There are many more benefits to growing up in South America.
My dad is Ecuadorian and my mom is American. Therefore, I was lucky enough to grow up in Ecuador, a small and very unique country nestled between Colombia and Peru in South America. No, Ecuador is not anywhere near Costa Rica.
Now, as I attend college in the US, I realize I wouldn’t change Ecuador for anything on Earth. Here’s why.
1. Family Time
While Ecuadorians aren’t known for being very punctual, they are known for living a joyful, tight-knit life. Even though people worry about making ends meet to pay off college debts, car loans and houses, retiring and making money are not their main life goals. Happiness is.
Family is what unites the people of Ecuador and fills their souls. It is not uncommon for all families to have dinner together every night, for all college students to live at home, and for there to be large family reunions during the weekends accompanied by Sunday mass.
Family is what I have missed the most while attending college in the US.
2. The Mountains
I love taking short road trips up to different mountains with my friends on the weekends to take long hikes, have picnics, ride horses and — if I’m lucky — photograph mesmerizing condors.
No matter where I look, I feel safe and protected by mountains and trees as they outline the bright blue sky for me.
3. The Beach
Whenever I think of the word “vacation,” my favorite beach in Ecuador pops up. I always wish I was waking up at 7 am to the sound of crashing waves, in a room overlooking the turquoise Pacific ocean, as I many times have for a much lower price than anything similar would cost in the US.
The fresh fruit and bolones de verde I’ve had numerous times for breakfast always made me anxious for lunch: a big platter of garlic sautéed shrimp with rice and salad. Fresh papaya, naranjilla or maracuyá juice usually accompany any meal as well.
There are great beaches for surfing in Ecuador, others for snorkeling, and even whale watching. There are very few cities on the coast of Ecuador, making you value and appreciate small fishing towns that surprise you with their friendly people and delicious coconut bread.
4. Food Options
From seafood to soup, meat and desserts, Ecuador is a foodie’s paradise. Since we have no seasons, it’s easier to have berries available all year long.
As time goes by, more and more organic shops are opening up, ideal for post workout smoothies or super healthy brunch. Also, guinea pig — believe it or not — is a popular traditional dish I haven’t had the guts to try!
5. The Weather
As you may know, Ecuador lies on the Earth’s equator, hence the name. Some people may believe that would make the weather as hot as some African countries, due to the proximity to the sun.
But that is not true, as we count with various seasonal currents such as “El Niño” that template our weather. Therefore, we have no seasons, and we have beautiful 58°F–77°F temperatures all year long. Forget about bringing your winter coats, but do bring sunscreen!
6. Visiting 500-Year-Old Churches
Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, has one of the most well-preserved historic centers in Latin America. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Center, it was founded around 500 years ago by Spanish conquerors on top of an old Incan site.
They built a beautiful city made of cobblestone streets and homes with beautiful interior patios. With Cathedrals covered entirely in gold, and others with really high towers, it is a sight you shouldn’t miss.
Cuenca, a city several hours south of Quito in the mountains as well, is another preserved gem. Founded in 1557, it has now become a very popular retirement site for US citizens.
7. El Fútbol
Soccer runs in our blood. You’ll find it at recess in school, on the radio, in the streets, on TV, in the stadiums, on billboards, on our t-shirts and in our hearts. No matter where you come from in the country, how old you are, or how much money you have, you have a passion for the game.
The game is always the highlight of the night, not the over-sized bucket of popcorn or souvenirs. Basketball, baseball and American football are somewhat unheard of in the country.
8. The Galápagos Islands
Who else went to the Galápagos Islands for their 8th-grade field trip?
The Galápagos Islands, owned by Ecuador, are renowned for their biodiversity, scuba diving, blue-footed boobies, penguins, birds, sea lions, sharks, whales and dolphins, volcanoes, hiking, lava, white sand, iguanas and Galápagos tortoises.
All that is part of my home country. It is, however, important to raise awareness of the negative impact we have on such precious places because of pollution, overfishing, and global warming.
There is no other thing like entering a bakery in Ecuador. Go there before breakfast, and you’ll come with scalding hot bread in hand for the most delicious avo toast ever.
You’ll find the best croissants, sweet rolls, baguettes, and hundreds of different types of bread all around the country to dip in coffee, have sandwiches, you name it. On the coast, they even make coconut bread.
10. The Food at Cookouts
Have you ever tried a choripan? You’ll love the combination of baguette, a hot dog called longaniza, guacamole and some hot sauce. Throw it in as a snack or appetizer during your next BBQ, and you’ll understand why I miss it so much.
11. Pets Have More Freedom
Unlike Ecuador, the US has seasons. That means pets stay inside a lot during the winter and summer time, trying to keep warm or cool off. Many times, dogs can only take walks on leashes or use dog parks and that’s it. In Ecuador, we can have our pets outside all year long.
As you see, Ecuador offers endless Instagram photo opportunities too!
Follow me @annaarteagaphotography for more South American food and landscape beauty.
This article was originally published at Spoon University