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Ecuador for Visitors

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Map of Ecuador

Map of Ecuador

The World Factbook
I was born in Macuchi, (map) and when I used to ask my parents how to get there my mother would laugh and say, "Get off the boat in Guayaquil, take another boat up river to the end, then get on a mule and ride to the top of the mountain."

Now those directions might do for intrepid explorers or for those who knew where the mining camp was before the coastal rain forest took it over but I guess I'll have to be content with the family picture album and my mother's journal accounts of living in Ecuador.

Travel in today's Ecuador is much different, as are the cities. Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city, though not the capital, and for years was the first to modernize. A busy port since colonial days, Guayaquil had electricity and street cars as well as liberal ideas long before they reached Quito or Quenca.

Excluding the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador has three geographical and climactic regions, the Costa, Sierra and Oriente, each running north to south. Each has its own characteristics, its own delights and attractions.

From San Lorenzo in the North to Huaquillas on the Peruvian border, coastal Ecuador or the costa has been somewhat ignored as a tourist destination. For many years the region was better known as the producer of bananas, cocoa, coffee, and The Legendary Panama Hat. The fantastic beaches and ports were handy for export purposes. Today, the beaches of lush Esmeraldas province are no longer as isolated and are a growing tourist area for those enamored of estuaries, mangroves, river adventures and rain forests.

The narrowest region is the Andean corridor, the sierra. It could be a world away from the humid coast but it's only a day's travel. Old Quito is a World Heritage site acknowledging its historical importance as a Spanish colonial city. In addition to the historical buildings and the magnificent La Compañía church, be sure you travel (in a group and not on foot please) to the top of El Panecillo where you can see the Pichincha and Cayambe volcanos to the north.

While you're in the area be sure to visit the Mitad del Mundo marker north of Quito. You can place a foot on each side of the Equator here!

You'll also want to schedule a trip to Otavalo, the home of the Otavalo Indians about two hours north of Quito. Forced to become weavers during Spanish colonial days, today the Otavaleno Indians are known world-wide for their fine textiles. The Saturday market day is something to see and enjoy.

This is also the Valley of the volcanos. Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, El Altar, and Tungurahua are the best known. In addition to climbing and photographic opportunities, the volcanos have provided rich fertile soil for agriculture.

Amazonian Ecuador, more properly known as Oriente province, is an ecotourist's delight. The virgin rainforest teems with birds, fish, flora, and exotic animals. Unfortunately, the booming tourist industry as well as growing population has sent the wildlife and primitive Indian tribes deeper into the forest.

I remember playing with a shrunken head as a child. My parents and the family servants tried to hide it from me but I found it. I have no idea where it came from. Possibly it was a fake. Perhaps it was real a victim of the Shuar tribe who shrank the heads of their enemies.

Though the population of Oriente is growing, travel is still difficult particularly in the southern half of the province. Mishahuallí is a good starting off place for jungle expeditions.

Wherever your travels in Ecuador take you, perhaps you'd consider writing a trip report for us? And, Buen viaje!

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