Traveling in Ecuador is quite easy, and in our opinion safe if basic precautions are taken. This section is intended as a basic Ecuador travel guide, and we hope it will help answer any questions or concerns you may have about your travel to Ecuador. Of course, if you have remaining questions, feel free to contact us.
Country Name: Republic of Ecuador
Capital City: Quito
Administrative divisions: 24 provinces; Azuay, Bolivar, Canar, Carchi, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, El Oro, Esmeraldas, Galapagos, Guayas, Imbabura, Loja, Los Rios, Manabi, Morona-Santiago, Napo, Orellana, Pastaza, Pichincha, Santa Elena, Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, Sucumbios, Tungurahua, Zamora-Chinchipe
Time zone: GMT -5, daylight savings time not used.
Population: 15,223,680 (July 2012)
Guayaquil Population: 2.5 million
Quito Population: 2.2 million
Ethnic Groups: Mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 65%, Amerindian 25%, Spanish and others 7%, black 3%
Languages: Spanish (official) and several indigenous languages (Quechua, Shuar among others)
Religion: 80% Roman Catholic
Total Area: 283,561 sq. km. including the Galapagos islands
Land: 276,841 sq. km.
Water: 6720 sq. km.
Coastline: 2237 km
Land Boundaries: 2010 km, with Colombia and Peru
Highest Elevation: 6267 m, the peak of Chimborazo, also the point on the earth farthest from the center.
Safety and Security
SAFE TRAVEL IN ECUADOR
Most of rural Ecuador is surprisingly safe, and crime is uncommon. However, in the larger cities and tourist areas, crime can be a problem. The most common crimes in Ecuador are opportunistic theft or robbery, which can occur anywhere but are most common in the major cities; in Quito, this is most common particularly in and around the Mariscal district and in the old town district. Throughout Ecuador, violent crimes are much less common, but can occur in the cities as well.
Some general tips to help assure a safe and pleasant theft-free visit to Ecuador are below:
Walking and exploring
The best general rule to follow when walking around in the cities of Ecuador is if you don’t need it, don’t bring it. Avoid walking around the major cities with backpacks (small or large) especially in crowded areas, and any money or other valuables are generally better left in your hotel (in a safe, if available). On local buses, keep any backpacks in front of you, and watch your pockets especially if the bus is crowded. At night, avoid walking along quiet streets where there are few people, especially just outside of any major tourist areas (for example, in Quito, areas just outside of the Mariscal or Old Town districts). Use taxis at night when possible especially if you are walking alone, even for short distances. And be aware of the mustard/ketchup on your backpack trick (or any other excuse to get you to take off your backpack)...this is common in Quito, and if you fall for it you will probably lose your pack.
When traveling on buses in Ecuador, especially along the “tourist trail”, be especially careful with any valuables you carry with you on board the bus. If you have a small pack, keep it on your lap and never on the floor of the bus. Never let anyone move or help you with your pack if you are not absolutely sure they are employed by the bus company. Generally larger packs checked below the bus are safe. Finally, always stay alert and use caution in or around bus terminals in any major city or town, and when stopping for breaks during longer routes.
Many hotels offer in room safes, and others have a central safe at reception. In most cases at reputable hotels, leaving valuables in your hotel room is nothing to worry about, although occasional thefts from hotel rooms do occur. If you leave valuables in your hotel room, try not to leave them in plain sight, or leave them with the front desk for storage in a safe.
In most of Ecuador, the risks of disease and food borne illnesses are low. However, there are certain precautions that are always advisable...some of the most important follow:
In central Quito, the drinking water from the tap is pure, chlorinated, and safe to drink. Some of the distribution system is old and thus poses some risk, but Quito’s water sources are from high mountain glaciers and paramos, thus the water is exceptionally pure. Outside of Quito, use caution with the water since in many areas the tap water is not treated, and in low lying areas, contamination can be a real problem.
We recommend bringing a reusable water bottle with you; many hotels and hostels offer bottled or filtered water and you can refill your bottle rather than repeatedly buying water in disposable plastic bottles.
Ask your doctor before coming to Ecuador about vaccinations. There are no vaccines required for entry into Ecuador. Although neither exist with high frequency in Ecuador, generally vaccinations for hepatitis A and B and typhoid fever are recommended. Yellow fever vaccinations are not required for Ecuador (presently the disease does not exist in Ecuador), however, if you are planning to visit other countries in Latin America or if you plan to visit the Amazon region, the vaccination is a good idea.
Food borne illnesses in the major cities of Ecuador are uncommon, but there are occasional problems with parasites (generally contracted from poorly washed fruits or vegetables cultivated with ground contact, grown in certain areas of the country) and infections (from poor hygiene practices). Neither of these are common, and for all but the most sensitive, even the small, local Ecuadorian restaurants with typical inexpensive “almuerzos” are generally safe. We suggest selecting restaurants with a high turnover of customers when possible; these are generally the safest places to eat. However, if you feel sick or develop any intestinal problems while traveling which last for more than a day or two, we strongly recommend seeing a doctor if the problem persists for more than a day or two...such illnesses can become serious if not rapidly treated.
Sun and Altitude
These are two very important issues for travelers to Ecuador. The sun in Ecuador, at all elevations and in all areas, is particularly strong. People can sunburn very easily in both continental Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and we strongly recommend a quality sunscreen be used on any day when much time will be spent outdoors...even on cloudy days. For tours of the Galapagos or visits to the beach, we suggest applying a good sunscreen several times a day...even if it’s cloudy. Renting a wetsuit during your Galapagos cruise not only helps keep you warm, but is also excellent sun protection and reduces the need for sunscreen, which contaminates the waters of the Galapagos.
For tourists arriving directly to Quito, altitude can also be a problem. Upon arrival to Quito, many people quickly notice minor symptoms such as lack of appetite, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and some shortness of breath...all reasonably normal for your first day or so in Quito, situated at very high altitude, 2880 meters or about 9300 feet. After a couple of days, these symptoms diminish or disappear, but we suggest planning to take things easy for your first day or two in Quito while your body adjusts. If you have more severe symptoms upon your arrival, seek medical attention.
While malaria exists in much of Ecuador at lower elevations (below around 3000 feet/1000 meters), particularly along the northern coast, we do not feel it is necessary to take malaria medications while traveling in Ecuador if you are healthy. We know this may be contrary to your doctor’s advice...and this is a decision we recommend you make in consultation with your doctor...but our reasons are as follows:
- Malaria is very rare in most of Ecuador (with few exceptions)...rare in communities and towns where people live, and where they do not take medications to prevent malaria. As a tourist, your risks are very low in areas typically visited by tourists.
- The strain of malaria that exists in Ecuador is curable...unpleasant if you get it, but not the type that can stay with you for life.
- The health risks of taking many malaria medications can be serious; these are, for the most part, medications with serious side effects and health impacts.
It’s quite easy to get from place to place in Ecuador. The intercity bus system is extensive, inexpensive and with frequent service, roads are generally good, and private transportation and domestic flights can be arranged through Eos Ecuador at reasonable costs. Private transportation with your own driver saves time and offers much more flexibility than bus transport, but for certain destinations buses can be a very simple and economical option. For longer distances, flights are fast and inexpensive. We can also arrange rental cars if desired, but in Ecuador they tend to be expensive. Options are described below:
For slightly more than the cost of a rental car, we can contract a private car and driver for your tour; this gives you and your group maximum flexibility to stop when and where you wish, offers a high level of comfort and security, and generally saves a considerable amount of time on your trip. We work only with professional drivers, who are fully licensed and insured according to Ecuadorian requirements. Vehicles vary but are late model and in very good condition.
From Quito, there are two main terminals and one smaller terminal. One is the north terminal, also called Carcelen, where buses to Otavalo, Ibarra, Tulcan and other northern destinations depart. Some buses to the Amazon region now depart from this terminal as well. Services to Otavalo and Ibarra are frequent, with buses departing roughly every 15 to 30 minutes. The South terminal, also known as Quitumbe, serves destinations south of Quito. The third terminal, at the north end of the MetroBus line, is called Ofelia, and buses to Mindo and Cayambe and towns to the west depart from here. Several bus companies maintain ticket and cargo offices in central Quito.
Buses generally cost about $1 to $1.50 per hour depending on the route. While drivers are generally highly skilled and experienced, passengers should be aware that Ecuadorian bus drivers can be...well...a bit maniacal. Fast corners, passing on winding mountain roads, and high speeds are not uncommon.
Bus tickets for most destinations can be purchased at time of departure; for trips to the Amazon region or to the coast we suggest purchasing tickets in advance, especially if you plan to join a tour. Most bus companies sell tickets 3 days or more prior to departure, and you must go to the respective terminal or a local ticket office to purchase your tickets. Most buses run frequently, and if you are interested in schedules, many Ecuadorian bus companies are (finally) constructing websites with departure information.
The major airlines in Ecuador are Tame, AeroGal, and LAN. Regular flights depart from Quito for the Amazon region (Coca, Lago Agrio and Tena), Guayaquil and Manta on the coast, and Cuenca in the south among other destinations. Flight prices within Ecuador are generally reasonable, and most flights are only 30 to 45 minutes. We can book and ticket all internal flights; we suggest booking at least one week prior to your departure. Depending on traffic, the new Quito airport is an hour or more outside of central Quito, so be sure to allow sufficient time to arrive.
Transportation to and from the new Quito airport can be by taxi, or there are direct buses that depart every 30 minutes from the old airport in the north of Quito connecting to the new airport (operated by AeroServicios) that are much more economical for one or two persons. Local bus lines connect the airport to the Rio Coca staion of the Ecovia, one of Quito's principal bus lines that connects the north and south portions of the city along Av. 6 de Diciembre.
Several agencies offer rental cars in Ecuador, including Budget and Avis, and we can book with any of these agencies for our clients. However, they are expensive: an economy car including insurance, unlimited mileage and taxes will cost $60 per day or more, and small 4x4s start at around $100 per day.
Since 2001, Ecuador’s currency has been the United States dollar. You can change other currencies here, but we suggest you do this before you depart your home country. ATM machines are common in nearly all cities in Ecuador, and work with most international Visa and Master Cards and most major ATM networks. The major banks in Ecuador are Banco Pichincha and Banco de Guayaquil, both have extensive ATM networks as do many of the smaller banks. Banco Pichincha does not charge a fee for ATM withdrawals. ATMs at the largest banks will permit withdrawals of up to $500 per transaction; smaller banks may permit withdrawals of only $100.
Travelers checks are not used or accepted in Ecuador, thus we do not recommend them (nor do we accept them). Credit cards are accepted widely, but prices are frequently discounted if paid in cash. Avoid carrying too many $50 or $100 bills; because of counterfeiting problems, many businesses will not accept them. Most banks can change them for smaller bills if necessary. Change is a frequent problem in Ecuador, especially in smaller towns, so it is advisable to carry small bills and coins when possible to pay with exact change...otherwise your merchant may leave his or her shop with your money to ask neighbors for change.
If you plan to travel to the Galapagos, it is best to carry the money you will need in cash; very few yachts accept credit cards...and be sure you have at least enough cash for your park entry fees and your migration card. There are ATM machines in Puerto Ayora and San Cristobal if necessary, but your cruise may or may not pass through these towns at the beginning of your tour.
In Ecuador, tipping at restaurants is not traditionally done, although at more expensive restaurants and hotels a 10% charge for service is typically added to the bill (these amounts may or may not actually be distributed to the service staff). For other services, such as hotels, drivers, and guides, a tip is typically offered. The best general rule is to tip according to the service you feel you received, offering an amount you are comfortable with.
For Galapagos cruises, yachts will typically leave two envelopes for their passengers on the last day of the tour. One is generally for the guide, and the other is for the crew. In most cases, the crew will split their tip on a hierarchical basis, with the captain receiving the largest portion. If any one crew member offered you exceptional treatment, you can offer that person something on the side, and leave additional amounts in the envelope. Typically, on an 8 day cruise, plan on a total tip amount of between $10 and $20 per day per person in total, split between the guide and the crew. But again, we suggest tipping on the basis of the service you received, not based on any set amount.
In the Sierra region, most of the year the climate is cool to pleasant, with sunny mornings and frequent clouds and/or rain in the afternoons. If you go out for a full day, it’s always a good idea to bring a rain jacket even if the sun is shining when you depart. The sun is strong throughout Ecuador. For visits to any of the volcanoes or for higher mountain elevations, the weather can be sunny and warm, or cold, windy and rainy, and can change rapidly from one extreme to another. For all such trips, it is advisable to be well prepared with layerable warm clothing and a rain jacket. For most travel in Ecuador’s mountain regions, if you are equipped with a synthetic fleece jacket, a good rain/wind jacket, a thermal shirt and fast drying pants you will be ready for any weather. A good pair of (waterproof if possible) hiking boots or walking shoes is important as well; for trekking tours and Amazon visits, operators generally provide rubber boots to protect you from mud and rain, and to avoid damage to a good pair of shoes.
In the Amazon and coastal regions, the weather is typically warm to hot with high humidity. A light long sleeve shirt or jacket is a good idea here to help protect against bugs and mosquitoes, particularly in the evenings and early morning hours. Quick drying, synthetic clothing is best in these climates.
CLOTHING AND THINGS TO BRING
The best way to think about clothing for your visit to Ecuador is layers. We suggest being prepared for warm to hot weather with high humidity (for the coastal and Amazon regions), warm weather with mild nights (Galapagos), and changeable weather in the Sierra, which could be cool (or cold), windy and rainy or sunny and very comfortable. Some suggestions for things to bring are below:
- Good quality lightweight rain and wind jacket
- Synthetic fleece jacket
- Thermal shirt
- Quick drying t-shirts and pants
- Light long sleeve sweater or jacket
- Headlamp (especially useful for Amazon visits and trekking)
- Swiss army knife (if trekking, and may be useful for Amazon tours)
- Good walking or hiking shoes or boots, waterproof if possible
Best Time to Visit
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Any time of year is a good time to visit Ecuador. In Quito, the driest and warmest time of year is from June to September; at other times the mornings can be warm and pleasant, but afternoon rains (thunderstorms) are more common. In the Sierra region of Ecuador, each area has its own dry and wet season, and in the Amazon, the seasons are pretty much wet and wetter, with the rainiest period from March through July...but animals can be seen more frequently during the rainiest months. January through March is the drier period here. Along the coast, the wet season is from roughly January to May, but this is also the sunniest and warmest period.
For the Galapagos, the coolest season is from June through November and the seas are cooler and rougher during this time period...but because of high nutrient content in the oceans, marine life can be at its peak and seabirds are also active, including the Albatross which are present on Española from June through December. The warmer season is from December through May, and while the sun shines the most during this season, it is also the rainy season. This is the mating season for land birds and for turtles and sea lions, and from February onwards, the islands are green and colorful with flowers in full bloom.
HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS
Ecuador has a number of holidays and festivities during the year. These include commemorations of important civic and religious events, and in many cities there are special celebrations where a mix of customs and beliefs from the indigenous and Spanish cultures are celebrated, excellent examples of Ecuadorian culture. Traditional dress, music, dance, and drinks among other things are the common elements in these festivals. Most businesses are closed on national holidays. The most important holidays are listed below:
New Year's Day (Jan 1): A day of rest.
Carnival (February - March): Perhaps the biggest party days in Ecuador, the dates for this holiday change each year according to the religious calendar, falling just before Ash Wednesday. Parades and other festivities are organized for Carnival, with the biggest fiestas in cities and towns such as Guaranda, Riobamba, Azoguez and Ambato. Ambato is the site for the famous Fruit and Flower parade.
Community Spirit Day (27 Feb): This day is a celebration of community spirit, patriotism, and the national military. Homes and public offices all must display the Ecuadorian flag, and special ceremonies are held in high schools and military institutions across the country.
Easter and Holy Week (March-April): Another holiday determined by the religious calendar, the holiday is celebrated with massive processions in Quito and Guayaquil. This is a weekend of rest, when many in Ecuador depart for tourism activities in the country and enjoy a traditional dish called "fanseca", a thick soup made with fish, plantain, and many other ingredients.
Labor Day (May 1): Celebrated nationally and internationally, this day is characterized by peaceful demonstrations in principal cities of Ecuador for the rights of workers. In general, it is a day of rest.
Battle of Pichincha (24 May): A day to commemorate the principal battle for the liberation of Ecuador, the Battle of Pichincha, which took place on this day in 1822. The result was the liberation of Quito and the independence of the provinces belonging to the Real Audiencia de Quito, from which eventually emerged the Republic of Ecuador.
Inti Raymi (June): This celebration begins with the summer solstice on the 21st of June, and is very important to the indigenous communities of the Andes. The celebration gives thanks for the harvests and to mother earth (Pacha Mama). In different parts of the northern Sierra including Otavalo, Cayambe, Cotocachi, and Zuleta, celebrations include rituals, dances with colorful traditional dress, and traditional Andean music. Celebrations come to their end at the end of June. At around the same time, religious groups and mestizos celebrate the fiesta of "San Juan, San Pedro and San Pablo" in both the Andes and the coastal regions.
Ecuador's Independence Day (10 Aug): This day commemorates the beginning of the movement in Quito for independence from Spain in 1809. A national day of rest with ceremonies within government and military organizations.
Guayaquil Independence Day (9 Oct): A celebration of the day Guayaquil, one of Ecuador's 3 principal cities, secured its independence from Spain in 1820. The city hosts a major civil and military parade on this day; the day is celebrated nationally.
Day of the Dead and Cuenca's Independence Day (2 - 3 Nov): The 2nd of November is a religious celebration, the "dia de los difuntos", where Ecuadorians travel to visit deceased family members in cemeteries across the country, and other religious ceremonies are celebrated. On this day, a delicious drink called "colada morada" is traditionally prepared, along with "Guaguas de Pan", a traditional bread. The 3rd of November is the celebration of Cuenca's independence, another of Ecuador's principal cities declared as Patrimonio Cultural de la Humanidad by UNESCO in 1999. These days are national days of rest, when many take advantage of the time to travel in Ecuador.
Fiestas de Quito (6 Dec): This day commemorates the founding of Quito in its current location in 1534 (originally known as San Francisco de Quito). Beginning on the 28th of November, the city hosts a series of cultural and artistic events including the parade of "Confraternidad", the traditional Chivas (vehicles typical of the coast; converted open small trucks with no windows or doors designed to carry passengers) traveling through Quito frequently with live music on board, and plenty of art and music presentations from national and international artists.
Christmas (25 Dec): The 24th of December is a family celebration where people gather together and celebrate with a dinner, frequently including turkey. At midnight, the Misa del Gallo attracts many to the churches, and Christmas day is shared with families, with gifts and family visits. In Cuenca, the festival of the traveling Infant Child, the Pase del Niño Viajero, occurs on December 24th. This is an all day event with a major parade commemorating the journey of Joseph and Mary.
New Year's Eve (31 Dec): The evening of the 31st of December is time to observe the burning of effigies or dolls in the streets, representing disliked people or officials, famous people, or folkloric characters. The dolls are typically filled with straw, hay, and other materials with a little gunpowder, and are made in various sizes. The name "Año Viejo" is used for these figures, and some years ago Quito began a contest for the greatest creativity and relation to events of the past year, looking for a touch of humor as well. At midnight, the burning of the dolls begins, a symbol of termination of all the negative things during the past year and to give a clean and renewed start to the new year.
For citizens of most countries, including the USA, Canada and countries of the European Union, a tourist visa good for up to a 90 day stay in Ecuador is automatically granted upon your arrival. You need a passport valid for at least 6 months after your date of entry to Ecuador, a return flight ticket, and although rarely verified, proof of financial ability to support yourself during your stay may be requested.
For longer stays, a visa is required. These visas must be obtained in your home country. Please contact your local Ecuadorian consulate or embassy for information.
While in Ecuador, always carry a copy of your passport AND a copy of your entry stamp. For travel to the Amazon region, we recommend always carrying your ORIGINAL passport (in a plastic bag to keep it dry) as buses are frequently stopped at control points.
Travel insurance is strongly recommended for the full duration of your stay in Ecuador, and is not included with purchases from our agency. We can arrange travel insurance for you at low cost if desired. No travel agency or operator in Ecuador including Eos Ecuador, unless otherwise specified in writing, will cover you for any form of accident, injury or illness suffered during your vacation, and without travelers insurance any problems with your flights (for example, a delay in arrival for your Galapagos tour) or lost baggage will be your responsibility.