6 Things that Surprised Me about Ecuador

Ecuador is a country that had never really been on my radar. Sure, travel editors and bloggers alike swear that Ecuadorian destinations such as the Galapagos Islands should be on every serious traveler’s bucket list, but travel to Ecuador was never a top priority for me.While planning our trip to Panama and South America last fall, I had my heart set on going to one of my longtime dream destinations – Chile. However, my brother and his girlfriend had their hearts set on Ecuador including the Galapagos Islands, and easygoing Jave was fairly indifferent; I was outnumbered. Plus, to get the most out of Chile, I figured that we’d need to tack on at least another 1.5 weeks to our already 3-week long vacation, and our schedules and budgets made the decision to scratch Chile from the lineup much easier.

As I planned the Ecuadorian portion of our itinerary, the more the country lured me. From pictures, articles and blog posts, Ecuador seemed to be quite a well-rounded destination, and the more I researched it, the more I wondered why I hadn’t given the country deeper consideration before.

During our short time in Ecuador, I was surprised in the best possible ways about just how much this robust South American destination has to offer.

Varied cuisine

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(clockwise l to r): A bowl of the most amazing seafood soup we enjoyed daily in Puerto Lopez; bizcochos and coffee at a roadside breakfast joint; sweet(ish) street food snacks in Quito; roasted larvae (tasted like cornuts); a delicious-looking dish that I didn’t get to try at the Otavalo Market.

We ventured to Ecuador after spending nearly two weeks in Colombia. With some welcome exceptions, it seemed like the majority of our culinary exploits in Colombia entailed fried fish, patacones and slices of costeño cheese. To be frank, I just couldn’t stomach it anymore.

So I was pleasantly surprised by the abundant food options in Ecuador. From the unique street snacks we tried in Quito to the delicious seafood stew we stuffed our faces with in Puerto Lopez, our taste buds stayed stimulated and we anxiously anticipated each meal we ate in Ecuador.

Great infrastructure

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Throughout recent years, the Ecuadorian government has taken great strides to allocate funds to increased social spending, and it definitely shows. Unlike some Central and South American countries where the infrastructure is in dire need of some TLC, Ecuador’s infrastructure is quite impressive, and it’s easy to see why many expats looking for a propitious place to retire often put Ecuador at the top of their lists.

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Clean Guayaquil

Unlike the streets of L.A. and other major metropolitan U.S. cities, we were surprised to find that large cities like Quito and Guayaquil are relatively clean, and that the roads throughout the country are in great condition.

So many parades

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We were fortunate enough to see Ecuador’s president during the changing of the guard ceremony which takes place every Monday morning in front of Quito’s Carondelet Palace. Witnessing such pomp and circumstance is an opportunity that most travelers would relish.

So imagine our surprise when we encountered at least two other parades during our time in Ecuador. It seemed like everywhere we went, a parade followed. Our guide assured us that our sightings weren’t out of the norm as Ecuador is a country that loves its parades and festivals.

Afro-Ecuadorians

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Speaking of parades, the first time I saw Afro-Ecuadorians was during the changing of the guard ceremony in Quito. Amongst the sword-bearing, horseback riding Ecuadorian soldiers, there they were – Afro-Ecuadorian schoolchildren sitting amongst their classmates as if they were the president’s esteemed guests. Admittedly, I was shocked to see them.

Living in Panama, it was never a surprise to see black Panamanians or other black people living in Honduras or Costa Rica, for example. In South America, black Brazilians and black Colombians are ubiquitous, and the Afro-Peruvian jams on my Spotify playlist are proof that black people are indeed present in Peru. But for some reason, I never imagined that the African diaspora reached Ecuador. Naïve, I know.

After that initial sighting, I started noticing more and more Afro-Ecuadorians, especially in rural areas. How did they get there? I was curious since I’d never learned about a history of black slavery in Ecuador. Our guide explained that many black Ecuadorians live in the province of Esmeraldas where they settled following a 17th-century shipwreck of a slave ship off the country’s northern coast. Shipwreck survivors swam to shore and settled in the area as free people where they were able to maintain their original culture uninfluenced by the surrounding provinces or the Andean region. Eventually, runaway slaves from Colombia joined their community.

As much as I travel, I probably shouldn’t be so surprised by just how far reaching the African diaspora is, but I always am.

Sooo many volcanoes

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While researching Ecuador, I read about its Avenue of Volcanoes which runs for 200 miles south of Quito. From a highway overpass in Quito, we were able to marvel at the snowcapped peak of Cotopaxi, and as we drove south to Baños de Agua Santa, we passed many other volcanoes. We even witnessed a volcano smoking and spewing from the restaurant where we dined for lunch in Baños.

I knew that Ecuador was no stranger to volcanoes, but I guess I never realized just how many volcanoes the country has until we actually traveled there.

Very connected to indigenous culture

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Although only a small percentage of Ecuador’s population is comprised of indigenous peoples, the vast majority of Ecuadorians are mixed with indigenous and European heritage. As such, Ecuador’s indigenous peoples have played a great role in shaping various aspects of Ecuadorian culture including the food, fashion and the socio-political climate.

PINNABLE

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Have you been to Ecuador? What surprised you about the country?