Know before you go: A basic guide to Ecuador
Quito and the North: The world’s highest capital can definitely keep you entertained for a few days. Walking around the historic center, riding the TeleferiQo for sweeping views of the city, and partying in La Mariscal are just a few things you can do in Quito. While here, make sure to check out one of the largest artisan markets on the continent on Saturdays in Otovalo, and don’t miss the cloud forests of Mindo.
The Central Highlands: Volcanoes and glaciers populate the highlands and offer some incredible trekking opportunities, including Cotopaxi, Los Ilinizas, and Chimborazo. For those looking for something a bit less physically straining than ice climbing at nearly 20,000 ft above sea level, the Quilotoa Loop is a lovely multi-day hike between small pueblos.
The Coast: Whether you’re looking for small fishing villages, tranquil beaches, or bumping coastal towns, Ecuador’s coast has something for everyone. Lay back and relax in Playa Escondida, eat fresh fish in tiny Mompiche, surf in Canoa, party in Montañita, or go whale watching in Puerto Lopez.
The Galapagos: Ecuador’s main attraction — and for good reason — the Galapagos is a once in a lifetime trip that will put you up close and personal with some of the strangest and friendliest creatures on earth. Whether you decide to do a cruise or island hop on your own, expect to be blown away by these volcanic islands and their inhabitants.
Cuenca and the South: Cuenca is Ecuador’s colonial gem. The city’s architecture and tree-lined parks have a very European feel. Walk along the Tomebamba River, shop for the original Panama hat, and dine in some of the best restaurants in the country. If you’re looking for some nature to break up your stay, you’re in for a treat. Cajas National Park is a short one-hour bus ride from the city and offers short trails for a day hike or longer multi-day treks.
The Amazon and the West: Baños, the adventure capital of Ecuador, is the gateway to the country’s slice of the Amazon. You won’t run out of things to do in Baños any time soon, with ample opportunities to paraglide, rappel down waterfalls, mountain bike, visit the thermal baths that give it its name, and so much more. From here you can visit Puyo and Tena, further in the Amazon. For safety and ecological conservation, it’s best to visit the Amazon with an organized group.
When to go
High season is June through September, when the weather is sunny in the highlands and there is less rain in the Amazon. The weather is best on the coast from December through April. The warm/dry season in the Galapagos is January through May, though the best time to spot whales is July through October.
Low season is December through May in the highlands, when the weather is rainy and cold. June through December is considered to be the low season in the Galapagos, as the weather is cooler and misty, though this is also the time when many marine animals migrate, offering higher chances of sightings. The Amazon sees the most rain from April through July.
Shoulder season is October through November, when temperatures cool and the highlands get rain.
Currency exchange rates & affordability
(as of September 2018)
$1 USD = $1 USD
€1 = $1.16 USD
£1 = $1.30 USD
$1 CAD = $0.76 USD
$1 AUD = $0.72 USD
Ecuador, along with the other Andean countries of Peru and Bolivia, is one of the cheaper countries in South America. However, since the country converted to the dollar in 2000, prices are a bit higher than in the other two Andean countries. The mainland offers the best bang for your buck, while the prices in the Galapagos may have your mouth gaping.
Entry & exit requirements
US residents need a valid passport to enter Ecuador. There is no fee to enter or exit the country, and you are granted a 90-day stay per year. Officially, proof of onward travel is required, but border officials never asked us or anyone else we met for these documents.
Getting around Ecuador
Like most Latin American countries, buses are the way most people travel between cities. Buses here are a great deal, generally costing about $1 USD per hour of travel in the mainland, with prices a bit higher on the coast. Inter-island travel around the Galapagos is managed mostly by speedboat, with each trip costing $30 USD. For those who don’t want to deal with a two-hour seasick-inducing boat ride, inter-island flights are a possibility, though expect to pay quite a bit for these.
Local buses, while crowded, are a cheap way to get around cities. Since there are usually not official bus stops, simply flag a bus down and let the driver know when you need to get off. Taxis are also plentiful in big cities, but be careful to only use registered taxis, as many travelers have experienced robberies from unofficial taxi drivers. Also make sure you agree on a fare before you get in (taxis in Quito and Guayaquil use meters). Though Uber is illegal in Ecuador, it is a cheap and safe option.
Major grocery stores
For long-term travelers doing some cooking at home, you’ll probably become familiar with SuperMaxi, one of the largest grocery stores we’ve come across in Latin America. You can find all kinds of glorious imported goods here to fix your craving. As always, local markets offer the best deals on produce.
If you’re trying to avoid outrageous withdraw fees, make sure to use Banco Pichincha, which has branches all over the country and doesn’t charge a fee.
It is not safe to drink the water in Ecuador, but bottled water is available everywhere. For long-term stays, think of getting the big 20-liter jugs, which are cheaper in the long run and reduce your plastic use.
Mosquitos can transmit illnesses like dengue fever, malaria, Zika, and chikungunya. Discuss your travel plans with a doctor to see if you need to take anti-malarials or need any vaccines. Typhoid fever and Hepatitis A vaccines are usually recommended in addition to routine vaccines. Applying sunscreen, insect repellent, and staying hydrated are always good ideas.