Note: I can only write about what I know and have personally experienced. I share it with you as a tool to help launch you on your own path of knowing and understanding. Buen Viaje!
I spent two months volunteering in Ecuador in the fall of 2012. During that time I traveled to Baños, Puyo, Rio Negro, and Rio Verde, Cuenca, Punta Ahuano, indigenous communities near Riobamba, Quito, Otavalo, and Lake Quilotoa. Here are some things I learned along the way. To see more photos from my trip visit My Photography.
Ecuadorians like other Latin cultures are very polite in the way they greet each other. It is expected to say ¨good morning (afternoon, night, etc.)¨ when entering a store, bus, taxi, or passing someone on the street. If you are greeting a friend or colleague it is custom to kiss them on the right cheek. If there is a large group of people present, it is expected to greet everyone this way. It is also traditional to do this when saying goodbye, but it is not mandatory (it´s more mandatory when saying hello).
If you are eating at a restaurant and pass by a table where others are eating it is polite to say ¨buen provecho!¨ which means ¨enjoy your meal!¨ To learn more about the language and customary greetings read my Crash Course in Spanish post.
In comparison to other Latin cultures, Ecuadorians can be a bit more reserved and may not appear as open and friendly upon first encounter. Once you make the effort to know them however, they are warm and courteous.
Ecuador is made up of three main regions: The Coastal area, The Sierra, and The Oriente. Each region has varying climates so it is best to be prepared for all types of weather if you will be traveling throughout Ecuador. I have been staying in the Oriente where it is humid and rainy. August and September tend to be the driest months of the year (so I am told by the locals) but so far it has rained 2-4 times a day (often short showers lasting 20-30 min.) It cools down at night but never gets cold and the temperature is usually moderate.
As for modesty, I have noticed women wearing shorts and jeans out in public but they tend to wear more pants or tights. When swimming I have seen very few bathing suits, rather the women wear t-shirts with tights and do not expose their midriff.
Food in Ecuador in general is not spicy. In the Oriente a typical meal consists of soup (usually chicken broth with vegetables), and a plate of rice and meat served with a small salad and juice. Juice or bastidas which are like smoothies are very popular and I would recommend trying the jugo de caña which is sugar cane juice. It´s spectacular. The diet is fairly monotone and bland. Sweetbreads with cheese, fried potatoes or yuca, and sausage are staples. You can also find restaurants serving pizza, hamburgers, and some Chinese food. I have only eaten street food and so far (fingers crossed) I have not gotten sick. I am in love with Ecuadorian soups, which they serve for practically every meal. They are hearty and delicious. I did try cuy, which is guniea pig (a delicacy in the Sierra) but I didn´t care for it. The meat is tender but extremely salty and you are expected to eat the cuy in its entirety. If you prefer to cook, you can find an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables to use, just make sure you wash them in a disinfectant specifically for this purpose which you can buy in the markets (I use Vitalin which is non-toxic and has no flavor). Read my post about eating street food my first few weeks in Ecuador!
I had a check-up with my primary care doc before I left for Ecuador and she prescribed Doxycycline (an anti-malarial drug) since I was going to be traveling in the Oriente. Risk of malaria is relatively low, but I´ve been taking it daily just in case. So far I have not noticed a lot of insects and have not used my bug repellent once although it is hanging out just in case. The Center for Disease Control also recommends receiving your Hepatitis B and A vaccinations as well as the Typhoid vaccination before leaving. It can take up to six months to complete this series of vaccinations so make sure you plan ahead. Since I had already traveled to Mexico and Africa I had these covered. The CDC has more details based on the area of Ecuador where you will be staying. The tap water is not safe to drink but bottled and filtered water are readily available.
Ecuador uses the American dollar but you will get a lot more bang for your buck than in the States. For example accommodations at a hostel range from $7-$10 a night, the average cost of a meal costs $2-$6, and bus transportation starts from .25-$5 depending on the distance. Excursions will be more expensive but probably range from $25-$50 per day (all prices based on one person). The one thing to be mindful of is carrying small bills. The majority of stores and businesses do not accept credit cards, nor do they have change in large amounts. I would suggest carrying bills of $10 and $5 if possible.
I have only taken buses and the occasional taxi (along with walking) in my stay here. I am living in a small community and so feel safe walking around at night by myself, but I wouldn`t suggest this in the larger cities (as always use your intuition and common sense). The buses here are coach style with movies being played on longer trips. There is storage below for luggage if needed and they make frequent stops (only to drop off and let on passengers). I would highly suggest traveling this way as it is cheap and efficient with a plethora of routes. Be mindful of buying a bus ticket before you step on the bus, sometimes this is required and the bus can get ¨sold out¨ (often for longer trips). Other times you can pay en route to your destination without a problem. If you are interested in making a trek into the jungle you can arrange to do so by private plane as most of the deep jungle is only accessible by plane or boat. Since I am living in Shell, I used the Alas de Socorro which is a missionary flight service that will also take tourists into the jungle. The total cost was $264 which was divided by four people. There is space for up to six people, not including the pilot and flights can be arranged by contacting the coordinador. Many other flight companies use Shell as a starting point for jungle excursions so ask around about prices. We flew into the community of Tiweno, about a 30 minute flight from Shell. Read about our experience here.
Questions? Concerns? Advice? I`d love to hear about your own experiences traveling in Ecuador or South America!Google+