Travel to Ecuador
Ecuador is a small country situated on the northwestern coast of South America, on the Pacific Ocean. The name Ecuador is derived from the fact that it lies on the Equator and thus experiences no distinctive seasons throughout the course of the year. Colombia lies to the northeast of the country and Peru to the south and east.
Ecuador has a number of listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Be prepared to reserve plenty of travel time on your Ecuador itinerary to take in all the places of interest.
The Galápagos Islands, made famous by the groundbreaking research of Charles Darwin, makes them a place of great interest for biodiversity enthusiasts, researchers and nature lovers. Visit for the unique wildlife endemic to the islands.
Cuenca is a colonial city to the south of Ecuador, well-known for its historic buildings. Ingapirca are the most important northern ruins of the previous Inca Empire. When visiting Cuenca, drop by Banos, a beautiful spot with thermal baths, hot springs and saunas. You should also visit the capital city of Quito, situated at very high altitude and with a charming, historic character all its own.
We hope that this carefully prepared travel guide will ease your travel planning for your Ecuador holidays and encourage you to plan a future trip to Ecuador.
If you’re looking for a tour to Ecuador, we recommend looking at the tours hosted with Contiki, G Adventures, Viator and Intrepid Travel.
Visa Requirements for Ecuador
When the purpose of visiting Ecuador is tourism, the citizens of all countries except those listed below do not require an Ecuador visa to enter the country unless they are staying for more than 90 days.
Citizens of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia need to apply for a visa for Ecuador in their country of residence, prior to travel.
Please check the current guidelines, of the visa requirements for your country and ways to get a Ecuador visa before you travel to Ecuador.
Important Cultural Information
Spanish is the language spoken in Ecuador with some differences in that the pronoun ‘you’ is used in the informal and formal senses when addressing someone.
Common greetings in Ecuador are – Buenos dias (good morning), Buenas tardes (good afternoon) and Buenos noches (good evening).
To beckon someone it is considered rude to call someone with the palm up. Always do so with the palm facing down.
Acceptable forms of clothing depend on the type of region you are visiting. Wear warm clothes in the Sierra region and casual clothes along the coast.
Another cultural idiosyncrasy is to never indicate the height of a person with the palm facing down. Such gestures are reserved for animals. Instead hold the hand sideways and the measure is taken from the floor to the lower edge of the palm.
The best time to visit Ecuador along the coast is January to April for the sunny mornings. Avoid the highlands from December to March with bitterly cold nights.
Banking & Money in Ecuador
The currency of Ecuador is the US dollar symbolized by $. US paper money is used for all transactions although Ecuador uses its own coins along with US coins. Ecuador coins have the same size and weight as US coins.
It’s possible to exchange Traveler’s Cheques at some banks for a moderate fee and they might be accepted in certain hotels.
Credit and debit cards have wide acceptance in touristy areas although a surcharge may be charged for purchases at certain outlets.
ATMs are widely prevalent in larger cities and tourist areas. Most ATMs have a decent exchange rate. Banco Austro is the only national bank that doesn’t have a withdrawal fee.
Some well known banks in Ecuador are Banco Pichincha, Banco Guayaquil, Produbanco, Banco del Austro and others.
Medical Emergency Information
Some Emergency numbers to keep at hand when visiting Ecuador include the following:
- 131 for Ambulance
- 911 for Emergency in major cities
- 102 for Fire
- 101 for police
- 104 for Directory Assistance
Some major hospitals in Ecuador include Specialist Hospital Eugenio Espejo (Quito), Hospital Vozandes Quito, Mount Sinai Hospital (Cuenca), Hospital Alianza del Ecuador (Quito), Luis Vernaza Hospital (Guayaquil).
Make sure to get good travel insurance for Ecuador beforehand. Compare options with both WorldNomads and SafetyWing.
Wi-Fi and Internet in Ecuador
The two major cell phone network operators are Claro and Movistar. Claro has the larger network among the two.
To call someone in Ecuador you can use a telephone cabin which is a store filled with telephone booths. Calls within Ecuador are not as cheap as in some other countries. If thinking of staying in Ecuador for a long time, consider investing in a cell phone. Most phones are sold on a prepaid basis and phone refill cards can be purchased. Alternatively consider bringing an unlocked phone to use in Ecuador.
For Internet, a local SIM card can be purchased with Internet data coverage. Good, free Wi-Fi connections can be found in hotels, restaurants and some big shopping malls. Internet cafes are present but quite expensive. Make sure to set-up a VPN (like ExpressVPN) before using public Wi-Fi spots.
Arrival in Ecuador
Quito has a new, modern airport that is situated at quite a distance from the main city. The old airport has been closed down.
Guayaquil has an International Airport with duty-free and restaurants. The Galápagos Islands have two airports – one at Baltra and the other on San Cristobal.
Search for flights to Ecuador on Expedia.
There are no international train routes into Ecuador from neighboring countries.
Driving into Ecuador might not be the easiest route- air travel and boat travel bing preferable. Nevertheless, inroads from Ipiales Colombia to Tulcan Ecuador are present.
Buses between Tulcan and Ipiales and also to-from Cali and Bogota to Quito are an option.
Many cruises ply into the Ecuadorian ports from Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, Lima and Panama. Stops at the Galápagos Islands are popular – here’s how to pick a Galapagos cruise.
Areas of Ecuador
Here are the main regions of Ecuador. The capital city is Quito with other notable cities being Guayaquil, Banos, Otavalo and Loja among others.
The eastern most part of Ecuador sharing extensive borders with Colombia and Peru. The Amazon Basin dominates this area and spreads over six provinces. Travel in groups and with guides to stay safe in this region.
The main cities in the Andean Highlands are Quito, Banos, Otavalo and Loja. Quito is the capital of Ecuador and is the most elevated capital in the whole world.
The coastal lowlands occupy the westernmost part of the country and are situated on the coast. Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador and a port city.
The Galapagos rich in biodiversity and isolation, were made famous through Darwin’s groundbreaking scientific research here.
Transportation in Ecuador
Domestic flights within the country are relatively inexpensive and a fast way to get about. The main domestic carriers are Avianca, LanEcuador and Tame.Service is usually good and the planes are in great condition.
Intercity bus travel within Ecuador is popular. Schedules and routes are available via the AndesTransit website. Many of the large cities will have a central bus terminal known as terminal terrestre where tickets can be bought. Bus rides are quite picturesque, often with travel routes through the clouds. Ecuador Hop is a hop on-hop off bus service.
The government has heavily invested in building up road networks. Many of the highways are well built and beautiful. Some of the best motorcycling routes are to be found in Ecuador. Beware of constantly changing climate conditions and dress accordingly.
Taxis are widely available in Quito that have metres. Hitchhiking is also an option, where fees may or may not be charged depending on the driver.
Accommodations in Ecuador
There are many options for low cost accommodations in Ecuador. Low cost hostels in smaller towns are often private homes that welcome travelers. Air conditioning comes at an extra cost.
Some luxury brand hotels in Ecuador that you might consider staying at include JW Marriott Hotel Quito, Hotel Plaza Grande Quito, Hotel Swissotel Quito, Hotel Del Parque in Quito and ILLA Experience Hotel in the historic centre of Quito.
Mashpi Lodge is an all-inclusive luxury lodge in the rainforests of the Andes.
Ecuador is home to an increasing number of eco-lodges and haciendas. The names of a few popular hostels in Ecuador, which offer budget prices include Community Hostel, Secret Garden, Masaya and Blue House. These names are useful particularly if you are backpacking Ecuador or want to save money on your Ecuador tours.
What to Eat and Drink in Ecuador
There is a lot of variety with regards to cuisine in different parts of Ecuador. This is variant according to the terrain and the types of produce available in that region. In the Sierra, potatoes are more frequent sued as the accompaniment and rice is popular along the coast. Plantain and yuca is eaten along the coast. You can enjoy well cooked budget meals or enjoy meals from American chains in the tourist areas.
Some unique Ecuadorian food, drink and snack items to sample include:
- Ceviche (cold seafood cocktail)
- Locro de papa (soup with avocados, potatoes and cheese)
- Empanadas (filled pastry pockets)
- Hornado (roast pork), llapingachos (fried mashed potatoes), mote (boiled corn) and salad
- Fritada (chopped pork cooked in orange juice)
- Cuy or Guinea Pig – eaten fried or roasted on a skewer
- Encebollado (hearty fish soup with yuca)
Things to Do and See in Ecuador
Here are a few recommended places to visit in Ecuador and things to do in Ecuador.
The Galápagos Islands are a set of volcanic islands that are part of Ecuador. They are unique in having a distinct and isolated ecosystem. The islands faced for their biodiversity and distinct wildlife were made famous by Sir Charles Darwins. Penguins, sea lions and iguanas inundate the eastern Pacific Ocean. Intrepid Travel host some amazing tours of the islands.
The colorful city of Cuenca and its old buildings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walkable city, with Colonial architecture, cobblestone roads and white churches are charming. This is one of the best places to join a walking tour and learn about Ecuador culture in this wonderful Ecuador tourist attraction.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is the capital city of Quito with the Presidential Palace, Carondolet Palace, Archbishop’s Palace, Municipal Palace and several popular churches and cathedrals. Quito is also a great city to join a walking tour.
Guayaquil is the largest and most commercial city of Ecuador. Places to visit include several historical sites and museums rich in culture and history.
Banos is a tourist town famous for its hot springs, many waterfalls and outdoor activities (like white-water rafting).
The backcountry charm of Cotopaxi will mesmerize you along with the prospect of outdoor activities and relaxing spas in Vilcabamba.
Salinas is popular with surfers and a place to enjoy Ecuador beaches. Some of the best beaches in Ecuador are in the Galapagos, Montanita, Manta and more. Otavalo is the place to go for weekly markets and colorful handicrafts if you are stuck for what to do in Ecuador.
Shopping in Ecuador
Some of the top souvenirs to pick up in Ecuador are:
- Blankets – vibrant colored
- Leather goods
- Handcrafted items like Balsa wood carvings, woven items, panflutes, ceramics
- Tagua Nut Jewelry resembling ivory
- Fine Ecuadorian chocolate like Pacari, Valdivian and Leyenda
- Galapagos coffee famous for its fragrant aroma
- Tiguan art
- Rondador wind instrument
- Colorful backpacks
Some of the best place to shop in Ecuador are Quicentro, a shopping mall in Quito, Machala Paseo Shopping Mall, Galeria Ecuador in Quito, Mall del Sol in Guayaquil and the River Mall in Cuenca. Tianguez is a fair-trade boutique in Quito that sells handmade items that can be found to be subdivided regionally. The Tortoise Gallery in Puerto Ayora sells handmade jewelry pieces made by Ecuadorian artisans. Some designs incorporate pre-Colombian art.
The best places to experience the nightlife in Ecuador are Quito and Guayaquil. Banos and Montanita also have a name for partying.
The main nightlife neighbourhood in Quito is Plaza Foch. Las Penas in Guayaquil is also notable. In Cuenca, Calle Larga has all the action and is within easy walking distance from the historic heart of the city.
Friday nights and Saturday nights are the busiest with regards t nightlife in Ecuador. Sunday to Wednesday is pretty quiet. Bars and discos close by 3-4 am.
At night clubs and live music venues expect all kinds of music ranging from salsa, reggaeton, Caribbean music and bachata. Dancing is a big part of the enjoyment of nightlife.
Safety Tips for Ecuador
Is Ecuador safe? – is a commonly asked question. There are some situations and places to avoid when visiting Ecuador and we mention some of them here. Most of them involve using common sense. Stay away from the Colombian Border, incidences of civil unrest and disturbances and dark alleyways and side streets in cities at night time.
Petty theft is common in certain places like leaving things unguarded on the beach, bus terminals, on crowded public transportation – similar to some other cities.
When hiking and climbing avoid visiting very remote areas without a group. It’s often best to take an experienced guide with you in such situations.
When in doubt or distress don’t hesitate to call out to the Tourist Police or Tourist Information Centres in non-emergencies.
You might want to take some Ecuador vaccinations to ensure safety when you tour Ecuador.
The small South American country of Ecuador is located on the Equator and hence experiences the unique phenomenon of absence of seasons. The Ecuador temperature varies regionally, dependent on altitude and proximity to the coast. Remember this when packing for your Ecuador vacation. The Galápagos Islands are located 1000 km west of the mainland, in the midst of the Pacific Ocean and are a wonderful biodiversity hotspot for all nature lovers
The Andean Highlands or “La Sierra” is the abode of most of Ecuador’s volcanoes and the altitude is such that the mountains are snow capped. Potato, maize and quinoa are the agricultural focus and the produce is extensively used in the diet.
Quito, one of the highest capital cities in the world, sits at an altitude of 9350 ft above sea level, in the heights of the Andean foothills. Built on the ruins of an Incan city, this colonial city has many beautiful palaces and churches to recommend itself.
The UNESCO World Heritage city of Cuenca with quaint cobblestone streets and colonial charm is also a place to add to your Ecuador itinerary.
Whatever might be your reason to explore Ecuador, there are many places of interest, rich culture and ancient history to make your Ecuador holidays, certainly one to remember and treasure.