Archives May 2021

10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO ECUADOR

  1. BE READY TO EAT

Food in Ecuador is exquisite and delightful, we have an incredible diversity in our gastronomy, but you do need to know we like to eat a lot, specially carbs. Throughout the country, rice is the most important part of the plate, we eat rice with mashed potatoes and beef or chicken, rice with pasta, is always rice with something else. Then you will find some differences by region: The highlands of Ecuador tends to consume more potatoes and the coast leans a bit more for plantain. Anyways, we like big portions, so if don’t eat that much, you should say that in advance in local restaurants or to the person you are staying with.

Foto de Juan Carlos Rodríguez

2. BRING SUN BLOCK

Since Ecuador is by the equator, the sun is strong here, no matter in what part of the country you are. You should apply sunblock every morning and re-apply every 4 hours, even if you don’t see the sun brighting that day, you can still get burnt so is always better to prevent. The good thing is that you can get a nice tan here!

3. DON’T DRINK TAP WATER

Even though Ecuador has potable water in all it’s cities and towns, is not recommended to drink it right from the tab. The potable water will be good enough for you too cook with it, take showers and even brush your teeth. For drinking most of the hotels include bottle waters, and you can also by in any shop for very cheep. The 500ml will be around 50 cents and the liter around one dollar. The most known and safe brands are: Vivant, Splendor, Dasani, All Natural, Pure Water and Cielo.

4. WE USE DOLLARS!

One of the good things for international travelers that visit Ecuador is that we use american dollars as our local currency, so it’s easier to exchange your currency at your hometown, and brin dollars from there. If you are form the United States you don’t even have to do that, just bring your same money!

5. BRING CHANGE

Now that you know we use american dollars as our local currency, I have to tell you that is very important to bring change. In Ecuador, a bill of $20 is considered big for small shops and they may not have change for it. $50 and $100 bills are not accepted in most of the places. Singles are important as well, most of the street vendors sell everything for $1.

6. DON’T FORGET YOUR ALTITUDE PILLS!

In Ecuador, the altitude can change dramatically within 2 hours of driving. This applies just if you are going to the Andes, because the coast, including Guayaquil and the Galapagos Islands are sea level. But for example, if you start your trip in Guayaquil and have planned to drive to Cuenca, keep in mind you will go from sea level to 4400m (14000 feet) high and then back to 2500 m (8300 feet) which is the altitud of Cuenca. Quito is 2850 m high (9350 feet).

7. BE READY FOR THE WARMTH OF ITS PEOPLE

Ecuadorians are very warm people, you will notice it since the moment you say hi. Specially if you go to visit a friend in Ecuador you will see how they regular way to say hi is a kiss on the cheek between women and between men and women, between guys is a hug. For saying goodbye is a hug most of the times. Now woth COVID this has changed, but be ready just in case!

8. TIPPING

In Ecuador, tipping will depend on where you eat. If you eat in a nice place, they will probably include the 10% service charge in the bill, you can check if at the end it says “Servicio”, that means they have included it. If the service was really good, you can leave an extra 5%, is always optional. In small restaurants they don’t include the service in the bill, you can leave a 10% and it will be fine, is not mandatory, but if you do it they will appreciate it. If you take an uber we also tip since the fees in uber in Ecuador are so low.

9. CLOTH WILL DEPEND ON THE AREA YOU VISIT

Ecuador is known for having 4 different regions: The coast, the highlands, the Amazon and the Galapagos islands. Every region have a different weather. If you will visit the highlands, bring cloth that will keep you warm. If you go to the Amazon, bring long pants and long sleeve shirts but light and cool, because you will need protection for bugs is going to be humid. Finally for the coast and the Galapagos light cloth is fine, shorts and tshirts are enough, just don’t forget your hat!

10. BE OPEN FOR ADVENTURE, FUN, GOOD FOOD AND LOVE!

Finally, when you come to Ecuador you have to be ready to have fun, enjoy its places, go exploring, try it’s delicious food and recieve the best treatment by its people. Ecuadorians will provide a lovely service no matter where you go, and I can guarantee they are being authentic, they are very truly happy about visitors coming and we all work very hard to provide the best experience while you are here.

If you are planning to come down here, do it, you won’t regret it. We will be waiting with open arms.

Author: Mario Fuentes, tour guide in Guayaquil.

History of Cacao: From being a coin, to an Aztec drink and finally to chocolate bars!

Everybody knows what chocolate is, most people also know that the main ingredient for a chocolate bar is cacao beans, but… do you know where these beans come from and how they found out they could make chocolate out of it?

I am not going to discuss the origins of the trees in this post because for years it has been thought they are from the area of south Mexico and Guatemala, where 4 thousand years old trees were found. However, recent studies show that there are older trees in the Amazon rainforest, around 5 thousand years old.

Anyways, what we all know, is that all the history known of cacao beans are in the Mayas and Aztec cultures. Researchers have found out that the cacao beans were used as coins because there were very few of them, and the royals used them for trading. 

With the production growing, the cacao lost its value as a coin and started to be used in a different way. They discovered that by roasting and grinding the beans, they got a beautiful shiny paste that had a lot of health benefits.  Aztecs used this paste to make a hot drink, adding the ground cacao in boiling water, always with a spice or an herb (could be chili of course), and something to sweeten it up, like vanilla or honey. The name of this beverage was “Xoxoc Atl” in náhuatl (the Aztec language). “Xococ” meant bitter and “atl” meant drink, so the name was “the bitter drink”. There is another belief that the name was due to their god “Quetzacóatl” and that the drink meant “The drink of the gods”. What is true is that the Aztecs did think the cacao beans were a gift from their god to them, because it was so beautiful and with so many health benefits. This is actually why Carolus Linnaeus gave the cacao tree its scientific name: “Theobroma cacao” in 1753, which translates to “Food of Gods”.

When the Spaniards came to the “Americas” as they called it, they were offered Xococ Atl, and they changed the name to make it easier in Spanish, they called it: CHOCOLATE. Hernan Cortés was fascinated with the beverage. There are records of a letter he sent to the Spanish king Carlos V mentioning that one cup of this drink provided enough energy to his soldiers to be on foot the whole day. But it was not until 1528 that Hernan Cortés decided to send the first dried beans to Europe, designated just for the royals, for the short amount they had. 

Cacao took a century to be accepted in Europe, because of its bitter flavor and the little quantity they got from the “Americas”. Then, the Spanish kingdom orders to the colonies to produce cacao for shipping to Europe. They realized that the quality of the Ecuadorian cacao beans was very good and they focus the production in the coast of Ecuador. The first record of exportation of the country was in 1780, out of the port of Guayaquil, but is believed it started way before that. The Ecuadorian cacao is called “Cacao fino de aroma”, “Cacao de arriba” or “Cacao Nacional”. 

In 1880 the swiss Henry Nestle and Daniel Peter made the first sweet milk chocolate bar and it became so popular all over Europe causing the demand for cacao to explode. The cacao became the base of the Ecuadorian economy since Ecuador was the leading cacao producer of the world. Most of the farms were located in Los Ríos province, around Vinces town. These families became known as “The Gran Cacao” and were so wealthy that they used to hire a manager for their farms while they were gone to Europe for months, and their children were sent to French Universities. On their return, they would bring back a lot of the French culture, and build their farms with French architecture, that’s why Vinces is now known as “little Paris” with even an Eiffel Tower in the middle of downtown. 

Cacao demand kept growing, and the production as well, however, in 1920 the South American plantations were hit by 2 diseases: “Monilla” and “Escoba de bruja” which reduced the production to a third of what it used to be, taking the country into an economic depression. 

The scientists then developed hybrid seeds to prevent future disasters with new diseases and to increase the production. This is when the cacao CCN51 starts to be produced in bigger quantities. It took a while for the industry to recover because World War I came a little after and made it difficult to transport it. Meanwhile this was happening, Africa was growing in their production of cacao beans, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory coast took the market. 

Nowadays, cacao is still one of Ecuador’s biggest exports, and the country remains in the Top 10 largest world producers. However, if we focus on the highest quality beans “Cacao fino de aroma”, Ecuador is still the leader producing nowadays 60% of the world supply for that type of bean, considered the best in the world. 

I hope you enjoyed reading a bit of the cacao history as much as you enjoy your chocolate bar.  I wish I could write more, but you have to excuse me for a second, my hot chocolate is ready.

Author: Mario Fuentes