In these cases you will have the proper information before you travel to Ecuador.
Phone communications are possible from and to Ecuador in all major cities and towns. There is no phone service in most Yachts nor in most lodges of the Amazon or other distant places. In Cyber cafes from several cities as well as in some Hotels and a few yachts, you can find e-mail service. If you need to urgently communicate to someone, our tour leader will always be ready to help you from our main offices.
Ecuadorian law does not demand a vaccination prior entrance to the country. Nonetheless, it is necessary to have a few precautions.
If you plan on traveling to the low zones of the coast and/or the Amazon, we recommend protection against Malaria and Yellow fever. Information about malaria risk and prevention is available at Toll-free Voice Information Service 1-877-FYI-TRIP. For more information about how to protect yourself against diseases that occur in Tropical South America, ask your doctor or visit the Centers of Disease Control page
Also avoid the mosquitoes bite in the Coast or Amazon, with the use of insect repellent containing DEET (diethylmethyltoluamide), in 30% - 35% strength for adults and 6% - 10% for children. Also use protection clothes, such as long sleeve shirts and long pants from dusk until dawn, or during walks inside the forests and in dark places. Every place you go with SWT, you will always have mosquito nets for the night.
Don't drink water from the faucet at all. Always drink from a bottle or ask your tour leader to obtain more information about it, he will also inform you of the Ice quality and other drinks in your visit places.
Always wear sun-block, sunglasses and a hat in exposed places. The Ecuadorian Sun is always something to be aware of, even on cloudy days. For an adventure or Nature trip, it is quite important to be in a good physical state. If you travel to the mountains, you will probably be at around 3000 mts. above sea level. It is a good idea to be previously prepared with exercises such as jogging, cycling, swimming or any other sport you choose.
If you have a medicine prescription, make sure to bring enough for the whole trip, as well as a copy of the prescription. If you wear glasses it's better to bring a reserve pair.
For every traveler to Ecuador, we recommend the acquisition of an insurance against cancellations, accidents, disease and theft. Make sure your insurance covers the risks for every activity you plan on doing, such as hiking, diving, etc. Consider that the health insurance includes Hospital expenses, trip interruption and evacuation to your country in case of serious illness or severe damage.