Language: Spanish is Ecuador's official language.
Visas: Visa are not required for British travellers. Other nationalities should obtain advice from their local embassy.
Health: There are no compulsory vaccinations, except yellow fever if visiting the rainforest. Malaria prophylactics are also recommended in this area. Once we have discussed an itinerary you should visit your GP to discuss which malaria tablets and vaccinations you will need.
When to go: The driest season for the Andean regions is from about late May to early October. The Napo rainforest region is a year-round destination, though the rains are heaviest in July and August. The Galapagos Islands is also a year-round destination, with December to May the warmest months and September and October considered to be the low season.
Getting there: There is an international airport at Quito and one at Guayaquil. KLM and Iberia operate routes via Europe to both cities, but you can also fly with other airlines such as American Airlines via the USA. Flying time is about 14 hours.
Time zone: GMT -5 hours
Ecuador contains a staggering variety of species offering wildlife enthusiasts the ultimate naturalist holiday. The terrain varies from the lush jungle of the Amazon Basin, over the mighty snow-capped volcanoes of the high Andes, to the rocky marine paradise of the Galapagos archipelago. With so much biodiversity it is no wonder that the Government of Ecuador has seen fit to protect over 17% of the country's land mass with a series of 44 protected areas.
The tribes in the northern highlands of Ecuador formed the Kingdom of Quito around 1000, before being absorbed by conquest and marriage into the Inca Empire. Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro conquered the area in 1532, leading to the establishment of a Spanish colony that thrived throughout the 17th century by exploitation of the native population. The first revolt against Spain occurred in 1809 and by 1819, Ecuador had joined Venezuela, Colombia and Panama in a confederacy known as Greater Colombia before becoming independent in 1830.
Over half the population are mestizos (mixed Amerindian and Spanish origin), a quarter are Amerindian, Spanish-white make up 7% and black 3%. There are 14 groups of Indians in Ecuador, the largest being the Andean Quichuas who still widely speak their own language throughout the Andes (including some in Peru who are known as Quechuas) and retain a culture that goes back to the Incas. All wear distinctive dress that varies from region to region - for example, the Otavalo Indians are immediately recognisable, the women by their blue skirts, embroidered blouses and gold beads, the men by their white trousers, grey blue ponchos and pigtails.
Quichuas have also colonised parts of the Amazon region, particularly the Napo river. Other indigenous communities found in the Amazon include the Cofán, Secoya, Siona and Shuar (the original head-shrinkers) as well as the Huaorani who were completely cut off from the rest of the country until very recently but have now emerged as one of the strongest opponents of the oil companies. Ecuador also has a strong Afro-Ecuadorian community living mainly on the coast and north of the country and around San Lorenzo you can hear marimba music drifting through the air.
In Ecuador there is a big cultural difference between the coast and Sierra, even though they lie less than half a day's drive from each other. With such a cultural mix there are many interesting handicrafts to be found throughout the country - perhaps one of the most surprising being the fact that Ecuador is, and has always been, the home on the panama hat!
For most of the last century Ecuador had been caught in seemingly endless political instability. Ecuador's political parties have historically been small, loose organisations that depend populist, charismatic leaders to retain support rather than on policies or ideology. Rafael Correa is the current president leading Ecuador through some often controversial political changes. After being elected he immediately sought backing to rewrite the constitution, hoping the new constitution would weaken the Congress which has been called inept and corrupt.
One of the greatest political changes for Ecuador came during the 1996 election, when the indigenous population abandoned its traditional stance of shunning the political system and started to participate actively. The indigenous population has since established itself as a force in Ecuadorian politics and joined the Gutierrez administration before abandoning it for the opposition.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE, is Ecuador's largest indigenous organisation. Formed in 1986, CONAIE has pursued social change on behalf of the region's native population using a wide range tactics including direct action. CONAIE is most well known for its organisation of popular 'levantamientos' or uprisings that often include blockading of commercial arteries and the takeover of government buildings.
Politics of the Amazon
Ecuador's Amazon rainforest is known as one of the most biodiverse places on earth as well as being home to indigenous peoples that have lived there for millennia. Unfortunately for these communities, below the surface of this fragile jungle also lies huge reserves of crude oil and natural gas, threatening the environment and their way of life. Industrial-scale natural resource extraction has become a vital source of income for the Ecuadorian state, leading to a variety of projects throughout the region. Already many indigenous groups have suffered irreversible damage to their native territories, the erosion of their cultural heritage and a myriad of health complications.
By organising politically, Ecuador's indigenous movement has made an impact on the use of the Amazon, helping to stop dangerous public policies and international trade pacts. Although a change is starting to be seen, it has not been a quick process, requiring nationwide uprisings and the removal of several presidents. The ever-present pressure for oil money has seen the Correa administration responding to the increasing profile of indigenous rights by criminalising nonviolent protest and charging indigenous leaders with sabotage and terrorism.
'It is no accident that most of the remaining natural resources are on indigenous land. First the white world destroys their own environment, then they come asking for the last pieces of land they have put us on, the earth we have protected.' Luis Macas, former president of CONAIE