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You have made it to Ecuador, now what is there to do in your free time? A lifetime in Ecuador isn’t enough time to take it all in: the food, the nightlife, the culture, sports, sightseeing. Here’s a short primer on what is available to do in Ecuador.

Sightseeing and Tours – The Amazon Jungle or the Pacific Coast?

It is said that in Ecuador, you might experience the four seasons in a single day. The national Tourism motto is: ‘’Ecuador, It’s All You Need!”, and it is true. From the Pacific coast beach areas to the rainforest areas on the slopes of the majestic Andes mountains and on to the Amazon basin jungle areas, there is much to see and do in Ecuador. The Audubon Society states that there are more species of birds per square mile in Ecuador than in any other country in the world. If you are in Cuenca or Quito, a good place to start are the hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus tours that will take you all over the city. In Quito, the bus tour will take three to four hours if you don’t hop off; in Cuenca, it’s about a two-hour tour, but you will have more fun if you hop off and visit the churches, museums, or parks in either city. For a longer tour, Ecuador has recently renovated two different train rides along the Andean spine. One is a day-long trip, the other a three-day tour with stays at lovely hotels along the route, and these are a wonderful way to see the mountain culture and flora and fauna. Hiking, biking, or spa tours can be found in and around the bigger cities. Eco-tourism is a burgeoning field in Ecuador with rainforest and jungle preserves where you can view orchids, birds, and wildlife with lodging varying from rustic to historic to luxurious. And of course, we cannot forget the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s islands, a protected sanctuary for animals, birds, and wildlife, are a jewel in the crown of Ecuador tourism. In the Galapagos, you can stay in a hotel on one of the islands, visit the sanctuaries, and enjoy day trips to other islands by boat, or you can stay aboard a small cruise boat for a week or so to visit all the sights right from your boat. Snorkelling, scuba diving, boating on either the Galapagos or on the Pacific beach areas are a wonderful way to explore the marine ecosystem.

Sports activities

In Ecuador, ‘Futbol’ (soccer) is a religion. Each town has its own futbol team and some cities have more than one team. Season tickets are bought at all prices depending on how far you are from the field, but for most games, a ticket can be purchased at the gate on the day of the game. The spectators go crazy as competition is fierce. If an Ecuadorian team makes it to the FIFA World Cup finals, don’t expect to find a taxi driver during the match anywhere in the country – they will all be watching the game.

Ecuavoley, a relaxed version of volleyball played by teams of only 3 people on each side, has been enjoyed in Ecuador for over 75 years. It’s not a professional sport but is played all over the country by professional and non-professional players with family members cheering on the sidelines. There’s no uniforms and no organized teams, but it is as popular as soccer because everybody can play it anywhere you see a volleyball net.

Bicycling has become popular in the last 10 years as Ecuadorians view bicycling as a fairly easy athletic activity that almost anyone can do. All you need is a bicycle. In past years, bicycles were seen as the vehicle for the poor, but today, restricted bicycle lanes are being built all over many cities in Ecuador for everyone to enjoy. ‘’Ciclo-vias” are common on Sundays in the bigger cities, with traffic being halted on certain roads for bicycling families to enjoy a safe family activity. For more serious bicyclists, mountain bike rides and races, as well as organized road races in the major cities, are offered frequently during the drier seasons.

Museums and culture

People have lived on Ecuadorian soil for thousands of years, before the Incas, before Christianity, before western civilization. Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, and Salinas have numerous museums showcasing the many cultures that inhabited the lands of this beautiful country in previous eras. Cañar, Valdivia, and Los Angeles are just a few of the ancient cultures that have left their marks on Ecuador, and a visit to view the artefacts that have been excavated by archaeologists from all over the world is an experience not to be missed. Ecuador also has many talented artists, abstract, lifelike, and indigenous, and you will find unique pieces of art you will want to buy at galleries and indigenous markets alike in all Ecuadorian cities. The ‘mercado’ in Otavalo is known all over the world as the place to buy handmade wool rugs, ponchos, sweaters, hats, as well as indigenous art at very reasonable prices, but you will find these wonderful souvenirs all over the country.

Restaurants and Cafes

Fancy a meal or a coffee? Ecuador grows excellent coffee beans and if you are a coffee drinker, you could spend all your time in Ecuador tasting the many types of coffee and coffee drinks offered all over the country. In the north of Ecuador, a typical coffee ‘snack’ is coffee with a ‘bizcochuelo’, a sugary lady-finger type of cookie that is dunked in hot coffee. Ecuador’s year-round spring weather both in the mountains and on the coast allows for many cafes and restaurants to offer outdoor seating. Waiters will never rush you away, so enjoy your coffee or meal at your leisure. As for the cuisine, (INSERT LINK TO CUISINE ARTICLE) you can enjoy meals ranging from a $2, such as the ‘almuerzo’, a full lunch with juice, soup, main dish, and dessert, or visit a gourmet restaurant for a fine dining experience. Many citizens left Ecuador in the late 1990’s to work in Europe or North America, however, after moving back home around 2009 after the worldwide financial crash, they brought their foodie tastes back with them. North American, Italian, Spanish, British, Mexican, Chinese, Russian and other ethnic restaurants compete happily with Ecuadorian ‘Typico’ cuisine, which always includes at least a scoop of rice.

Exercising

Private gyms are everywhere in the larger cities and offer memberships from $15 to $60 a month depending on the city and the type of gym. Jogging on a treadmill, spin classes, and sessions with a personal trainer are extremely popular. In larger cities, free Jazzercise or Tai Chi classes are often held in public parks with music and a leader with a microphone urging the class members to keep moving. Many parks also sport manual exercise machines for anyone to enjoy on a lovely afternoon, and larger hotels usually sport at least a small gym with treadmill and a spinning bicycle. Hike up to a mountain preserve to see a waterfall or to fish at a lake on a day trip, or to just enjoy the clear mountain air.

Nightlife

There’s no shortage of nightlife every weekend in Ecuador. All the larger cities and many smaller towns offer discos, symphonies, movie theatres, and live plays. Cinemas showing movies are usually located in larger malls, and often will have a few movies playing in English with Spanish subtitles. Symphonies, discos, and theatre plays are typically shown during the weekends. Special concerts and music can be found during holidays (such as Christmas orchestral music played in the larger cathedrals) or in stadiums during the soccer off-season. Nightlife during the weekdays is usually limited to restaurants and bars, where futbol (soccer) and other sports games can be seen on large television screens.

There’s so much to see and experience in Ecuador, you will find your trip too short, and you will want to return to see what you missed. This little country has much to offer both to the tourist and the resident.

 Useful links:

Go Backpacking 
The Culture Trip 
Frommers 
Trip Advisor 
Miguel Illescas 
Olga Fisch 
Ecuador.com 
Lonely Planet

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