The Natural Geographic Divisions of Ecuador

The Four Geographic Regions of Ecuador | ©Not Your Average American

Ecuador is split down the middle by the magnificent Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world. This natural division creates three geographic regions that Ecuadorians refer to all the time, La Costa, La Sierra, and El Oriente. Additionally, the Galapagos Archipelago makes the fourth region:

Ecuador’s four geographic regions obviously have different climates and physical features. More surprisingly, culture and traditions are unique as well. While there is no definite border to explain when the culture of one region gives way to that of the next, there are clues. The different food served in local restaurants or the particular clothing worn by the residents are strong indicators that you have crossed an unofficial border.

What is more, understanding the differences between regions will help you focus your travel plans.

The Pacific Coast (La Costa)

Tourism along the Pacific Coast was severely hampered by the earthquake centered around Manta, Pedernales, and Puerto Viejo in April 2016. Only recently have these communities seen a renewed interest from international tourists. Once again, tourists are returning to Pacific Coast to sunbathe on wide, sandy beaches, surf choppy waters, and eat the best seafood dishes around.

Weather

Weather along the coast is warm to hot and can be very humid. The rainy season starts around January and lasts through April, bringing slightly cooler weather. Unfortunately, the cooler weather is often accompanied by a fairly constant gray sky. A single day with a glorious blue sky changes everything and those can happen at any time of the year!

Food

Food along the Pacific Coast is famous throughout the nation. Locally caught seafood makes for excellent Ecuadorian-style ceviches, coconut-based seafood stews called encocados, and encebollado, a restorative fish soup often served as a hangover cure. In fact, coastal breakfast is a meal not to be missed! Look for delicious plates of tigrillo and bolon de verde, meals that highlight the favorite starch of the coast, the plantain.

Tourism

Most coastal tourism is found north of Guayaquil and south of the Colombian border along the Ruta del Sol. Recently, whale-watching is taking off. July through September hump-backed whales migrate from the

Currently, we are recommending caution while traveling to the Esmeraldas Province. Unfortunately, that includes some of the prettiest beaches in Ecuador near Atacames. However, there are other beach towns including Montañita, Olón, Puerto Lopez, Puerto Cayo, Bahia de Caraquez, and Pedernales. If you are looking for slightly larger towns consider Manta or Salinas.

Use the slider below to see articles about the Ecuadorian Pacific Coast.

Montañita

Montañita, the most well-known beach town on the coast of Ecuador, has a reputation for marijuana, strong drinks, and great waves. I'm not sure if any of those is really true. While we may have caught a whiff of weed on our two visits, it seemed no more or less than...

Morning Market, La Libertad

o experience a true Ecuadorian breakfast on the coast, I have the place to go, the local fish market in La Libertad, about a 20 minute drive from Salinas. There you will find a very active fish market with some of the shiniest,...

Ecuador Earthquake Relief Can Include Tourism

After being awoken by massive shaking last night, today seems as a good a day as any to let the world know what is going on in "post" earthquake Ecuador. Last night's 6.7 earthquake was close enough to the epicenter of last month's 7.8 that it might be considered an...

Best Photos from Manta, Ecuador

Our trips to Manta, Ecuador are full of great memories. When I pulled together the nine shots needed for publication in Ecuador Por Mis Ojos, I had a hard time deciding which ones to share. I could focus on the ever-so-welcoming people of Manta, especially those...

Valdivia

Along the Ruta del Sol is a small town with a wealth of archeology finds, Valdivia. For those that frequent archeology museums in Ecuador, the name will sound familiar. Museums in Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil are full of treasures from the Valdivian culture. The most...

Bird Watching at Agua Blanca

The dry forests of coastal Ecuador are havens for birds. Unfortunately, they are few and far between because of extreme pressure from development. However, one vibrant dry forest has been protected within the boundaries of Machililla National Park, not far from Puerto...

Firefighter’s Museum, Guayaquil

In late August, I had a free day in Guayaquil. A friend of mine, who came down to Guayaquil with me to help an American Football team start up, mentioned that a great museum to go to would be the Firefighter’s Museum. I had never been to a firefighter’s museum, so it...

Iguana Park, Guayaquil

guana Park really has a much more mundane name - Parque Seminario - but is best known by its most famous occupants, the iguanas. These scaly reptiles, the size of large Dachshunds, can be found on grassy patches, in the small pond, on park benches,...

La Lobería, Salinas

La Lobería is a small but interesting tourist destination on the coast of Ecuador. It is actually located on a military base but access for tourists is quite easy. The point of coming here is to see sea lions, or Lobos Marinos (literally sea wolves). I have to admit,...

Tagua Artists of Dos Mangas

Dos Mangas has a secret waiting to be told to a wider audience. Currently it is known only by Ecuadorians and even many of them don't know of the treasures trove just a few kilometers off the Ruta del Sol. Dos Mangas is a small, unassuming village bisected...

The Andes (La Sierra)

The Ecuadorian Andes is known for delicious home-style cooking, stunning countryside, and vibrant festivals. The native people of the Sierra often speak Quichua and Spanish, dress in dark wool clothing with bright additions like shawls, ponchos, or embroidered blouses. Often, you can tell the ethnicity of a person simply by their style of hat.

Weather

The climate in the Ecuadorian Andes is that of most high mountains, highly unpredictable. It is not unusual to wake up to a clear sky, watch the fog roll in, and have that turn to rain later in the day. Ecuadorians living in the Andes love to say that they experience four seasons every day of the year! We always recommend dressing in layers so that you are prepared for both coldest and warmest of days.

In general, the dry season lasts from about August through October, rainy season December through April, and the other months are a combination of the two with rains tending to come in the late afternoons, if at all. Be warned, it rains in the dry season and it can be dry in the rainy season. While snow is rare in cities, it is possible to hike to glaciers and summit snowy mountaintops year round.

Food

Food in the Ecuadorian Sierra is delicious! The best places to eat are often the local markets where traditional plates are found every single day. Vendors sell delicious plates of hornado (roast pork), fried fish, and huge bowls of chicken soup made with farm-raised birds. Potatoes, corn, fava beans, melloco, and fresh cheese are everywhere. If you want to eat on the cheap, just ask for the meal of the day. It will come with a bowl of soup, a protein (usually chicken), rice, a small portion of cooked vegetables or a salad, and a drink. All for a couple of bucks at most.

Tourism

The Sierra runs from the far northern border of Colombia all the way to the southern border with Peru. The most popular tourist destinations tend to be near the cities. In the far north is the White City of Ibarra and Quito, which has the best preserved colonial center in South America. In the central Sierra, Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador and Riobamba is the cultural heart of the Sierra. Further south find Cuenca, the City of Rivers beloved by American Expats, and Loja, the gateway to southern Ecuador.

But the Andes is about more than cities. It’s about mountains, lakes, cloud forests, and high paramo. The famous Ruta de Volcanes passes by some of the most iconic peaks in the nation, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Tungurahua, Sangay and Altar. National parks run the gamut of the small El Angel Reserve on the border with Colombia to the Podocarpus National Park that borders Peru in the south. In between, pick a volcano and there is a national park associated with it.

Use the slider below to read more about the Ecuadorian Andes.

Piñán, Ecuador – Un Lugar Olvidado Por El Tiempo

David Sasaki amablemente dio permiso para que Not Your Average American publicara sus palabras escritas y bellas fotos en nuestro sitio web. David es el fundador y administrador principal del grupo de Facebook, Ecuador Expats. Piñañ, Ecuador - Un lugar olvidado por el...

Baños de Agua Santa – A Place of Pilgrimage

Before Europeans ever arrived in Ecuador, native peoples visited the area around modern day Baños to bathe in the mountain springs. They believed that the local volcano and pagan goddess, Mama Tungurahua, provided both hot and cold springs found near the base of a...

Everything You Need To Know About Mama Negra

So you want to visit Latacunga to see the Mama Negra parade? But you can't find any information. You've come to the right place. Last year, we attended the November festivities with local friends and learned a ton about the do's and don't of the day. Read on to learn...

Experiencia exclusiva de aguas termales cerca de Cuenca

¿A quién no le gustan las aguas termales? Incluye una oferta exclusiva que protege nuestro salud y seguridad y estamos convencidos de que debemos visitar. Estamos animando a las personas que viven cerca de Cuenca a aprovechar esta excelente oferta. Gracias al...

The Best Birding Around Papallacta, Ecuador

Most people make the day trip from Quito to Papallacta to enjoy the hot springs alone. Then there are those of us who go for the birds! With that in mind, here are a few locations in and around Papallacta, Ecuador that make for great birdwatching! Birdwatching The...

What to Expect at Cascada Condor Machay

Little did we know that the hardest part of getting to the Cascada Condor Machay wouldn't be the hiking but the actual driving. We knew we were looking for a road that led from Sangolquí to the back, north entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. Like all Americans, I went...

El Museo de Guayasamín, Quito

Escondido en un tranquilo rincón del sector Bellavista de Quito, justo debajo del Parque Metropolitano, la antigua casa de Oswaldo Guayasamín ofrece un vistazo a la división económica que describe gran parte de América del Sur. Guayasamín, el artista ecuatoriano más...

Laguna de Cuicocha

few kilometers outside the famous leather town of Cotacachi is high mountain lake tucked into an ancient caldera of an extinct volcano. The lake is named Cuicocha, which in Quichua means the Lake of the Cuy (or Guinea Pig). There is some debate as...

The Orchids at the Quito Botanical Garden

I look forward to orchid season in Quito! That means from December through April, I'll the best opportunity to see these strange and beautiful flowers in their native habitats.  In the meantime, I'll have to be content with the collection I found at the Jardín...

Lost Graffiti

Graffiti abounds in Quito. Long cement walls make perfect canvases for graffiti artists and there are many to be found in this big city. The quality of art differs from place to place but a few locations offer excellent examples of what graffiti has come to be in...

The Amazon (El Oriente)

The Amazon is famous for its wildlife, its myriad of waterways, and for adventure travel. Much of the Amazon is difficult to reach and those areas with roads and navigable rivers are often the same places where mining and oil extraction are taking place. The division between the Andes and the Amazon is difficult to pinpoint but we tend to include most East Slope destinations in the Amazon region.

Weather

The Amazonian climate is tropical: humid, hot, and often rainy. Though there is a dry season, it is variable in different parts of the Amazon! For example, Cuyabeno often has a period of no rain in January while further south they might be experiencing the heaviest rains of the season. It’s best to come prepared for heavy rain and then be pleasantly surprised by clear skies. 

Food

Delicious foods of the Amazon include grilled fish wrapped in maito leaves, yuca served mashed, boiled, or fried, and chicha made from the palm fruit, chontaduro. The Amazon is also famous for the chontacuro, a grub that lives in the same palm as the fruit. To get these grubs, the harvester must chop down the tree. If asked to try them, feel free to pass them up as the current rate of harvest is not sustainable, especially if native Ecuadorians want to maintain a supply for themselves.

Tourism

While the Amazon Basin runs from the northern border with Colombia to the southern border with Peru, the most visited destinations are accessed via Quito in the north. Places like the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and the Yasuni National Park require a trip by boat or airplane. However, other destinations are located along the Amazon Troncal, the E-45 that connects the small communities of the Oriente, like Tena, Baeza, Cosanga, Puyo, Maca, and Zamora. These local towns provide access to rivers for rafting or kayaking, small orchid reserves, and hiking trails to waterfalls and wildlife. The E-45 also provides access to Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve and Sangay National Park.

Community tourism is a common offering in the region as different tribal nations, like the Siona, Shuar and Huaorani, have developed programs to welcome tourists to their territories. Traditional native costumes differ for each nation but often include feathered headdresses, animal hide, and plant fibers. 

Use the slider below to read more about the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Pastaza Province

A lot of the territory in the Pastaza Province is hard to see. After all, when there are no roads and the only way to travel is by airplane or by boat, access is limited. Our knowledge of Pastaza is limited to a single trip where we drove to the small community of...

The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve: A Photo Essay

The Cuyabeno: A Photo Essay  We plan to write many articles about the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in northeast Ecuador, to include a description of the different access points and places to stay, the basics of travel in the region, and the what times of year are best to...

Cabañas San Isidro, an East Slope Lodge

Cabañas San Isidro is a nature lodge tucked into the East Slope cloud forest of the Andes in Ecuador. It sits at 2,050m (6,800 ft.) above sea level in a zone that is mostly blanketed by damp, lush forest. The reserve is home to hundreds of bird species, many of which...

Wire-crested Thorntail

You can just imagine how this tiny hummingbird got his name. His crest can look like tiny little wires sticking up from the crown of his head and his tail is long and pointy, if not as sharp as a thorn. His forehead is actually a very bright green but it only shines...

Cabañas San Isidro

In my attempt to see as many hummingbirds in Ecuador as I possibly can, I stayed at another East Slope lodge a little higher up the mountainside than Wildsumaco called Cabañas San Isidro. The lodge is well-known by birders and is a popular place to stay for its quiet...

Copalinga Lodge and Reserve: A Jewel of Southern Ecuador

The Copalinga Lodge and Reserve has been on my bucket list since we first lived in Quito. It's a little-known destination beloved by avid birdwatchers and scientists interested in studying the flora and fauna of the mid-altitude tropical forests of southern Ecuador....

Best Shots from the Tungurahua Province

The Tungurahua Province is famous for being home to an active volcano. Yet life goes on in a somewhat normal fashion, even when Tungurahua spews smoke and ash high into the atmosphere. The most popular destination of Ecuadorians and international tourists in the...

Conteo Navideño de Aves – El Chaco y Quijos

En Ecuador se realiza cada año el Conteo Navideño de aves en diferentes lugares del país, dando un total de 21 rutas oficiales establecidas. Sin embargo, el 2020, un año diferente, con un virus pandémico a nivel global, se han sumado nuevos destinos como ediciones...

Wildsumaco Lodge

About a 5 hour drive to the east of Quito, driving towards the jungles of Ecuador, is a secluded wildlife reserve and lodge. Wildsumaco is tucked into the layers of foothills that lead up to the Andes. From the reserve, it is possible, on very clear days, to get a...

Pajareros in Cosanga, Ecuador

A new flock of pajareros has recently been discovered in Cosanga, a small town in the Napo Province of Ecuador. The females of the species tend to wear bright pink while the males prefer deeper tones of red or orange. All wear blue jeans and sport muddy, black boots....

The Galapagos (Islas Galapagos)

Even Ecuadorians don’t always list the Galapagos as a region. After all, it stands alone several hundred kilometers east of the continent in the Pacific Ocean. But we like to mention it as a region for a couple of reasons. First, some people don’t know that the Galapagos is a part of Ecuador! Second, while some parts of the Galapagos Islands remind us of the mainland (like the towns and cities), it is nothing like coastal Ecuador. 

Weather

The Galapagos is always warm. Sometimes it is downright hot and sweltering. The drier months, June through November, are some of the coolest, thanks to the Humboldt current. However, the skies are mainly overcast despite the lack of rain. Seas tend to be choppier, making island-hopping and boat trips a little exciting for those prone to sea-sickness. But all that sea action brought in by the colder current means that there are more sea creatures to spot!

In the rainy season, December through May, drizzle can last all day. The rainy season also provides some of the most dramatic skies of the year as sunlight plays with the fast-moving clouds. The calmer waters of the rainy season make for better nurseries. This is a great time to observe baby seals, sea turtles, and penguins.

Food

All food and culture on the Galapagos Islands arrived from the mainland in the last hundred years or so. That means some of the classic dishes might surprise you, like Seco de Chivo, a goat-meat stew. In fact, many of the foods on the Galapagos have their origins in the Pacific Coast culture of the mainland: ceviches, encocados, and grilled seafood. Moreover, because tourists love to eat what they know, there are plenty of places to buy hamburgers, pasta, and pizza. Therefore, the food on the Galapagos is best classed as international.

Tourism

Our first recommendation: if you don’t like outdoor adventure, don’t go to the Galapagos. This is not the place for a spa-like or luxury vacation despite the companies that market it so. This point ties into our second recommendation.

Nowadays, many tourists avoid the Galapagos as tourism has a negative impact on the endangered species living on the archipelago. Even when people agree to vacation in the Galapagos, they debate which type of trip is the most sustainable: land-based or cruise-based.

We fall into the land-based travel camp

Why We Recommend Land-based Tours

With several short trips under our belt, most at the invitation of the Ecuadorian government through my husband’s prior job, we learned that not all of the Galapagos is wild. There are already towns and farms on three of the major islands. The environmental impact has already happened. Worse, it has existed for generations. We need to prevent growth in the major towns and protect the fragile environments that remain.

If you must visit, our vote is to visit the places already impacted by humans and to leave the pristine locations alone. If you decide to book a cruise or island-hop, please do your best to choose companies that practice sustainability. You will not find guides in our registry as the National Park requires that all guides work via tour companies. Tour companies all take turns visiting the most iconic destinations. It leaves the tourist with few real choices despite the appearance of competition.

Volcán Chico, Isla Isabela

Many people don't realize that the Galapagos is a series of islands created by volcanic eruption and that the violent creation is still taking place today. This was never more true than for Isla Isabela, one of the youngest of the islands in the archipelago and the...

The Garden of Mosaic Tile

Hidden down a shady path just before the Charles Darwin Center in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, is a small garden dedicated to mosaic murals and sculptures covered in tile. [ready_google_map id='9'] The place is magical and full of stories waiting to...

A Volcanic Landscape – Bartolome Island

A local Ecuadorian friend and fan of my photography once told me that if I could only visit one place in the Galapagos, it should be Bartolome Island. Unfortunately, my first visit to the islands was filled with learning the ropes and last minute travel deals and one...

Best Photos from Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands

Isabela is a beautiful name for a beautiful island. In fact, the Spanish name is so much nicer than its British counterpart, Albemarle, that hardly anyone refers to the island by its colonial designation. Visiting the island of Isabela is a little more complicated...

El Junco, San Cristobal

There is a single freshwater lake in the Galapagos, El Junco, and it can be seen on the island of San Cristobal. The lake was formed tens of thousands of years ago after the last ice age. Locals named it El Junco after a flowering plant that grows in the area,...

An Organic Farm on the Galapagos

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine visiting an organic farm on the Galapagos Islands. Like most of us, I only pictured wild animals and even wilder places. I didn’t think of human populations at all. But the Galapagos is populated by more than 25,000 legal...

El Garrapatero, Isla Santa Cruz

Looking for a quiet beach on Isla Santa Cruz? Look no further than Playa El Garrapatero. You need only take a taxi from Puerto Ayora. Via land and paved road, the one-way trip is about 40 minutes. Just flag down a local taxi off the street. Via water, expect it to...

Volcan Sierra Negra, Isla Isabela

Most visitors to the Galapagos don't even think of hiking up to a crater rim of an active volcano. After all, the Galapagos is supposed to be about animals and there are few of those to see in the stark landscape of hardened lava flow. But ever since I heard that the...

Las Grietas – Isla Santa Cruz

Las Grietas on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos is literally a canyon-like crevice in the volcanic rock. Sea water enters the canyon via a pathway that is chock full of mangrove trees. And fresh water enters from the opposite direction. The roots of the...

Galapagos Sierra Negra Volcano Erupts (Updated July 8, 2018)

After seeing increased activity for the past couple of months, the second-largest volcanic crater in the world has erupted on June 26, 2018. When the volcano first showed signs increased activity, the Ecuadorian Geographic Institute advised visitors to the Galapagos...

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