Sitting on the equator between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador may be the smallest Andean nation but it’s packed with the most astonishing contrasts of scenery. With its astounding biodiversity, impressive historical legacy, stunning colonial architecture, bustling highland markets and diverse mix of people – blacks, whites, indigenous and mestizo – it’s easy to see why this friendly and exotic destination is regarded as a microcosm of South America.
We have put together this Ecuador Travel Guide to assist you in preparing for your travel to the “Middle of the World.” It is our hope that this will help open the door our world so that we can share all the authentic and inspirational experiences that Ecuador and our company have to offer.
1 – TRIP PREPARATION
A)Passports and visas
Visitors from most countries are welcome to stay in Ecuador as tourists for up to 90-days upon production of a valid passport that is valid for six months beyond the date of entry. In principal you also need an onward ticket or return ticket as well, although this is rarely asked for. Upon entry you will have to complete an international T-3 embarkation/disembarkation form, which is stamped along with your passport and must be kept together with it (NOTE: you will have to present this when leaving the country). The T-3 gives you 90 days in Ecuador. Visas are not usually required; however you are advised to check entry requirements in your home country at the time of making travel arrangements. Your passport must be carried at all times, but it’s safest to carry photocopies of your passport photo ID page rather than the original. (Ecuadoreans carry ID cards).
Galapagos Islands Immigration and Admission Requirements: On flights to the Galapagos Islands, passengers must pass by the “INGALA” (Galapagos Immigration Control) counter to acquire a Tourist Control Card, which costs $20 USD. Check with Surtrek concerning this step, as we register guests upon reserving and confirming their travel. (It is a good idea to keep this card with your passport and other travel documents during your stay in the islands, as the card must be presented upon departure from the Galapagos.) At the Quito airport, you will find the INGALA counter next to the luggage inspection area. Once you have passed these two points, proceed to your airline counter (Avianca, LAN, or TAME) to check in for your flight. When arriving at the airport in the Galapagos Islands (on San Cristobal Island or Baltra Island), all travelers must pay the Galapagos National Park entrance fee in cash ($100 USD per adult, or $50 for children under the age of twelve).
At present there are no compulsory requirements entering Ecuador, though you are advised to check with your local medical practitioner a few weeks before you travel to find out inoculations are recommended for your journey. In any case, vaccinations against Hepatitis A are always a good idea. Similarly, if you plan to visit certain regions of the Amazon basin, a Yellow Fever inoculation is advised.
C)Climate and When to Go
Ecuador is a year-round destination, though the country has a series of microclimates that vary greatly by location. Basically, though, the country consists of four distinct regions.
2 – PRACTICALITIES
A)General Flight and Baggage Information
Baggage: For domestic flights within Ecuador, passengers are permitted only 23 kg (50 lbs.) of checked luggage, and 5 – 8 Kg (11 -17 lbs.) of carry-on luggage; though this can vary depending on the airline and the route.
Flights in Ecuador usually don’t take more than one hour of travel time to get from one city to another. However, in some cases flights do not go directly to your destination; in which case you can have to wait in a stopover city.
B)Customs and Immigration
When you arrive in Ecuador, you will land at Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) located 35 km outside of Quito city, or the Jose Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (GYE) in Guayaquil. You will pass through Immigration and customs control. Have your passport ready, as you will need to present these to the customs officer. In accordance with Ecuadorian law, you shouldn’t pay any taxes or duties for your luggage or for any articles you will use during your trip.
The best advice is for travelers should use COMMON SENSE to ensure their safety. Robberies and pickpocketing pose the greatest threat to tourists in Ecuador. Crowded markets, public buses, and busy urban areas are the prime haunts of criminals and pickpockets. Never carry a lot of cash or wear valuable jewelry. Avoid problems by not flashing large amounts of money and not using side streets in big cities at night. Men should avoid carrying a wallet in their back pants pocket, and every woman should keep a tight grip on their purse. (Keep it tucked under your arm.)
Probably the biggest threat in most places is simple snatch-and grab theft: Belongings should not be left unguarded on the beach, for example, and pickpockets can be found in some of the more crowded areas, especially the Trolébus (Metro) in Quito, in bus terminals and on the buses themselves. Thieves also target gold chains, cameras and video cameras, prominent jewelry, and nice sunglasses. Be sure not to leave valuables exposed or unattended in your hotel room.
Always make sure to either order a taxi by phone, or, if you hail one on the street, enter only registered taxis. These are easily identified: They are usually yellow, have matching numbers on windshields and doors, have the name of a taxi cooperative on the door, and feature orange license plates.
U.S. paper money is used for most transactions. Ecuador has its own coins, which are exactly the same size and weight as U.S. coins up through 50-cent pieces; both they and U.S. coins are used.
Many merchants carefully examine large bills ($10 and above) to make sure these are not counterfeit, so don’t take it personally. Even though the official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar, most people (including some banks) will not accept $100 bills.
Small Change: Outside of tourist areas and Quito, many merchants and taxi drivers don’t keep large amounts of money on hand, so getting change for large and small bills may be difficult. Petty cash will come in handy for tipping and small purchases, so take lots of one and five dollar bills with you. You will also want to bring the newest possible bills; worn bills are often regarded with suspicion, and it’s not uncommon for a merchant to ask you to pay with another bill if the one you handed them appears old or worn.
Travelers’ checks can be exchanged at some (but not all) banks for a reasonable fee (usually not more than 3 percent). These are also accepted at some hotels that cater to tourists, although it is difficult to use them elsewhere. There is often a surcharge added to the use traveler’s checks.
- Automated teller machines (ATMs)
Automated teller machines are widely available in major cities and tourist areas (you’ll even find them in remote areas such as the Galapagos Islands). In fact, ATMs are the easiest and best way to get cash while away from home. Most banks are tied in with major international networks, making it possible to withdraw money from foreign accounts. Notwithstanding, some banks can’t deal with PINs that are more than four digits, so before you go to Ecuador, make sure that your PIN fits the bill.
Depending on the transaction fees charged by your bank at home, ATMs offer very good exchange rates. Be aware that you may have to try a number of different machines before receiving money. Also, be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart.
Remember that many banks impose a fee every time you use their card at another bank’s ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5/£3.35 or more) than for domestic ones (where they’re rarely more than $2/£1.35). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee.
- Credit Cards
Credit cards are another safe way to carry money. They are accepted at many places that cater to tourists as well as at some upscale shops, with Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club being the most widely accepted cards in Ecuador. Still small hotels, restaurants and stores are unlikely to accept them, requiring cash.
Many places charge a commission for their use as reimbursement for what the banks charge them. You may be asked to show your passport when using a credit or debit card. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and generally offer relatively good exchange rates.
In Ecuador, merchants accepting credit cards will often add between 4% and 10% to the bill, therefore paying cash is often a better value.
Because credit card purchases are dependent upon phone verifications, some hotels and restaurants in more remote destinations – such as the Amazon basin and the Galapagos Islands – do not accept them.
- Currency exchange
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 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Monday to Friday and until at least noon on Saturday. They’re entirely credible places, though the exchange rate might be a percentage point or so lower than that given by banks.
If you’re in a pinch, cambios (as they’re abbreviated) at the airports and major hotels in Quito and Guayaquil stay open past the usual hours.
Euros, Peruvian nuevos soles and Colombian pesos are the easiest currencies to exchange in Ecuador.
Tipping should be treated as a personal matter, and a gratuity should only be given if you feel the service warrants it.
Tips vary from trip to trip depending on group size, accommodations and the destination. Usually tips are not included in advance unless otherwise noted on the detailed itinerary or requested by the traveler (if so, they will be customized for each trip and will be included in the final price).
That said, porters at the airport are usually tipped about $0.25 per bag and bellboys at a first-class hotel about $.50-$1 per bag.
Taxi drivers are not normally tipped, but you can leave them the small change from a metered ride.
If you go on a guided tour, a tip is expected. If you are in a group, tip a top-notch guide about $5 per person per day. Tip the driver about half that. If you hire a private guide, tip about $10 per day.
If you are going on a long tour that involves guides, cooks and crew (e.g. the Galapagos Islands), most boat handbooks recommend tips of about $8 USD per day for the guide and $15 USD per day for the crew.
3 –SPEAKING OF ECUADOR (useful facts for your journey)
Ecuador is a patchwork of indigenous communities, including people of colonial Spanish origins and the descendants of African slaves.
Estimates from 2016 put the population at 16,421,656.
The largest ethnic group is the mestizos, who are the descendants of indigenous peoples who interbred with Spanish colonists, and constitute about 71% of the population.
Amerindians account for 13% of the current population. The mostly rural Montubio population, of the coastal provinces of Ecuador, account for 7% of the population.
Afro-Ecuadorians are a minority population (7%) in Ecuador, and includes mulattos and zambos (interbred Africans and Indigenous).
White Ecuadorians account for 6% of the population of Ecuador and can be found throughout all of Ecuador, primarily around the urban areas.
Ecuador also has people of Middle Eastern extraction who have joined the ranks of the white minority. These include economically well off immigrants of Lebanese and Palestinian descent, who are either Christian or Muslim. In addition, there is a small European Jewish population, which is based mainly in Guayaquil and to a lesser extent in Quito.
Spanish is the official language and the language most commonly used in everyday conversation and business transactions. English is widely spoken in hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to high-end travelers. Ecuadorians are friendly and generally tolerant of foreigners who attempt to speak Spanish but make mistakes.
Ethnologists list 24 languages of Ecuador. Amerindian languages (especially Kichwa) are generally spoken in the more rural, mountainous villages, while Shuar Chicham (spoken by the Shuar people) is common in the Amazon basin. Other Amerindian languages spoken in Ecuador include Awapit (spoken by the Awá), A’ingae (spoken by the Cofan), Achuar-Shiwiar (spoken by the Achuar and the Shiwiar), Cha’palaachi (spoken by the Chachi), Tsa’fiki (spoken by the Tsáchila), Paicoca (spoken by the Siona and Secoya), and Wao Tededeo (spoken by the Waorani).
Government sources report that 92% of the country’s population is religious. Among those, 80% are Roman Catholic, 11% are Protestants, 1% are Jehovah’s Witnesses and 7% “other” (mainly Jewish, Buddhists and Mormons).
In the rural parts of Ecuador, indigenous beliefs and Catholicism are sometimes syncretized. Most festivals and annual parades are based on religious celebrations, many incorporating a mixture of rites and icons.
While Ecuador is one of 17 “mega-diverse” countries in the world, it has the more biodiversity per square kilometer that any nation.
Ecuador has 1,600 bird species (15% of the world’s known bird species) in the continental area, and 38 more that are endemic to the Galapagos Islands. In addition to over 16,000 species of plants, the country has 106 endemic reptiles, 138 endemic amphibians, and 6,000 species of butterfly. The Galapagos Islands are well known as a region of distinct fauna, famous as the place of birth of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ecuador has the first constitution to recognize the rights of nature. The protection of the nation’s biodiversity is an explicit national priority as stated in the National Plan of “Buen Vivir” (good living), to “guarantee the rights of nature” and “sustainably conserve and manage the natural heritage, including its land and marine biodiversity, which is considered a strategic sector.”