With tourism in Ecuador rapidly growing in the last few years, now might be the time to consider a trip to South America. The Galapagos Islands, Quito, and Baños are particularly attracting international attention. If you have the opportunity to travel to Ecuador, do it. In this post, I’ll be highlighting both things I wish I knew before visiting Ecuador as well as some fun facts.
1. The weather can change in an instant.
When packing your suitcase for Ecuador, make sure to pack a variety of clothes. I’ve heard Ecuadorians joke many a time that the country can experience four seasons in one day. I have to admit, it only took me a few days to realize that the locals are right. The mornings were sunny, rain came without warning in the afternoon, and the evening could be quite chilly. Wherever you’re traveling in Ecuador, I recommend having an umbrella or rain jacket with you at all times. I was actually caught without any sort of rain apparel while canoeing down a river in the middle of the Amazon…not my favorite Ecuador moment.
2. The currency is the U.S. dollar.
Okay, I know I can’t be the only one who didn’t know this. Ecuador began to use the U.S. dollar in 2000 after an extreme financial crisis that caused the sucre to rapidly depreciate. In fact, it’s not that unusual for a country to use American currency. For example, El Salvador and Zimbabwe also use the U.S. dollar as their official medium of exchange.
Fun fact: Remember those Sacagawea dollars we had in the U.S. in 2000? I stopped seeing them at home a long time ago, but these are quite common in Ecuador. I even got a Kennedy half dollar as change in one place!
3. The Middle of the World monument is in the wrong place.
You know, the big, expensive monument where all of the tour companies send you? Yeah, technically that’s the fake equator. Turns out the “official” equator was drawn before we had GPS, leading it to be off by about 250 yards. Unfortunately for the government of Ecuador, the gigantic monument had already been built in the wrong spot. Don’t get caught in this tourist trap! Instead, go to the real equator at the Intiñan Museum, located about a 5-minute walk from the official monument.
4. Ecuador has the highest plant diversity in the world.
Although the actual land area of Ecuador only represents 0.17% of the world, the country is insanely diverse. In diversity in general, Ecuador is among the top ten countries globally. However, when it comes to plants, Ecuador is number one. In fact, one of the nation’s most important exports are cut flowers, most of which are sent to the United States. If you visit the Jardín Botánico, you can actually see some of the country’s 3,500 types of orchids in person.
5. Be aware of altitude sickness.
For those of you who struggle with altitude sickness, take extra care when arriving in Quito. Quito is situated at 9,350 feet (2,850 meters) above sea level. If these figures don’t mean anything to you, let’s compare:
Chicago, Illinois- 578 ft (176 m) above sea level
Paris, France- 115 ft (35 m) above sea level
Santiago, Chile- 1,706 ft (520 m) above sea level
If you know that altitude sickness is going to be a problem, there are some activities that I recommend skipping in the capital. These are: climbing to the top of Basílica del Voto Nacional and riding the Teleférico.
There are plenty of small steps you can take to remedy symptoms. These include drinking enough water to stay hydrated, making sure to get enough sleep each night, and taking aspirin.
6. You can actually see the president of Ecuador.
Whaaaaaat? That’s right! You can see President Rafael Correa in person every Monday as he addresses the crowd during the changing of the guard. All you have to do is show up to Plaza Grande at 11 a.m. during one of the weeks the president is in town. I love the idea that the President is so accessible to the people.