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Go local in Ecuador and the Galapagos: our 8 best suggestions

Historical colonial buildings in Quito with pretty sunset skies

South America is the perfect continent for a deep-dive into local culture.

And we're here to prove it. We love our travel slow and immersive, so to inspire you to really experience local culture when visiting Ecuador and the Galapagos we've compiled a little list of activities you should definitely consider. 

ecuador-waterfall-bridge-pailon-del-diablo-baños-cover
Ecuador: stunning wildlife and captivating history tied together
Since it's one of the smaller countries in South America, Ecuador is often overlooked in favour of its bigger neighbours like Colombia and Peru. But don't make the mistake of skipping it, as Ecuador is a truly wild destination you have to visit at least once in your life. Not only are there plenty of outdoor activities to partake in, like hiking and mountain biking, but the country's nature is so stunning you'll never want to leave again. Add to that the friendly people, great food and the Galapagos as the icing on the cake, and you'll understand why we adore the country. Read more about the local and authentic experiences you can have in Ecuador in this blog.

Ecuador is often overlooked, but has a lot to offer

Especially if you're into a more immersive and meaningful way of travelling, you can't go wrong here. Ecuador is known for its diverse landscapes, which include the Galápagos Islands, the Andes Mountains, and the Amazon Rainforest. It's also home to a variety of indigenous cultures, as well as a number of colonial-era towns and cities that are rich in history and architecture. Additionally, the country is known for its delicious cuisine, which features a mix of indigenous and Spanish influences. Vamos! 

Man standing on a deserted mountain near Quito in Ecuador

1. Start slow, visit a local market

When you've just landed, you almost certainly will need a bit of time to adjust yourself to your new surroundings but you still want to get out and explore the local life. Well, one doesn't have to exclude the other. We always get the munchies after eating some bland plane food, so going out for some fruits and snacks is not a bad idea. You could of course go to a supermarket as well, but food markets in Ecuador are often more affordable and you don't want to miss out on the vibrant and lively setting food markets usually provide, making them a fun and exciting place to spend an afternoon.

Some popular Ecuadorian foods that you may find at a food market include:

  • Plantains: Plantains are a type of starchy fruit that are often fried or baked and served as a side dish.
  • Humitas: Humitas are steamed corn cakes made with fresh corn and spices, wrapped in corn husks.
  • Empanadas: Empanadas are pastry pockets filled with a variety of fillings such as meat, cheese, or vegetables, and are often served as a snack or appetizer.

If you want to make a full day out of it, we suggest going to the Otavalo market, where you'll not only find food but also plenty of handicraft items and more!

2. Take a dance lesson

Dancing is an important part of Latin culture, and in Ecuador, it's no exception. There are quite of lot of different dance styles to experience and enjoy while visiting the country, so taking a dance class could be a great evening activity to get some exercise while having a fun night out.

The most popular dances in Ecuador you can learn are:

  • Salsa: Salsa originated in Cuba and is known for its energetic, rhythmic movements and is often danced to lively Latin music. 

  • Cumbia: Coming from neighbouring Colombia, the Cumbia is characterized by its fast, rhythmic movements and is often danced to upbeat, energetic music.

  • Folk dances: Ecuador is home to a number of traditional folk dances that are popular throughout the country, including the Marinera, which is danced in the coastal regions of Ecuador, and the Sanjuanito, originating in the Andean regions of Ecuador. 

Food market in Ecuador - colourful assortment of fruits
Montanita 3
Practice your Spanish in the real world
Probably one of the best languages to learn as an avid traveller is Spanish since it's spoken in a lot of different countries. But when are you really going to find the time to properly learn it? We've got the answer: while travelling through South America! We know from experience that you'll quickly pick up a new language when being forced to use it, so our travelling classroom is the perfect solution for you who want to improve yourself while going on an awesome journey. Obviously, you can do it in Ecuador, but there are also opportunities in several other Spanish-speaking countries. Hit us up if you want to know more!

3. Sleep in a homestay

You might be thinking staying in hostels and hotels are your only option when it comes to travelling through Ecuador, but we have another exciting possibility for you: homestays! Contrary to hostels and hotels, homestays offer a more personal and cultural approach, with plenty of benefits. 

One of the main benefits is the opportunity to experience local culture and customs firsthand. Staying in a homestay with a local family can give you a unique and authentic look into daily life in Ecuador, which you probably won't get from staying in a hotel or hostel. It's also a great way to improve your Spanish language skills. Another plus: it's usually less expensive than other types of accommodations, and the money you spend goes directly to the family, which will help to support the local community and you'll make friends with people few other travellers will even meet!

Our favourite homestay is staying with a Quichua family deep in the Amazone. You'll learn about the ecosystem, go on jungle walks and will experience an authentic Shaman ritual among other things. 

4. Volunteering at a Centre for Street Children

As part of your interest in local culture, volunteering at a centre for street children is a lovely way to give back. In Quito, a lot of children do not have a permanent home as they live on the streets, alone or together with their families. More often than not, they're addicted to glue, which is the only drug they can afford. Sinsoluka - which means 'without glue - is a non-profit organization that aims to help these children and their families who live or have lived on the streets of Quito. The organisation supports them by providing a place to eat, a change of clothes, and a shower. Younger children are encouraged to go to school and in the afternoon, volunteers help them with their homework and organize games and fun activities.

You can make a positive impact in the lives of these children and help them to overcome the challenges they face. It's also a great opportunity to practice your Spanish skills in a low-key environment. Children are easy to talk to and interact with, while playing games, sports and doing other activities you can really make some progress. It's also just good fun. 

Children playing at Dream Centre Quito, a centre for street children
galapagos-marine-iguana-cover
Galapagos: the ultimate bonus treat
The Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, are a popular destination for tourists due to their unique and diverse wildlife, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. Additionally, the islands offer a variety of outdoor activities such as snorkelling, swimming, and hiking, as well as opportunities to see the geological formations and learn about the natural history of the islands. The Galapagos Islands are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for their natural beauty and importance as a scientific research area.

5. Take part in a cooking class

If the market we discussed earlier got your stomach rumbling, this suggestion will send it into overdrive. While every country has signature dishes, Ecuador has a very diverse culinary tradition, with a mix of indigenous, Spanish, and African influences.

By doing a cooking class, you'll learn to add some authentic Ecuadorian flavour to your cooking by learning about local ingredients such as plantains, corn, Andean tubers and many different species of exotic fruits like guanabana, passion fruit, granadilla, to name a few. Honestly, it's the best souvenir you can buy yourself. 

6. Help to preserve the unique Galapagos Islands

In a protected ecosystem like the Galapagos Islands, there are plenty of conservation efforts. And the great thing is, you can help out on one of them! On San Cristóbal, the biggest of the Galapagos islands, there are plenty of fincas (large ranch-like farms) but only one of them is fully organic. To preserve the islands and their flora and fauna, organic agriculture is the only way forward. Your time on the project is spent on the many tasks that need to be done on the finca, all while learning about the unique surroundings of the Galapagos. Even better: you will also learn how to live and work in harmony with nature, preserving the Galapagos Islands for many years to come. 

Most importantly, volunteering doesn't mean you will miss out on all the great stuff the Galapagos has to offer because you're occupied with work every single day. There are some really cool excursions and sights built into your stay here, so we definitely recommend checking it out if you're looking to visit Ecuador. You can read more about the project here. 

Iguana's on a beach on the Galapagos islands in Ecuador

7. Learn Spanish from locals

The reason a lot of young travellers visit South America is to learn the language. Ecuador is a perfect destination to do so, especially when blending it in with some other activities. Our Spanish & Surf offering lets you combine your Spanish classes with a lot of aquatic activities. As a bonus, you'll meet awesome people all while learning and being social, which is probably the best start to your adventure in Ecuador. 

It's a lot of fun improving your Spanish speaking, listening, and understanding skills in a real-life setting, with other learners. You will also be able to get a better grasp of the local culture and customs while being here, which will only further improve your knowledge of the Spanish language.

8. Hike your way through the Andes

Every visit to Ecuador should include at least a hike or trek through the Andes. The area is simply stunning on another level, and there are a number of different treks you can do depending on your level of fitness. Let's take some we REALLY enjoyed: 

  • The Chimborazo volcano trek: This is the highest volcano in Ecuador, and the highest peak in the world when measured from the centre of the earth, Chimborazo is considered one of the most challenging hikes in Ecuador but also one of the most rewarding with a great view of the Andes.
  • The Cotopaxi trek: Climbing to the summit of the Cotopaxi volcano is moderately challenging but a fantastic experience. It requires a decent fitness level of fitness and proper equipment, but the views from the top are to die for.

  • If you want something less challenging, visit Llanganates National Park. This National park offers a lot of hiking trails suitable for different skill levels. You'll enjoy beautiful Andean sceneries, with a good chance to spot wildlife and the opportunity to visit indigenous communities.

Llama laying in a valley in Guayaquil, Ecuador with snow-topped mountains in the background

Ecuador is waiting for you...

So if all of the above sounds like your dream getaway, we suggest you write us via the button below, and we'll cook up the perfect trip for you - no strings attached. Our travel experts know all the insider tips, and how you can make the most out of your journey. 

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