“What do you DO in Ecuador?” That’s a question that expats get asked all of the time. For the most part, the simple truth is that we do pretty much the same things that retirees do anywhere in our day-to-day life. We read, watch some TV, get together with friends, indulge in hobbies, and so on.
But living in Ecuador does give you some special options on ways to spend your time.
Here’s a look at 10 special things to do in Ecuador.
1. Shop the Artisanal Mercados
Ecuador has a rich, multi-cultural heritage. People have been living in this diverse and fertile land for over 10,000 years. This heritage, combined with the Spanish influence, has led to some of the most beautiful crafts and art in the world. Every region has their own specialties; there are the famous hats of Montecristi, erroneously know as “Panama hats”, the colorful and intricate textiles of the Andean highlands, towns like Cotacachi where leather goods are made, experts in wood carving, ceramics…the list goes on.
No matter where you live in Ecuador, it is easy to find places where you can shop or just browse through a variety of lovely products.
2. Visit an UNESCO World Heritage City
You don’t have to live in the Quito or Cuenca to visit and enjoy their historic districts. It is safe, easy, and affordable to travel around Ecuador, which after all, is only about the size of the state of Colorado. Both cities are great places for a getaway to enjoy the architecture and history of their Old Town areas. There are guided bus tours and walking tours, but it is also pleasant to just spend some time strolling around the Parque Calderón in Cuenca, or the Plaza Grande in Quito.
3. View Quito From 13,000 Feet
Speaking of Quito, you can visit the amusement park at the base of the Quito Teleférico, and then take the 20-minute gondola ride up near one of the summits of Mount Pichincha. From there you can view the entire valley from 13,000 feet. There are places to eat up top, exhibits, and shops, and even an Oxygen Bar if you’re feeling a little dizzy. For the more adventurous types, you can also plan to hike from there to the top of Ruku Pichincha.
4. Stand at the Middle of the World
Sure, it’s a touristy thing to do, but a great option in Ecuador is to check out the Mitad del Mundo, or the Middle of the World just outside of Quito. Ecuador, of course, gets its name from its position straddling the equator, and the Middle of the World Park is the largest tourist destination in the country.
Although modern GPS has shown the monument to be not quite on the imaginary line, the park has developed into a great destination. There are some wonderful restaurants, cultural exhibits, art displays, science stations, gift shops (of course), and a planetarium show to enjoy.
5. Discover New Almuerzos
Closer to home, many expats enjoy discovering new almuerzos. Although technically the word just means lunch, this is the word used for the “lunch special” at Ecuadorian restaurants. Typically, the special will be start with some type of soup. You then get a main plate of either meat or seafood, served with rice, plantains, and maybe a small salad or French fries. You will often get a glass of fresh fruit juice, and sometimes a small dessert.
The fun is in the variations on this theme. Every establishment has their own specialty, and in many places the menu will change from day to day. Almuerzo sampling is a fun and delicious hobby, and it’s easy on the wallet as well.These meals generally are priced at only $2 to $4 per person.
6. Take a Hike
Experts agree that walking is great exercise and something almost anyone can enjoy. If you are an avid hiker or backpacker, Ecuador can offer you many challenging places to explore. But with the mild weather, expats find that they end up spending much more of their time walking than they ever have before. Whether you are strolling on a beach, walking through a city park, or tackling a trail in the Andes, Ecuador is a paradise for those who love to get out and stretch their legs.
7. Learn to Paddle Board
With over 1,000 miles of coastline, there are plenty of things to do on the water in Ecuador. Something becoming very popular with expats is SUP—Stand Up Paddleboard. Much easier to learn than surfing, the SUP fan stands on their wide board and uses a long paddle to propel themselves around the shoreline. Classes and boards to rent are available all along the coastal towns and there are clubs and competitions springing up in the larger cities of Manta and Salinas.
8. Shop Your Local Mercado
This is one of my favorite things to do. With a year-round growing season for most crops, and abundant seafood from the rivers and ocean, Ecuador produces some of the best—and healthiest—food on the planet. Every community has access to some sort of mercado, ranging from small trucks that pass through periodically, to permanent pavilions with multiple stalls, all the way up to mercados that spread over 10 or more city blocks.
You can spend a lot of time just sampling the many unusual varieties of fruits and vegetables that are grown in Ecuador and have fun practicing your Spanish with the local vendors. There are seafood and meat markets as well and the best part is that you will find that not only is the quality often superior, the costs are much lower at the mercados than at the modern supermarket chains.
9. Explore the Galapagos
Although a rarely achieved “bucket list” item for many people, it is a lot easier (and less expensive) to take a trip to the exotic and fascinating Galapagos Islands if you live in Ecuador. For one thing, you are closer…it takes less than two hours to fly there from the Guayaquil or Quito airports. Also, Ecuadorian residents (including expats) get a substantial discount on the park entry fee.
10. Nothing At All!
Finally, Ecuador is a great place to live if you enjoy sometimes doing nothing at all. The mañana lifestyle you find here is very easy to get used to. With days and nights each a steady 12-hours long all year round, and in most areas very little change in temperature, sometimes it is great to just kick back and enjoy a quiet, peaceful life in beautiful Ecuador.