Ecuador Tips & Tricks: Every FYI You Need To Know

There is much to love about Ecuador, from wildlife-watching some of the planet’s most exclusive plants and animals to swimming with sea lions in the Pacific Ocean.

Flickr Maurizio Costanzo Ecuador
Photo: Flickr/Maurizio Costanzo

Ecuador has over 1,600 species of bird, with many found in mist-covered cloud forests to verdant foliage of the Amazon rainforest. And no visit to Ecuador can be complete without a stop by the Galápagos Islands. Spanish colonial sites to small clandestine towns situated in the highlands, Ecuador is rich in cultural heritage, whether its seen in the exquisite 16th century churches of baroque architecture or in the busy Quechuan markets where locals—many of whom are descended from the Inca—go to shop and socialize.

5 things to avoid:

  1. Avoid pickpockets by carrying wallets, purses and valuables in front of your person, and never in your back pocket or behind you.
  2. Drugs are illegal and possession can carry steep penalties, or even jail time.
  3. Always call for taxis at night (especially in certain neighborhoods of Quito), rather than hailing one from the street.
  4. Throw toilet paper into the wastebasket (bring your own toilet paper as most bathrooms rarely have any). Toilets are known as servicios higiénicos or ‘SS.HH’ for short.
  5. Never venture into jungle areas without a guide, especially in areas with known guerrilla activity.
Flickr golo Ecuador
Photo: Flickr/golo

Weather:

  • Jun-Sep: Rainfall: 0.5-2 in. Weather: 50-70 °F. Less rain and clement weather means this is the best time for visiting the Ecuadorian highlands.
  • Oct-Nov: Rainfall: 2-3 in. Weather: 50-75 °F. For trips to the Amazon, this is the time to go.
  • Dec-May: Rainfall: 2-4 in. Weather: 50-65 °F. Despite being the rainy season, sunny days and verdant coastal scenery makes it a perfect time to enjoy the beach.

Time:

Local time is GMT minus five hours.

Visa requirements:

Citizens of the US, Canada, EU, Japan and Australia are not required to have a visa for tourism, business or student purposes (for stays of less than 90 days). Entrants will be issued a T-3 tourist card (don’t lose it!) valid for 90 days. Upon exit from Ecuador, you’ll be asked to present the T-3 tourist card. All passports must have at least six months of validity left upon exit of country, proof of onward travel (either by land, air or sea) and proof of sufficient funds (i.e. credit cards, bank statements, ATM cards). It’s advised to carry a photocopy of your passport with you at all times, especially due to the rising number of passport thefts. Visas will be required for stays longer than 90 days, so plan accordingly. Please visit the US State Department for additional information.

Citizens of the following countries are required to have a visa:

Algeria, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Lybia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Palestine Authority, Panama, People’s Republic of China, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tunisia, and Vietnam.

It’s important to note that no visas will be issued within Ecuador, so you must visit your local embassy or consulate to acquire the requisite visa. For more information on visa requirements, please check with Ecuador Travel.

Flickr Rinaldo Wurglitsch Ecuador
Photo: Flickr/Rinaldo Wurglitsch

Language:

Here are a few phrases you should know:

  • Hello = Hola (o-la)
  • Goodbye = Adiós (a-dyos)
  • How are you? = ¿Qué tal? (ke tal)
  • Fine, thanks = Bien, gracias (byen gra-syas)
  • Excuse me = Perdón (per-don)
  • Sorry = Lo Siento (lo syen-to)
  • Please = Por favor (por fa-vor)
  • Thank you = Gracias (gra-syas)
  • You are welcome = De nada (de na-da)
  • Yes = (see)
  • No = No (no)
  • My Name is… = Me llamo… (me ya-mo…)
  • What’s your name? = ¿Cómo se llama usted? (ko-mo se ya-ma oo-ste) / ¿Cómo te llamas?(ko-mo te ya-mas)
  • Do you speak English? = ¿Habla ingles? (a-bla een-gles) / ¿Hablas ingles? (a-blas een-gles)
  • I don’t understand = Yo no entiendo (yo no en-tyen-do)

Etiquette:

Ecuadorians are very friendly and will shake hands or kiss on the cheek when around friends. Yawning is considered rude in public and touching among friends and family is very common, if not expected. Never point at someone in public (it’s considered rude) and arriving 15-20 minutes late is considered being ‘on time’. It is polite for women to offer to pay the bill, but men are always expected to pay. Most Ecuadorians are not used to seeing women drink whiskey or spirits. Typically, women drink wine.

Safety:

There has been a rise in crime lately, so take extra precaution when in tourist heavy areas of Quito and Guayaquil. Thieves tend to target buses (avoid taking night buses through Guayas and Manabí) and public transpiration. Some have reported ‘Express’ kidnappings from taxi rides, where people are held and forced to withdraw money from their ATM. It’s always best to call ahead for a taxi. Be especially cautious when traveling at night or if you’re traveling alone. Avoid hiking or walking alone at night.

Women traveling alone should take special precaution when heading out at night. Always call for a radio taxi and never flag one down on the street. A restaurant, hotel, or business can help you call for you. When planning to go on an organized tour, always research the tour company beforehand to make sure they are certified.

Flickr Rinaldo Wurglitsch Ecuador 1
Photo: Flickr/Rinaldo Wurglitsch

Money:

In 2000, Ecuador underwent dollarization and now uses the US dollar (USD$). Bills and coins are the same as those used in the US (sans the faces of US Presidents, of course). Try to keep bills in denominations of $20 or less as change can be notoriously difficult to secure, though it’s possible, but may take some effort to acquire.

Money exchange:

Look for casas de cambio (exchange offices) to change money. Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca have the best exchange rates, while in the Oriente exchanging currency will prove difficult. Other places to exchange money include at most border crossing and banks.

ATM:

ATMs are everywhere and found in most cities and small towns.

Credit cards:

Credit cards are not widely accepted, so be sure to carry some cash on you. Some store merchants may charge between 4% and 10% to the final amount if paying by credit card. The most widely accepted card is Visa and MasterCard.

International calls:

Skype, Google+ Hangouts and FaceTime are still the best options when calling international, though there are call centers (centro de llamadas) in big cities if you don’t have a mobile phone on you. Be wary of making international calls from hotels, as the rates can be very high. The country code for Ecuador is 593.

Mobile phone:

If you plan to bring your own phone, Claro and Movistar networks will work with 850 MHz (GSM 850), while Alegro uses 1900 MHz (GSM 1900).

Flickr Dallas Krentzel Ecuador
Photo: Flickr/Dallas Krentzel

SIM card:

SIM cards are readily available at any kiosk or newsstand for about USD$5-$7 and adding credit is easy to do with the purchase of any tarjeta pregago (phone card).

Wi-Fi:

Internet access is widely available (with the exception of a few small towns) and prices for one hour at an Internet café is about USD $1.

Electricity:

Ecuador uses the two-prong, flat outlets (the same outlets used in the United States) and runs 110V at 60 cycles.

Water:

Tap water is not considered safe to drink, so always drink from bottled water when possible. If you need to drink outdoor water make sure to use iodine tablets, a water purifier or boil it.

Tipping:

Tipping is not expected for taxi rides and in mid-level to high-end restaurants a 10% service charge is typically added to the bill. There’s no need to add any tip if a service charge is already included in the bill.

Taxi:

Taxis are relatively cheap to use, and bargaining is a part of the culture here in Ecuador so feel free to negotiate a price with your taxi driver. It’s a good idea to bargain since meters (other than Quito) are rarely used. A ride, especially in larger cities like Quito or Guayaquil, should not go over $5, while in small towns the fare will range from $1 to $2 for short rides. Weekend taxis usually command a 25%-50% increase in fares.

Guided tours:

If you’re looking for a free walking tour in Quito (tours available in English or Spanish), with a knowledgeable guide to take you along an historical pass through the main plazas of Old Town Quito and colonial churches, then look no further than Free Walking Tour Ecuador!

Jerry Alonzo Leon

Contributor

Jerry's favorite country to travel to is Spain. When he's on the road, he keeps it real simple with a pen and a pad. His travel style is spontaneous, easygoing, and always in search of a great adventure.

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