5 Things to Know Before Visiting Ecuador

Planning a trip to Ecuador? Nomad Cassandra offers her travel tips on when to go, what to eat, how to get around, money and costs, and how to stay safe.

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A llama stands in front of a snow-capped volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. Photo © Cassandra Brooklyn

Ecuador is currently accepting visitors from around the world, but with certain restrictions in place, including COVID-19 test requirements and possible quarantine. Find out what it’s like to travel to Ecuador during the pandemic.

Ecuador is a small country, about the size of Colorado, but it has a bit of everything: beaches, mountains, volcanos, metropolitan cities, the Amazon rainforest, and, of course, the extraordinarily diverse Galápagos Islands. During the month I spent in Ecuador in December, 2020, I experienced all of this, and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. I can’t wait to go back.

Whether you’re planning a week-long vacation or you’re about to embark on a multi-month adventure, here’s what you need to know before visiting Ecuador.

Climate and weather in Ecuador

Since Ecuador is situated along the earth’s equator (ecuador is Spanish for equator), the temperature is fairly consistent throughout the year, but does vary by region. Higher-elevation areas (such as Cotopaxi volcano and mountainous regions) can get chilly, so you’ll want to pack warmer clothes as well as those you’d need for a visit to the coast, Galápagos, or the Amazon. Ecuador’s cloud forest is wet, like the rainforest, but it’s also a bit cooler, so be sure to bring layers.

Along the Andes, February, March and April tend to be the wettest months while June, July, and August tend to be the driest. The southern coast and the Galápagos are sunniest and warmest from December through to May. The northern coast is best June to October. The Amazon doesn’t vary too much, and you should always expect rain, so pack a lightweight, waterproof jacket.

If you plan to do serious hiking, good trekking boots are recommended, but most visitors who aren’t trekking get by with comfortable walking shoes. I wore hiking sandals for easy hikes in Galápagos, but when I got to the rainforest and cloud forest, the hotels and attractions I visited provided knee-high rubber boots that not only provide protection from rain and mud, but also from snakes and other rainforest critters.

Is Ecuador safe?

Ecuador is a relatively safe country, and I felt very comfortable traveling as a solo woman. That said, the US State Department discourages travel to Carchi, Sucumbíos, and Esmereldas in the north (the border region with Colombia) due to crime.

Like many countries, pickpocketing and other petty crime can be a problem, particularly in large cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. Wear your fanny pack or backpack on your front and keep your wallet and phone in front pockets. Robberies occasionally happen on overnight buses or in unlicensed taxis, so it’s best to travel during the day and only with reputable transportation companies.

Some parts of Ecuador (such as Quito and Cotopaxi) are high-elevation regions, which can put travelers at risk of altitude sickness. You’ll want to allow some downtime to acclimate before jumping right into activities.

Popular food in Ecuador

Ceviche (fresh, raw fish, cured in fresh citrus juice) is one of the most popular dishes in Ecuador – you’ll find it everywhere from street stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants to five-star hotels. Unlike Peru’s better-known “dry” version, Ecuadorian ceviche is served in a watery broth, typically consisting of lime juice and/or the liquid the seafood was prepared in. While shrimp and fish are the most popular versions, you’ll also find vegetarian ceviche made with hearts of palm or lupini beans (chocho). Regardless of the type of ceviche you order, it’s sure to come with a side of popcorn, tostado/choclo (Andean corn nuts), chifles (thin plantain chips), and/or patacones (thick green plantain chips). Ceviche accompaniments are so addictive that you may order a separate bowl as a side dish – or is that just me?

A bowl of ceviche, an Ecuadorian specialty.
Ceviche, an Ecuadorian specialty. Photo credit: Cassandra Brooklyn

Another distinctive Ecuadorian dish is cuy asado, or roasted guinea pig, which is typically barbecued whole and found in regions across the Andes. Llapingachos – pronounced ya-peen-gah-chos – are fried potato (or yucca) patties stuffed with cheese and served with a peanut sauce, sausage, eggs, and salad. Ecuadorian food is not particularly spicy, but many restaurants have hot sauce on hand.

Money in Ecuador

Ecuador uses the US dollar as currency and the country tends to be less expensive than the United States, but it’s not exactly a budget destination. ATMs are available in major cities, but not in rural or isolated areas, so be sure to carry cash. Large companies and high-end hotels may accept credit cards, but many small businesses only accept cash.

Budget travelers can expect to spend about $40-50/day and mid-range travelers should expect to pay about $50-100/day. High-end travel varies widely, as luxury hotels and lodges can cost $300-500/night. Galápagos is the most expensive part of the country to visit, both in terms of activities, tour operators, and lodging, and also in terms of food, beverages, and souvenirs.

Nicer restaurants may add a 10% service charge to the bill, but if you don’t see the charge there, be sure to tip the server directly. If the service is great, add an additional 5% tip. Guides (for both group and private tours) expect to be tipped and rely on these tips, so budget in about $5-10/person per day for group tours and $10-20/day for private guides. Taxi drivers don’t typically expect tips, but always appreciate them.

How to get around

Uber is available (and affordable), as are public buses, which can transport you between cities. I used Uber several times for trips within Quito and took a shared van operated by Mashpi rainforest lodge to get to their resort. As my visit took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be noted that drivers and other passengers wore masks, and windows allowed air to flow freely, so I felt pretty safe. I also made sure to snag a van spot right next to a window and asked the driver to help me open it before we left Quito.

Taxi Express makes runs in four-person cars between major cities for about $20-$30 each way and your hotel/host/guide should be able to make a reservation for you. Everyone (including the driver) is required to wear a mask, and we drove with the windows cracked, so I didn’t feel unsafe. Booking the service for a private run would cost about $80-100 one-way. I paid more for my trip from Quito to Tena (the gateway town to the Amazon) because I hadn’t yet learned about Taxi Express.

Should you choose to rent your own vehicle, Wi-Fi is widely available, so you could download driving directions before leaving your hotel.

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19 Comments

  • Caroline said

    Be careful when travelling into the rain forest area. Remember more water, more mud slides. Be careful in general as people are very poor in this country. Beautiful tropical country. Very friendly people.

  • Jenny said

    Hey everyone, i was recently in ecuador and let me tell you, it was wonderful. i never felt uncomfortable or unsafe, people are extremely friendly and nice. The prices are incredibly low so its a really good place to go shopping. Its also a very cultural and beautiful place. i can't wait to go back!

  • anantharaj said

    This country how much salary labour work computer billing how salary

  • ericka said

    Exercise caution when traveling to the Vilcabamba area. Tourists and expats have been targeted by armed criminals in the area. You can search and see the news articles. Use common sense and avoid hiking in remote areas.

    http://latinamericacurrentevents.com/san-pedro-de-vilcabamba-ecuador-u-s-expats-victims-of-home-invasion/35285/

  • viviana said

    HI, I live in Ecuador, and about robbery I can honestly say that you should be carefull in the big cities like Guayaquil or Quito, as New york or other big metropolis crime is something thant you can´t avoid. Don´t dress conservatively, I mean is true, you may have to deal with some of the disgusting flirtatious but is a really hot country, and I repeat this will only be in the big cities.

  • Abdul said

    Ecuador is a country I will soon like to visit , have been reading they have a lot of adventurous places to go and different tourist attractions .. Can't wait to go there for the first time

  • Alicia Erickson said

    Jane,
    Insulin is cheap and easy to get here (lots of Hispanics develop diabetes). Once you are a resident of Ecuador, you are eligible for social security insurance which runs about $70 a month. It becomes effective once you have paid for 3 months and covers all hospital costs, clinics, specialists and medications. Many expats pay for the cost of this insurance by turning in their refunds (taxes of 14% in Ecuador are refunded to retired people). Once you get to Ecuador, other expats will help you get this all straightened out. Otherwise paying out of pocket is not too expensive (dentist visit with filling $30 or specialist visit $30).... or you can go to the free hospital (pain in the but, but there if you needed it)
    Food is and is not expensive here. Cost of bacon (200 grams) is $6.29 (USD), peanut butter (peter pan) 16oz. is almost $10, but a whole chicken is $6, 30 eggs are $4, a bag of potatoes is $1, a bag of limes is $1, bag of onions $1, 15-20 tomatoes costs $1, lunch at an Ecuadorian restaurant costs $2.50 with chicken, rice, juice and beans, lunch at a tourist trap costs $6-8. Eating local and fresh is less expensive. If you have to have stuff like peanut butter, bacon, cereal, etc. then food prices are more expensive as you are eating what locals don't thus the import fees are high (import taxes in Ecuador are expensive). Turkeys are crazy expensive at about $12 a pound, but two large fresh fish from the coast (come in a truck) will run you just $3. Be careful eating out here, as they are carb lovers (plates of rice, potatoes, pasta, corn, etc) and don't know how to cook veggies.
    I hope this helps. .
    Alicia (Gringa living in Cuenca, Ecuador for 4 years)

  • Ivonne said

    Estimado lectores,
    Soy Ecuatoriana viviendo en USA. Quiero mucho a mi país como he vivido mas tiempo en USA, sinembargo, mis recomendaciones son: Vivir en Ecuador es relativamente mas Economico especialmente cuando eres retirado y si tu retiro no es substancialmente. Hay que acostumbrarse a vivir en constante asecho de la gente maliciosa siempre tratando de sacar ventaja especialmente si saben que vienes del extranjero. No todos son así pero la mayor parte. Renta es de acuerdo como tu quieras vivir si escoges un lugar selectivo por supuesto que cuesta como aquí en USA todo es relativo. Todas las casas tienen rejas debido al robo de casas constantemente. La Sierra es meno en especial en Cuenca muchos extranjeros. Hay que adaptarse mucho de acuerdo al estilo de vida que uno quiera vivir. Un profesional puede superar pero dependiendo de quien conozcas.
    Espero les sirba de de algo.

  • Kim said

    Is it worth a trip to the Amazon in Ecuador or is time better spent viewing wildlife in the Galapagos?

    have been to Costa Rica many times and Africa. Our main interest is wild life. My husband likes to fish so he will be wanting to fish while in Ecuador - so plan on being in Ecuador 3-4 days and then go to Galapagos for 7-10 days. Is it worth tagging on trip to the Amazon as well.

  • Brent said

    Neha,
    I hold a Masters degree in Nursing, am board certified, bilingual, licensed in 26 US States, and am a certified pharmacy technician. I have been living in Ecuador since 2012 and can tell you that you won't want to work here as a nurse. You can get your nursing licenses/degrees registered at SNYCT easily but that doesn't change that nurses make about $4 an hour here. Average pay starts at $410 a month for full-time. If you work outside the hospital, plan on doing all the cleaning and do meal preparation in addition to patient care. You're better off to get an online job in the US or Canada before coming, then you at least make enough to live on.

    Saludos!

    PS- Pharmacists can make a good living (maybe $2000 a month), but only if they open their own pharmacy.

  • Varsi padayChee said

    Truly amazing how easy it is for Westerners to call out developing countries. I have lived in Washington DC for 38 years and travelled all over this country. Catcalls, trash talking women is common place in the great old USA. However, racist comments and attacking people given their ethnic background is now common place in the USA. pickpockets in the USA are violent. Please read th. USA media. My family moved out of D.C. . Stop the racist blinders

  • Deb Pearl said

    My husband and I were thinking about places we could go on a fun trip and someone mentioned Ecuador! We have never been there before and wanted to look up some information before we thought about it. That is a good idea to find a local guide that would know the best places to see are. We will have to look into it more! Thanks for the information! http://www.casablancatena.com/

  • Pancho said

    As a New Yorker, I would like to put a couple of ideas for all the people interested in knowing Ecuadorian life for a foreigner.
    It is a complicated country to work, the salaries are extremely low compared to those of the USA or Europe. Prices, in general, are not low. Food can be even more expensive in certain cases, such as bread or pork, but national fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper, although some of them are imported from Chile and Peru, so they are more expensive than in the first world ... Eating in a restaurant is usually cheaper unless you are looking for a super fancy one ...
    It is common for sellers to try to make a profit by selling to foreigners, you always have to ask for "rebate", which should be half of what they are asking for. This does not happen in malls or shopping centers, where the prices are indicated in each product, but in there everything is much more expensive and, if you are a tourist, you will probably never reach there!
    About security, it is something that must always be kept in mind. Always be careful and use simple common sense. Something that has always called my attention is that, in general, people do not let their children play outside alone...
    If you want to live in Ecuador and you have a capital to invest in a business or want to bring a franchise, there will be a high probability of success. Ecuadorians love foreign brands, the inconvenience is the paperwork that requires obtaining the authorizations, but hiring a good lawyer, this is solved. To find out a little more about the Ecuadorian culture you can see their TV channels, TvdeEcuador.com

  • debbie said

    My grandsons mother is in Canoa as we speak. 2 nights ago they were walking on the beach and 2 men attacked them!!!!!!!!!...He was stabbed and received many stitches.....I WOULD NEVER GO THERE!!!!
    !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Nicole said

    Te amo Ecuador.

  • gerard said

    please i am a cameroonian and i like the waters and more to that want to study spanish
    i think ecuador is ideal place for me
    can some one please give me the address of a school
    in quito or else where i can study spanish ? short course please

  • Elizabeth said

    Hey Gerard! My Spanish teacher lives in Quito and does one on one lessons in person and also via Skype or Zoom. Her name is Ceci and she runs Immersion Spanish School. She is great! I have been working with her for years. Email her at [email protected]!

  • SR said

    Please also make sure that your nationality does not need a visa before you arrive. I am an indian citizen in US on a visa and travelled there with my family (US citizens), only to be stopped by immigration, detained under unhygienic conditions, separated from my family and sent back to US. They will NOT GIVE VISA ON ARRIVAL. They don’t care about your family being separated and send you back.
    For a country that relies heavily on tourism, They should Mention the information about their visa policy clearly on their website so that people like me don’t fall for the trap.

  • David Emon said

    I would like to travel in Ecuador, my primary destinations are between Saldina and Quito. I would like to make contact with English speaking Expats in advance. I would like to stay for a month maybe two and then figure out if I would be interested in living full time there. Please write me if you can help me make connections. Dave at [email protected]

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