Guayaquil, with its higher-than-average unemployment and crime rates, has much in common with Liverpool, the underdog of England, and likewise it has more to offer the party seeker than one might imagine.
The waterfront Malecon 2000 and other tourist areas are well-patrolled by security guards, curbing the rumours that Guayaquil is more dangerous for visitors than capital city Quito, and a night out on the town offers any number of different types of music and company.
If you´re looking for quality food served by friendly people in a relaxed atmosphere, new Vietnamese bistro Indochine may just be the place.
A stone´s throw away from Plaza Foch, Indochine stands out from rival restaurants due to its uniquely attentive approach to service.
The highly qualified staff, who have worked in various locations around the world, prepare delicious, affordable dishes and take them out to the tables themselves.
Less than ten minutes from the centre of the Mariscal, the winding street Camino de Orellano entices passers-by into the historic neighbourhood of Guapulo. Generally known for its bars and live music scene, there are as many things to do as there are VW punch buggies to see in Guapulo, Quito's hub for all things bohemian.
Perched on the mountaintop at the entrance of Guapulo, the Shakti Centre of Alternative Art and Energy is a newly opened, multipurpose space. The brainchild of a group of young Guapuleños, the centre boasts a massage parlour and reiki healing. Yoga and percussion classes are available for adults and children alike and regular therapeutic dance and aromatherapy workshops are also run.
Mindo RainforestSince 19,200 hectares of primary growth forest were declared protected in 1988, folk in the small town of Mindo have been abandoning aggressive agricultural practices in favor of careers in ecotourism. Today the eagerness of the Mindo community to share their slice of paradise with visitors makes it the capital of eco-friendly adventure sports in Ecuador.
Education Minister, Raul Vallejo Corral, has accused the International Monetary Fund (the IMF) and the World Bank of causing a shortage of teachers across the country.
Speaking at the United Nations for Education, Science and the Culture (UNESCO) General Conference, Corral explained that the under-hiring of teachers in Ecuador since 1997 has resulted in a deficit of 12,000 positions. This accounts for around 10 percent of the total sum of teachers in the public system, he said.
Some 20 years ago, Mindo was "a town like any other", claims Milton Narvaiz, a leading conservationist in the area. Surrounded by such mind-blowing natural beauty, it is difficult to grasp his meaning. But until the late 1980s, Mindo was indeed a town in which people cut down trees to sell for survival and went about their daily lives oblivious to the unique tourism opportunities they were missing and to the vast amount of conservation work that needed to be done.
Tucked away in the north of the city of Quito, around a tight corner and down a steep hill, is the quaintly beautiful neighbourhood of Guapulo.
Here on Thursday and Friday evenings can be found artisans, musicians, students, left-leaning young professionals and curious tourists who gather amidst flickering candlelight and amiable chatter. The charm of this hidden treasure, I am told, lies in its historical importance, as ancient peoples from pre-Spanish times apparently passed through the narrow streets to get to the centre of Quito. However, the white-washed buildings are distinctly colonial in appearance and so betray a mixture of cultural influences meeting with the intellectual minds within.
Former president Rodrigo Borja has proposed that Latin American countries that do not produce petroleum should seek joint alternatives in response to the rising price of crude oil in the international market.
Borja, the future secretary of the United Nations of South America (Unasur), acknowledged that the increasing value of oil threatens most Latin American countries and that joint strategies should be designed to curb the economic danger.
Arriving in the breathtakingly beautiful surroundings of the active volcano Cotopaxi, you could be forgiven for forgetting that the sprawling city of Quito is only 75 kilometres to the north.
In El Pedregal, a village which ascends higgledy-piggledy from the Chagra (cowboy) town of Machachi, children collect water in buckets while their parents toil amidst their small patches of crops and tend to the cows and pigs outside each fading pastel-paint house. There are plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers in this stunning area, as long as they are willing to endure a slightly uncomfortable ride in a local cabina (a glorified truck) hireable for $15 from Machachi or to walk for over an hour up the steeply winding road. Excellent horse-riding opportunities abound, with local residents keen to encourage tourists into their tranquil community and to offer them an experienced rider as a guide at a good daily rate.
Simiatug, ecotourism, fairtradeIn the mountains north of Bolivar, the small town of Simiatug is gaining international attention for producing striking textiles.
The products are the work of Simiatug Samai, a small company launched in 2000 with an initial outlay of just US$600. Built on the aim of increasing the participation of women in the economic development of the region, the company coordinates groups of women to produce unique textiles and market them internationally via the worldwide web. By 2006 Simiatug Samai had engaged over 400 women and generated US$28,788 profit.
The Apu Inty Spanish school in central Quito offers a more fulfilling experience than many of Quito´s many language schools and, best of all, it does so without requiring you to pay over the odds for the privilege.
While learning Spanish through excellent conversation-focused tuition and staying with a carefully-selected host family, Apu Inty students can also hone their language skills through taking part in the cookery classes, salsa classes, specially organised day trips and extra social activities arranged by the school at very little or no extra cost. Its name, a title signifying the sun god Senor Sol (or Mister Sun) in the local Quichua language, is derived from the school´s early days when it taught mainly medical students.