Ecuador travel
 

Traveling to Ecuador

The following resources are provided for informational purposes to help you plan your Ecuador travel experience. However, you should be aware that regulations may change occasionally. Make sure you verify all pertinent information.

 

U.S. citizens entering Ecuador must present a U.S. passport with at least six months of remaining validity. Ecuadorian immigration officials also sometimes request evidence of return or continuing travel, such as an airline ticket. Under Ecuadorian law, U.S. citizens traveling for business or tourism on a tourist passport can enter Ecuador for up to 90 days per calendar year without a visa. Extensions for up to another 90 days can be requested through the provincial migration offices. If you are planning a visit longer than 90 days, you must obtain a visa in advance of your arrival.

More detailed information and visa requirements for Ecuador travel can be found at the website of Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You can also visit the website for the Embassy of Ecuador in the United States for the most current visa information or for further information regarding entry, exit, or customs requirements. If you stay in Ecuador beyond the terms of your visa, you may be deported or barred from re-entering Ecuador in the future. (Source: U.S. Department of State website about travel to Ecuador).

 

Information from the Canadian government for our Canadian travelers

Information from the government of the United Kingdom for our British travelers

Information from the Australian government for our Australian travelers

 

Immunizations

The government of Ecuador requires proof of yellow fever vaccination if you are entering from a country with yellow fever (this does not include the US – for a complete list, see CDC page).

The following basic immunizations are recommended:

  • Yellow fever
  • Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis, Hepatitis A

 

For longer stays, the following additional immunizations are recommended:

  • Hepatits B
  • Cholera
  • Rabies and typhoid

Please consult the CDC page for additional information.

Altitude Sickness

Quito’s high altitude at over 9,000 ft. can lead to symptoms like vertigo, headaches, fatigue, or nausea for the first few days after arrival. However, altitude sickness is much more acute for mountain climbers and depends on factors such as the individual’s fitness level, the starting altitude, and the speed of ascent. Sufficient hydration and regular climbing/hiking breaks can help alleviate the symptoms. If serious symptoms occur, climbers should descend to a lower altitude as quickly as possible and consider seeking medical treatment.

Yellow Fever

Valid immunization against yellow fever is required for all travelers over 12 months of age arriving from a country considered to be at risk for yellow fever virus transmission. Yellow fever vaccination is definitely recommended for anyone traveling to the eastern provinces in the Amazon (Orellana, Morona, Napo, Pastaza, Sucumbíos, and Zamora).

Malaria

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, which bite mainly between dusk and dawn. Symptoms may not appear for weeks or months after infection. If travelers exhibit a high fever after traveling to a malaria area, it is imperative that the treating physician is informed promptly of such travel so that appropriate treatment can be initiated without delay. The risk for malaria infection is particularly high during  rain season in the western coastal provinces of Esmeraldas, Manabí, Guayas, and El Or, as well as the eastern provinces of Sucumbíos, Napo, and Pastaza in the Amazon. The Galapagos Islands are free of malaria. The first line of defense against malaria is proper personal protection through appropriate clothing, insect repellent, and mosquito nets. Additionally, chemoprophylaxis is advisable, particularly for extended stays in the Amazon or the coastal regions. To reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites, the use of insect repellent (Autan, Repelex) and ingestion of vitamin B (Complejo B) are recommended. Additional prescription drugs may be available from a physician specializing in tropical or travel medicine.

Rabies

Rabies is usually transmitted by stray dogs. If you are bitten by a dog whose owner can be identified, always ask the owner for official proof of the dog’s rabies vaccination.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito and is seasonally prevalent in Ecuador during rain season. Outbreaks are usually confined to the provinces of Loja, Guayas, and Esmeraldas. Symptoms appear 3—14 days after infection and range from a mild fever to a high, incapacitating fever, with severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, and a rash. There are no specific antiviral medicines for dengue. It is important to maintain hydration. Use of acetylsalicylic acid  (e.g., aspirin) and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., Ibuprofen) is not recommended.

Dengue haemorrhagic fever (fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, bleeding) is a potentially lethal complication, affecting mainly children. Early clinical diagnosis and careful clinical management by experienced physicians and nurses increase patient survival.

Scrupulous daily use of insect repellent is strongly recommended.

HIV/AIDS

Sexual contact or drug use (sharing infected syringes or needles) may carry the risk of a life-threatening HIV/AIDS infection.

Diarrhea and Cholera 

Basic precautions about food and drinking water can prevent most diarrhea symptoms. Fresh fruit and salads warrant caution and should only be consumed if they have been peeled or cooked through. Water and soft drinks should only be consumed from a bottle. Tap water can only be consumed if it has been boiled, if at all, and beverages with ice should be avoided. Do not consume foods purchased from street vendors.

Skin

Sunscreen with a high SPF is recommended in the Andes as well as on the coast. You can minimize sun exposure with a wide-brimmed hat or other head covering.

First-Aid Kit

A first-aid kit with all of your regular medications, as well as medications to treat common travel illnesses, is highly advisable.  To create a customized first-aid kit for your trip, you should consult a physician specializing in tropical or travel medicine.

 Medical Treatment

Standards for medical treatment in the larger cities of Quito and Guayaquil are comparable to European or American standards for private care. Modern facilities are available, and many physicians have received medical training abroad. Private clinics generally expect payment upfront. Government hospitals and rural health clinics are often poorly equipped. We recommend that you obtain sufficient international health insurance coverage well in advance and make financial arrangements for emergencies since patients often have to pay for services upfront.

What you should pack for your Ecuador travel depends more on the types of activities you have planned than on the length of your stay. At over 9,000 ft. altitude, Quito can go through four seasons in a single day: mild spring-like mornings, warm summer-like afternoons, stormy fall-like evenings,  and cool wintery nights. In the jungle, rain showers are very common, and along the coast, temperatures can reach 90 degrees F.

Recommendations:

Clothing

  • light windbreaker or Goretex jacket
  • warm clothing (fleece)
  • rain poncho
  • Goretex pants and jacket with interior pockets
  • jeans, hiking or khaki pants, shorts
  • long-sleeve cotton shirts
  • T-Shirts
  • swim attire
  • light, quick drying, long-sleeve shirts/full-length pants for the jungle

 

Shoes

  • hiking boots
  • athletic shoes
  • moccasins
  • sandals
  • flip-flops
  • climbing boots  (+ other gear) are usually available for rent with guided mountain climbing tours
  • rubber boots are usually made available at no extra cost for jungle tours (generally up to US size 13)

 

Miscellaneous

  • insect repellent (look for deet factor)
  • sunscreen (high SPF), sunglasses, sunhat
  • several plastic bags to protect items from humidity
  • personal prescriptions/medications, small first-aid kit
  • flashlight and batteries
  • binoculars
  • camera

What is Ecuador’s currency?

After a severe banking crisis and the collapse of the sucre, the local currency, Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency in 2000. Coins up to a value of 50 centavos are specific to Ecuador and only accepted within the country. Bills are available in 1-, 5-, 10-, 20-, 50-, and 100-dollar denominations.

 

Cash withdrawals

In larger cities, cash can be withdrawn at ATMs, and foreign currency can be exchanged for dollars (usually at a 3-5% fee). Most ATMs accept U.S. or European credit/debit cards. Before your Ecuador travel trip, make sure to check with your bank or credit card about services available and fees charged for use of your card in Ecuador.

You should not carry bills larger than USD 20 since larger bills are rarely accepted. Large stores and hotels often accept credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, Diners, occasionally American Express).

In an emergency, money can be wired quickly to Ecuador via Western Union. If a bank or credit card is lost, stolen or used without authorization, you should immediately contact the issuing financial institution to have a hold put on the card.

 

Time zone

Ecuador mainland: UTC/GMT – 5 hours

Galapagos Islands: UTC/GMT – 6 hours

No daylight savings time

 

Electricity

The electric current used in Ecuador is 110 v/ 60 Hz. Most electric appliances can accommodate a range of 110 – 240 v, but you should check your devices before leaving for Ecuador. For U.S. travelers, no special adapters are needed since Ecuador uses the same plug and outlet configurations as the U.S. Some upscale hotels and luxury cruise ships may have 220v outlets available. For additional information, you may want to consult tripadvisor’s page, which also has other information regarding Ecuador travel.

 

Safety

Ecuador is a fairly safe country for traveling as long as certain basic safety precautions are observed. Thefts of valuables and hold-ups are more common in areas where large numbers of people congregate (e.g., buses, central plazas and/or markets). Some safety precautions:

– in buses where you may not have a place to sit, keep money and valuables in an inside pocket

– do not display any valuables such as money or jewelry

– carry only copies of your important documents while you are sightseeing

– do not leave valuables unattended

– do not resist during a robbery

– avoid deserted streets and parks

– keep an eye on your luggage at all times if you are crossing a border

– hire only registered taxis

– make advance reservations in hotels and restaurants if at all possible

Additional safety information and procedures for filing a police report are found on the U.S. Department of State website about Ecuador.

 

Tipping

The bill in restaurants generally includes a 10% tip and 12% value-added tax. In upscale restaurants, an additional tip of 5-10% is expected. Mountain guides and travel guides receive between 2 and 5 USD per day per group participant, depending on the quality of their guidance. You should also leave a small tip for housekeeping staff at the hotel, valets, and porters.

Information about Ecuador and Its People

We want your Ecuador travel experience to be amazing. The following information about Ecuador may be useful to you in planning your trip.

Topography

Ecuador has four distinct geographical areas: the Andes (Sierra), the Amazon (Oriente), the coast (Costa), and the Galapagos Islands, situated 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Each area has its own specific topography, vegetation, climate, and lifestyle.

The capital of Quito is located in the northern region of Ecuador between the eastern and western cordilleras of the central Andes, which form the Sierra with more than 30 volcanoes, some of them still active today. Cotopaxi, at 19,347 ft., is the highest active volcano on earth.

Climate

Ecuador travel is pleasant year-round. Although the climate varies significantly in different areas because of differences in altitude, temperatures do not fluctuate to extremes thanks to the country’s proximity to the equator.

The country’s climate distinguishes a rain season (late December through early June) and a dry season (July through November). However, strong tropical rain showers are also common during the dry season.

The Sierra (Andes):

The climate of the Andes is characterized by extreme temperature changes during the day. This area does not have a four-season climate, but rather a four-seasons-per-day climate: mild spring-like mornings, warm summer-like afternoons, stormy fall-like evenings,  and cool, but not cold, wintery nights.

The Amazon:

Temperatures range between 73 and 97 degrees Fahrenheit, with very high humidity, year-round. Precipitation is highest in June and July. The dry season lasts from September to December.

The Coast:

The Pacific coastal region actually sees mostly blue skies during the rain season (January through May). This is the prime season for swimming and beach vacations, with temperatures ranging from 77 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Precipitation amounts decrease from north to south. During the dry season, overcast skies in the morning may turn to fog and drizzle ( Garúa) later in the day. July, August, and September are the best months to watch whales along the coast.

The Galápagos Islands:

The climate is dry with temperatures ranging between 72 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The rain season (January through June) features tropical rain showers, but generally sunny weather, with water temperatures around 73 degrees Fahrenheit. From July through December, the weather is hazy, windy, and cool, with water temperatures generally below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Because plankton thrive under these conditions, diving is more interesting during this time. Drizzle is also quite common during this season.

Flora & Fauna

Although Ecuador with its 109,484 square miles of land is the smallest of the Andean nations of South America, it features an incredible diversity and abundance of vegetation and wildlife. The fact that Ecuador combines so many distinct ecosystems in one small country is almost unique on earth and partly explained by the significant differences in altitude found within this limited geographic area. Within a few hours’ drive, the scenery can change from palm trees on sandy beaches to tropical rainforest, snow-capped volcanoes, enchanting cloud forest, or idyllic crater lakes. More than 20,000 different species of plants are found within Ecuador’s five distinct vegetation zones, the Tierra Nevada (above 15,748 ft.), the Tierra Helada (11,811 to 15,748 ft.), the Tierra Fría (6,562 to 11,811 ft.), the Tierra Templada (2,953 to 6,562 ft.), and the Tierra Caliente (sea level to 2,953 ft.).

Flora

The Tierra Helada zone of the Páramo is mostly home to lichen and mosses, with lower altitudes also featuring bushes and trees like polylepsis and frailejones in the northern part of Ecuador. The gigantic frailejones plants can grow up to 13 ft. tall and have perfectly adapted to the climate of their surroundings.

At lower altitudes, frost is not as prevalent, but extreme temperature fluctuations and strong winds still present a challenging environment. The Tierra Fría is dominated by expansive tundras and countless valleys. Several types of fuchsias, orchids, bromelias, and epiphytes thrive here. This area is relatively well-populated, which limits agricultural uses.

Evergreen tropical mountain forests are the most predominant vegetation of the Tierra Templada. Palm trees, cedars, cypresses, tree ferns, mosses, orchids, bromelias, and lichen thrive in this humid, foggy climate. The cloud forest of this area (at around 3,000 to 10,000 ft.) is perfectly suited for the high level of humidity found here.

The Tierra Caliente features dense, almost impenetrable rainforest, high humidity, and average temperatures between 72 and 77 degrees F. Gigantic trees, up to 130 ft. high, lianas, tree cactus, and the spiny ceibo tree have successfully adapted to the nutrient-deficient soil. The rainforest is home to an incredibly large number of animal and plant species. Its vegetation features distinct layers and is known for its longevity: more than 70 percent of the plants can grow for more than 200 years. The rainforest, which has no distinct seasons and appears evergreen, covers the western Amazon basin, as well as the areas along Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

Southwestern Ecuador experiences little precipitation and as a result is dominated by savanna forests with less tree density.  In the coastal areas, mangrove forests with an abundance of fresh water provide ideal breeding grounds for many marine animals.

Fauna

Ecuador also boasts a tremendous number of different animal species, many of them endemic and unique. More than 2,400 species of land vertebrates make their home in Ecuador. The country’s fauna includes majestic Andean condors, mountain tapirs, hummingbirds, caimans, jaguars, monkeys, pumas, and hundreds of different bird species.

The Galapagos Islands are an excellent example of an area with very specific endemic plant and animal species. Even though the islands are sparse and desert-like during the dry season and offer less animal and plant diversity than the mainland, they are home to large numbers of fascinating animals.  Four mammal species (Galapagos sea lions, seals, rice rats, and bats), various types of endemic Galapagos giant tortoises, iguanas, lava lizards, geckos, snakes, and interesting bird species (albatross, boobies, frigate birds, pelicans, penguins, mockingbirds etc.) attract thousands of visitors to the islands each year to experience this highly unique ecosystem.

Population

Ecuador has roughly 15.4 mio. inhabitants (July 2013), most of whom live in the country’s larger cities. More than half of the population lives in a city. Guayaquil and Quito are the largest cities. The coastal area is fairly densely populated, while there are fewer people living in the Amazon region.

The official language of Ecuador is Spanish, but the indigenous Quechua is common and considered the country’s second official language. Quechua originally was the language used by the Chinchay people of Peru. Some Quechua words have also found their way into Spanish, such as the Quechua word “guagua” for “baby.”

Ethnically, Ecuador’s population consists of 36% Indígenas (Ecuador has one of the highest percentages of indigenous people in Latin America) and 42% Mestizos (descendants of Indígenas and white Europeans); 10% are white, 10% black, and 2% Asian.

Most people in Ecuador are Catholic.

 

Food

For Ecuadorians, lunch–“almuerzo”–is the most important meal of the day. A meal of soup, main entree, fruit juice, and maybe even dessert can be purchased for a few dollars in many restaurants. Ecuadorian cuisine varies substantially depending on the region.

Sierra

In the Andes, where temperatures are moderate or cool, various soups are a staple on the menu. The most well-known soup is Locra de Papa, a potato soup with avocado and cheese.

Andean cuisine features a wide array of potato and corn dishes. Choclo–baked corn on the cob–is available everywhere. Also popular are llapingachosas, pancakes made from potatoes and cheese.

Meat is also an important lunch component. Cuy (guinea pig, a specialty of Cuenca), chicken, goat, lamb, and pork come in many different varieties: baked (hornado), fried (fritada), roasted (lomo fino is a thin, well-done beef filet).

The Sierra also offers excellent trout specialties (truchas), most notably in Papallacta.

Many dishes are seasoned with Ají, a very spicy sauce made from cayenne peppers and cilantro.

Coast

Seafood dishes rule the coastal regions.

Shrimp (camarones), crawfish (cangrejos–a specialty of Guayas) or catfish soup (caldo de bagra) are a few of the local favorites.

The most well-known dish of the coastal area is ceviche: a cold seafood cocktail made from fish (pescado), mussels (concha), shrimp (camarones), calamari or as a mix (mixto) of all or some of these. The ingredients are marinated raw in lemon juice, onions and herbs and served with popcorn.

Rainforest

The cuisine of the rainforest is dominated by local specialties. Many dishes are made from yucca as their basic ingredient. Locals also eat exotic meat dishes made from bird, monkey, or tapir meat. .

The jungle lodges mostly serve dishes typical of the Sierra and the rainforest.

 

Beverages

Fresh fruit is abundant and commonly used to make various fruit juices. Common ingredients are papayas, bananas, oranges, tamarillos, blackberries, maracujas, watermelons, or grapefruit. Juice is usually served with lunch, undiluted as “jugos puros,” diluted with water as “jugos con agua,” or as “batida” (milk shakes).

Other non-alcoholic beverages are also available: water with or without carbonation, sodas, coffee (although it is not a traditional beverage and often is served as a thick concentrate that must be diluted with water or milk) and tea (aromaticas).

Ecuador’s famous national beverage is canelazo–a hot beverage made from water, cinnamon, cloves, naranjilla juice, and strong cane-sugar Aguardiente liquor. Best place to try it: on “La Ronda” Street in the old historic center of Quito.

The indigenous people favor chicha, a corn-based beer originally brewed by the Quechua people. For European or American palates, it takes a little getting used to.

On All Saints Day (November 2), a special beverage called “colada morada” is concocted from black corn flour and fruits such as naranjillas, pineapple and blackberries. It is traditionally served with “guaguas de pan” (decorated “bread babies”).

The most common beers are Pilsener and Club, along with the up-and-coming brand Brahma. However, non-domestic beers like Heineken are gaining in popularity.

Almost all wines are imported and therefore rather expensive. Cocktails (cocteles — popular: Cuba Libre) and drinks (tragos) are easily available. The most common liquor is Aguardiente, made from sugar cane.

Customs and Holidays

The year starts out with a bang with country-wide New Year’s festivities. A few days later, on January 6, various events commemorate Epiphany, the day on which the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem. Carnival celebrations, held in February, involve people dousing each other with water and corn flour. This tradition predates Christian carnival rituals and is thought to have originated as a fertility rite to bring about an abundant corn crop. The indigenous people of the Sierra still believe that the corn plant has a soul. Carnival celebrations are particularly lively and traditional in Guaranda, the capital of  Bolívar Province. In Ambato, carnival often coincides with the Fiesta de las Frutas y de las Flores (flower festival).

Lavish celebrations commemorate the founding of Ecuador’s biggest cities: Cuenca (April 12), Guayaquil (July 23-25), and Quito (end of November through December 6). The festivities include various cultural events, dancing, music, bull fights, and beauty pageants. For the entire month of August, Quito also celebrates the arts with a wide array of cultural events during Mes del Arte.

Travelers who happen to be visiting the coast between August 3-5 should try to attend the independence day celebration in Esmeraldas, which features marimba music and Afro-Ecuadorian folklore.

Solstice celebrations are held along the equator line in the Andes (e.g., in Cayambe). Two well-known celebrations are the Catholic San Pedro Festival and the summer solstice celebration Inti Raymi at the end of June.

There are many other festivals and celebrations in various towns and for various reasons.

The year ends with the Año Viejo festivities on December 31. People buy sawdust effigies decorated with masks of mostly political figures and burn them at midnight. Families celebrate the end of the year with a traditional New Year’s Eve meal late in the evening.

Markets

Markets are the perfect place to buy some souvenirs and observe traditional local customs. Some well-known markets are:

Ambato (Monday market for cars, livestock, and misc. )

Cotocallao (street market in North Quito)

Cotocachi (weekend market for leather goods)

Gualaceo (large Sunday market)

Latacunga (Saturday market that features the popular shigra knotted bags made from agave fibers)

Otavalo (biggest Saturday market in Ecuador, arts and crafts)

Pujilí (large Sunday marekt with pottery)

Riobamba (colorful Saturday market)

Salasaca (Sunday market, handwoven wall hangings)

Sangolquí (agricultural market on Saturday)

Santo Domingo (large Sunday market)

Saquisilí (Thursday market near Quito)

 

 

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