Money & costs
Daily budget less than $30
» Dorm beds: $7–10; budget guesthouses: $10–15 per person
» Shopping at markets, set lunches: $2–3
» Travel by bus; forget the Galápagos
Daily budget of $30– 100
» Double room in midrange hotel: $40–60
» Dinner in good restaurant: $15–20
» Climbing, cycling and bird-watching tours: $40–80 per day
» Jungle lodges: from $250 for four days
Daily budget of over $100
» Galápagos tour with a respected operator: from $300 per day
» Top Amazon lodges: around $250 per day
» Haciendas on Cotopaxi: from $100 per day
Better restaurants add a 12% tax and a 10% service charge to the bill. If the service has been satisfactory, you can add another 5% for the waiter. Cheaper restaurants don’t include a tax or service charge. If you want to tip your server, do so directly – don’t just leave the money on the table.
Tip porters at the airport about $0.25 per bag and bellboys at a first-class hotel about $1 per bag. Hairdressers receive $0.50 or more for special services. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped, but you can leave them the small change from a metered ride.
Guides are usually paid low-wages, and tips are greatly appreciated. If you go on a guided tour, a tip is expected. If you are in a group, tip a top-notch guide about $5 per person per day. Tip the driver about half that. If you hire a private guide, tip about $10 per day.
If you are going on a long tour that involves guides, cooks and crew (eg the Galápagos Islands), tip about $25 to $50 per client per week, and distribute among all the personnel.
Ecuador’s official currency is the US dollar. If you’re not traveling from the USA, consider bringing a small supply of US dollars with you on your trip in case you have trouble exchanging currency from your home country. Western Unions are in most big cities.
ATMs are the easiest way of getting cash, period. They’re found in most cities and even in smaller towns, though they are occasionally out of order. Make sure you have a four-digit PIN; many Ecuadorian ATMs don’t recognize longer ones. Bancos del Pacífico and Bancos del Pichincha have MasterCard/Cirrus ATMs. Bancos de Guayaquil and Bancos La Provisora have Visa/Plus ATMs.
US dollar bills are the official currency. They are identical to those issued in the USA. Coins of one, five, 10, 25 and 50 cents are identical in shape, size and color as their US equivalents, but bear images of famous Ecuadorians rather than US presidents. Both US and Ecuadorian coins are used in Ecuador. There are no plans to print Ecuadorian versions of US dollar bills. The US$1 ‘Sacajawea’ coin is widely used.
The biggest problem when it comes to cash is finding change. It can be hard to cash a $20 bill even in big cities. No one ever has sueltos (literally ‘loose ones, ’ meaning ‘change’), so change your bills when you can. Forget about changing a $50 or $100 bill outside a bank.
Credit cards are great as backup. Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club are the most widely accepted cards. First-class restaurants, hotels, gift shops and travel agencies almost always accept MasterCard or Visa. Small hotels, restaurants and stores don’t. Even if an establishment has a credit-card sticker in the window, don’t assume that credit cards are accepted. In Ecuador, merchants accepting credit cards will often add between 4% and 10% to the bill. Paying cash is often better value.
It is best to change money in the major cities of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, where rates are best. Because banks have limited hours, casas de cambio (currency-exchange bureaus) are sometimes the only option for changing money. They are usually open 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday and until at least noon on Saturday. They’re entirely credible places, though the exchange rate might be a percentage point or so lower than that given by banks.
Euros, Peruvian pesos and Colombian nuevos soles are the easiest currencies to exchange in Ecuador.