Tips for Being a More Mindful and Cultured Traveler in Ecuador
Coming to a new place is always a thrilling and wonderful experience. They say that the best part about travelling is the fact that, once you return to your homeland, you get to see it with new eyes. In Ecuador, visitors are sometimes overwhelmed by the myriad of cultural customs that are openly shown throughout the country, not to mention the vast amount of new sensations. But it just takes a little open-mindedness, and perhaps some prior investigation, to understand the nature of these customs. And soon enough, you’ll find yourself falling in love with Ecuador’s traditions, flavours and people.
It’s safe to say that your visit to Ecuador will truly be a transformative experience after having walked through Quito’s World Heritage colonial downtown, while staying in the renewed and historic Casa Gangotena mansion. Or after experiencing nature at its purest form after a Galapagos adventure! And before you embark on said adventure, let us fill you in with a little bit of advice with respect to how to prepare for your trip to these spectacular and delightful lands!
Basic Fact: Be genuinely interested and show some curiosity in the country you’re visiting! Learn (at least a little bit of) the language, if you can!
A better journey to a new country involves being open to the experience and everything it offers. A Romance language is not only the result of years of evolution that trace back as far as the Greeks and Romans. It’s also the visual and abstract representation of a culture and its idiosyncrasies. It’s how traditions, belief systems, feelings and ideas are shaped. Learning some words and phrases can go a long way when visiting a new country!
In the case of Spanish, some of them might even already be familiar to you. If you happen to go out one evening and wish to order a beer, just say, “Quisiera pedir una cerveza, por favor.” Should you want to practice your dancing skills ask, “¿Quieres bailar conmigo?” And if you want to go for a truly Ecuadorian thank you that also serves as a farewell, go for the classic, “Gracias, muy amable.” You’ll leave them impressed!
The Whimsical Weather of Quito: Drop all your assumptions about it being in the tropics
There’s a couple of sayings in the capital city of Quito: “If you don’t like the weather…. just wait two minutes.” Or there’s another popular slogan that sounds like something out of a Wizard of Oz attraction: “Experience 4 seasons in just 1 day!” The point being: Dress adaptively. Temperatures vary throughout the day, ranging typically from 12 to 25 °C (50-77 °F) when the sun’s out and between 12 to 5 °C when night falls.
At high noon, the sky can either act as a heating iron that will make your skin sizzle when the sun shines down or a cool shower that you find yourself getting drenched by under a cloud of rain. And if you’re caught under the rain without an umbrella? Fear not! For the storm is usually but a passing thing. Nevertheless, we recommend coming prepared and at least wearing a windbreaker jacket, sweater, light t-shirt, comfortable pants (jeans), and comfortable shoe wear. Due to the aforementioned cooler temperatures up in the highlands, we also strongly advise that incoming passengers avoid wearing shorts and flip flops should they plan on stopping in Quito.
If anything is offered to you in terms of food, be polite (aka. put on your best poker face, if you have to)
Ecuadorians love to offer guests and newcomers the delicacies of their home country. We strongly urge newcomers to do their best to either open up their heart to something new or to express their reluctance in a polite way; a simple “no, gracias” with a soft smile is all that’s needed to respectfully decline. This is especially the case when Ecuadorians offer the local delicacy of “cuy” or guinea pig! Should you decide to accept what’s being offered, we ask that you please, please refrain from lowering your head to smell/sniff the food that’s been served right in front of you! Such a gesture is considered highly disrespectful in Ecuador.
Galapagos Expedition Vessel tip: Try and avoid serving yourself more than you can eat during the buffets, as it is unnecessary to have to waste food.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of food…
Avoid wearing caps in restaurants and/or any indoor site of religious/historical importance
Manners matter (yes, even in public)
Walking into a small convenience store, getting into a taxi or your transfer vehicle…. These are all things that might seem like trivial, day-to-day occurrences for plenty of visitors. But the way one walks into these mundane moments can actually mark the difference between being regarded as a rude or polite individual. The solution is simple, as all you have to remember is that a simple buenos dias (good morning), buenas tardes (good afternoon) and buenas noches (good evening) goes a very long way in Ecuadorian culture.
Fun fact: More colloquially, you’ll often find Ecuadorians exchanging the term “veci” (short for “vecino” or neighbor in Spanish, pronounced veh-see) between each other. It is a term that is used most commonly by frequent patrons upon entering their favorite locale, greeting the clerk or owner with a “buenos dias, veci.”
And while we’re on the topic of greetings: Forget about your personal space!
Ecuadorians love to introduce each other and say hello with a brief, lighthearted brushing of the right cheeks (sometimes a complete hug is thrown in for good measure) accompanied by a soft “kiss” sound. It is done between the opposite sex and between women. Men to men greetings with the cheek only apply in certain parts of Europe, not in Ecuador, so watch out!
Be mindful of how loud you’re speaking
Especially in religious places. It’s often the case that newcomers are used to talking at louder levels. Ecuadorians, however, are more modest when it comes to making their thoughts and feelings known in public spaces.
Bonus Tip: Learn to salsa dance!
Ecuadorians LOVE to dance, and if you get asked out, it’s the best that you’re not caught empty-handed (dance-wise) when it comes to your moves on the dance floor!
With parents that worked for the U.S. Foreign Service up until he graduated from high school, Chris was raised to have the heart of a nomad throughout his life. He has resided in Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador throughout his years, and just recently spent the past four up in Canada finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy & English at the University of British Columbia. He is now devoted to writing about all things related to travel in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia.