Frivolous, desperate and varied, a staple of the South American backpacker trail.
From cooing tortoises to sweaty salsa nights, manic surf spots to inner city revival, misty tree-tops to lascivious Latinos – Ecuador is full of surprises. For one of the smallest countries in South America, Ecuador has a jaw-dropping amount going on. Located on the Equator and named after it by some unimaginative bureaucrat, this is the country you can do and experience almost anything…and you just might live to melodramatize your tales to wide-eyed armchair travellers back home.
Apart from the glaringly obvious pursuits such as rigorous physical activity (river rafting, hiking, surfing, mountain biking), cultural extravaganzas (Spanish colonial architecture or Quito’s Old Town) and fecund wildlife reserves, Ecuador provides the discerning traveller with these usual themes in unusual ways: rigorous physical activity can be achieved by walking into a bar and asking if anyone knows how to maranga. Ecuadorian culture is demonstrated by the myriad of races, colours and countries represented by street vendors and good-natured wastrels, and wildlife can be viewed while perched precariously on the flexible branches of an orange tree, having been cajoled into plucking fruit on a Sunday afternoon on the Galapagos Highlands.
Don’t be put off by the insipid nature of most Galapagos tourist bureaus: these islands deservedly hold the trump tourist card and can be navigated easily without the sunscreen-and-sandals gang. Ecuador also sports copious amounts of forest cover (both the tropical and the cloud variety), as well as vast, soaring volcanoes and bubbling hot springs – all worth a visit. Montanita will induct you into the local surf culture and is probably the most famous surf spot in the country, while colonial Spanish architecture can be gawked at in Cuenca.
In Ecuador you will find whatever you are looking for, unless you are yearning for speedy banking queues, unfriendly strangers and a glass for your beer. Frivolous and desperate at the same time, the mix of almost-everything provides a mecca for both the indecisive back-packer and those who ask a little more of their destination.