Ecuador's Volcano Triple Crown
Ecuador is the second smallest of the South American countries and, as its name suggests, sits astride the Equator. The country is divided into three distinct regions: The Sierra, which comprises the Andes and its foothills, The Oriente, which is the low Amazon rainforest region to the east of the Andes and The Coast, which lies to the west of the central Andean crest. The most distinctive feature of the Ecuadorean Andes is the large number of volcanoes, most of which display the classic conical shape. Eruptions from volcanoes such as Cotopaxi and Chimborazo have partly blocked the central “Valley of the Volcanoes,” creating a number of basins, filled with volcanic ash to depths of several hundred metres, especially in the Latacunga and Ambato areas. Rivers have cut through this fairly soft ash, creating deep gorges, cliffs and plateaux and large areas are relatively arid and infertile. Large areas of eastern Ecuador (The Oriente) are low-lying and covered by dense Amazonian rainforest. A transitional zone, between this rainforest and the Andean heights, is occupied by cloud forest, starting at altitudes above 1500 metres and extending upeards to above 3000 metres. Between 3500 metres and the snowline at around 4700 metres, the characteristic vegetaion is grassland (known as ‘‘paramo’’) with large tracts of ichu grass - a poor, rough pasture type grass. Some of the areas around the volcanoes are in the ‘‘rain shadow’’ and are, as a result quite dry, with a scrub type of vegetation.
The time in Ecuador is GMT -5 hours
The national language of Ecuador is Spanish. English is not widely spoken though Ecuadorians who have dealings with tourists and restaurant staff in Quito will usually have fairly good English. We recommend that you take a pocket phrase book and learn some basic Spanish.
Being on the equator Ecuador does not display the four seasons of the temperate zones. Climatically there are two seasons, wet and dry, and these vary depending on the geographical area you are in. The dry (and relatively cooler) season in the highlands is from June - September with a second, short dry season around Christmas and New Year. Daytime maximum temperatures at these times can be expected to be around 20 degrees centigrade, falling to between 5 and 10 degrees centigrade at night. Higher up, of course, it will be cooler, with night time temperatures below freezing at camps above 4000 metres. You should be prepared for all four seasons in one day, especially in the altiplano. Whilst in the “Oriente,” the Amazon region, hot and humid is the rule, year-round. Temperatures of 30 degrees centigrade are the norm here. The Galapagos Islands have a climate of their own and are generally hot and dry throughout the year.
The unit of currency in Ecuador is US dollars. For up to date exchange rates visit: www.xe.com. Ecuador’s own currency the Sucre was suspended in 1997 following rampant inflation. Today US dollars are the only accepted currency throughout the country. We recommend you take the majority of your travel money in the form of cash US dollars. One of the easiest ways is to draw money from ATMs, with your debit or credit card, from the main banks in Quito, Banos and other major towns. Often this gives the most favourable rate of exchange. Credit cards can be used in many shops and restaurants and are particularly useful for more expensive items.
A passport (with at least 6 months remaining validity) is required for this trip. Visas are not required for nationals of EU countries, the USA, and Canada.
Please note that if you intend to travel to Ecuador via the USA you must have a machine readable passport and you must complete an online 'Electronic System for Travel Authorisation' (ESTA) prior to boarding any US-bound aircraft or ship. You will be required to answer questions about criminal records, communicable diseases, past history of visa revocation or deportation, and basic biographical data such as name, birth date and passport information. You will not be allowed to board any US bound aircraft without completing the online ESTA form.
You should attend your own doctor and dentist for a check-up. Your doctor will have access to the most up to date information on the required vaccinations for the country you are visiting. In general we recommend vaccinations against the following: Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid, & Hepatitis ‘A’. Malaria prophylaxis is not recommended for this trip unless you intend to visit the rainforest as an extension to your trip. A very good online resource is the NHS travel website at www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk
Additional Sources of Information
Ecuador. Lonely Planet guidebook.
Ecuador. Rough Guides
The Andes – A guide for Climbers. John Biggar
Trekking in the Central Andes – Lonely Planet
Ecuador and Galapagos Wildlife Guide Arris.
Galapagos Islands (Natural History guide) Pierre Constant
Ecuador. ITMB 1 ; 700,000
Ecuador IGM (Ecuador Survey) 1 : 50,000
Lonely Planet - www.lonelyplanet.com
Rough Guides - www.roughguides.com