Eight things you need to know before visiting Ecuador
Ecuador may be of the smallest countries in South America but don’t be fooled by its size for there is plenty to see, do and experience in Luz de América (the light of America). Planning a visit to this Andean country? Here’s 10 things you need to know before you go...
Not quite the middle of the world...credit: LucBrousseau
Middle monument is in the wrong place
Ecuador is named after the equator that runs through the country and, as such, standing on the thin yellow line that marks the middle of the world tops most travellers’ to-do lists. One caveat: make sure you select the right spot.
Built in 1979, the Mitad del Mundo monument and complex dedicated to the equator is the most visited site in Ecuador but it’s not actually on the equator.
If you want to genuinely stand with one foot in each hemisphere, you’ll need to head 240m down the road to the real equator - a site that was discovered only a few years back thanks to Global Positioning Services (GPS) devices. The true spot is called the Intiñan Solar Museum and aims to answer all your equator related science queries including “Can you balance an egg on a nail?” and “Does water really change direction in different hemispheres?”
Get ready to gorge on guinea pigs
Cuy asado (roasted guinea pigs) is one of the country’s most famous dishes that reportedly dates back to Inca times and is said to be high in protein and low in cholesterol.
Ecuadoreans traditionally eat cuy either on holidays or special occasions as these little furry creatures don’t come cheap (a whole roasted guinea will set you back around $US25). Cuy are typically skewered with a thick rod before being rotated over a fire during roasting, and taste like gamey chicken.
However the furry rodent isn’t just for dinner in Ecuador. Cuy are used to warm the house and keep rats away, in addition to being used for medicinal purposes. Folk doctors called curanderos will rub guinea pig over a patient’s sick body, with the furry creature set to squeak when it passes over an afflicted area.
Consuming cuy may seem controversial given that in the UK and Australia, guinea pig are cherished as cuddly companions for children, but when in Rome…right?
Roses in Ecuador credit: Kaye Holland
Roses are ridiculously cheap
You might think of Ecuador as an ultimate “banana republic” - the small South American country is the world’s biggest exporter of bananas - but in recent years Ecuador has become famous for its flower industry.
Ecuador is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers, 73 per cent of which are roses thanks to the country’s volcanic soil, perfect temperatures and abundant sunlight. And no one beats the equatorial sun in terms of rose variety.
Even better? Visitors can discover unparalleled colour, radiance and aroma - for a pittance. You read right: it costs as little as US$2.50 for 25 long stemmed red roses in Ecuador meaning even cash poor travellers can play Romeo.
Coca leaves can help cure altitude sickness
Head spinning? Having trouble sleeping? Or perhaps the hotel stairs are making you breathless? If you answered yes to any of the aforementioned questions, chances are you’re suffering from altitude sickness which isn’t surprising given that most visitors arrive in Quito, the Spanish colonial stunner that has an elevation of about 3000m. Symptoms typically dissipate within a day or two but you can help minimise them by avoiding alcohol and caffeine and drinking plenty of water and tea de coca (coca leaf tea). After a couple of sips of the latter, you’ll notice that the throbbing in your head has begun to subside and you can breathe again.
Just don’t even think about bringing a stash of coca - the plant that is used in the manufacture of cocaine - leaves back to the UK, where they are banned.
Quito credit: Kaye Holland
Ecuador uses the US dollar
Ecuadoreans waved goodbye to their national currency, the 116-year-old sucre, during a severe economic crisis in 2000 and has been using US dollars ever since like nearby Panama (where the US dollar is called a balboa) in order to stabilise its economy.
Nearly 18 years later, dollarisation remains highly popular, with 85 percent of Ecuadoreans supporting the continued dollarisation of the economy. However alt-hough on an emotional level, not everyone is happy that US historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington have replaced Ecuadorian national heroes on their currency.
Dress like an onion when in Quito
Visiting Ecuador’s enchanting capital, Quito? Don’t forget to pack layers - and lots of them.
The weather in Quito is unpredictable - Quitenos claim that they experience all four seasons in one day - so it’s essential to dress in layers. Be ready to take your coat and sweater off and put them back on again, in a matter of hours.
A limpiadora credit: Kaye Holland
Panama hats are made in… Ecuador
The toquilla straw hat that most of the world knows as the Panama hat was ac-tually invented in Ecuador.
The mistake dates back to the 18th century when Spanish entrepreneurs in South America recognised the quality of the brimmed straw hats and began exporting them via Panama.
During the 19th century, workers on the Panama Canal wore these hats to protect their heads from the tropical sun. On a visit to the Panama Canal construction site in 1906, US President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing a Panama hat. The picture went on to appear in The New York Times and ever since then, the headwear has been misleadingly known as Panama hats.
The best Panama hats are made in and around Montecristi, a village some 90 miles from the coastal city of Guayaquil.
Look to a limpiadora
Suffering from insomnia, angst, nervous tension or depression? Forget visiting a traditional doctor when in Ecuador and look to a limpiadora (herb healer) who can cure virtually any ailment using candles, herbs, nettles and egg yolks.
While limpiadoras have been performing limpia (spiritual cleansing rituals) for centuries, in recent years, the Ecuadorean folk medicine has become increasingly popular.
This sudden surge of interest in a medicine that has been around for thousands of years can be attributed, in part, to the twenty first century wellness mantra of ill-ness prevention over the modern approach of cure. For while western medicine is high cost and high tech, something that in this age of austerity feels uncomfortably wrong, limpias cost on average US$8 meaning they are affordable - in addition to being a safe and natural form of medicine.