Ecuador Travel Guide

Famous for the extraordinary diversity contained within its compact borders Ecuador spans four vastly different worlds. From the endless reaches of the Amazon rainforest to the breathtaking beauty of the Andes, the diverse beaches of the Pacific coast to the legendary Galapagos Islands; each region boasts a unique landscape, ecosystem and culture.

The fourth smallest country in South America, Ecuador is located on the equator between Peru and Colombia. Due to it’s compact size, traveling is relatively easy and it is possible to visit vastly different areas in a short amount of time.

Ecuador map

Galapagos Image Map Ecuador Coast Andes Amazon Ecuador

General information about Ecuador

Ecuador is considered the most biodiverse country in the world. It is a paradise for bird lovers with more more than 1600 bird species. This small country also contains more than 20,000 plant species, 840 species of reptiles and amphibians and 317 mammals. In 2013 it was awarded a World Travel Award as the World’s Leading Green Destination.

Visitors can climb the Chimborazo volcano (the farthest point from the center of the Earth), visit Yasuni National Park (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that is arguably the most biologically diverse spot on Earth), or even take a once-in-a-lifetime voyage to the Galapagos Islands only 926 km from the mainland and home to a vast array of endemic species.

When to go

Weather
Located on the equator, there are no conventional seasons in Ecuador. The weather in Ecuador depends more on the region you’re in – the Andes, the coast, the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands – and its altitude, rather than on the season.

· Amazon rainforest: It is warm, humid and rainy year-round, but the rain is particularly heavy between March and July. The driest time is in January and February. Temperatures can reach 32ºC during the day.

· Andes: Although located on the equator, temperatures can get cool because of the altitude with lows of 10ºC and highs of 19ºC. The highland dry season is from June to September with sunny clear days. The wet season is from December to may with rain in the afternoons.

· Coast: The wet season runs from December to May with higher temperatures and humidity, sunny days and wet afternoons. The dry season runs from June to September with cooler air, dense overcast skies. This is the time to sea dolphins and whales in the water.

· Galapagos Islands: The wet season runs from January to June hot sunny days interspersed with heavy showers. January to April are the best months for snorkeling. The dry season runs from June to December with cooler weather, mist and rough seas. If you’re prone to sea sickness avoid traveling from July to October.

High season
Besides public holidays, high season in Ecuador coincides with holidays in Europe and North America and runs from mid-June to early September and late December to early January.

Holidays and festivals
Public holidays in Ecuador include New Year’s Day (Jan 1), Easter, Labor Day (May 1), Simón Bolívar Day (July 24), National Independence Day (Aug 10), Guayaquil Independence Day (Oct 9), All Souls’ Day (Nov 2), Cuenca Independence Day (Nov 3), the foundation of Quito – only celebrated in Quito – (Dec 6) and Christmas Day (Dec 25). Other festivals in Ecuador include Carnival (Mon and Tues prior to Ash Wednesday), Holy Week (Maundy Thursday and Good Friday), Battle of Pichincha (May 24), Corpus Christi (first Thursday after Trinity Sunday), Inti Raymi (June 21), San Juan (June 24), San Pedro / San Pablo (June 29), Festival of the Virgin of El Cisne (August 15), Yamor Festival (first two weeks of September), Mama Negra de la Merced (September 24), Columbus Day (October 12), Mama Negra (First Friday or Saturday of November), Festival of the Virgin of El Quinche (November 21), Christmas Eve (Dec 24), and New Year’s Eve (Dec 31). Read more about festivals in Ecuador.

Getting there & around

Direct international flights are available to both Quito and Guayaquil airports with regular direct service from Miami, Houston, New York, Atlanta, Panama, Amsterdam, Madrid and most South American countries. Air travel within Ecuador is quick, convenient and relatively inexpensive with airports in Balta, Cuenca, Coca, Lago Agrio, Loja, Manta, Salinas, San Cristobal and Tena. Within Ecuador traveling by bus is simple and cheap, though levels of comfort vary widely and it can be harder getting to some of the more remote attractions. There are also some scenic train routes which have recently been revamped, but they are more an experience rather than a way to travel. Renting a car is also an option though prices can be pretty steep and you should have both your national and international license with you. At TerraDiversa we also recommend bike rentals, chauffeur-driven minivans or 4×4 vehicles. Contact us for bookings.

Travel essentials

Entry requirements
Most nationals (including citizens of the EU, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) do not need a visa to enter Ecuador as tourists for a maximum of 90 days, but only need a passport valid for six months or more, a return ticket and proof of having enough money for the duration of their stay. Tourists are issued a T-3 embarkation card which will be collected on leaving Ecuador. To extend your stay you will need a visa. If you overstay you will get a fine and will be deported. Check with your local Ecuadorian embassy for more information.

Luggage
Travelers can bring with them personal effects for personal use. Medicines should be accompanied by a prescription. They can bring one new and one used of any portable electronic device such as cameras, laptops and cell phones. The rules change regularly so we advice travelers to check the official Ecuadorian customs website.

Money
The official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar. Bring low-denomination bills as $20, $50 and $100 bills are rarely accepted, except in banks. ATMs are available in the larger cities mostly connected with Visa/Plus and MasterCard/Cirrus/Maestro systems, though some accept American Express and Diners Club cards, but you usually won’t be able to withdraw more than $300-500 from an ATM in a day and local handling charges will apply. Traveller’s cheques are getting difficult to change.

Costs
When visiting the Galapagos Islands, remember that all visitors must pay an entrance fee to Galapagos National Park (foreigners pay $100 adults/$50 children, members of MercuSur and Pacto Andino pay $50 adults/$25 children, Ecuadorians and residents $6 adults/$3 children) and for an Immigration Control Card – INGALA ($20).

Take into account that Value Added Tax (I.V.A. in Spanish) is 14% and is added to most goods and services. This is often included in the quoted price directly, while others add it to the end of the bill. Sometimes a 10% service charge is added automatically as well, while often this is at the client’s discretion. V.A.T. can be refunded to foreign tourists leaving from Quito or Guayaquil airport for Ecuadorian-made goods or accommodation services (costing $50 or more) purchased in establishments which display a tax-free logo. At the airport you will need to fill in a V.A.T. refund application form, submit invoices, a copy of your passport, present purchased goods at the SRI-CAE counter in the check-in lounge and have a credit card. Find out more here.

ID cards
Full-time students, under-26s and teachers should consider getting an ISIC card, International Youth Travel Card or International Teacher Card as these are sometimes recognized for discounts. Over 65’s who are either residents or nationals are entitled to discounts on buses, flights, V.A.T. refunds, cinema tickets and more.

Insurance
Always ensure you purchase a suitable travel insurance policy when traveling abroad. If you are traveling to the Galapagos make sure your insurance includes evacuation by air ambulance as there are limited facilities on the Islands.

Health
In order to enter Ecuador the only vaccine requirement is proof of a Yellow Fever Vaccine for persons traveling to or from a country with risk of YFV transmission. Contact your general practitioner about 8 weeks before traveling to check whether you need any other vaccinations or to take any other preventative measures. Recommended vaccines usually include: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Rabies and Typhoid.

Although the risk of contracting Malaria is low, precautions are recommended in areas under 1500 meters, except Guayaquil and the Galapagos Islands. Avoid insect bites by using 30%-50% DEET insect repellent and by wearing lightweight clothing that covers both your arms and legs.

If you are traveling to altitudes above 2500 meters, talk to your general practitioner to discuss health risks. To avoid altitude sickness we recommend you ascend gradually, stay well-hydrated and wear appropriate clothing. If you notice any signs of altitude sickness descend to a lower altitude and seek medical attention.

To avoid food poisoning or stomach problems, wash your hands frequently, use a sanitizing gel, avoid food sold on the street, drink bottled water and make sure your food is completely cooked or peeled.

Electricity
110V/60Hz is the standard supply and sockets are for two flat prongs. Fluctuations are common so we advise travelers use a surge protector.

Time
Ecuador is –5 GMT (Eastern Standard time zone) and the Galapagos Islands are -6 GMT. Daylight saving is not observed.

Phone & Internet
Public and private phone offices with phone cabins are widely available, as are internet cafés. Roaming isn’t cheap in Ecuador, so consider buying a phone and account in Ecuador. If you wish to use your own phone and purchase a chip, remember to unlock your phone before arrival as this is costly in Ecuador.

* This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please check before traveling.

Fact file

Language
The official language of Ecuador is Spanish, but native communities also speak Quichua (the Ecuadorian dialect of Quechua), Shuar and several other languages.

Wildlife
Ecuador is considered one of the most biodiverse and species-rich countries in the world. It is a paradise for bird lovers with more more than 1600 bird species. This small country also contains more than 20,000 plant species, 840 species of reptiles and amphibians and 317 mammals. You should be able to see a broad selection of Ecuador’s flora and fauna if you travel with a good guide.

People
Besides being one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, Ecuador is also ethnically diverse. The population can be described as mestizo (71.9%), Amerindian (7%), White (6.1%), Afro-Americans (7.2%), Montubio (7.4%). It’s Amerindian population is divided into 12 distinct indigenous nationalities. Each of these indigenous communities tries to distinguish itself from the cultural homogeneity of European-Spanish consumer culture. There are also ten languages recognized by the state as official languages since 1998 and 24 languages of Ecuador listed on Wikipedia. Below is a table showing different ethnicities in Ecuador. Some of these groups are recognized by the government while others are not, yet.

Area Community Province
Coast Awa Kuaiker Carchi, Esmeraldas and Imbabura
Coast Chachis Esmeraldas
Coast Épera Esmeraldas
Coast Tsáchilas Santo Domingo
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Cañaris Cañar and Azuay
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Caranqui Imbabura, Pichincha, Carchi
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Cayambi
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Chimbuelo
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Otavaleños Imbabura
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Panzaleo
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Pichincha
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Puruhá
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Salascan Tungurahua
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Saraguros Loja
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Tungurahua
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Tungua
Andes (Andes Quichuas) Waranka
Amazon Achuar Morona Santiago and Pastaza
Amazon Amazon Quichuas Napo, Orellana, Pastaza and Sucumbíos
Amazon Andoa Pastaza
Amazon Cofanes Sucumbíos
Amazon Huaoranis Napo, Orellana and Pastaza
Amazon Shuar Morona Santiago, Orellana, Pastaza and Zamora Chinchipe
Amazon Sionas and Secoyas Sucumbíos
Amazon Shiwiar Pastaza
Amazon Záparos Pastaza

 

UNESCO world heritage sites
Ecuador is home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the historic center of Cuenca, the Galapagos Islands, Qhapaq Ñan (the Andean Road System), the city of Quito, and Sangay National Park.

The Inca Trails
Did you know that the term Inca Trail is not exclusive to Peru? Qhapaq Ñan, colloquially known as the Inca Trail, is an extensive Inca network of roads covering more than 30,000 kilometers and made up of two north-south roads with numerous branches. Qhapaq Ñan (meaning the beautiful road) was the main north-south highway of the Inca Empire running along the spine of the Andes and passing through six countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – over some of the worlds most extreme geographic terrains. In 2014 the Qhapaq Ñan, including 273 sites spread over more than 6000 km, granted World Heritage status by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO. This will make the deteriorated ancient route eligible for much-needed restoration funds and the six South American countries have agreed to work together to preserve it.

Food & drink
Ecuador is famous for it’s bananas, coffee and chocolate. There is a wide variety of culinary delights and its easy to eat well on a budget. There’s little variation in the format of standard restaurant menus (soup followed by meat or fish with rice and salad), but each region has its selection of typical dishes. It is easy to find a delicious breakfast and if you visit a market you’ll find an incredible array of fruit.

In the highlands make sure you try locro de papas (a delicious soup of potato, cheese and corn with avocado), llapingachos (cheesy potato cakes), cuy (roast guinea pig), seco de chivo (mutton stew), hornado (slow-roasted pig), motepillo (boiled corn mixed with eggs) or even humitas (cakes of ground corn with cheese, sugar, butter and vanilla steamed in banana leaves) and higos con queso (figs with cheese).

The coast is most known for its seafood. Don’t miss trying ceviches (raw fish marinated in lime juice and chilli), encocados (fish dishes cooked in coconut milk, tomato and garlic served with rice), patacones (thick cut dried plantains), chifles (thinly cut fried plantains), bolón de verde (baked plantain mashed with cheese and coriander), corviche (fried balls of mashed plantain and peanut paste filled with fish) and viche (a delicious peanut soup with shellfish and plantain balls).

The Amazon region is better known for serving yuca (a vegetable similar to yam) with rice, bananas and river fish or guanta (wild pig).

Make sure you try one of the many fresh jugos (fruit juices) made from taxo (a kind of passion fruit), mora, (blackberry), maracuyá (passion fruit), tomate de árbol (tree tomato), naranjilla or babaco (both fruits native to Ecuador). Pilsner and Club are the main national beer producers. Other nationally produced alcohol includes chicha (fermented corn drink), rum and aguardiente (sugar-cane spirit). In the mountains they combine aguardiente with sugar, cinnamon and hot water to make canelazo which is ideal for staying warm. Imported spirits and drinks are highly taxed and expensive.

Ecuador Travel Guide

 

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Pacific coast in Ecuador

Ecuadorian Coast Travel Guide – Coming Soon!