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.