The aptly-named Republic of Ecuador lies right along the equator, south of Colombia and north of Peru. Although under-promoted, this diverse, exciting country offers a wealth of travel experiences to rival any of its Latin American, or international, neighbors.
Several Native American civilizations have inhabited Ecuador throughout history, who were conquered by the Incas in 1463. Following a brief civil war, the country was briefly the center of the Inca Empire, under its victorious Emperor Atahualpa; however, Spanish forces under Francisco Pizarro quickly capitalized on the Empire’s internecine strife, executing Atahualpa and declaring Ecuador a Spanish colony. Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, was the site of the first movement for Latin American independence in 1809, earning the city the nickname Luz de América (Light of America). The newly liberated country joined Gran Colombia in 1822, but seceded as an independent republic eight years later. Much of Ecuador’s history has been characterized by instability, driven by class tension and the effects of market prices on its chiefly agricultural exports. A long-lasting territorial dispute erupted with Peru in 1941, which resulted in several armed confrontations throughout the 20th century. A series of military governments took control during the 1960s and 70s; the country has, however, been under democratic rule since 1979, and at peace with Peru since 1998.
Ecuador is an excellent destination for nature lovers. It is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, with nearly half of its land area dominated by the Amazon Rainforest; in addition, its territory includes the Galapagos Islands, famous for their endemic wildlife, which prompted Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution. Those who prefer a more urban environment won’t be disappointed, however, with options including coastal Guayaquil, the growing multicultural beach town of Montañita, and historic Quito, one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Ecuador has a strong agricultural sector, producing bananas, plantains and other tropical fruits, in addition to cacao, coffee, and sugar; other leading exports include petroleum, timber, seafood, and gold.
Most immigrants to Ecuador come from surrounding countries in search of higher wages, which have become available since the adoption of the US dollar as the national currency. This also makes the country attractive to travelers from the US, naturally, who benefit from lower prices than they’ll find in their home country without the trouble of dealing with exchange rates. There is an expanding market for English teachers in Ecuador, but beware that hours are usually quite long in this profession. The country is an excellent destination for Spanish students, however, with several qualified institutions who welcome foreigners. Volunteer opportunities are abundant, and volunteer workers are in high demand, especially in the fields of education and environmentalism.
Spanish is the country’s only official language, and is spoken by approximately 98% of the population, at least as a second language. In rural areas indigenous languages predominate, and it may become difficult to find Spanish speakers or media. Quechua is the most common of these.