Is Ecuador Worth Your Wanderlust?
I tend to think of Ecuador as the middle child of Colombia and Peru. With Colombia well-known for its narcotics history, and as home to one of the world’s most infamous drug lords, and Peru offering backpackers access to the official world wonder Machu Picchu, it’s easy to see why both receive such hype. Poor old Ecuador though, stuck in the middle of these neighbouring countries, can sometimes suffer from middle-child syndrome; being the left out or neglected one. Aside from its easy access to the Galapagos Islands, which let’s face it, doesn’t fall within the budget of most backpackers, Ecuador is often overlooked as a country to skip through while en route north or south on the South American continent. This perception, however, is entirely wrong and I am here to tell you why Ecuador is an adventure-loving travellers’ paradise, that’s well worth your wanderlust.
UNESCO World Heritage cities
Of all the capital cities I’ve visited in South America, the Old Town of Quito holds the most original architectural beauty. Treading the cobbled sloping streets quickly reveals its numerous churches and cathedrals, and gorgeous tree-filled plazas full of shoe-shiners and resting locals. From the colourful and bohemian La Ronda Street, to the towering stone banks, and detailed parliamentary buildings, an afternoon spent aimlessly wandering will not disappoint. Clearly I’m not the only person that thinks so, because Quito is officially recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with Cuenca, in the south of Ecuador.
If you’re a backpacker that likes to get your heart-racing and adrenaline pumping through those veins (which is most of us), then Ecuador is your place. The town of Baños, in particular, is home to the nerve-wracking ‘Swing at the End of the World’, actually named Casa Del Arbol, as well as zip lines that fly across canyons, bungee jumps launching from bridges, exhilarating white water rafting, ATV off-roading adventures, and so much more. For the extremely adventurous, Ecuador even has the option to climb the world’s ‘closest to space’ mountain, Mount Chimborazo.
The only land-based centre of the world
You may know, that there are a couple of points around the globe where you can literally straddle the equator. What you might not know, however, is that Ecuador is the only land-based place that you can actually be in the middle of the world and in both the Northern and Southern hemisphere simultaneously. Each of the other three points fall in the ocean. You can’t tell me that’s not a superb bucket list tick!
Whales and wildlife, without the Galapagos price tag
It turns out, you don’t need to journey to the Galapagos Islands to spot wild whales, birds and turtles. Nope, there’s actually a place in Ecuador that’s easily accessible from the mainland, where you can spot these magnificent creatures at a fraction of the cost. Puerto Lopez, on the west coast, is not only a sleepy fishing town with a sandy beach, it is also a prime spot for migrating whales from April -September. Just a boat ride from Puerto Lopez is Isla De La Plata, an island in abundance of pelicans, blue-footed booby birds and other unique creatures of the sky, surrounded by turtle-filled waters. It’s spectacular for any animal lover.
Having said all that, if you are set on the Galapagos for your wildlife fix then check out Compass & Ladle’s views on exploring this Darwinian paradise by liveaboard boat.
The secret party scene
This one came as a big shock to me, but the party scene in Ecuador is banging! From the capital of Quito, to the beach and surf town of Montañita, there are pubs and bars ready and waiting to pour you cheap drinks all night long. Imagine a cross between the sandy street parties of southern Thailand and the house music of Ibiza and you’ve pretty much got Montañita summed up. After a few weeks sightseeing and lugging a backpack around, it’s hard to resist letting your hair down here.
Access to the Amazon Jungle
There are a few main entry points into the Amazon Jungle, with the most popular being in Bolivia and Peru. In actual fact though, Ecuador offers immediate access to the Amazon River, with sights such as pink Irrawaddy Dolphins much more likely here than for those that start further south.
Less time spent on buses
Anybody that has travelled South America will tell you that travel distances in the majority of countries are huge. What looks like a short route on Google Maps, will actually turn out to be a twelve hour journey – or more! While we sign up to such gruelling bus rides when we take off to backpack the world, any opportunity to spend more time exploring than getting a numb bum, is very welcome. That’s why Ecuador is such a pleasant country to travel. Significantly smaller than its neighbours, Ecuador requires much shorter journeys to bounce from place to place, making your time there even more worthwhile.
What more do you need?
I could continue the long list of reasons Ecuador is more than worth your wanderlust, but I imagine you don’t want to spend the next hour reading this post. So, let me just finish up with a few of the snaps that I caught while backpacking the beautiful country instead! If these aren’t enough to convince you, well, you’ll simply be missing out.
Feeling the desire to travel to Ecuador? Looking for hostel, eatery, or sightseeing recommendations? Drop me a comment below!