The Essential Backpacker's Guide to South America, Part 4

Published: 03/22/2014

Following on from the previous articles in this series which outlined the safety and common sense tips that every backpacker should adhere to aswell as a general overview of South America, with more detail on Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile.  We now continue with our focus on Colombia and Ecuador.

Colombia lies on the borders of Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.  The climate is described (in areas below 1000 metres in elevation) ‘tierra caliente’ which means ‘hot land’.  This is due to its close proximity to the equator.  Temperatures vary little throughout the year. 

This country is very diverse, ethically.  The interaction between descendants of the orignal native people, Africans who were brought to the country as slaves, Spanish colonists, European immigrants and the immigrants from the Middle East has culminated in a rich cultural heritage.

There is an estimated population of 46 million in Colombia, making it the third most populous country in the South America after Brazil and Mexico.  The main language is Spanish but in total there are 101 languages listed for Colombia.  Lying at the crossroads of Latin America and larger America, Colombia experiences a wide range of cultures merging.  The cuisine is varied by this influence, Colombian dishes most commonly including ingredients such as rice/maize, potato, legumes, meats, fish and tropical fruits.

Sites that every traveler in Colombia should try to see: La Candelaria, the historic centre of Bogota; The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira – famous for its salt mines and cathedral; Mompox – a stunning town renowned for its architecture, culture and landscape; Barichara – a small and colonial town; Cabo de la Vela; Villa de Leyva – the most touristy and popular town in Boyaca; The Coffee Region; Cartagena; Tayrona National Natural Park and Cano Cristales – a unique natural wonder.

Ecuador borders Colombia and Peru and has four main geographic regions: La Costa (the coast), La Sierra (the highlands), La Amazonia (the east which comprises the Amazon Rainforest) and La Region Insular (the region comprising the Galapagos Islands).   The climate varies greatly, largely because of the altitude changes.  It is mild in the mountain valleys all year round.  The coastal areas and raniforest are humid.  Tropical climates are experienced in the coastal areas with a severe rainy season and the Andean highlands are temperate and relatively dry.

The majority of the Ecuadorian population is Hispanic, which is traditionally Spanish and  influenced by Amerindian traditions and African elements.  The cuisine is diverse, changing with the regions and agricultural conditions.  Traditional three course meals are common.  Soup, rice and protein and a dessert.  In the highlands, pork, chicken and beef are popular, served with rice and corn.  On the coast, seafood, popcorn or tostado and peanut-based dishes.  The tropical region grows bananas, cacao beans, mangos and passion fruit and the Amazon region has a staple diet of yuca (cassava) and many fruits.

The main language spoken in Ecuador is Spanish.  Recently the roads have undergone improvement and this is the main form of getting around the country.

Sites worth visiting in Ecuador: La Comania – a church located in the heart of Quito; Cotopaxi – the second highest summit in Ecuador; Nariz del Diablo (the Devil’s Nose) – the train line between the towns of Alausi and Sibambe; Banos – a small city lying at the foot of the active volcano Tungurahua; Tena – a launching point for jungle adventures; Montanita – scenic southern coast shorelines; Catedral Nueva; Otavalo Market; San Francisco Church and The Galapagos Islands. 

Posted in: Travel Advice
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