Ecuador is a country in South America that is completely underestimated. Most come here to visit the Galapagos Islands, but quickly discover so much more, whether in the Amazon, the Andes or the coast.
Ecuador will surpise you in so many ways that you'll soon wonder why you didn't know more about it. These are our 10 interesting facts about Ecuador which fascinated us when we visited.
1. The United States of
Ecuadorian history 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, despite the recent strained relationship between the two.
This makes sense given that Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency and the USA is its primary market for exports and also largest supplier of imports. Even the plugs in Ecuador are the same as the 110 volts ones used in the US.
Ecuador is also consistently voted as one of the top countries for expats and as a result many retirees from the USA settle here, especially in Cuenca.
2. The first Unesco World Heritage Sites
UNESCO created its World Heritage Sites list in 1978 with just 12 entries. The first two sites that made it to the list were in Ecuador: the #1 spot was The Galápagos Islands and #2 was The City of Quito.
Three other sites from Ecuador were subsequently added to the list: the Sangay National Park in 1983 (#260), the Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca in 1999 (#863) and the Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System in 2014 (#1459).
3. Seven inch monsters!
We'll just leave this map right here and simply point out that Ecuador comes under the dark green category…
4. Chivas: the ultimate party bus
You haven't properly partied the Ecuadorian way until you've experienced a chiva in Quito. Chivas are small commuter buses that have been converted into party buses complete with a DJ booth, obligatory stripper dance pole and gallons of canelazo to be consumed. Sometimes they even have a live band on board.
The chivas drive you around the city for several hours while you drink, dance and be merry. On Saturday evenings you see many chivas powering through the streets of Quito…you just can't help but smile!
5. Cuenca: the creators of the Panama hat
The famous Panama hat is in fact made in the city of Cuenca, not Panama! It was popularised by President Roosevelt who bought one in 1906 during an inspection tour of the Panama Canal construction, hence the name.
They are also called toquilla straw hats, which are made from the plaited leaves of the toquilla palm from the coast. There's a fascinating museum in Cuenca devoted to them where you can see how the hats are made and even buy your own souvenir.
6. Banana kings
Ecuador is the world's number one exporter of bananas, which is also the country's most important industry after oil. As a result, bananas feature heavily in the Ecuadorian cuisine with a large variety on offer, like oritos (sweet baby bananas), verde (green bananas) and plátanos (a related fruit used for cooking).
7. The highest mountain on earth: Chimborazo
Mount Everest is the world's tallest point when measured from sea level, standing proud at 8,848m/29,029ft. However, when you measure from the Earth's core instead of at sea level, Chimborazo mountain becomes the highest point on our planet. Although it is only 6,268m/20,560ft from sea level, when measured from the Earth's core it is over 2,000m/7,000ft higher than Mount Everest.
This is because our planet is a squashed sphere, therefore mountain peaks closer to the Equator are further away from the Earth's core and closer to outer space.
8. Gay roses, Yas!
Ecuador punches its weight on the world scene as the third largest exporter of flowers. Its location along the Equator means it has natural light throughout the year, perfect for cultivating flowers.
We visited a roses plantation as part of our Tren Crucero adventure in the Andes where they grow a whole range of different coloured roses.
But the best part? They also cultivate RAINBOW roses!
9. One of the highest aerial lifts in the world
The TeleferiQo in Quito is one of the best ways to get some pretty impressive views. It goes from 3,117m (10,226ft) to 3,945m (12,943ft), making it one of the highest aerial lifts in the world.
At the bottom of the TeleferiQo is a fun amusement park called VulQano and at the top several viewpoints to get your money shot of the city below.
10. A “wild law”: rights for animals
In 2008, Ecuador was the first country to officially give rights to nature. The law introduced by former President Rafael Correa, offers nature the constitutional right “to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles”.
This 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 recognises that we are a part of it. Since 2008, more countries have passed similar laws, in particular Bolivia, Turkey, Nepal, parts of the US and New Zealand.
Advice for LGBTQ travellers to Ecuador
Ecuador welcomes LGBTQ travellers, especially due to the large gay expat 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 Skyscanner 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
- get inspired by our Galapagos luxury cruise review and our 6 awesome things to do in Ecuador
- try our recipes for Ecuadorian quesadillas and locro de papa soup