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View of the blue-footed boobies found at Isla de la Plata, off the coast of Ecuador.

Ecuador

If you were familiar with Charles Darwin and his research in the Galapagos Islands, you would have heard of the country Ecuador. For most people, Ecuador is the take-off point to the natural wonders of the Galapagos, and a transit stop home. Yet Ecuador is so much more than the Galapagos Islands, and has much more to offer than what Charles Darwin recorded.

View of the blue-footed boobies found at Isla de la Plata, off the coast of Ecuador.

Firstly, you have to realise that the entrance fee to the Galapagos is USD110 and the one-hour return flight from the mainland averages at USD600. Due to its remoteness, everything from food to hotels and transportation in the islands are way more expensive then you would think. Most people would bite the bullet and visit nonetheless, but how many actually knew there was a poor man’s version of the Galapagos? Indeed, off the coast of Ecuador lies Isla de la Plata, an island hosts to many of the unique species of the Galapagos Islands. The beautiful turquoise-feet birds, raging humpback whales and giant tortoises are just some of the wildlife on the island. All for less than USD50.

View of the famous swing to nowhere in Banos, Ecuador.

However, Ecuador is not just about wildlife. The tropical forests and waterfalls are also a spectacular sight. What sets the Ecuadorian tropics apart is that some of it lies on a high altitude. As such, despite being right at the equator (aka hot and humid weather all year round), some cities enjoy cool and beautiful weather year-round. Imagine being right in the middle of a rainforest, enjoying spring-like weather and exploring dozens of waterfalls and volcanoes. This is a kind of nature that very few countries along the equator can offer.

View of one of the many churches in the historical centre of Quito, Ecuador.

Apart from nature, Ecuador boasts some of the most beautiful colonial cities in Latin America. The capital, Quito, was the stronghold of the Incas for a few years and eventually became the capital of the arts and culture of the entire Latin continent. In the city centre, every colonial house is an artpiece of its own right. The cobblestone streets exude history, and the towering cathedrals scream luxury and power. While many tourists only stay in the airport waiting for the flight to the Galapagos, it is well worth your time to step out and explore.

Pescado Encocado, or fish in creamy coconut milk sauce, is a traditional Ecuadorian dish from the northwestern coast.

If you love to eat, Ecuador serves up one of the best seafood dishes in the continent. While many would say that the food has many similarities with Peruvian cuisine, there are dishes that are truly Ecuadorian. Have a bowl of hot Encebollado, which is a savoury soup of seafood, onions and tapioca. This is definitely a great way to start the day and to keep the morale high. My absolute favourite dish is the Pescado Encocado, which is seasoned fish cooked in a creamy coconut sauce. As a Singaporean, coconut curry is an important dish and I was pleasantly surprised to find a unique rendition of it right on the other side of the world.

View of the Quilotoa Lagoon from a viewpoint along the famous Quilotoa Loop trek.

Nature, wildlife, food, history… There is so much to explore in Ecuador. Give yourself the opportunity to see what Ecuador has to offer, and you will be surprised at how underrated it has been on the tourist radar.

The map below marks the places that I have visited in Ecuador. Hover over the spots to check out what these places are called.