Ecuador Travel Information

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. (Check here for an indication of any visa requirements of your country).

In principle, you also need an onward ticket or return ticket as well, although this is rarely asked for. After entering Ecuador, a T-3 tourist permit will be stamped in your passport, giving you a 90-day stay in the country.

It is suggested that passport identification be carried at all times, though it’s safest to carry photocopies of your passport photo ID page rather than the original. (Ecuadoreans carry ID cards).

NOTE: To both prevent the transmission of Covid-19 and to promote environmental sustainability, Surtrek is striving to replace hard-copy travel vouchers and Surtrek documents (itineraries, etc.) with digital information sent to and stored on your phone &/or laptop. In addition, to protect our clients, each traveler’s guide will be in charge of checking these passengers in and out of their hotels and airports, organizing all of their included meals, etc.

B) Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is intended to cover medical expenses, trip interruption and cancellation, theft, and other losses incurred while traveling domestically or internationally.

Ecuadorian law requires that any person entering the country as a tourist have public or private health insurance for the duration of their stay in Ecuador.

For foreign travel, most U.S. medical insurance plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services upfront and reimburse you only after you return home. Therefore, you may want to buy travel medical insurance, particularly if you’re traveling to a remote or high-risk area of Ecuador where emergency evacuation might be necessary. Consult your Surtrek travel specialist for more information concerning the issue of travel insurance.

Canadians can check with their provincial health plan offices, while travelers from the U.K. can carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for “necessary medical treatment” (for repatriation costs, lost money, baggage, or cancellation, travel insurance from a reputable company can always be sought).

Find out in advance if your plan will make payments directly to providers or if you will be reimbursed later for overseas health expenditures. Most private-practice providers in Ecuador expect a cash payment, but they can provide you with receipts for your insurance company claims and reimbursement. Credit cards are sometimes not accepted for medical services.

Medical care is available in major cities but may be difficult to find in rural areas. Still, if you develop a life-threatening medical problem, you will want to be evacuated to a country with state-of-the-art medical care. Since this may cost tens of thousands of dollars, be sure you have insurance to cover this before you depart.

The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the destination, the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you’re taking, but for this security, expect to pay between 4% and 10% of the vacation itself.

Trip-cancellation insurance will help retrieve your money if you have to back out of a trip or depart early. Trip cancellation traditionally covers such events as sickness, natural disasters, pandemics, and situations warned of in the Department of State advisories.

C) Vaccinations (also see “Health Matters” below)

At present, there are no compulsory requirements to gain entry into Ecuador, though you are advised to check with your local medical practitioner a few weeks before you travel to establish what 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 commonly advised.

D) Weather and When to Go

Ecuador is a year-round destination, though the country has a series of microclimates that vary substantially by location. Basically, though, the country consists of four distinct regions.

  • The Highlands (La Sierra): Many of Ecuador’s larger cities, including the capital city Quito, are found in the highlands. Here, temperatures are much cooler in this subtropical climate. Quito boasts a near-constant annual temperature, with average highs in the mid-60s° F, and lows in the upper 40s° F. The dry season also occurs from June through September.
  • The Galapagos Islands, lying offshore in the Pacific Ocean, is an archipelago with a rainy season, a dry season and a transition season. The months of May to December tend to be a little cooler (averaging 72°F or 22ºC). From January to April, the climate is more typically tropical: with hot air temperatures, wide stretches of blue sky, and brief occasional downpours.
  • The Amazon Rainforest: This area consistently stays hot, humid, and wet all year round.
  • The Pacific Coast:  These lowland areas along the coast are hot year-round, with temperatures averaging 25-31ºC (77-90°F). The coast’s rainy season from December until May.

Holidays: When planning your trip, keep in mind that the official holidays in Ecuador include New Year’s Day (Jan 1), Easter (early April), Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), Labor Day (May 1), Simon Bolívar Day (July 24), National Independence Day (Aug 10), Guayaquil Independence Day (Oct 9), All Souls’ Day (Nov 2), Cuenca Independence Day (Nov 3), and Christmas Day (Dec 25).

The country also closes down on some unofficial holidays, including Carnaval (Mon and Tues before Ash Wednesday), Battle of Pichincha (May 24), Christmas Eve (Dec 24), and New Year’s Eve (Dec 31). The foundation of Quito (Dec 6) is observed as a holiday only in Quito.

E) Packing Tips

Ecuador is one of the more complicated destinations for packing. The Galapagos Islands tend to be warm, but with a cooling ocean breeze. At the same time, mainland Ecuador has not just one climate, but three very different ones. With hot coastal beaches, wet Amazon rainforests, a mostly temperate capital city, and chilly-to-cold Andean highlands.

Though you’ll receive a detailed packing list after you book your once-in-a-lifetime Ecuadorian adventure tour with Surtrek, this general packing list identifies the essential items to bring along for traveling in our country:

  • A daypack (remember …the weather, especially in the highlands, can change almost by the hour. Carrying a jacket and an umbrella in a smaller daypack is therefore highly recommended)
  • Sunscreen, with a protection factor of at least 30
  • A sun hat
  • Sunglasses (a separate pair if prescription. Polarized lenses are the best for water reflection, especially during the rainy season).
  • Passport, credit cards and airline tickets
  • Money belt (for use in the larger cities)
  • Toiletry kit (toothbrush, dental floss, nail clippers, shaving gear, deodorant, nailbrush, etc.). Consider this especially for traveling in the countryside, since some lodges and haciendas don’t offer them in your room.
  • Insect repellent
  • Earplugs
  • Plastic bags (various sizes – Ziploc recommended for protecting cameras and electronic devices)
  • Binoculars (highly recommended)
  • Smartphone, with charging cord
  • Camera, battery charger, memory cards, lens tissue
  • Reading and writing materials – book, sketch pad, journal, pen, etc.
  • Spanish phrasebook (optional, since English is widely spoken at tourism facilities)

2) Practicalities On The Ground

F) General Flight and Baggage Information

Flights to/from Ecuador: Direct flights to Ecuador’s international airports in Quito and Guayaquil depart from a relatively small number of places outside of Latin America. From the United States, regular airlines leave from Miami, Houston, and Atlanta; in Europe, they go from Madrid and Amsterdam. Higher prices are likely in the July to September high season and during December.

Approximate flying times from the US to Quito without stops are four hours from Miami, and around five hours from Houston and Atlanta. Quito is about seven and a half hours from Toronto and Montreal, or about ten hours from Calgary and Vancouver.

Quito’s new international airport is state of the art. While it’s located about an hour outside of the city, it has a modern on-site hotel. The old airport in the city has been closed and is being transformed into a large park with a lake.

Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, also has a modern airport that includes typical amenities such as restaurants and duty-free shopping. The airport is located a few minutes north of downtown.

All flights to the Galapagos Islands (one of Ecuador’s provinces) are through mainland Ecuador, departing from Quito or Guayaquil and landing in the Galapagos Islands at either of two airports: one on Baltra Island or the other on San Cristobal Island.

International flights: While international airfares are not included in any Surtrek tour price, our rates typically do cover accommodations, ground and sea transportation, most of your meals, guide services, excursions, and more. All inclusions and exclusions are listed on each tour itinerary

Domestic flights: Regarding domestic flights, these are typically included in our tour prices and under our company’s operational control. This allows us to promptly react to any changes made on the part of airlines, and therefore assure you a seamless travel experience. Otherwise, if a traveler pays for a domestic flight on the Internet, the airlines will not inform Surtrek of any changes nor permit us to check or reconfirm passenger travel information; this would, of course, put your entire travel itinerary at risk if you were unable to make a timely flight connection.

Baggage: International baggage allowances vary from airline to airline, so check with your carrier early on. Generally, though, on most international flights to/from the US, the baggage limit is two pieces of checked luggage, with a total weight limit of 50 pounds (22.68 kilograms). In addition, you are allowed one carry-on item that fits under the seat in front of you. Baggage restrictions are enforced, and excess charges can be costly. Therefore, to avoid any kind of trouble and extra payments, it is recommended that you travel light and – again – check with your airline for the exact weight allowances. Also, feel free to ask about this with your Surtrek travel specialist.

For domestic flights within Ecuador, passengers are typically permitted only 23 kg (50 lbs.) of checked luggage and 5 kg (11 lbs.) of carry-on luggage, though this can vary depending on the airline and the route. Exceeding this limit can incur a charge of up to $20 USD per kg, depending on the same factors mentioned above. 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 for up to two hours.

G) Airline Security

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for security screening operations at all airports in the United States; but because their rules change rather frequently, we urge you to review the current regulations and restrictions at or by calling (855) 787-2227.

H) Customs and Immigration

When you arrive in Ecuador, you will land at Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) in Quito, or the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport (GYE) in Guayaquil. When passing through Immigration and Customs Control, have your passport ready, as you will need to present it to the customs officer.

Under Ecuadorian law, you shouldn’t pay any taxes or duties for your luggage or for any articles you will use during your trip. Visitors to Ecuador are legally permitted to bring in items for personal use, including smartphones, cameras, laptops, video cameras, and accessories. You can also bring in up to 3 liters of alcoholic beverages and 400 cigarettes (2 cartons).

Notwithstanding, you must indicate on your immigration card if you are bringing more than $10,000 USD in cash into Ecuador. Note: Leaving the country, a 5% tax is now levied on any cash exceeding US$1,080 (per adult traveler) with an additional allowance of US$366 per accompanying child.

Concerning what you can take home from Ecuador, we recommend that you review what residents of your country are allowed to carry back in terms of the type and value of items.

For US Travelers, this and other useful information can be found by going to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website. You may also want to cling onto the link Know Before You Go: Regulations for International Travel by US Residents (PDF brochure).

I) Getting Around

i) Surtrek Transfer to Your Hotel

After clearing immigration, proceed to the baggage area. At that time, Surtrek guides will be waiting outside the customs area holding a sign with your last name on it. They will be there to welcome you, assist you with your luggage, and drive you to your hotel. Be aware that this area can be quite busy with many other travelers, so try to be patient while looking for your guide or tour leader.

Throughout your journey, Surtrek will be responsible for providing your ground transportation needs according to the requirements of your itinerary.

ii) Taxis & Ride-hailing

Though Surtrek will see to your transportation needs in line with your itinerary, should you wish to venture out on your own or with a guide during your free time, taxi services are widely available throughout Ecuadorian cities. These are also pretty much the way to go because they are cheap, plentiful, and somewhat of a necessity, especially after dark.

Taxis in Quito have meters (fares under $1 are rounded up to the minimum fare of $1). Agree upon a price before getting in or ask the driver to use the meter (often cheaper than a negotiated rate); short trips generally don’t cost more than $1 or $2, and you generally shouldn’t end up paying more than $10 per hour, if that, for longer trips. Evening rates are often double.

Uber, as well as Cabify, has made it to Ecuador. Operating in the big cities of Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, these services can be accessed through apps such as EasyTaxi. However, the minimum fare is slightly more than a taxi ($1.50 vs. $1) and the ready availability of big-city taxis means that they are usually faster than waiting for a Uber.

NOTE: As with any country in Latin America (or the world for that matter), don’t ride an unlicensed taxi. It is suggested that you only take Yellow Cabs with orange license plates and with a 4-digit serial number posted somewhere on the taxi, usually the passenger side door or windshield.

iii) Domestic flights

Your Surtrek travel specialist will assist you with finding and booking your domestic flights according to your itinerary.

J) Communications

i) Internet Access

Most mid- to high-end hotels have Wi-Fi on-site, as do most foreign-targeted hostels and some cafes and restaurants. Simply ask for the password to gain access. You also can find Wi-Fi hotspots in major cities like Quito and Guayaquil. Heck …there are even a few Internet cafes in the Galapagos Islands.

Generally, though, once you venture outside the larger cities, you will find Internet sporadic and limited.

ii) Telephone Calls and International Phone Apps

Most mid- to high-end hotels in Ecuador have international direct-dial and long-distance service, as well as fax services. However, these calls tend to be somewhat expensive, especially because hotels often levy a surcharge.

Your best bet for making international calls, though, is to use your smartphone. If you have you have WhatsApp, Google Voice, Skype, or a similar account, you can make free international calls from your phone.

How to make a call to Ecuador from abroad:

1. Dial the international access code (011 from the U.S., 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia)

2. Dial Ecuador’s country code  +593.

3. Dial the one-digit area code (for Quito, the area code is 2, Guayaquil is 4, Cuenca is 7).

4. Finally, dial the telephone number. Landlines have 8-digit numbers, while cell phones have 9-digit numbers. For example, if the number you’re trying to reach in Quito (area code 2) is 234-5678, you would dial 011-593-2-234-5678.

How to make a telephone call within Ecuador:

If you are calling from a landline to a landline within the same area code inside Ecuador, you simply dial the 7-digit number. However, if you are calling from one area code to another, you must dial “0,” then the area code, and then the 7-digit number. If calling to a cell phone, simply dial the 10-digit cell phone number.

iii) Using a Cell Phone in Ecuador

To access the internet as well as to make calls, visitors to Ecuador may consider bringing their smartphone or even purchasing one here.  Keep in mind these three requirements you must meet for your cell phone to work in Ecuador:

  1. GSM 850 (or 3G 850) frequency. This is important so that the phone can use Ecuador’s cell infrastructure. There are lots of frequencies used worldwide – but to work in Ecuador you just need the 850 frequency. Often the phones will be listed like this: “Unlocked quad-band GSM cell phone compatible with 850/900/1800/1900 frequencies.” Phones that will work internationally should be listed something like: US/International 3G compatibility via 850/900/1700/1900/2100 UMTS/HSDPA plus GPRS/EDGE capabilities.” 
  2. Unlocked: This is pretty important since if your cell phone isn’t unlocked, you won’t be able to connect to the network in Ecuador. In the US most phones that come with a plan are locked – or blocked. This means that you can only use them with that specific carrier. Unlocked phones are generally sold new as such, though it is often possible to get a modern GSM cellular phone “unlocked” so that it will function in Ecuador. You can coordinate this with your Surtrek Travel Specialist if you’re interested.
  3. Accept a SIM Card (Mini, Micro or Nano): Without a SIM card (or “chip” as they are known here) your phone won’t work on any of the networks. It is a small postage-stamp-sized chip that connects your phone to the wireless network – and assigns you a new phone number. If you want to change phones (and keep the same number) just switch your SIM card to your new phone and it will work right away.  You can use phones that accept micro-SIM (and nano-SIM) cards here in Ecuador.

Phone refills (recargas) can be purchased in all but the smallest towns. Simply ask your guide about this or go to any hotel, shop, or convenience store throughout the country, where they will ask for your cell phone number so that they can add credit (saldo) to your phone electronically.

Buying a smartphone:

Though unlocked smartphones can be purchased in Ecuador, these can cost twice as much as what you might pay in your home country. Scores of storefronts in cities, including those at the airports, sell already activated smartphones, with a few dollars of calling time loaded onto the chip.

iv) Post Office and Express Mail

In general, mailing out postcards, packages and letters from Ecuador is easy to do, (though receiving mail is more complicated). You can find post offices and couriers in major cities like Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca.

Delivery times for registered mail are as follows:

  • United States: usually 8–15 business days
  • Europe: usually 10–15 business days
  • Asia and the Middle East: usually 18–22 business days
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: usually 5–6 business days

If you need to guarantee the speedy arrival of a package or letter, you may want to use a courier service. Although it is expensive (the 2- to 10-day delivery of a letter to the US costs around $25), it is the only way to absolutely guarantee the delivery of your package or letter, since the regular post office does not have ways to certify mail. International couriers such as DHL and FedEx Express have offices in Ecuador’s large cities. Likewise, major hotel chains in Quito, like the Hilton, also offer express mail service, so be sure to check with them or your Surtrek travel specialist if you plan to stay at one.

K) Emergency Contacts

i) Emergency 911 phone calls

In an emergency in a major Ecuadorian city, you can call the telephone number “911.” Alternately, throughout Ecuador, you can usually reach the police by dialing tel. 101 in an emergency or an ambulance at “131.”

The tourist police can also help sort out problems. In Quito, the number for the tourist police is tel. 02-2543-983.

ii) Surtrek

If you have any trouble or questions while traveling in Ecuador, you can come directly to the Surtrek office or call any of the Surtrek numbers below.

  • Toll-free number:  US/Canada: 00-1-866-978-7398 // UK: 080-8189-0438
  • Surtrek Switchboard:   +593-2-250-0660
  • Surtrek’s Emergency telephone number:  +593999410905
  • Email:
  • Address: San Ignacio E10-114 (near Caamaño) || Quito 170143

iii) Address U.S. Consulate General

EMERGENCIES: For emergencies experienced by American citizens, call (04) 371-7000 (24 hours)

Address: Calle Santa Ana y Av. José Rodriguez Bonin / Guayaquil, Ecuador

Business Hours: Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.


  • From abroad:  +593-4-371-7000
  • From other Ecuadorian Provinces: (04) 371-7000
  • From Guayaquil and other cities within the Province of Guayas:  371-7000
  • E-mail Address (American Citizen Services):

iv) Embassy of the United States of America in Quito, Ecuador

Address: Ave. Avigiras E12-170 y Ave. Eloy Alfaro (next to SOLCA) / Quito, Ecuador

Business hours: Monday through Friday, from 8:00 AM to 12:30 PM, and from 1:30 PM to 5:00 PM. except during holidays


  • From abroad:  +593-2-398-5000
  • From other Ecuadorian Provinces: 02-398-5000
  • From Quito and other cities within the Province of Pichincha:  398-5000
  • General Embassy e-mail:

v) Emergency Cash (wiring money)

As discussed immediately below, if your ATM card doesn’t work and you need cash in a hurry, contact Western Union (tel. 1-800/989-898 in Ecuador;), which has numerous offices around Quito and other major towns and cities. It offers a secure and rapid (although pricey) money-wire and telegram service.

vi) Hospitals & Emergency Services

In Ecuador’s major cities you will find private clinics and quality hospitals with English-speaking doctors. In Quito, the two most modern and best-equipped hospitals are:

  • Hospital Vozandes (tel. 02/2262-142;; Villalengua 267 and 10 de Agosto)
  • Hospital Metropolitano (tel. 02/2261-520;; Mariana de Jesús and Occidental).
  • Both of these hospitals have 24-hour emergency service and English-speaking doctors.

Through the country, 911 services and the Red Cross are available in case of emergencies.

L) Health Matters

While Ecuador is widely considered an emerging country, some health hazards remain significant. Of the most noteworthy are foodborne illnesses, which are transmitted through street food and should therefore be avoided. However, if contracted, these can easily be treated with digestive drugs such as antacids or anti-diarrheals.

Drinking Bottled water is key in Ecuador to avoid getting sick. This doesn’t only apply to foreigners who don’t have the stomach for Ecuadorian food but also Ecuadorians in remote areas who know that if they don’t boil their water or drink it from the bottle that they could become ill. As a result, bottled water can be purchased almost everywhere and is usually by hotels.

Remember, staying healthy on a trip to Ecuador is predominantly a matter of being cautious about what you eat and drink …and using common sense. Know your physical limits, and don’t overexert yourself in the ocean, on hikes, or in athletic activities. Also, many people need a day or two to acclimate to the higher altitudes of Andean cities such as Quito.

Before You Go – Before leaving home, find out what medical services your health insurance covers. You may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later. Medicare and Medicaid do not provide coverage for medical costs outside the U.S. To protect yourself, consider buying medical travel insurance.

It’s usually a good idea to consult your government’s travel health website before departure (if one is available):

As mentioned earlier in Trip Preparation, no specific shots or vaccines are necessary before traveling to Ecuador, although vaccinations against Hepatitis A are always a good idea, and a yellow fever shot is suggested if you plan to visit the Amazon region.

General Availability of Health Care – In general, the health care system in Ecuador is good and can handle most emergencies and common illnesses.

Although pharmacies are well stocked and widespread, it is suggested that you still carry sufficient supplies of any prescription medicines you might need. Most over-the-counter remedies commonly available at home should be relatively available in all but the most remote destinations around Ecuador, although you may have some trouble figuring out what the local equivalent is. Therefore, carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.

Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry prescription medications in their original containers, with pharmacy labels – otherwise, they won’t make it through airport security. Also, bring along copies of your prescriptions in case you lose your pills or run out. Don’t forget an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses.

If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. For such conditions as epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, wear a MedicAlert identification tag, which will immediately alert doctors to your condition and give them access to your records through MedicAlert’s 24-hour hotline.

COVID PROTOCOLS: Surtrek is adopting all of the biosecurity recommendations and protocols of the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as those of the World Travel & Tourism Council, so as to guarantee the health and safety of all our travelers.

Finally, we urge you to take special care with whatever food you eat (you should verify that it was well washed), and take precautions with the water you drink. In fact, the most remote areas of the country may not have sanitary water supply systems at all. Therefore, we have to emphasize that drinking bottled water is actually a great idea.

Common Ailments

  • Altitude sickness: Altitude sickness may develop in travelers who ascend rapidly to altitudes greater than 2500m, including those flying directly to Quito. Being physically fit no way lessens your risk of altitude sickness. Symptoms may include headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, malaise, insomnia, and loss of appetite. Severe cases may be complicated by fluid in the lungs (high-altitude pulmonary edema) or swelling of the brain (high-altitude cerebral edema).

The standard medication to prevent altitude sickness is a mild diuretic called acetazolamide (Diamox), which should be started 24 hours before ascent and continued for 48 hours after arrival at altitude. Possible side effects include increased urination, numbness, tingling, nausea, drowsiness, nearsightedness, and temporary impotence. For those who cannot tolerate acetazolamide, most physicians prescribe dexamethasone, which is a type of steroid.

A natural alternative is gingko, which some people find quite helpful. The usual dosage is 100mg twice daily. To lessen the chance of getting altitude sickness, you should also be sure to ascend gradually or by increments to higher altitudes, avoid overexertion, eat light meals, and avoid alcohol.  If you or any of your companions show any symptoms of altitude sickness, you should be sure not to ascend to a higher altitude until the symptoms have cleared. If the symptoms become worse, immediately descend to a lower altitude. Acetazolamide and dexamethasone may be used to treat altitude sickness as well as prevent it.

  • Traveler’s diarrhea: To prevent diarrhea, drink bottled water, avoiding tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected (iodine tablets). Also, only eat fresh fruits or vegetables if cooked or peeled; be wary of dairy products that might contain unpasteurized milk, and be highly selective when eating food from street vendors. If you develop diarrhea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, preferably an oral rehydration solution containing lots of salt and sugar. A few loose stools don’t require treatment but, if you have more than four or five stools a day, it is recommended that you start taking an antibiotic (usually a quinolone drug) and an antidiarrheal agent (such as loperamide). If diarrhea is bloody, persists for more than 72 hours, or is accompanied by fever, shaking chills or severe abdominal pain, you should let your Surtrek guide know, who will seek medical attention for you.
  • Bees, Snakes & Bugs: Although Ecuador does have Africanized bees, scorpions, spiders, and several species of venomous snakes, your chances of being bitten are minimal, especially if you refrain from sticking your hands into hives or under rocks in the forest. If you know that you’re allergic to bee stings, consult your doctor before traveling. Snake sightings, much less snakebites, are very rare. Moreover, the majority of snakes in Ecuador are nonpoisonous. If you do encounter a snake, stay calm, don’t make any sudden movements, and don’t try to handle it.
  • Malaria: Because mosquitoes can’t live at high altitudes, malaria is not a risk in Andean cities such as Quito, Cuenca, Baños, or Otavalo. Also, because minimal numbers of mosquitoes and biting insects live close to the ocean, especially during the heat of the day, there’s no malaria risk in the Galapagos, even though situated at sea level. However, because there is a small risk of malaria for travelers who plan to spend time in the jungle areas of El Oriente or the Pacific lowlands, the CDC recommends that you protect yourself by taking the drugs mefloquine, doxycycline, or Malarone. Such insect repellent, in addition to protective clothing, is probably your best protection against malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses.
  • Tropical (and Highland) Sun: Limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the first few days of your trip and, thereafter, from 11 am to 2 pm. Wear a hat and use sunscreen with a high protection factor, and apply the sunscreen liberally. Remember that children need more protection than adults. And don’t be deceived by cool weather or cloud cover.

What to Do If You Get Sick Away from Home

The best and most modern hospitals can be found in Quito and Guayaquil. Most other major cities and towns will have a hospital or two. Your home country’s embassy or consulate can provide a list of area doctors who speak English. If you get sick, ask your Surtrek guide to recommend a local doctor.

M) Safety

The best advice is for travelers to use COMMON SENSE to ensure their safety.  Robberies and pickpocketing face most 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 very valuable jewelry. Avoid problems by not flashing large amounts of money and not using side streets in big cities at night. Men should avoid keeping their wallets in their pants’ back pockets. A woman should keep a tight grip on her purse. (Keep it tucked under your arm.)

Probably the biggest threat in most places is simply opportunist 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 in 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.

For accessing ATM machines, use terminals located within banks, inside shopping malls, or even at your hotel, rather than independent terminals on the street.

Your Surtrek guide, as well as hotel personnel, will be a good source of information about places that should be avoided.

If taking a taxi, always make sure to either order your ride by phone. However, if you do 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 typically feature orange license plates (see the accompanying photo).

When traveling across the country by bus, avoid checking valuables into the hold of the bus. Instead, keep your valuables/daypack/purse in your lap. Do not think that keeping it securely between your legs is sufficient, let alone placing it above you in an overhead rack.

N) Money

i) Cash

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 examine large bills ($10 and above) carefully to make sure they aren’t 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 bills large and small may be difficult. This is especially true on cheaper buses.  Petty cash will come in handy for tipping and public transportation, 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 is not uncommon for a merchant to ask you to pay with another bill if the one you handed them appears old or worn.

ii) Automated teller machines (ATMs)

Automated teller machines are widely available in major cities and tourist areas (you’ll even find a few in the Galapagos Islands. Beware, though, on occasions these ATMs are out of order or out of funds.

Notwithstanding, ATMs are the easiest and best way to get cash away from home. Most banks are tied in with major international networks, in theory making it possible to withdraw money from foreign accounts.

Be sure to inform your home country bank that you will be using your card in Ecuador before your departure; otherwise, you may find your card blocked upon arrival.

Among the country’s major banks, Bancos del Pacífico and Bancos del Pichincha have MasterCard/Cirrus ATMs, while Bancos de Guayaquil and Bancos La Provisora have Visa/Plus ATMs.  The Cirrus and PLUS networks span the globe; look at the back of your bank card to see which network you’re on, then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination.

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. Also, be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart.

Keep in mind 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.

You can also use your credit card to receive cash advances at ATMs, but keep in mind that credit card companies protect themselves from theft by limiting maximum withdrawals outside their home country, so call your credit card company before you leave home. Also, remember that you’ll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time.

Finally, avoid using ATMs on the street, as their users are frequently targeted by street thieves. Hotels or other places with a guard nearby are your best choices.

[TIP: Banco Austro is the only national bank chain that doesn’t charge a withdrawal fee. The others have learned a cue from the States, and typically charge $1 or more per transaction.]

iii) 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.

Even if an establishment has a credit-card sticker in the window, don’t assume that credit cards are accepted. In Ecuador, merchants accepting credit cards will often add between 4% and 10% to the bill. Paying cash is often a better value.

You can also withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, provided you know your PIN. If you don’t know yours, call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank to send it to you. It usually takes 5 to 7 business days, though some banks will provide the number over the phone if you provide some personal information.

Keep in mind that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% “transaction fee” on all charges you incur abroad (whether you’re using the local currency or U.S. dollars).

Because credit card purchases are dependent upon phone verifications, some hotels, and restaurants in more remote destinations – such as the Amazon basin and Galapagos Islands – do not accept them. Moreover, some add on a 5% to 10% surcharge for credit card payments. Always check in advance if you’re heading to a more remote corner of Ecuador.

Nevertheless, credit cards still may be the smart way to go when you factor in such things as exorbitant ATM fees and the higher exchange rates and service fees you’ll pay with traveler’s checks.

Keep copies of your card issuer in order to report a lost or stolen card.  When you contact your bank or issuing company, it might be able to wire you a cash advance off your credit card immediately; in many places, it can deliver an emergency credit card in 1 or 2 days. Odds are that if your wallet is gone, the police won’t be able to recover it for you, but your credit card company or insurer might require a police report number, so file a police report anyway (after you cancel your credit cards).

Like with bank ATM cards, some credit card companies recommend that you notify them of any impending trip abroad so that they don’t become suspicious of foreign transactions and block your charges. If you don’t call your credit card company in advance, you can still call the card’s toll-free emergency number if a charge is refused – provided you remember to carry the phone number with you.

Perhaps the most important lesson here is to carry more than one card so you have a backup.

iv) Currency Exchange

NOTE: Surtrek recommends that travelers change dollars in your country of origin. If for some reason this is not possible, currency can be changed into U/s dollars at the airport upon arrival. In addition, cash can be withdrawn from ATMs with credit and debit cards.

The US dollar is the currency used in Ecuador. To change other currencies into US dollars, it’s best to do this in the major cities of Quito, Guayaquil, or Cuenca, where rates are best.

Euros, Peruvian pesos, and Colombian nuevos soles are the easiest currencies to exchange in Ecuador.

Because banks have limited hours, casas de cambio (currency-exchange bureaus) are sometimes the only option for changing money. They are usually open from 9 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday and until at least noon on Saturday. These are 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 – though the rates are not as desirable.

v) Emergency Cash (wiring money)

If your ATM card doesn’t work and you need cash in a hurry from a contact at home, contact Western Union (tel. 1800/989-898 until 7:00 p.m. in Quito or at, which has close to 20 offices around Quito, as well as numerous offices in other major towns and cities. It offers a secure and rapid (although somewhat pricey) money-wire and telegram service.

O) Shopping

From raucous animal markets to glossy malls, shopping is a mixed bag in Ecuador. So, there’s something for everyone here.

Ecuador offers an interesting collection of products that can be purchased as souvenirs and gifts. Arts and crafts such as weavings, woodcarvings, carpets, toys, and clothing can be bought all over Ecuador.

Most stores in Ecuador specialize in one type of product. The wool stores only carry sweaters, tapestries, and blankets. Very thick, wool sweaters go for about $8 USD each, where the same imported sweaters cost about $60 USD in the U.S. The wood stores are dazzling. Inside these stores are hundreds of birds and other carved animals of varying sizes painted with vibrant colors. Other stores are filled to the ceiling with an amazing variety of woven straw baskets. In the craft markets, the primary products are those made from balsa wood, wool, straw, and silver.

The best value in Ecuador is quite possibly silver jewelry. (This can be bought from an actual jewelry store (spelled “joyeria”), where it is very expensive, but a bit safer with regards to quality.) The other place to purchase jewelry would be at city handicraft markets, which are normally open on the weekends in the town square. Be very careful buying any jewelry at the markets to notice the sheen of the silver (it shouldn’t be cloudy, but also not too shiny), and especially the number marking which signifies the percentage of silver. A good percentage is 950 out of 1000. At the market, they’ll often design the jewelry to your specification, so there is more flexibility. In the famous and large market of Otavalo, one can pay as little as $25 USD for a 95% necklace with turquoise stones mixed in and a silver charm.

A few words of advice are in order though when making purchases in local crafts markets. To avoid any disappointments, we suggest that you:

  • Never buy anything “valuable” or “ancient,” unless you’ll still like it just as much if it doesn’t turn out to be as valuable or ancient as you were told. Watch the item you have bought while it’s being wrapped, and check to make sure the same package is given to you. Antiques are also difficult sometimes to export.
  • Carefully review the receipt or credit card slip before you sign it and leave the shop, verifying the amount paid and the item bought. If the receipt/slip is written in a language other than English, write the details of the purchase on the receipt in English for your own records and U.S. Customs if necessary. Keep all of your sales receipts, as you may need to show them to the police.
  • Remember to bargain, it’s expected and part of the fun. However, don’t bargain and agree on a price unless you are serious about buying. This will help keep prices reasonable for future travelers.
  • Fly home with your purchases. Shipping your items is often unreliable, and they might arrive much later than anticipated, damaged, or perhaps not even make it there at all.

In addition, bargaining is a way of life in Ecuador and is totally acceptable in markets and small shops, but tourist stores usually have fixed prices. Many places and towns in Ecuador usually have a special market day at least once a week.

Specials deals can be found in the following city and areas across the country:

  • Cuenca and Gualaceo: Here (in the Province of Azuay), you’ll find the best places for great bargains on a wide variety of handicrafts.
  • Quito: Generally, this is a good place to buy silver, native woodcarvings, varnished and painted ornaments made of bread dough, Indian tiles, woolen and orlon rugs, blankets, baskets, leather goods, indigenous art, and native weapons. The crafts market is conveniently located in the Mariscal tourist district on Jorge Washington Street (between Reina Victoria & Juan Leon Mera). Among the interesting goods found here are the so-called “Panama hats” (which actually originated here in Ecuador). Prospective buyers should note that good quality Panama hats can be rolled up and spring back into shape. Beware of the more inexpensive hats in the market; the fact that it’s cheap doesn’t always mean that it’s a bargain.
  • Otavalo and surrounding towns: This area is famous for its excellent quality textiles, which are sold daily. Good quality inexpensive leather goods can also be found in this area and are a good buy while in Ecuador.

NOTE: It is not possible to export animal products out of Ecuador and into other countries either. So, avoid buying products manufactured from animals. Antiques are also difficult sometimes to export.

– Business hours: Monday to Friday: 8:30-12:30 a.m. and 2:30-6:30 p.m. (banks close at 4:00 p.m.). Most banks, museums, and stores are open on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. Everything closes down on Sunday.

– Sales taxes: Most of Ecuador’s tax revenue is generated by the IVA, which translates in English as value-added tax (VAT). The rate for this tax is currently 12%, and it is added to most purchases (meaning they are included in the price, though usually formal restaurants will charge you +12% taxes).

P) Dining and Food

Dining: Restaurants in Ecuador run the gamut in terms of menu, quality, hygiene, hours, and price. It is possible to pay close to U.S. prices in the tourist areas, especially for food from American chains, though basic street meals can be had for as little as $2.

More “expensive” restaurants (say, ones that charge $15 per meal or more) often add a 12% sales tax and a 10% service fee for a total of 22% more on your bill. Nonetheless, it’s common to add 5% to 10% on top of this as a tip, especially if you feel the service merits it.

Bottled water is very common and is safe to drink; it comes con gas (carbonated) and sin gas (non-carbonated). Water from the tap is unsafe to drink. Even Ecuadorians generally only drink bottled (or boiled) water. Coffee is widely available in cafes and restaurants, and also sold in bean form. Tea is also common, usually with a good selection including herbal. Coffee or tea (including many herbal varieties) is typically served after the meal unless you ask for it sooner.

Fruit juice is plentiful and good, and you will often have many options: piña (pineapple), mora (blackberry), maracuyá (passion fruit), naranja (orange), sandía (watermelon), naranjilla (a jungle fruit), melon, taxo, guanabana, guava, etc. If you’d like it made with milk, sort of like a less-frozen milkshake, ask for a batida. Note that often juices are served lukewarm.

Except at places that cater to foreigners, it is the custom not to present the diner with the bill until it is requested. The best way to get the check is to ask your server “La cuenta, por favor.”

Ecuadorian Food

Food in Ecuador is diverse. From east to west, throughout the country, there is a lot of variety as to what is typically eaten, depending on the location.

You can find different kinds of plates, each of them with varying tastes and ingredients according to the region – but all of them will leave you both satisfied and hungry for more.

Though ordinary people usually enjoy these dishes in markets and everyday restaurants, these “local gourmet foods” are now offered at luxury hotels, meaning you can taste them with all the quality, comfort and good service they deserve.

Usually, each lunch and dinner will begin with a traditional Ecuadorian sopa (soup), all of which are highly nutritious. The main course will consist of a meat dish, with rice and raw vegetables. Corn is also a main crop in Ecuador and comes to your plate in many different forms. Choclo is the most well-known variety of cultivated corn. You’ll undoubtedly top your meal with ají, the Ecuadorian hot sauce, at some point during your trip, if not during every meal.

Typical Ecuadorian Cuisine

Some signature dishes that can be found almost everywhere in Ecuador are:

  • Locro de papa is a famous Ecuadorian soup with avocados, potatoes, and cheese.
  • Ceviche is a common dish found on the coast. It is a cold seafood cocktail that is usually served with “chifles,” thin fried plantains, and popcorn.
  • Encebollado is a hearty fish soup with yuca, also found on the coast: A tomato-fish soup filled with chunks of yucca, marinated vegetables with “chifles” thrown in for added crunch.
  • Cuy (guinea pig) is eaten in the Highlands. The entire animal is roasted or fried and often served skewered on a stick.
  • Empanadas are also a common local food usually consumed as snacks in the afternoon. The most common varieties of this filled pastry are cheese and/or chicken.

Regional Dishes

  • In the Andes: The main staples in the Andes are rice, potatoes, corn, and meat (chicken, beef, and pork). Your dish will most likely include a simple salad or lentils. Locals in the Andes also prepare quinoa, a native, high-protein grain. As noted, the famous cuy (guinea pig) is roasted in the Sierra, as Ecuadorians think of the furry companion as a prime delicacy.
  • In the Galapagos Islands: Because migrants to the Galapagos come from all three regions of the mainland, the islands’ culinary fare is a blend of those cuisines, using whatever available ingredients. Only certain foods are grown on the islands, and much needs to be imported to fill tourist demand. Fish, of course, is a staple. Galapagos beef is succulent and flavorful.
  • In the Amazon: In remote areas of the Amazon you’ll find hunter-gatherer type methods of collecting and eating food, so you’ll be sampling exotic endemic fruits, fish, and meats eaten only in the jungle.
  • On the Coast: Seafood is a popular and plentiful food choice in Ecuador, not only along the coast but also in the highlands. Lobster (langosta) dinners can be enjoyed in major coastal cities, at low prices. Plate varieties of camarones (shrimp) are also widely popular. The coast has tons of fish (pescado) to feast on, including corvina (White Seabass) and trucha (trout). Crab and some other seafood have vedas (bans), seasons when fishing is prohibited. Much shrimp are farmed, which is damaging to mangroves; consider ecological implications of that before ordering.

Q: Etiquette

In general, Ecuador is a laid-back and tolerant country. There aren’t many social rules you need to know, although it’s important to pay respect to the indigenous culture. Visitors can wear casual clothes just about everywhere, but it’s considered rude to wear anything too revealing in town. Local men never wear short pants unless they are on the beach. If you want to blend in you should follow suit.

Ecuadorians (both men and women) use a handshake for a greeting, but it is very light.

The one area where you should pay particular attention to your actions is when it comes to photographing Ecuador’s indigenous population. Despite being beautiful, colorfully dressed, and wonderful photo subjects, most indigenous peoples do not want to be photographed. To do so without first asking permission is both rude and insensitive. Ask first, because in the tourist areas the majority of locals will let you shoot away …for a small fee.

Dining Etiquette: Eating out or dining in someone’s home is almost always a casual affair in Ecuador. Only a handful of restaurants in the entire country can be considered formal, and none requires you to wear to jacket or tie unless you just feel like dressing up a bit. Ecuadorians eat three times a day, similar to North Americans.

Taking Photographs of People

Before taking a picture of someone while traveling, first ask if it’s ok to take their shot. You may have to learn a few words or request your guide for some help, but locals should be approached in a polite and warm manner. This makes for a much richer experience for all. Remember, taking a photo of someone without their permission is both disrespectful and rude. People anywhere should not be treated as “tourist sites” or trophies; they’re people and they deserve to be treated as such.


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 bellhops at a first-class hotel about $.50-$1 per bag. Hairdressers receive $0.50 or more for special services. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped, but you can leave them the small change from a metered ride.

If you are going on a long tour that involves guides, cooks, and crew (e.g. the Galapagos Islands), your Surtrek travel specialist can suggest tip amounts for each service – though these are not obligatory and are completely voluntary.

Gifts and Handouts

Though possessing beauty, magical places to visit and wonderful people to meet, Ecuador is still a poor country, so don’t be surprised if – at least in cities – you see some people begging, especially near downtown touristic attractions. In these cases, you need to be careful if you decide to give a handout because sometimes people will try to get more out of you or more than you wish to give. Be particularly careful when giving money, gifts, or food to any groups of poor children you might meet.

If you really want to help poor people in Ecuador, we recommend contacting some philanthropic institution to donate money or goods for children, the homeless, women in jail, etc.

Respect for the Environment

With over 1 million tourists visiting Ecuador annually (and nearly 1 billion tourists crisscrossing the globe every year), it’s more important than ever for travelers to minimize their individual impact on the earth’s natural and cultural treasures.

The potential negative effects of tourism are both local and global; oceanfront hotels contribute to beach erosion on the Ecuadorian Coast, rising numbers of visitors threaten the fragile ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, and carbon dioxide emissions from planes are a growing contributor to global warming.

Taking a green approach to travel is an easy and essential way to protect the places you love to visit, not just for yourself but also for the travelers who come after you and for the people who will continue to live there long after you’ve flown home.

As a bonus, it often makes for a more rewarding, authentic travel experience, encouraging deeper connections with the people and places you visit.

R) Miscellaneous Travel Notes

  • Time: Like in most countries, in Ecuador, the time is written in 24-hour notation (for example, 6:30 p.m. appears as 18:30). Mainland Ecuador is on Eastern Standard Time, 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The Galapagos Islands are on Central Standard Time, 6 hours behind GMT. Daylight saving time is not observed.
  • Laundry: Most hotels in the main cities of Ecuador have laundry services. However, this service isn’t always available in rural destinations, towns, or jungle and community lodges – and if it is, it usually isn’t as good as in the cities.
  • Drinking Laws: The legal drinking age is 18, although it’s rarely enforced. At discos, however, you often need to show a picture ID for admittance. Everything from beer to hard spirits is sold in specific liquor stores as well as at most supermarkets and even convenience stores.
  • Drugstores: A drugstore or pharmacy is called a farmacia in Spanish. Drugstores are quite common throughout the country. Those at hospitals and major clinics are often open 24 hours a day. Fybeca has the largest chain of pharmacies in Ecuador. You can call Fybeca’s toll-free line (tel. 1800/2392-322) 24 hours a day for home delivery in most major cities in the country.
  • Electricity: The majority of outlets in Ecuador are standard U.S.-style two- and three-prong electric outlets with 110-120V AC (60 Hz) current.
  • Measurements: Ecuador uses the metric system, although gasoline is sold by the gallon. See the chart on the inside front cover of this book for details on converting metric measurements to nonmetric equivalents.
  • Newspapers & Magazines: There are several Spanish-language daily papers in Ecuador. The most popular and prominent are El MercurioEl Universo, and El Comercio.
  • At the airports in Quito and Guayaquil, and at the high-end business hotels, you can find the latest edition of the Miami Herald for around 50¢ to $1 (35p-65p). English-language copies of Time or Newsweek are also available at some newsstands in the most touristy areas of Quito.
  • Smoking: By law, smoking is prohibited in all indoor public spaces, including restaurants, shops, cinemas, and offices. (Bars and discos are exempt.) That said, enforcement is virtually nonexistent. While not as rampant as in most of Europe, a large number of Ecuadoreans smoke, and smoke-filled public spaces are common. Bars, discos, and clubs are often especially smoke-filled in Ecuador.
  • Toilets: The condition of public facilities is good in Ecuador. In museums, the toilets are relatively clean, but they never have toilet paper. If you have an emergency, you can also use the restrooms in hotel lobbies without much problem. Note that most buses don’t have toilet facilities, and when they stop at rest stops, the facilities are often horrendous – usually smelly squat toilets. It’s always useful to have a roll of toilet paper handy.

While hoping that this travel information* helps you make the most of your vacation here in Ecuador, please remember that we here at Surtrek we are ready to do everything possible to ensure this will be an adventure of a lifetime!

(*) Surtrek Travel Reference Guide Disclaimer:

This reference guide is intended to serve general information purposes only. The information provided in this guide is not intended as advice in any way. The information in this guide is composed and maintained with continuous care and attention by Surtrek; however, we cannot give any warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the information in this guide.

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