Bargaining at outdoor markets is standard practice; at shops where prices are marked, this is not the case, although you may be able to make a deal when buying multiple items. Prices for long-distance taxis and independently hired canoes are negotiable. In all cases, friendly and polite negotiation is key (but you knew that).
Dangers & Annoyances
Don’t be paranoid; most unpleasant incidents can be avoided by using common sense. No matter where you travel, it’s wise to get some travel insurance.
Be prudent about accepting food or drinks from strangers. Keep in mind that these could be laced with something, and you could be unwittingly drugged and robbed.
While highly unlikely, there are occasional incidents of express kidnapping (secuestro exprés) in urban areas. This is when armed thieves (usually operating an unlicensed taxi) force you to withdraw money from an ATM, then abandon you on the outskirts of town. To avoid this happening, have a hotel or restaurant call a taxi for you. You can also use the Easy Taxi app to hail one.
Taxis now are supposed to have emergency GPS-connected panic buttons on the side armrest (in taxis) in back that automatically alert police and start video and audio recording. Look for the 'transporte seguro' label on taxis.
If it can be avoided, do not carry valuables on day hikes, especially in areas commonly visited by tourists.
Hotel rooms near bus stations will often save you a couple of bucks, but can be dangerous and often double as brothels.
If you are driving a car in Ecuador, never park it unattended. Never leave valuables in sight in the car – even attended cars will have their windows smashed by hit-and-run merchants.
On the off chance you are robbed, you should file a police report as soon as possible. This is a requirement for any insurance claim, although it is unlikely that the police will be able to recover the property.
Armed robbery is rare in Ecuador, although parts of Quito and some coastal areas are dangerous. Specific information is given in the appropriate regional chapters of this book.
Sneak theft is more common, and you should always watch your back (and back pockets) in busy bus stations, on crowded city buses and in bustling markets. Theft on buses is common, especially on nighttime trips and journeys between Quito, Latacunga, Baños and Riobamba in the central highlands. All of these places are worked by bag-slashers and pickpockets. But you can avoid becoming victim to them by being smart.
It’s wise to carry a wallet with a small amount of spending money in your front pocket and keep the important stuff hidden in your money pouch beneath your clothes.
Leaving money in the hotel safe deposit boxes is usually reliable, but make sure that it is in a sealed, taped envelope. A few readers have reported a loss of money from deposit boxes in the cheaper hotels.
Due to occasional armed conflict in neighboring Colombia, areas along the Colombian border (particularly in the northern Oriente) can be dangerous. Tours into the Oriente are generally safe, but there have been a few isolated incidents of armed robbery.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
- Australia Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/)
- US State Department (http://travel.state.gov)
Aside from reduced museum entrance fees (which can add up), the only substantial discount is 15% off high-season flights to the Galápagos. The International Student Identity Card (www.isic.org) is generally accepted only when issued from the traveler’s home country and presented in combination with a valid student ID card.
Embassies & Consulates
Hours are short and change regularly, so it’s a good idea to call ahead. New Zealand does not have an embassy or consulate in Ecuador.
Emergency & Important Numbers
To call any regular number, dial the area code, followed by the seven-digit number.
|Emergency (major cities only)||911|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering the country is straightforward, and border officials, especially at the airports, efficiently whisk you through. At land borders, officers may take a little more time examining your passport, if only to kill time. Officially, you need proof of onward travel and evidence of sufficient funds for your stay, but this is rarely requested. Proof of $20 per day or a credit card is usually evidence of sufficient funds. However, international airlines flying to Quito may require a round-trip or onward ticket or a residence visa before they let you on the plane; you should be prepared for this possibility, though it’s unlikely. Though not law, you may be required to show proof of vaccination against yellow fever if you are entering Ecuador from an infected area.
Flights, tours and rail tickets can all be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings.
Each traveler is able to import 3L of spirits and 400 cigarettes duty-free. There is no problem in bringing in the usual types of personal belongings.
Pre-Columbian artifacts and endangered-animal products, which include mounted butterflies and beetles, are not allowed to be taken out of Ecuador or imported into most other countries.
All nationals entering as tourists need a passport that is valid for at least six months after arrival. You are legally required to have your passport on you at all times. Many people carry only a copy when they’re hanging around a town, though this is not an officially acceptable form of ID.
Visitors from most countries don’t need visas for stays of less than 90 days. Residents from a handful of African and Asian countries (including China) require visas.
New regulations mean it’s a real headache getting visa extensions. Unless you’re from an Andean Pact country, tourist visas are not extendable. If you wish to stay longer than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a 12-IX Visa; you can also do this while in Ecuador, though it’s more time-consuming than doing it in advance through an Ecuadorian consulate in your home country. Pick up the necessary paperwork for the 12-IX Visa, and pay the $230 fee at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Movilidad Humana. For step-by-step instructions on applying for the visa, check out the excellent post on one Canadian traveler's blog: roamaholic.com/tourist-visa-ecuador.
No matter what, don’t wait until your visa has expired to sort out your paperwork, as the fine for overstaying can be hefty – $200 to $2000.
Ecuadorians are generally laid-back and take the quirks of foreigners in stride, but there are a few niceties worth noting.
- Greetings Greeting those you pass on the street with a 'Buenos días' (or 'buenas tardes' or 'buenas noches,' as the time of day warrants) is considered a basic courtesy. The same goes for beginning any conversation with a greeting and some small talk before getting down to business.
- Dining When passing other diners, Ecuadorians will wish them 'Buen provecho' (bon appetit) – also offered around the table to dining companions, of course.
- Queueing In business establishments, queuing is expected, but in more far-flung locales, taxi lines, bus stations and markets can be more of a (generally courteous) free-for-all.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Same-sex couples traveling in Ecuador should be wary of showing affection when in public. All same-sex civil unions were recently enshrined in the new 2008 constitution, and for most Ecuadorians gay rights remains a non-issue in a political context. But homosexuality was technically illegal until 1998, and antigay bias still exists.
Several fiestas in Ecuador have parades with men cross-dressing as women. This is all meant in fun, rather than as an open acceptance of sexual alternatives, but it does provide the public at large (both gay and straight) a popular cultural situation in which to enjoy themselves in an accepting environment.
Useful Websites & Organizations
In addition to health insurance and car insurance, a policy that protects baggage and valuables, such as cameras and camcorders, is a good idea. Keep your insurance records separate from other possessions in case you have to make a claim.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Get a free travel insurance quote
- Get comprehensive travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems, ambulances, emergency flights and more.
- Buy, extend and claim your worldwide travel insurance online anytime – even if you’re already on the road!
Wi-fi is widespread, with guesthouses across the country offering access (usually free). The wi-fi symbol indicates where it is available.
Internet cafes are disappearing in Ecuador, though most larger towns have a few. These cost around $1.50 an hour. Some hotels also have a computer or two for guest use. Accommodations options in this book that have a computer for internet access are labeled with an internet symbol.
Ecuador has recently implemented a zero-tolerance policy for possession of illegal drugs of any amount. Previously, possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis and up to two grams of cocaine did not result in criminal charges but this is no longer the case – the use or trafficking of drugs is a punishable offense that could result in imprisonment, and a scale is used to differentiate between users, microtraffickers and large scale traffickers when handing down prison sentences.
Drivers should carry their passport, as well as their driver’s license. In the event of an accident, unless it’s extremely minor, the vehicles should stay where they are until the police arrive and make a report. This is essential for all insurance claims. If the accident results in injury and you are unhurt, you should take the victim to obtain medical help, particularly in the case of a pedestrian accident. You are legally responsible for a pedestrian’s injuries and will be jailed unless you pay, even if the accident was not your fault. Drive defensively.
- Newspapers Quito’s biggest newspaper is El Comercio (www.elcomercio.com). Guayaquil’s papers are El Telégrafo (www.eltelegrafo.com.ec) and El Universo (www.eluniverso.com). Ecuador’s best-known news magazine is Vistazo (www.vistazo.com). International newspapers, including a locally published edition of the Miami Herald, can be found in Quito.
- Magazines For travel inspiration, pick up a copy of the beautifully produced bilingual magazine Ñan (www.nanmagazine.com), at airport kiosks, bookshops or some larger supermarkets.
- DVDs Ecuador uses region 4, common throughout Latin America as well as Australia and Oceania.
Ecuador’s official currency is the US dollar. Aside from Euros, Peruvian soles and Colombian nuevos soles, it’s very difficult to change foreign currencies in Ecuador.
ATMs are the easiest way of getting cash. 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 Personal Identification Number (PIN); many Ecuadorian ATMs don’t recognize longer ones.
US dollars 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. Both US and Ecuadorian coins are used in Ecuador. The $1 coin is widely used.
Credit cards are great as backup. Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club are the most widely accepted cards. First-class restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and travel agencies usually 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 5% and 10% to the bill. Paying cash is often better value.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
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.
- Restaurants Better restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill. Add another 5% for great service, handing it to the server directly.
- Taxis Not usually tipped; always appreciated.
- Guides Tips expected on guided tours. For groups, tip top-notch guides about $5 per person per day; tip the driver about half that. For private guides, tip about $10 per day.
- Galápagos cruises Tip $10 to $20 per client per day.
Opening hours are provided when they differ from the following standard hours.
Restaurants 10:30am to 11pm Monday to Saturday
Bars 6pm to midnight Monday to Thursday, to 2am Friday and Saturday
Shops 9am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 9am to noon Saturday
Banks 8am to 2pm or 4pm Monday to Friday
Post offices 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 1pm Saturday
Telephone call centers 8am to 10pm daily
Ecuador’s postal service is reliable. Allow one to two weeks for a letter or package to reach its destination. Courier services including FedEx, DHL and UPS are readily available in sizable towns, but the service is costly.
On major holidays, banks, offices and other services close. Transportation gets crowded, so buy bus tickets in advance. Major holidays are sometimes celebrated for several days around the actual date. If an official public holiday falls on a weekend, offices may be closed on the nearest Friday or Monday.
New Year’s Day January 1
Epiphany January 6
Semana Santa (Easter Week) March/April
Labor Day May 1
Battle of Pichincha May 24
Simón Bolívar’s Birthday July 24
Quito Independence Day August 10
Guayaquil Independence Day October 9
Columbus Day/Día de la Raza October 12
All Saints’ Day November 1
Day of the Dead (All Souls’ Day) November 2
Cuenca Independence Day November 3
Christmas Eve December 24
Christmas Day December 25
- Smoking Banned in any enclosed public spaces and on public transportation, although the law is unregulated and smoking is commonly accepted in bars and clubs.
Taxes & Refunds
There's a 12% value-added tax (IVA) on Ecuadorian products, hotels and restaurant charges.
You can apply for a refund of applicable taxes upon departure if you supply invoices (facturas) with your name and passport number on them. Allow extra time at the airport to do so, and expect several months' wait for the refund to be credited to your card.
In a country where mobile phone use is commonplace, pay phones and call centers are rapidly disappearing from the landscape. If you're without a mobile phone and you need to make a call, using Skype where wi-fi is available may be your best bet. Or if you lack a computer, there are still a few internet cafes in most towns.
In regards to public street phones, some use phonecards, which are sold in convenient places such as newsagents. Others accept only coins. All but the most basic hotels will allow you to make local city calls.
Hotels that provide international phone connections very often surcharge extremely heavily.
All telephone numbers in Ecuador have seven digits – except for cellular phone numbers, which have 10 digits including the initial 0.
Cellular (mobile) numbers in Ecuador are preceded by 09. Bring your own phone and purchase a SIM card (called a ‘chip’, costing around $5 to $10) from one of several local networks. Add credit at convenience stores, supermarkets and pharmacies.
Two-digit area codes beginning with ‘0’ are used throughout Ecuador. Area codes are not dialed if calling from within that area code, unless dialing from a cellular phone.
Ecuador’s country code is 593. To call a number in Ecuador from abroad, call your international access code, Ecuador’s country code, the area code without the 0, and the seven-digit local telephone number (or the nine-digit mobile number – again without the initial 0).
The Ecuadorian mainland is five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, and the Galápagos are six hours behind. Mainland time here is equivalent to Eastern Standard Time in North America. When it’s noon in Quito, it’s noon in New York, 5pm in London and 4am (daylight-saving time) in Melbourne. Because of Ecuador’s location on the equator, days and nights are of equal length year-round, and there is no daylight-saving time.
As throughout South America, Ecuadorian plumbing has very low pressure, and putting toilet paper into the bowl is a serious no-no anywhere except in the fanciest hotels and the Quito airport. Always put your used toilet paper in the basket (it’s better than a clogged and overflowing toilet!). A well-run cheap hotel will ensure that the receptacle is emptied and the toilet cleaned daily.
Public toilets are limited mainly to bus terminals, airports and restaurants. Lavatories are called servicios higiénicos and are usually marked ‘SS.HH.’ – there's often an attendant, whom you will pay about $0.10 or $0.15, for which you will receive a ration of toilet paper. You can simply ask to use the baño (bathroom) in a restaurant. Toilet paper is not always available, so the experienced traveler always carries a personal supply. Remember ‘M’ on the door means mujeres (women) not ‘men’ – though it might also be 'D' for damas (ladies). Men’s toilets are signed with an ‘H’ for hombres (men) or a ‘C’ for caballeros (gentlemen).
Ecuador’s system of government-run tourist offices is hit or miss, but is getting better. Tourist information in Quito and Cuenca is excellent.
Many towns have some form of municipal or provincial tourist office; most of the time, the staff is good at answering the majority of questions.
Ministerio de Turismo (http://ecuador.travel) Responsible for tourist information at the national level.
Travel with Children
Foreigners traveling with children are still a curiosity in Ecuador (especially if they are gringos), and a crying or laughing child at your side can quickly break down barriers between you and locals. Parents will likely be met with extra-friendly attention. As is the case throughout the world, people in Ecuador love children. Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children is an excellent resource.
Children pay full fare on buses if they occupy a seat, but they often ride for free if they sit on a parent’s lap. The fare for children under 12 years is halved for domestic flights (and they get a seat), while infants under two cost 10% of the fare (but they don’t get a seat). In hotels, the general rule is simply to bargain.
While kids’ meals are not normally offered in restaurants, it is perfectly acceptable to order a meal to split between two children or an adult and a child.
Changing facilities are rarities in all but the best restaurants. Breast-feeding is acceptable in public. Formula foods can be difficult to come by outside the large big-city supermarkets, but disposable diapers are sold at most markets throughout the country.
Safety seats are generally hard to come by in rental cars (be sure to arrange one ahead of time), and in taxis they’re unheard of. This is, after all, a country where a family of four can blaze across town on a motorcycle.
Sights & Activities
Ecuador is not a country that’s big on fun parks, children’s rides and organized spectacles for kids. That said, there’s plenty of real-world excitement here, whether it’s tramping through rainforest, canoeing down a river or playing in the waves.
Whale-watching is a must while in Puerto López. Older children are likely to enjoy the snorkeling and animal-watching in the Galápagos. Quito has a healthy number of activities that the young ones will enjoy, including a reptile zoo, a theme park and good museums.
Travellers with Disabilities
Unfortunately, Ecuador’s infrastructure for disabled travelers is virtually nonexistent. Wheelchair ramps are few and far between, and sidewalks are often badly potholed and cracked. Bathrooms and toilets are often too small for wheelchairs. Signs in braille or telephones for the hearing impaired are practically unheard of.
Nevertheless, Ecuadorians with disabilities get around, mainly through the help of others. It’s not particularly unusual to see travelers with disabilities being carried onto a bus, for example. Buses are (legally) supposed to carry travelers with disabilities for free. Local city buses, which are already overcrowded, won’t do that, but long-distance city buses sometimes do. Travelers with disabilities are also eligible for 50% discounts on domestic airfares.
When it comes to hotels, the only truly accessible rooms are found at the international chain hotels in Quito and Guayaquil.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Numerous organizations look for the services of volunteers, however the vast majority require at least a minimal grasp of Spanish, a minimum commitment of several weeks or months, as well as fees (anywhere from $10 per day to $700 per month) to cover the costs of room and board. Volunteers can work in conservation programs, help street kids, teach, build nature trails, construct websites, do medical or agricultural work – the possibilities are endless. Many jungle lodges also accept volunteers for long-term stays. To keep your volunteer costs down, your best bet is to look when you get to Ecuador.
The classifieds section on Ecuador Explorer (www.ecuadorexplorer.com) has a long list of organizations seeking volunteers.
AmaZOOnico (www.selvaviva.ec/en/amazoonico) Accepts volunteers for the animal-rehabilitation sector.
Andean Bear Conservation Project (www.andeanbear.org) The Andean Bear Conservation Project trains volunteers as bear trackers. Hike through remote cloud forest to track the elusive spectacled bear, whose predilection for sweet corn is altering its wild behavior. Other jobs here include maintaining trails and working with local farmers to replenish cornfields ravaged by bears (to discourage bear hunting). Volunteers can come for as little as a week, but a month ($700) is recommended.
Bosque Nublado Santa Lucia (www.santaluciaecuador.com) Community-based ecotourism project in the cloud forests of northwest Ecuador. It regularly contracts volunteers to work in reforestation, trail maintenance, construction, teaching English and more.
FEVI (www.fevi.org) The Fund for Intercultural Education & Community Volunteer Service works with children, the elderly, women’s groups and indigenous communities throughout Ecuador.
Inti Sisa (www.intisisa.org) In Guamote, this hostel has info on volunteer opportunities in early-childhood education.
Jatun Sacha Foundation (www.jatunsacha.org) This foundation has four biological research stations in four zones of Ecuador: the coast, highlands, Amazonía and the Galápagos. They accept volunteers at each one, with a minimum commitment of two weeks.
Junto con los Niños (www.juconi.org.ec) Organization that works with street kids in the slum areas of Guayaquil. One-month minimum preferred.
Merazonia (www.merazonia.org) A central highlands refuge for injured animals.
New Era Galápagos Foundation (www.neweragalapagos.org) Nonprofit offering volunteerships focused on community empowerment and sustainable tourism in the Galápagos. Volunteers live and work on Isla San Cristóbal.
Progreso Verde (www.progresoverde.org) Accepts volunteers for reforestation, organic farming, teaching and other areas.
Reserva Biológica Los Cedros (www.reservaloscedros.org) This biological reserve in the cloud forests of the western Andean slopes often needs volunteers.
Río Muchacho Organic Farm Guests and locals get their hands dirty learning about sustainable farming practices. There are short programs from one to three days, plus one-week-to-month-long courses ($300 to $1200). You can volunteer here for $300 per month. Most people come here on a three-day, two-night tour costing $172 per person, with discounts for larger groups.
On the accommodation front, cabins are Thoreau-approved-rustic, with shared showers and composting toilets. The coveted spot is a tree-house bunk. Lying along the river of the same name, this tropical organic farm is reached by a rough 7km unpaved road branching inland from the road north of Canoa.
Siempre Verde Get off the road just before Santa Rosa for the two-hour walk into Siempre Verde, a small community-run research station supporting tropical-conservation education with excellent hiking and bird-watching. Students and researchers are welcome with prior arrangement.
Yanapuma Foundation Offers a number of ways for volunteers to get involved: teaching English, building houses in remote communities, helping with reforestation projects or taking part in coastal clean-ups. Stop by its Quito headquarters and language school for more information.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Ecuador uses the metric system.
Generally, women travelers will find Ecuador safe and pleasant, despite the fact that machismo is alive and well. Ecuadorian men often make flirtatious comments and whistle at single women, both Ecuadorian and foreigners. The best strategy is to ignore them.
On the coast, come-ons are more predatory, and solo female travelers should take precautions such as staying away from bars and discos where they’ll obviously get hit on and opting for taxis over walking etc. Do not accept drinks from strangers – and don't leave your drink unattended. There are occasional reports of drugging.
Lonely Planet has received warnings in the past from women who were molested while on organized tours. If you’re traveling solo, it’s essential to do some research before committing to a tour: find out who’s leading the tour, what other tourists will be on the outing and so on. Women-only travel groups or guides are available in a few situations.
Although Ecuador has a low unemployment rate, the under-employment rate is high (above 50%), so finding work isn’t easy. Officially, you need a worker’s visa to be allowed to work in Ecuador. Aside from the occasional position at a tourist lodge or expat bar, there is little opportunity for paid work. The one exception is teaching English.
Most paid English-teaching job openings are in Quito and Guayaquil. Schools sometimes advertise for teachers on the bulletin boards of hotels and restaurants. Pay is just enough to live on unless you’ve acquired a full-time position from home. If you have a bona fide teaching credential, so much the better. Schools such as the American School in Quito will often hire teachers of mathematics, biology and other subjects, and may help you get a work visa. They also pay much better than the language schools. Check ads in local hotels and newspapers. One of the best online English-teaching resources, complete with job boards, is Dave's ESL Cafe (www.eslcafe.com).