Kari Iverson spent months traveling around the world. Get her tips on what to see and do in Ecuador.
Ecuador is geographically plentiful. Although it is only slightly larger than Colorado it can be divided into four different regions -- the coast, the Sierra (highlands), the Oriente (East, Amazon region) and the Galápagos Islands.
Located in the Sierra on the slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano, sits the capital, Quito, at 9,350 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. The quaint colonial character has been preserved in the historical city center (Centro Histórico) while the rest of the city has grown to be a modern cosmopolitan city.
Begin your visit to Quito by sight-seeing in Centro Histórico, where you can wind through the cobblestoned side streets leading to beautiful courtyards. Make sure to visit the Palacio de Gobierno/Palacio Presidencial and La Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral) in Plaza Grande (also referred to as Plaza de la Independencia), the Plaza of San Francisco, the Museo de Arte Colonial, Cerro Panecillo -- a hill that stands over the old city with a statue, the Virgin of the Americas, on top.
As you wander the narrow streets make sure to stop and try different food along the way. Taste a warm quimbolito, a traditional sweet of Ecuador wrapped in banana or canna leaves. I was wary to try them at first, but after one bite I was hooked.
Another treat that is a must to try is an humita. Humitas are made from fresh ground up corn, cheese, sugar and cream, milk or butter depending on the recipe. Then they are steamed in a corn husk. It is a long process to make humitas, but well worthwhile.
Continue wandering through Quito by making your way to the TelefériQo, a gondola lift running up the East side of Pichincha Volcano. It takes you to nearly 13,000 feet where you will be overwhelmed with beautiful views and high enough to touch clouds.
Other attractions in Northern Quito include the Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa (stadium) where national and club fútbol (soccer) matches take place. Across the street is Parque Carolina. Quiteños (people from Quito) spend time playing soccer, volleyball and jogging in the park. In many ways, the park is similar to Central Park in New York.
You can see where bullfights take place during the Fiestas de Quito, a celebration for the foundation of Quito, at the Plaza de Torros.
Traveling even farther North, you will reach la Mitad del Mundo -- or Middle of the World. There is a line marking where the equator is – it is surreal to jump from one side of the hemisphere to the other. There is also a museum dedicated to Ecuadorian culture.
Tasting more Ecuadorian cuisine is a must. Soup is called sopa, caldo or locro. It is a major part of Serrano cuisine and is served before almost every lunch. There are many different types of soups. One soup that is particularly memorable is fanesca. Fanesca is a rich soup served only during Holy Week, the week before Easter. Nearly every imaginable ingredient goes into fanesca -- fish, eggs, cheese, corn and more.
Ceviche, usually made from shrimp or fish, is also a popular dish. It is served in a tomato/citrus based sauce with patacones, thick slices of double fried plantains, popcorn or tostada on the side. People often enjoy it with a cold beer.
On the weekends families and friends gather for a parillada (barbeque) where they will eat anything from chicken to cuy (guinea pig), a specialty in Ecuador, to fritada (fried pork) served with llapingachos (potato patties filled with cheese), potatoes or mote (corn that has been boiled, cooked and peeled.
Enjoy the Ecuadorian culture and if time permits venture to the Amazon’s basin in the Oriente, the colorful markets in Otavalo, the playa (beach) in Guayaquil or Esmeraldas or even the Galápagos Islands. Get ready to meet some of the friendliest people you will ever know and enjoy every moment while in Ecuador.