Ecuador: A little bit of everything South America has to offer

IN 2011 I SPENT six months living and working in what I believe to be one of South America’s most beautiful, exciting and diverse countries. It has often been said that Ecuador reflects all of South America in one country, so as someone who finds it impossible to make decisions it was the perfect place for me. Based in the bustling capital city of Quito, where just catching a bus was an experience, I taught English by day, fiesta’d by night and set off for a new adventure every weekend.

The mainland of Ecuador is divided into three regions: the coast, the Andes and the Amazonian Rainforest. Never did I imagine that one country could hold so many amazing experiences; one week you are lying on a beach, the next you are climbing a mountain. Depending on which mountain that was, when you got to the bottom you could be in the city, or in the jungle. As much as I loved my teaching job, Fridays have never been more exciting. In Ecuador, it is possible, and affordable, to get a bus to almost anywhere- whether it be to Otavalo, the small town that, come Saturday morning completely transforms itself into the biggest, most vibrant indigenous market you have ever seen, or to Baños, known as the ‘adventure capital of Ecuador’ and named after the volcanic heated springs that both locals and tourists love. Some weekends were planned, others were just spur of the moment, but none of them were dull.

The Basílica del Voto Nacional is the largest neogothic basilica in the New World.

The Basílica del Voto Nacional is the largest neogothic basilica in the New World.

Moving away from the mainland, of course, is Ecuador’s most famous and beloved national park: The Galapagos Islands. These beautiful Islands, famously known as the inspiration for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, are home to animals that do not shy away from tourists, making it possible to swim amongst sea lions and turtles and walk within feet of the legendary land and marine iguanas. Whilst the Galapagos is far more expensive to visit than anywhere else in the country, it is pricey for a reason. Where else can you play beach ball with a sea lion or watch the courtship of Blue Footed Boobies? Besides, when everything else in the country is cheap as chips you can’t really blame them for charging a little bit extra this one time….

Whilst the sights of Ecuador were breathtaking, what really made my experience so amazing were the culture and the people. Groups of indigenous people are to be found everywhere in Ecuador, dressed in their beautiful traditional clothing speaking in native tongues such as ‘Quichua’ and selling their handiwork in placess like Otavalo market. Many Ecuadorians, especially those I was working with, are living in poverty; however, the majority of people I met were happy, welcoming and generous. There were obviously cultural differences between us that took time to get used to, but after six months, these things began to seem normal.

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Whilst Ecuadorians are very hard working people, they are very relaxed when it comes to time keeping. Lunch at school is never really a set time, and being an hour late to meet someone is perfectly acceptable. I once waited four hours for some friends to meet me at the beach, and they couldn’t understand why I was annoyed. Needless to say, after certain experiences I learnt to embrace the Ecuadorian way and also learned that nobody minded if I turned up late for work.

When people ask me why I chose Ecuador my honest answer is ‘I don’t know’. I could have chosen any South American country, I did not know all these amazing things before I went and could only go by what books and the internet had to say. However, when people ask me if I would choose Ecuador again my answer is always ‘yes’. I guess I got lucky and chose the perfect country. A place that often gets overlooked by travellers but has so much to offer. Viva Ecuador.

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