Neighbouring Colombia and Peru, Ecuador is a relatively small country that nevertheless offers an enticing array of scenic landscapes, diverse wildlife species and interesting cities. Dense Amazon rainforest, towering Andean mountain peaks, palm-fringed Pacific Coast beaches and fascinating historical sites are all part and parcel of Ecuador’s prolific charms. The former Inca town of Cuenca is the nation’s third-largest city and a Unesco World Heritage Site. This alluring city, with its cobbled streets, beautiful architecture and photogenic plazas, boasts a huge variety of museums and art galleries. The vibrant capital city of Quito is also worth a visit. Arguably the most dazzling jewel in Ecuador’s crown is the Galapagos Archipelago in the Pacific, about 1000 kilometres west of the mainland. Their magnificent, pristine landscapes and prolific wildlife, which inspired Charles Darwin, have made this cluster of islands a world-famous travel destination.
Banking and Currency
US Dollar (USD; symbol US$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of US$100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Coins are in denominations of US$1 and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cents. Some coins are usual US cents and some are Ecuadorean centavos. They have the same value.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding US$10,000 must be declared.
Foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks and at casas de cambio (exchange houses), the latter being generally the best option. It may be difficult to exchange money in the Oriente. The rate of commission varies between 1 to 4%, so it is worth shopping around.
Banking hours: Generally Mon-Fri 0830-1600/1700 and Saturday mornings.
Major credit/debit cards are accepted in most businesses. ATMs are available at most banks in urban areas. On the Galápagos Islands, currently only Mastercard is accepted.
ATMs are available at most banks in urban areas. Note that dirty or torn notes will not be accepted. Try to keep cash in smaller denominations; shopkeepers tend to refuse $50 and $100 bills as forgeries of these notes are common.
Traveller's cheques are generally accepted in the larger cities and can be exchanged into currency at most banks and casas de cambio.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Ecuador is a small country and internal flight times are usually less than one hour, making air travel a quick and easy way to get around. Most flights operate out of Quito although Guayaquil also has direct services to main centers.
Galapagos Islands: There are daily flights to the Galapagos Islands from both Quito and Guayaquil; note that airfares to Galapagos are much higher than to any other domestic destinations. There is also a national park admission charge, payable in cash only.
Since getting around by public transport is so easy, few people rent cars in Ecuador. Nonetheless, there are international and local car hire companies operating in Ecuador, with cities such as Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca the places to arrange pick-up and drop off. It may be difficult to hire a vehicle in smaller towns and even in main cities, you should arrange your vehicle hire in advance. 4-wheel drive is necessary for some areas.
Drivers need to be at least 25 years old and have a major credit card for the deposit. Some companies will hire cars to those aged 21-25 but the surcharges are much higher. Check for existing damage and make sure the car comes with a spare tire and a jack. Drive carefully, make sure the car is always secure and check what the car rental insurance policy covers.
The national speed limit is 100kph (63mph) on highways and around 50kph (30mph) in urban areas unless otherwise indicated. There are strong penalties for even the most minor driving offenses. An International Driving Permit is not required, but insurance is.
Taxis are widely available, particularly in larger cities and towns. Fares tend to be low but should be negotiated in advance. Taxis are metered in Quito, but rarely elsewhere. Taxis may be hired for a whole day. Drivers do not expect tips. All licensed taxis have a registration number prominently displayed.
Increasingly popular, cycling is a good, if somewhat strenuous way of seeing Ecuador. Mountain bikes are recommended and you should ideally bring your own as bike hire services are scarce outside of Quito. Bring your own spares too. Bikes can also be taken on buses, canoes and almost every other type of transport if you find you’ve run out of energy. Organized bike tours in Ecuador tend to be one-day trips, and mostly downhill, having been ferried to the top of the descent in a car by the company you book with.
Ecuador’s bus and coach service is extensive and affordable. Taking a bus can be an exhilarating, exciting way to see the country although it can also be cramped and scary too given the recklessness with which some drivers tackle corners and overtake. There are a number of different companies throughout the country and services to almost anywhere that you might want to go. Some of the most established have their own bus stations separate from the main terminals (terminal terrestres) and operate air-conditioned, comfortable buses, ideal for longer distance journeys.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
It is advisable to drink only bottled or sterilised water in Ecuador. Avoid unpasteurised dairy products. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Ecuadorian dinner tables are blessed with some of the finest produce in South America; a testament to the country’s fertile soil, varied typography and wildly different climates.
There are three main regions in Ecuador, each with its own style of cooking: highland cuisine revolves around warm, hearty dishes such as roast guinea pig and locro, a soup of potato, cheese, corn and avocado; coastal cuisine is dominated by seafood; and Oriente dinner tables typically feature rice, banana, yucca (a type of manioc root) and fish, including piranha. Most food isn’t spicy, but is inevitably accompanied by a bowl of aji, a hot pepper sauce for the bold to add at their peril.
Climate and Weather
Ecuador has a highly changeable climate, which means that it can be variable at any time. Generally though, in the Sierra, there is little variation by day or by season, with changes occurring as you climb or descend instead. The coastal and Amazonian lowlands have a wet equatorial climate, but the higher you climb the colder it gets.
Rainfall is primarily affected by proximity to the eastern or western slopes of the Andes; in the west, June to September are drier with October to May typically wetter; in the east the opposite is true with October to February drier and March to September much wetter. There is also a variation in the amount of rainfall as you journey north to south, with the southern highlands much drier than the landscapes in the north. The coast can be enjoyed all year round, although it is cooler between June and November, when a sea mist known as garua sets in. January to May are consistently the hottest and rainiest months here. The Galapagos are also affected by garua between May and December; January to April here are the hottest months, with heavy but brief rainfall also possible. In the Oriente you can be affected by rainfall at any time, but it is wettest from March to September. Most cities are located in a comfortable subtropical zone. Taking all of this into account, Ecuador’s high season is June to early September.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Lightweight natural fabrics; rainwear in subtropical areas. Warmer clothes are needed in upland areas. Make sure that you have good-quality, well-broken boots with plenty of ankle support for trekking or walking on uneven terrain.
Internet access is broadly available, especially in Quito where there are a number of internet cafes. They are used by both tourists and locals alike. Both the cost and speed of usage vary considerably, with the best service available in cities such as Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca. Wi-Fi is increasingly available in hotels and some public places.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Ecuador are very similar to the electrical outlets found in the United States and Canada, and if your appliance has a North American plug, it's possible that you won't need any adapter at all in order to plug in there. However, there are two potentially very important physical differences that may need to be addressed with an adapter: grounding and/or polarization. If your plug has one or both, and the socket doesn't, then the plug may not physically be able to fit into the socket without an adapter.
In the case of a North American appliance plug, grounding is accomplished by the third, round pin beneath and below the two vertical blades on the plug. Polarization is accomplished by the left vertical blade being taller than the right, so that the plug can't be inserted upside down. U.S. and Canadian sockets are required to be both grounded and polarized. But in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Japan and other areas which use U.S. style sockets, grounding and polarization often are not required, and in fact, the majority of sockets in many of these areas do not accept the taller blade and/or the third grounding pin. This will prevent a North American appliance plug from being able to plug into these sockets, if the plug is either grounded or polarized.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Ecuador usually supply electricity at between 110 and 120 volts AC. If you're plugging in a U.S. or Canadian 120 volt appliance, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.
But travel plug adapters do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 110-120 volts the socket is supplying. If your appliance is from another part of the world, and it is built only for 220-240 volt electricity, or a Japanese appliance built for 100 volts, then a travel plug adapter by itself won't be sufficient. The voltage will have to be changed from 110-120 volts at the socket, to whatever voltage your appliance requires. This is accomplished with a voltage transformer.
Peru is most famous for the sacred archaeological site of Machu Picchu – visited each year by scores of intrepid hikers who brave the Inca Trail’s arduous slopes to explore the age-old ruins. The country’s attractions extend far beyond the mystical allure of this legendary location and include palm-fringed beaches, quaint Andean villages and archaeological treasures that predate Machu Picchu by hundreds of years – all imbued with the nation’s rich melange of indigenous and colonial cultures. Equally enticing are the exotic reaches of Peru’s Amazon rainforest; Lima’s superb eateries, exquisite architecture and effervescent nightlife; the glittering, mountain-ringed waters of Lake Titicaca; and the vibrant city of Cusco, referred to by the Incas as ‘the centre of the world’.
Banking and Currency
Nuevo (new) Sol (PEN; symbol S/.) = 100 céntimos. Nuevo Sol notes are in denominations of S/.200, 100, 50, 20 and 10. Coins are in denominations of S/.5, 2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 céntimos.
Note: US Dollars are also in use and accepted for payment, particularly in tourist areas. While effectively interchangeable, it is best to use local currency wherever possible, and it is always good for tourists to have some local currency in small denominations, to pay for buses, taxis and goods in some small establishments.
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency, but amounts exceeding US$10,000 must be declared.
Only a few bureau de change in Lima and Cusco will exchange currencies other than US Dollars. Outside Lima, it is virtually impossible. US Dollars can be exchanged everywhere and banks, hotels and many shops also readily accept US Dollars (although very old, torn or damaged notes are usually rejected). It is not recommended to exchange money from street vendors.
Banking hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1800, Sat 0900-1300 (may vary during the summer).
All major credit cards are accepted, but usage may be limited outside of Lima and tourist areas. Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted. It is also sensible to carry some cash rather than relying only on cards.
ATMs are now generally regarded as one of the best ways to obtain money in Peru. They are found almost everywhere, including in small towns, although when travelling in remote places it is best to have some cash just in case the nearby ATMs are not working or have run out of money. In bigger cities, use ATMs inside banks for greater security, especially at night.
Banks will exchange traveller’s cheques although it can be a slow process outside Lima. The ability to use traveller's cheques is also quite limited in some areas so you should check whether or not they will be accepted in the area you are visiting prior to travel. The use of ATMs is generally preferable, but if you do decide to bring traveller's cheques, the best currency to bring them in is US Dollars.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
LAN (LP) (www.lan.com), Taca Perú (T0) (www.taca.com) and LC Perú (W4) (www.lcperu.pe) handle virtually all domestic air traffic. Routes link Lima to Andahuaylas, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cajamarca, Chiclayo, Cusco, Huánuco, Iquitos, Juliaca-Puno, Piura, Pucallpa, Puerto Maldonado, Tacna, Tarapoto, Trujillo, Tumbes and other cities. Flights to Huaraz are occasionally offered. For information on internal flights, contact the Peruvian Corporation of Airports (Corpac) (www.corpac.gob.pe).
When travelling around Peru, you have to make a decision: time or money? The bus from Lima to Cusco can take over 24 hours instead of a flight of about 1 hour 30 minutes, but it will be a fraction of the price. If taking a shorter trip to Peru, flights will leave you a lot more time at your destination.
You can book in advance from outside the country, or a few days in advance through local tour operators for not much more money. Some flights (of lower prices, and particularly with LAN) are for Peruvians only – if you purchase them be prepared to pay a fine. Domestic flight schedules are often subject to last minute change – try to confirm that your flight is leaving at the time stated on your ticket before you head to the airport.
International car hire firms have offices in all the major cities and bigger airports. You must be at least 25 to hire a car in Peru, and will need to present your passport, driving licence from your country, credit card as a guarantee and sometimes a cash deposit. The minimum driving age is 18. Seatbelts should be worn both in the front and back of a car, and also on coaches (though most people don’t bother). Theoretically, the speed limit is 100kph (62mph) on the highways and 35kph (22mph) in urban areas, but few Peruvians follows these laws. You can drive for six months on a UK driving licence and up to a year on an International Driving Licence. All foreign vehicles must have documentation from their own national automobile association or you can obtain it on the Peruvian border before entering the country. Always carry your driving licence, a copy of your passport and, if the vehicle is hired, a copy of the rental contract.
Main roads in Peru are, at least, reasonably paved; others can range from extraordinarily bumpy to impassable after landslides. Landslides are frequent in the mountains during the rainy season (December to March), making for slow travel and closed roads. Take care driving on the mountain roads, which are narrow, windy and above all high up. Local drivers who know the roads well go like the clappers, but if you try it you may well go off a cliff. The well-maintained Pan-American Highway runs down the length of Peru's coast, with intersecting highways running east into the mountains.
Many unlicensed taxi companies operate in Peru and visitors are advised to avoid these. They usually have a red and white taxi sign on the windscreen. Licensed yellow taxis are the only cabs allowed in downtown Lima. Taxis do not have meters and you should agree fares before departure (they are relatively inexpensive). Extensive and safe taxi services are available by telephone in main cities. Hotels and hostels will book them for you. Taxi fares increase by 35 to 50% after midnight and on holidays. Drivers do not expect tips.
Taking the bus is the travel method of choice in Peru; buses go in almost every direction. You can book yourself onto everything from a bus with seats that recline until fully horizontal and hostesses to bring you dinner, to a squashed-in place in the back of a pick-up truck, depending on your budget.
The crème de la crème of coach company in Peru is Cruz del Sur (tel: (01) 311 5050;www.cruzdelsur.com.pe). It’s the most expensive, but you’ll get a nice meal and a good night’s sleep. Other coach companies are Flores (tel: (01) 332 1212; www.floreshnos.net), Linea (tel: (01) 424 0836;www.transporteslinea.com.pe) and MovilTours (tel: (01) 716 8000; www.moviltours.com.pe). Otherwise just turn up at a bus station or ask around.
Public transport in Lima is provided by conventional buses and by minibuses (combis), though they are overcrowded, sometimes dangerous and not particularly useful for tourists. These operate from 06h00 to 00h00 on established routes; wherever possible, try to avoid using bus travel late at night. Lima has a clean, efficient metro system which links nine districts, and allows travel between Miraflores and Lima centre.
Peru Rail (tel: (01) 517 1884; www.perurail.com) runs comfortable tourist trains between Puno and Cusco and between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Ferrocarril Central Andino (tel: (01) 226 6363;www.ferrocarrilcentral.com.pe or www.rrdc.com/op_peru_fcca.html) runs a twice-monthly tourist service on renovated trains between Lima and Huáncayo. This spectacular route is the second highest railway in the world (the highest being in Tibet).
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Drink only bottled water, and take purification tablets in case bottled water is unavailable. Pasteurised milk is widely available, but if you are staying in mountain towns you will also find that unpasteurised milk is often sold in shops, served in plastic bags. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk.
Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. You will find that there is plenty of street food available in stores and at markets, and you should try to ensure that what you buy has been heated properly and not been left out. In particular, you will find lots of ceviche, a cold seafood dish made using raw fish, which is practically the national dish. It is heavily acidic, which must kill some bacteria; nevertheless be aware that unless the fish is very fresh the potential for food poisoning is high. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Climate and Weather
The weather in Peru varies according to area – the changes in altitude are so extreme that the climate goes from freezing snow in the mountains to boiling sun on the coast. Likewise, the coast covers such a large stretch of longitude that the temperature changes dramatically as you head further south.
On the coast winter lasts from June to September. The weather tends to be overcast and slightly damp at this time, but rarely very cold. It hardly ever rains in Lima nor most of the coast, except for Tumbes and Piura, which have tropical climates.
During June to September, the mountainous areas are often sunny during the day but cold at night. This is high tourist season and the best time to visit most regions. Rainy season in the Andes starts in September and peaks between January and March, and this is a dreadful and occasionally dangerous time to be hiking.
Heavy rains in the mountains and jungle last from December to April. It is rainy and hot for most of the year, but between March and September there are occasional cold surges which might require a jumper.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
For travel in Peru, a variety of clothes are necessary. You will need very lightweight clothes for summer on the coast, and thermals, hats, gloves and ski jackets for winter up in the mountains. It can become freezing at night at altitude and remain hot and sticky through the nights in the jungle. Waterproof clothing is thoroughly recommended for the rainy season, because the heavens open very suddenly, and then it pours.
If you are travelling to the jungle you’ll need something protective and waterproof for your feet. For any mountain hiking you’ll need proper, supportive boots. If you’re spending time along the coast you’ll need sandals or flip-flops.
Public internet booths and internet cafés are widely available in cities and most towns. Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly common in cafés, restaurants and hotels.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electricity in Peru is 220 Volts and 60 Hertz (cycles per second). If you want to use a 110-volt appliance in Peru, you’ll need to buy a voltage converter. But always check before spending money on an converter, as many modern laptops and digital cameras can safely take both 110 and 220 volts (they are dual voltage).
Many of Peru’s top-end hotels have outlets for 110-volt appliances. They should be clearly labeled as such, but always check if you’re unsure.
There are two types of electrical outlets in Peru. One accepts two-pronged plugs with flat, parallel blades, while the other takes plugs with two round prongs. Many Peruvian electrical outlets are designed to accept both types.
If your appliance has a different plug attachment (such as a three-pronged UK plug), you’ll need to buy an adapter. Universal plug adapters are inexpensive and easy to carry around. It’s a good idea to buy one before you go to Peru (most major airports have a store selling plug adapters).