What do you think of when Ecuador comes to mind? Perhaps the Equator line? Galapagos islands? Or that famous Sash! 1990s dance smash hit?
We'll be honest, prior to our trip, these fun facts summed up our knowledge of Ecuador!
Days into our trip here and we were quickly blown away! Although quite a small country (by South American standards), Ecuador offers so much, from Andes mountain vistas, an impressive diverse cuisine, coastal pleasures, the pretty picturesque old town of Quito, the Amazon jungle, and of course, the famous Galapagos Islands.
There is good reason why German DJ, Sascha Lappessen, created an entire dance anthem in honor of Ecuador (that's a fact)!
We left Ecuador with a strong thirst to return and discover more. You're never short of things to do in this incredible country, which we sum up in our round-up of the most interesting facts of Ecuador. This is our slice of Ecuadorian pie to fuel your wanderlust and add this impressive nation to your Bucket List right now!
1. The name Ecuador comes from “equator”
We start our interesting facts about Ecuador by stating the obvious… the name of Ecuador comes from its location, straddling the invisible line that runs around the center of our planet. Ecuador is in fact one of 13 countries that lie on the equator line – the others are Colombia, Brazil, Sao Tome & Principe, the Maldives, Indonesia, Kiribati, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Somalia.
Most of Ecuador lies in the Southern Hemisphere, i.e. south of the equator line. Its location means that it has a tropical climate and one of the most diverse areas of the world with around 25,000 plant species and over 1,600 known bird species.
Visiting the Equator line is one of the popular tourist attractions from the capital, Quito. There is a whole fascinating field of “science” about the conflicting gravitational pulls from the north and south of the equator line. Therefore, all the tours here have fun games based on this. Ours involved trying to balance an egg on a nail on the equator line as well as also trying to walk along the famous imaginary line without losing your balance!
2. The official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar
One very unique fact about Ecuador is that throughout its history, it has been strongly influenced by invading forces and waves of immigration, each bringing with them their own cultural influences. Initially, the country was made up of various indigenous tribes. The first invaders were the Incas followed by the Spanish in the 1500s. Since Independence in 1809, Ecuador has seen waves of immigration from Spain, Italy, and more recently the USA.
Of all the countries we've been to in South America, we found Ecuador to have the strongest affinity to the US. This makes sense given the official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar. The USA is also its primary market for exports and the largest supplier of imports. Even the plugs in Ecuador are the same as the 110 volts ones used in the US.
Ecuador is consistently voted as one of the top countries for ex-pats. Therefore, many retirees from the USA settle here, especially in Cuenca.
3. Quito is the world's second highest capital city in the world…
…behind La Paz!
You'll want to take good note of this very interesting fact about Ecuador before arriving: the capital city, Quito, is nestled in the Andes mountain at a staggering 9,350 feet (2,850 meters) above sea level. What that means in practice is that you take a few steps down the street and you're panting like an old man in no time! The altitude sickness is a thing here!
Quito's altitude makes it the second-highest capital city in the world. The #1 is La Paz in Bolivia, which is situated at a staggering 11,975 feet (3,650 meters) above sea level! Ways to cope with altitude sickness include drinking plenty of water, having plenty of rest, and going easy on smoking/drinking – honestly, we were wasted after just two cocktails on our first night out in Quito! Another way locals cope with the altitude is to chew coca leaves or drinking coca tea. Don't worry though, as it's completely safe, organic, and nothing to do with snow!
Our heads-up travel tip: the TeleferiQo in Quito is one of the best ways to get some pretty impressive views of the city. It goes from 10,226ft (3,117m) all the way to 12,943ft (3,945m), making it one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. Bring a jumper – it's chilly up there!
4. Ecuador was the first country in the world to give rights to nature
In 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to officially give rights to nature! The law introduced by former President Rafael Correa offers mother nature (or “Pachamama” in the local Andean dialect of Quechua) the constitutional right:
“to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles”
As nature lovers, this very fun fact about Ecuador made us LOVE the country even more!
The practical implication of this law is that it changes the relationship between nature and humans by asserting that nature is not just an object and we are not its master. Instead, this system celebrates nature and recognizes that we are a part of it. Kind of like in the movie Avatar right? The significance of this is that large parts of Ecuador with rich biodiversity will be better protected from human threats like mining.
Since 2008, more countries have passed similar laws including Bolivia, Turkey, Nepal, parts of the USA, and New Zealand.
5. Ecuador is the world's biggest exporter of bananas
When it comes to bananas, Ecuador is the King! It is the world's numero uno exporter of bananas in the world and each year its exports only get bigger. Ecuador accounts for almost 25% of the world's total banana exports, which is around double of its nearest competitors – the Philippines and neighboring Colombia.
Banana exports are so important to Ecuador that it has become the country's most important industry after oil. This very interesting fact about Ecuador also means that bananas feature heavily in Ecuadorian cuisine, including sweet baby bananas – oritos, green bananas – verde, and the bananas commonly used for cooking – plátanos.
There are in fact over 300 varieties of bananas grown in Ecuador. The most widely grown variety of bananas are the “Cavendish”, which are the ones you're likely to see at your local Walmarts! They are named after William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, who first encountered them in Mauritius back in 1834.
6. Chimborazo is the highest mountain on earth
Whilst Mount Everest is the world's tallest point when measured from sea level (standing proud at 29,029 ft / 8,849 meters), Ecuador's Chimborazo mountain is the tallest if you were to measure it from the Earth's core instead – as it's the point on the Earth's surface that is farthest from the Earth's center. When you look at it like this, Chimborazo mountain becomes the highest point on our planet and the closest place to space on Earth… a legit impressive fun fact about Ecuador, right?
Chimborazo's peak is located at 20,560 ft (6,268m) from sea level but when measured from the Earth's core it is over 7,000 ft (2,000m) higher than Mount Everest. The reason for Chimborazo's height advantage over Everest is because our planet is a squashed sphere shape, so mountain peaks closer to the Equator line are further away from the Earth's core and closer to outer space.
Unlike Mount Everest, it is “easier” (i.e. practically and financially speaking!) to trek up to the peak of Chimborazo. For a more in-depth account of what a trek up to the peak of Chimborazo is like, we strongly recommend reading the detailed account by Guardian journalist, Kevin Rushby of what it's like to try to climb “the highest mountain on Earth” over 13 days.
7. The Galapagos Islands was the first site to be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Galapagos Islands is the most famous tourist attraction in Ecuador and our #1 reason for wanting to visit. They are a group of islands located in the Pacific Ocean, around 620 miles (1,000 km) from Ecuador's mainland.
Their unique location at the confluence of 3 ocean currents makes them a sort of “melting pot” of marine life. They are also totally isolated which has allowed nature to thrive and unusual animals to develop – like the land iguana, the giant tortoise, and different types of finch. This unusual development of animals is what caught the attention of a humble biologist back in 1831 – when Charles Darwin stumbled onto the shores of the Galapagos Islands… his theory of evolution was developed soon after!
We loved visiting the Galapagos Islands – it's something everyone needs to experience at least once in their lifetime. And, as stated in the heading of this very unique fact about Ecuador – it's something that UNESCO also agrees with when they added the Galapagos Islands as item #1 in the list of World Heritage Sites back when it began in 1978!
8. The biggest species of tortoises are from Ecuador
One of the things that impressed us the most from our trip to the Galapagos Islands is the giant tortoise. So giant are they that they're officially the largest species of tortoise on our planet! They grow on average to 4 feet (1.3m) and weigh around 475 pounds (215kg). The largest tortoise exceeded 5 feet (1.5m) and weighed 550 pounds (250kg) – one very interesting fact about Ecuador that really impressed us!
The Galapagos Tortoise is also the longest living vertebrate, averaging over 100 years! The oldest Galapagos Tortoise on record was estimated to be around 152 years old – it is hard to determinate the exact age due to lack of reliable data, so it is estimated from the fungi found in the carapaces and serologic tests.
The most famous Galapagos Tortoise is Lonesome George from Pinta Island who was around 100 years old when he died in 2012. He was famous because back in 1972 when the Pinta Tortoise was feared to be extinct, the Galapagos Rangers stumbled on George – the last of his kind. He was whisked to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island where he could be protected.
9. The Panama hat originates from Ecuador
The famous Panama hat is, in fact, made in the city of Cuenca in Ecuador and not in Panama! This unique fact about Ecuador came about after it was popularised by President Roosevelt who bought one in 1906 and subsequently wore it during his inspection tour of the Panama Canal construction, hence the name.
These iconic hats are also called toquilla straw hats because they are made from the plaited leaves of the coastal toquilla palm. There is a fascinating museum in Cuenca devoted to these hats called the “Barrancos Panama Hats Museum”, which we recommend visiting. You can learn all about them, see how they're made, and follow in President Roosevelt's shoes by buying one as a souvenir to take back home with you.
The way these gorgeous little hats are made is so intricate and unique that the process was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2012. Not bad for what started as a humble way of weaving palm tree fibres to protect people from the sunlight in the 1600s!
10. The world's oldest married couple is from Ecuador
Julio Mora (born March 10, 1910), and Waldramina Quinteros (born on October 16, 1915) are officially the world's oldest couple after getting married on February 7th, 1941. As of 2021, that's an 80-year relationship. This is our favorite, cutest fun fact about Ecuador…these guys are the ultimate #couplegoals!
They met during a school vacation in 1935 because Waldramina's sister was married to Julio's cousin. They got married 7 years later and went on to have (wait for it!) – five children, 11 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and 9 great-great-grandchildren (so far). Who do you know that has great-great-grandchildren, let alone 9 of them?
Both Julio and Waldramina were teachers until they retired. Their secret to longevity? According to one of their daughters, Aura Cecilia – “going to the movies and the theater together, gardening and having big dinners with family and friends”. In June 2020, the couple entered the Guinness World Records for becoming the world's oldest married couple with an aggregate age of 214 years 358 days (as of June 2020).
So that's a good few more decades for me and Seby to reach before we even come close to topping that!
11. San Juanito is the traditional dance of Ecuador
The San Juanito (sometimes spelled as one word – Sanjuanito) is one of the most popular dances you'll find in Ecuador and is often considered THE traditional dance of the country. It is originally from the northern region around Otavalo and is often seen in the festivals of indigenous people, such as the week-long San Juan Bautista festival held every year on the 24th June in Otavalo.
The San Juan Bautista festival is quite a sight to behold and definitely worth checking out if you're in Ecuador in June. It is held to honor Pachamama (Mother Earth) and involves local men dressing up in a range of quite dramatic outfits who then dance from one house to another until they reach the San Juan Chapel. At this point, they start throwing rocks at each other. Then everyone starts dancing Sanjuanito with the panpipes doing their thang in the background!
To learn more about this very unique fact about Ecuador, watch the video below to see what a Sanjuanito dance looks like:
12. The highest swing in Latin America is in Ecuador
You will s**t yourself…no joke!
The El Vuelo Del Condor (translates to “the flight of the Condor”) is nicknamed the “swing at the end of the world“! It is located just outside Baños perched up at 8,500 feet (2,590m) in the Andes. It is literally a swing, attached to two trees. You get in, secured with a safety harness, then you're released to swing out flying hundreds of feet into the Andes!
It's absolutely crazy!
The best part of this crazy fun fact about Ecuador are the views you get. It's super impressive, but the adrenaline rush is something else!
For adrenaline junkies who want something a bit more, there is another larger swing to try, located next door to the El Vuelo del Condor. The two are affectionally nicknamed “The Beauty” (the smaller 131ft / 40m) pendulum swing and “The Beast” – the larger (197ft /60m) one.
Watch Stefan lose his s**t as he tried out the larger of the two swings at El Vuelo del Condo:
13. Ecuador grows a very unique kind of rose…
The rainbow rose!
In fact, when it comes to flowers, Ecuador punches its weight on the world stage! It is one of the largest exporters of flowers on our planet. Thanks to its unique location along the Equator line, Ecuador gets plenty of natural light throughout the year.
The flower industry of Ecuador is so advanced that they've even developed different types of roses by injecting natural pigments into their stems while they are growing. The dyes are produced from natural plant extracts, which are then absorbed by the flowers as they grow. This is the technique used to create the vibrant multi-colored petal effect, or the rainbow rose, which includes the complete seven colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. This is one uber unique fact about Ecuador you can imagine that we, in particular, fell in love with!
We visited a plantation dedicated to roses during our Tren Crucero adventure across the Ecuadorian Andes and got to see them up close. It's pretty impressive!
14. Chivas: the ultimate party bus!
For this fun fact about Ecuador we invite you to put aside all judgment for a second…cause you haven't truly partied the Ecuadorian way until you've experienced a chiva!
Chivas are small commuter buses that have been converted into party buses. Locals commonly rent one for a special occasion (such as a birthday, public holiday, or just because!) and drive around town in them, dancing and drinking – the drink of choice usually canelazo, which is a tasty Ecuadorian hot alcoholic drink.
Some chivas are pretty out there, with some super fancy decor and even a live band on board. Our chiva experience with our friend had a DJ booth, obligatory dance pole, and gallons and gallons of canelazo… things got pretty messy towards the end of the night, we must admit!
The best time to spot a chiva or two is on a Saturday evening when they power through the streets of Quito or in Guayaquil (Ecuador's second city). Tacky? A little… but we dare you not to smile when you see one drive by you!
Advice for LGBTQ travelers to Ecuador
Ecuador welcomes LGBTQ travelers, especially due to the large gay ex-pat community from the US. On the whole, the country is gay-friendly, recently passing gay marriage laws. However, society is still socially conservative, so if heading out to rural areas and small villages, we advise taking care with public displays of affection. Read more in our interview with Mario from Quito about what it's like growing up gay in Ecuador.
Credit card with no exchange fees: our favourite credit card for travelling abroad is Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card. For every purchase we make abroad, we get each time 1.5 points for every $1 we spend. One we think we love about it is that there is no expiration on points, so we can redeem them whenever we want with no pressure. The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card has no foreign transaction fees which means we get the best exchange rate when travelling. What else could you ask for ? Ah Yes, there is no annual fee and a Welcome bonus of 25,000 points. No need to think twice!
Transportation: Public transportation is really cheap in Ecuador, but why use buses when you can get a taxi for a fraction of what it would cost at home. Uber is not (yet) used in Ecuador, however excellent alternatives include Cabify and Easytaxi. An average ride in Quito from the Old Town to the Mariscal will cost around $3.
Travel insurance: Whether you go diving, hiking or just lay on the beach all day long, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventurous travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.
Flights: Domestic flights within Ecuador are inexpensive. However, international flights to Ecuador can be pricey. We recommend Expedia to research your flights. Their website is very easy to use and they always offer the best prices. You can even search for the cheapest flights for any given month.
Hotels: Ecuador has a huge diversity of accommodation options. When we plan a holiday, we use Tripadvisor to research the best places to stay and activities to do. We also use Booking.com to find the best deals and to book accommodation online.
For more inspiration:
- Learn more about the cuisine with our 10 famous foods in Ecuador
- Discover what it's like growing up gay in Ecuador with our interview with Mario from Quito
- Plan your trip with our gay guide to Quito
- Try our recipes for Ecuadorian quesadillas and locro de papa soup
- Find out the best ways for gay travelers to experience the Amazon jungle
- Check out our gay guide to Peru