Ecuador is recognized as one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Add to this that Ecuador is home to the famed Andean Avenue of the volcanoes with thriving indigenous cultures and Spanish Colonial haciendas & architecture, and you have one of the most attractive destinations in all of Latin America. This friendly little nation sitting astride the equator (from which it takes its name), has the highest bird species count of any country in the world and has double the number of floral and faunal species found in the entire European continent; all in an area similar in size to the British Isles!
This astounding natural spectrum is combined with some spectacular cultural and scenic attractions, including some of the most formidable snow-capped volcanoes in the world. Like Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, the closest point on earth to the sun. These snowcapped giants tower above green temperate valleys of eternal spring and beautifully preserved Colonial cities and indigenous villages.
The fact that the country is located along the equator also accounts for its warm tropical beaches and the glorious Amazon Basin, with extensive rainforests and silt-clad rivers that meander through them. The changing ecosystems also give way to an equally remarkable human population, joyful, friendly people that celebrate both Spanish and pre-Columbian traditions through lively, colorful street celebrations and a one-of-a-kind mixed-heritage culinary culture.
Why Ecuador? Ecuador surprises on many levels. On the one hand, it is still an off-the-beaten-track destination. Visitors feel like their explorations throughout the country reward with exclusive cultural and natural adventures, while creating real bonds with welcoming hosts who are, far from feeling overwhelmed by tourism, more than happy to share the homeland they love, greeting you as a guest.
The fact that it is a small country is also central to its appeal. Few places on earth allow you to discover so many different ecosystems in such proximity. This is coupled with some of the most important collections of Spanish American Baroque Art, and Architecture found in the country’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the beautiful Colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca.
To top it off, mainland Ecuador is the unavoidable springboard to the Galapagos Islands. It is therefore wise to think of this layover as a short (or long) extension, a destination that is very much a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
Apart from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador features many alluring destinations easily accessed from the capital, Quito, Guayaquil or the southern city of Cuenca. Popular getaways in the northern Andes include the Otavalo Highlands including Hacienda Zuleta, Maship Lodge in the Mindo Cloud Forestand Cotopaxi National Park region. Destinations in the southern Andes include El Cajas National Park, Cuenca & surrounding craft villages as well as Ingapirca. The Amazon Basin, the Napo River, and the Yasuní National Parks can be easily reached from the capital, Quito, by commercial jet and river connections.
Where is Ecuador? Straddling the Equator between Colombia (to the north) and Peru (to the south) in northwestern South America, the Republic of Ecuador enjoys one of the most stunning portions of the Northern Andes Mountains. The country also lies along the northwestern fringes of the Amazon Basin and receives both warm and cold ocean currents along its equatorial Pacific Coast.
The world-renowned Galapagos Islands have located 1,200 km (over 600 miles) offshore, in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. Learn more about the Galapagos Islands tours in our Galapagos section.
Area Ecuador covers a territory of 109,483 square miles (283,559 square meters), only about 2-3% of South America’s total landmass.
Government Ecuador has enjoyed a democratic government since 1979. The current president is Mr. LGuillermo Lasso.
Population As per the 2010 census, Ecuador is home to around 16 million people. Guayaquil, its largest city, has over three million inhabitants, while Quito, the capital, has a population of 2.5 million.
Language(s) Ecuador is the second-smallest Spanish-speaking nation in South America after Uruguay. Yet, it is, at the same time, home to thirteen official native languages, with fourteen recognized indigenous nationalities.
Communication Services All regular communication services are found in Ecuador. Internet, international calls, roaming, etc. It is not difficult to make international calls. To make it easier, you can check with your long-distance or mobile provider before your trip to see if they will provide you with an access number to use. Hotel staff and guides will also be happy to assist you.
Check with your mobile provider before your trip, not only to see what services are available to you in Ecuador but also how to avoid unexpected roaming fees. Ask your provider how to configure your phone to prevent them.
You can also learn how to connect your phone to Wi-Fi at mainland hotels to make calls over the Internet. Internet communication is provided in most hotels, including Wi-Fi at no charge, and the use of computer connections to the Internet at a lobby or business center. You can’t always count on high-speed connections, however. There are also Internet cafes, and you can find Wi-Fi hookups at many haciendas as well.
Citizens of most countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, and EU countries can stay a maximum of 90 days in Ecuador without the need for a visa. Your passport must have at least 6 months validity passport. Visacentral.com is an excellent reference for passport information and visas, including which countries require a visa to enter Ecuador.
Banking and Currency
As of 2001, Ecuador uses the US Dollar.
Bringing cash along
It’s a good idea to bring some cash with you keeping in mind that ATMs are available in all major cities, as well as in the Galapagos Islands and near hotels. While many shops accept credit or debit cards, some don’t. It’s a good idea to carry cash when wishing to purchase local arts and crafts or when shopping at local markets, where cash is king, and you can use it to negotiate a better price. Only take the cash you think you will need on outings and never take denominations over twenty-dollar bills, as most establishments will not accept larger denominations.
Banks and ATMs
You can find local banks (all of which feature ATMs) at malls, local financial districts, and important tourism hubs. Working hours are typically 9 AM - 4 PM on weekdays. You will also find ATMs at Ecuador’s major airports, including Baltra Airport in the Galapagos, though we strongly advise you to carry cash on your flight, since telecommunication systems on the islands may be unreliable. Once at the major Galapagos Island port cities – Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island) and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal Island) – you will find banks and more ATM machine options.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
How to get to Ecuador
Because there are no direct international flights to the Galapagos you will first have to fly to mainland Ecuador before traveling to the Islands. Ecuador is served by two international airports, Quito (UIO) in the Andes and Guayaquil (GYE) on the coast. There is much more to see and do in and around Quito and for those wishing to experience the Andes and/or the Amazon Basin, your obvious bet is choosing Quito as your arrival destination. Because Guayaquil lies on the coast it is a great option for passengers who wish to avoid the higher elevations of the Andes and Quito which is at 9,350 ft. (2,850 m) above sea level. Guayaquil is closer to Galapagos and you save about an hour in travel time to the islands when departing from there for your cruise.
We suggest a two-day stay in Guayaquil and at least a three-day stay in Quito to truly take advantage of these mainland destinations. You can also catch a connecting flight to Cuenca from Quito.
The Quito airport is less than an hour transfer from Colonial Quito or the new town, both of which offer an array of excellent hotels to stay in. For visitors with limited time in Quito or who need to catch early flights or require to be at close distance from the airport, there are excellent hotels in the immediate area.
Guayaquil’s airport is located within the city, and transfers to most hotels entail only a twenty-minute drive (including hotels that are also walking distance from the airport).
Most flights to and from the Galapagos Islands originate in Quito (UIO) and make a brief stopover in Guayaquil (GYE).
In recent years, and with the creation of new airports, there has been a surge of new airlines reaching Ecuador, with new frequencies and direct flights.
Airlines and their connection cities
United Airlines (Houston), Jetblue (Ft. Lauderdale), Delta (Atlanta), American (Miami), Avianca (Bogotá), Copa (Panama), Latam (Lima), Wingo, PlusUltra, Iberia, AirEuropa (Madrid), KLM (Amsterdam), Air France (Paris), AirCanada, AeroMexico (México City).
How to visit Ecuador from Australia / China
United Airlines and Delta Airlines make offer connections at US airports in Seattle or Los Angeles between Quito and Australia. Travelers visiting Ecuador from Australia can also Latam and Qantas direct flights via Chile, catching a connecting flight with Latam and Qantas direct flights to this country.
Travel Times from major cities
New York – approx. 7 hours’ flight time
Miami — approx. 4 hours’ flight time
Los Angeles – approx. 8-9 hours’ flight time
Europe — approx. 10-14 hours’ flight time
Sydney - approx. 25 hours’ flight time
Beijing - approx. 22 hours of flight time
Health and Medical Information
Before planning your trip, you should consult with your local physician and health officials as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. The CDC offers an excellent section for travelers, which you can access by going to www.cdc.gov, clicking on the Traveler's Health Item. From there select Destinations and then choose Ecuador or Peru.
It is important that you advise us (or your tourism company of choice) of any medical conditions, allergies or special medical and dietary needs you may have during your scheduled trip by submitting your Galapagos Registration form well in advance.
While Quito stands at roughly 9,000 ft. (2743.2 m) most passengers don’t experience altitude problems other than occasional shortness of breath, but if you have respiratory issues or have experienced symptoms of altitude sickness at similar elevation previously, then you can always fly into Guayaquil at sea level. For more information about altitude sickness ask us to send you our pre-trip information.
Health requirements to Enter Ecuador | Covid-19 All travelers (including minors) are required to present proof of the following upon arrival.
To Enter Ecuador:
All travelers (including minors) must present one of the following:
- A negative Covid-19 PCR test administered within 72 hours of entering Ecuador
- A negative Covid-19 Antigen test administered within 72 of entering Ecuador
- A vaccination card showing the traveler has received a complete series of the COVID-19 vaccines.
To enter Galapagos
- A negative Covid-19 PCR test, administered within 96 hours upon arriving in Galapagos.
- Please note Galapagos authorities will only accept a nasal-based negative Covid Polymerise Chain Reaction (PCR) test when entering the islands. Saliva-based PCR tests will not be accepted for entry into the Galapagos.
- Guests can use the same PCR test to enter both Ecuador and Galapagos so long as tests are administered within the time frames specified above.
Important: your certificate must clearly state the type of test performed.
You can check the CDC website for recommended and required vaccinations closer to the time of travel and of course we can help you with this information. For up-to-date information on all necessary vaccinations, please review the World Health Organization official documentation: https://www.who.int/ith/ith-country-list-new.pdf
As with any large city, one is advised to take precautions to insure their safety and security. While police patrol tourist areas regularly in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil, when sightseeing, one should keep their belongings close at hand, especially wallet, camera and backpack, when carrying these items. We advise you to secure any jewelry, passports, most of your cash and all but the credit card you plan to use in your hotel lockbox.
These are normal precautions for any city you are unfamiliar with. You will find Ecuador to be a beautiful, friendly and enjoyable destination and your guides will answer any questions you may have regarding security.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Food and waterborne diseases are the number one cause of illness in travelers. The following precautions will insure that you stay healthy during your trip. Even when you are in your hotel and especially when you are on your own, avoid tap water, even when brushing your teeth. Make sure the hotel offers filtered water or use the purified bottled water provided. Always avoid ice, especially when in traditional restaurants. Avoid eating fish or seafood in side-road eateries. Most urban/hacienda/hotel restaurants are prepared to host visitors and enforce hygiene in their kitchens. Consult your physician, who can also prescribe medications that you can turn to in case you contract any gastro-intestinal complications during your visit.
It is very important to stay hydrated during excursions and walks in the Galapagos, Amazon Basin or high-elevation Andes. In the Galapagos, we provide drinking water dispensers for filling water bottles. On the mainland, including the Amazon, if you have arranged excursions with Quasar, water will be provided to you. Hotels typically also provide drinking water in your room and more upon request.
About Ecuadorian food
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 and soups such as locro, made with cheese, corn and avocado; coastal cuisine is dominated by seafood; and Oriente (Amazon) dinner tables typically feature rice, banana, yucca (a type of manioc root) and fish. 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.
Great International and national cuisine is avaiable in all Ecuador destinations.
Climate and Weather
Ecuador’s weather changes little throughout the year. Since the country lies on the equator, there are no clear ‘four seasons’. Still, we do speak of clear-cut rainy and dry seasons in most parts of the country. They do not necessarily occur at the same time of year, however—it really depends on where you are—and the presence of microclimates further complicates matters. Microclimates are formed due to specific pockets in elevation that create isolated meteorological patterns.
Climate in Ecuador varies, depending on altitude. The Andes offer a reliably spring like climate year-round where it reaches up into the upper 60s °F when the sun is out, 50°F when the sun goes behind a cloud and mid 40°F at night.
The lower you go (meaning the closer you are to sea level), the more tropical it is. Days are hot, and rain—when it rains—is heavy. Light, summery clothing is recommended. In cities like Guayaquil, air-conditioners are commonplace at every locale at all times, like a hot summer’s day in almost any big city, all year round. On the coast (including Guayaquil), it is coolest during the northern hemisphere’s Summer months (July-Sept), with highest humidity and hot weather between February and May.
In the Amazon Basin, temperatures are also high, but local architecture using bamboo and featuring high thatched palm-leaf roofs, promotes ventilation which, along with ceiling fans, keeps interiors pleasant. Rain and breezes coming in from rivers and lagoons also help to cool things off. In the Amazon, there is a lot of precipitation all year long, though rain can subside. Usually the wettest months fall between March and September.
In the Andes, temperatures drop as one moves upslope, though Quito, despite its 2800 meters above sea level, is not a cold city. During most of the year, sunny days are followed by cloudier afternoons, with showers that typically last only about an hour, a meteorological effect that may offer spectacular purple-and-orange sunsets. It only gets cool at night or when it rains. The “invierno”, which means winter in Spanish, is really a rainy season. It may rain throughout the day, with occasional hailstorms.
The Andes’ typical rainy season spans from October thru May with the least rainfall in July and August, though the eastern slope of the Andes is typically rainy from March to September, while the dry season takes place between October and February.
Note that in the Andes there is also what they call a veranillo, or “small summer” that takes place at some point between the end of November and early January.
There is no clear-cut winter or summer however, so Ecuador is a great year-round destination.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
The following is a brief summary of what you may want to bring on your trip to Ecuador.
- Hiking shoes if you are visiting haciendas, cloud forest or the Amazon (Amazon lodges will provide you with rubber boots).
- Comfortable walking shoes for your urban walks in Quito, Cuenca or Guayaquil.
- For Galapagos travelers: Tennis shoes, running shows or Teva-style sandals all work well on the mixed terrain of hard packed sand, lava rocks and sandy beaches.
Shirts and blouses
- T-shirt for sunny mornings and afternoon in the Andes, and for Guayaquil
- Polo shirts, light blouses…
- Long sleeve shirts for cooler afternoons in the Andes
- Cotton sweaters for cool afternoons, hacienda and mountain trails in the Andes
- Thick jacket for Andean treks and hikes and nights at haciendas.
- Light water-proof jacket for Amazon excursions.
Trousers and skirts
- Shorts for urban walks in Guayaquil
- Light-weight full-length pants for jungle excursions in Amazon and midday walks in the Andes
- Dressier pants for evening outings
- Casual dresses/skirts for urban visits and evenings
Socks and underwear
- Regular underwear
- Warmer hiking socks for Andean excursions
- Regular socks
- Sun hat or cap with neck protection for midday walks.
- Mosquito repellent
- Photo camera / Video camera
- Additional memory for cameras
- Alarm clock
- Flashlight or headlamp for Amazon trips
- All necessary A/C adaptors, including charger adaptors for 110v, 2 flat-prong outlets
- Good books and Spanish/English dictionaries
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
Throughout Ecuador the electrical current is 110 volts, 60 cycles, AC, which is the same standard as North America. Most outlets accommodate the same two flat-pronged plugs used throughout the USA and Canada. If you are visiting from other countries (including Europe and Australia), travel with a universal adaptor or a simple US-two-prong plug adaptor. Most facilities accommodate US three-prong plugs as well.
Guidelines for tipping and gratuities
Tipping and gratuities are always a personal matter based on experience and the services received.
We offer the following tipping and gratuity guidelines for mainland Ecuador when considering excellent service:
- 10% of the bill at restaurants is typically included in your check.
- We also recommend an additional 10% for excellent service.
- US $1 to US $2 per bag to porters and bellboys at airports and hotels.
Private tours in mainland Ecuador (per group):
- US $20 to US $25 from 1 to 4 passengers and US $25 to US $35 for larger groups for a full day, for the guide, (these suggestions are not per person, but for the whole group). For a transfer, you may tip guides US $7 to US $15.
- US $10 for a full day, for the driver (and US $5 per transfer).
Amazon Lodges (per person):
- US $10 per passenger / per day for the Naturalist Bilingual guide
- US $5 per passenger / per day for native guides
- US $10 per passenger / per day for staff (Keep in mind tips will be shared equally amongst lodge personnel)
Galapagos Cruises: Please refer to your Pre Trip Galapagos document.