Monday, January 13, 2014

Ecuador vs Peru: Which is country is best?

The observant will notice I've recently written a few posts about Peru. Sacrilege on a blog about Ecuador! The two countries have certainly had a turbulent history, with war in the recent past and a neighbourly rivalry that straddles the fine line of friendship. 

A flippant comment on my blog (posted after I'd extolled the beauties of Peru's Amazonas region) asked why anybody would want to go to Ecuador? Well, it got me thinking.

With the World Cup in Brazil just months away (which Peru didn't qualify for, and Ecuador did) I've devised a thrilling football-themed eight round contest (including beaches, food, music, wildlife and archaeological sites) to find out once and for all who is the top Andean country... sorry Bolivia, Chile, and Colombia, I'm sure you're nice too.

The English referee Tom Rayner blows the whistle to start the match.

Coast and beaches: The Ecuadorian coast is lush, backed by cloud forests and forests of palo santo (the fragrant holy wood). The beach of Los Frailes in Manabi is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. The ocean in Ecuador is also warmer than Peru, benefiting from a current of warm water. The beaches in Peru are more often than not surrounded by featureless, sandy desert and dunes. I spent Christmas on a Peruvian beach in sun-soaked Mancora and it was idyllic... it just wasn't Los Frailes.

Ecuador takes a shock early lead, Peru are stunned 1:0
Ayampe beach, Ecuador
Ayampe beach in Ecuador
Food: When it comes to cooking Peru blows Ecuador out of the water. Two of the best meals I've ever eaten have been in Peru. Peruvian chefs take real pride in their cuisine and it is now rightly recognised around the world. Here's a snapshot of the global reach of Peruvian cuisine (vs Ecuadorian). When we were looking for South American restaurants in London, Peru has Soho'strendy Ceviche or VirgilioMartinez's Michelin-starred Lima. The best Ecuadorian restaurant is El Rincon Quiteno on the Holloway Road, where Lucy refused to eat. Peruvian tiradito (raw tuna with a caramel, ginger and lemon sauce) mixes the art of Japanese fish preparation with the intense flavours of Latin America. The tiradito at La Sirena de Juan in Mancora was mind-blowing and La Fiesta in Chiclayo might be the best restaurant I've ever eaten in. Of course, Ecuador has a few delicious regional dishes – such as corviche, bolones (plantain and cheese balls), and locro (potato, cheese and avocado soup) but generally, Ecuadorian cuisine is plainer and less adventurous.

Peru equalises 1:1
Ceviche Mixto
Ceviche mixto in Quito
Drink: Peru has the Pisco Sour cocktail, Ecuador has shots of neat trago. Pisco is a Peruvian take on Italian grappa, a strong spirit produced from grapes and the delicious Pisco Sour is made with lemon, egg white and bitters. Trago, on the other hand, is a much cruder sugar cane spirit that can be added to the Ecuadorian winter wamer canelazo, a spicy brew made from the narnajilla fruit. Beer-wise Peru has Cusquena compared to Ecuador's has Pilsner and Club. Cusquena's rubia (blonde) variety beats its Ecuadorian cousins, but I prefer Club Negra to Cusquena's dark efforts (which is far too sweet). Peru also has Pilsen and Cristal, but I prefer Cusquena. Peru produces mostly bad wine, but imported bottles of Chilean and Argentinian wine are nearly half the price than in Ecuador.

It's a close call but I'll award it to Peru on the strength of the Pisco Sour and cheaper wine 1:2

Archaeological sites: You can't walk down the street in Peru without stumbling across an artefact of astounding archaeological significance. There's such an abundance of archaeological sites in Peru that many have yet to be investigated. Only a tiny portion of Kuelap has been excavated and when we went to Sican, of the 38 huacas (pyramids) in the national park only four had been explored. Then there are the breath-taking cliff-top mummies of the Chachapoyas. Ecuador has its own archaeological sites and its own important Incan heritage, but Machu Picchu they are not.

Peru is pulling away, this could be a humiliating thrashing for poor Ecuador 1:3

Sarcophagus de Karajia, Luya province, Peru

Nature: Ecuador is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world. What Peru is to archaeologists Ecuador is to ornithologists. Despite its size Ecuador has over 1,600 bird species (the coolest of all being the mighty condor) and over 4,000 varieties of wild orchid. I haven't even mentioned Ecuador's Galapagos islands, home to the giant tortoise (among other residents). Sure Peru has the hairless dog, which is good for a quick gawk and a giggle but it's hardly a giant tortoise. Until Peru comes up with something to match the giant tortoise (like a giant hairless dog) then it's an easy victory for Ecuador.

Ecuador pulls a goal back just before half-time, that's a life line 2:3

Dog breeders of Peru... make me one of these the size of a hippopotamus and you beat Ecuador
Getting around: Ecuador's relatively tiny size compared to Peru (the 19th largest country in the world) is a boon for travellers. In a day it's possible to visit volcanic Andean highlands, Amazonic rainforest and Pacific coast. Getting anywhere in Peru takes a long time and a lot of effort, a short journey of just 30 miles in the remote Chachapoyas region nearly defeated me. The roads in Ecuador are in much better condition and have fewer unpaved surfaces and potholes. Petrol in oil-rich Ecuador is also a fraction of the price than in Peru, so taxis and buses can pass on this saving to their passengers. Ecuadorian taxis are much more likely to have a meter – it doesn't mean the prices are fairer, but at least they're more transparent. In Peru you need to negotiate a price before stepping into the cab. Of course, to negotiate a fair price you need to know what a fair price is... unsurprisingly the taxi driver rarely loses. Also Ecuador has a train service (of sorts). The old railway travels from Quito, high in the Andes, all the way down to Guayaquil (the busy port in the south).

Ecuador packs Peru's geographic diversity into a bite-sized morsel, it also has cheap petrol, and its own railway... 3:3 it's squeaky bum time
The only train in Ecuador
Ecuador's train service in Alausi
Fiestas: Ecuador is the official fiesta capital of the world. The parties are loud, drunken and last for days, sometimes weeks. Time and time again I've arrived into an Ecuadorian town or village to discover some festival or other is either brewing or in full-swing. From the UNESCO-recognisedDiablada Pillarena, to smaller fiestas like El Tingo's Virgen deMerced, or Salango's Balsa Mantena, there's a fiesta happening somewhere in Ecuador. Of course, Peru loves to party as much as Ecuador and every town has its own fiesta patronal – honouring the town's patron. These can also last for long drunken days where the drinking is interspersed by dancing and fireworks. However, Ecuador's fiestas tend to have more of a theme and an identity... such as Latacunga's fiesta de Mama Negra.

It's a close-run thing and I've certainly been a lot more exposed to Ecuador's fiesta culture than Peru's but I think I have to award this one to Ecuador 4:3 (what a comeback from the little country with a big heart)
Lighting a firework at the Fiesta
A skilled pyro-technician sets off the firework display at a fiesta with fag
Capitals: Lima vs Quito. I don't feel qualified to answer this satisfactorily so I'm calling in Lucy who has lived in Lima for six years, and in Quito for 15 years. She's lived in Quito for longer, but is a self-confessed Lima-phile (and definitely not a llama-phile, that's something very different)
“The two cities couldn't be more different. Quito is high in the clouds in the centre of the world, at 2,800 metres and under the shadows of towering volcanoes. Lima sprawls along the coast – a conglomeration of many smaller towns, merged into one greater, and not always united, mass.
“I love Lima, I love its chaos, its dirty identity. The adventure on every street and the surprises it throws up. The food is amazing and not just in the top restaurants, even smaller, unknown venues serve incredible dishes. Artists' neighbourhoods like Baranco are vibrant and fun with views out across the sea.
“Quito has the most beautiful colonial centre of any city in Latin America. The architecture is incredible and the churches of San Francisco and the Iglesia Compania de Jesus are stunning and stand up to some of the best in the world.
“The inequality in Lima is more striking than Quito. Sure, Quito is divided between north and south, but at least the poorer communities in the south have breeze-block housing with running water and sewage. The shanty towns around Lima exist on the desert dunes in shacks made from estera. The rich live in neighbourhoods, like Miraflores, and are surrounded and serviced by neighbourhoods in poverty, like Surquillo. Of course the rich and poor areas are separated by busy roads. The inequality and social exclusion is even worse in the towns to the south of Lima, like Asia, where rich Limenos have their second-homes on the beach. There the maids are not allowed out during certain times and when they do it must be in uniform.
“For a tourist Quito has the most immediate and obvious attractions from the colonial centre to the mountain backdrop. In three days it's easier to explore and get a feel for Quito. But obviously, it's a lot smaller than Lima with a much smaller population. If you're spending longer, then Lima has more to teach and offer than Quito and will make a more lasting social impression.
“And of course, there's the weather... The weather in Lima is disgusting. For six months of the year the sky looks like Brussels, it is dark and grey and threatens to rain. Of course, you get three months of summer which is lovely, and three months of transitional period. Quito is perpetual spring, never too hot, never too cold – when it rains, it rains heavily and is soon over, and the sun surely follows.”

It's a bit of a stalemate on this one – the two capitals are so different it is impossible to compare them and it really depends of what and when you are looking for... it's still 4:3 and heading into injury time

Music: I've chosen two musical genres – closely associated with Peru and Ecuador – to represent the respective countries. For Peru I've chosen Chica and Festejo. Representing Ecuador is San Juanito and Pasillo.

Chicha was born in Peru but its popularity swept across the Andean countries. It's also popular in Argentina, where they call it Cumbia Villera. Chicha arrived in the 1960s when Lima received massive immigration from the Andes, mixing tropical music with highland-folk. Chicha relies on an electric guitar, instead of an acoustic guitar. In the last ten years it has become trendy with young Peruvians, shaking off its working class roots and arriving in the discos and student bars of Barranco. Chicha is classic dance and drinking music. My very favourite Chicha song (and in fact, Latin American song) is Te Vas, Te Vas by Grupo 5.

Festejo is an Afro-Peruvian rhythm. There is debate over the authenticity of Festejo, some critics claim it is a relatively modern reinvention to give the black population of Peru an identity. Festejo uses donkey jaws as a rattling, percussion instrument. My favourite Festejo song is Eva Ayllon's Saca la Mano.

San Juanito is fun Andean folk music from Ecuador and always gets an airing at a fiesta. It even derives its name from the fiesta de San Juan, with which it is closely associated. It is upbeat and danced with handkerchiefs (like English Morris dancing). The festival of San Juan shares pagan roots with the Incan festival of Inti Raymi, celebrating the sun God on June 24. The best San Juanito song is Jatari's Chimbalito, sung in Quechua (that's how tr00 it is).

Pasillo is mournful, drinking music from Ecuador. The songs are melancholy and the lyrics are dramatic and over-the-top. There is a European undertone to the music, particularly the Viennese Waltz. There's a pasillo song called Diseccion where the singer imagines his own death and being sliced up on the autopsy table while he remembers his true love, pretty gruesome stuff for non-death metal audiences. Until the 1950s amorous young men would hire a pasillo band to serenade their sweethearts under the window. If the girl accepted her lover's overtures she would appear at the window, if the gesture was rebuffed she would remain in bed.
Trombone player at La Fiesta de la Virgen de la Merced
I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down
FINAL SCORE: I love pasillo for mournful drinking sessions and there's nothing like San Juanito for getting the fiesta started... but then Te Vas, Te Vas is my favourite Latin song of all time... so it has to go to Peru... and the final whistle blows... a thrilling 4-4 draw. Both sets of fans can go home happy after this stunning performance. Perhaps, a special thank you to our English referee Tom Rayner?


  1. There is plenty to see in both Ecuador and Peru! Each part of the world is uniquely beautiful. Explore, travel, learn about other cultures, make friends, share love. Sorry for whoever wrote such short-sighted comment. I'm from Peru and Ecuador is definitely on my list of places to visit :)

  2. I think the approach you give on the nature of Peru is not fair enough, Andean-amazonic countries are so biodiversed and interesting as a group or by themselves. If you wanted to say something about exotic life in Peru you could have referred to the pink dolphins, the anacondas, the spectacled bear, the penguins, the chinchillas, etc. instead of just focusing on one single animal. I don't look down on Ecuador's nature which is pretty much the same as the Peruvian, but if you check the number of orchids or birds species in Peru the amount is the same or even more. Don't do as we LimeƱos do, that is believing Peru is only Lima. (or Machu Picchu if you are a foreigner)

  3. Ugh. Peru is just TOO touristy. Ecuador it is for me.

  4. I wonder what food you tried out in Ecuador.. The Coast's food is definitely a winner... Did you try cazuela mixta? Or caldo de bola? Or the even more delicious encebollado de pescado (which also happens to be the perfect cure to a hangover), or the delicious Moros con queso? I know Peruvian food is good, but I am still a fan of Ecuador's food... as an Ecuadorian though, I might be biased.

  5. I think you copped out on the "Capital" scoring. Quito's setting surrounded by the majestic Andean mountains alone should give Ecuador the tie-breaking "GOAL!" for the win...5-4.

  6. it is weird because the train railroad is way bigger in Peru than in Ecuador, at least that's what Wikipedia says. I've been to both countries and I love the train service to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire. It may be that I am also a Peruphile but hey, I couldn't help it with the food they got me there haha!. Anyhow, I love both countries I would like to return but I think everybody should go to Cusco, it is an unforgettable experience and for that reason I give my vote to Peru...both are beautiful countries with great services and very nice and friendly people. cheers!

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