Ecuador travel guide| Travel tips for Ecuador
This is the Ecuador travel guide and all the travel tips you will need to know before your visit.
Ecuador is located between Colombia and Peru, and it is one of the smallest countries in South America. Very small but extremely diverse. And very easy to travel to!
Traveling in Ecuador will be an active one, and you won’t get bored not even for a second! You can explore colonial towns Quito and Cuenca, or trek in the highlands of Ecuador – our favorite was the trek to a high altitude crater volcano.
Relaxing on a beach, trying to surf for the first time, or just watching the waves and beautiful sunset on the Pacific coasts is another way to go. You can also get lost in the cloud forest or fish for piranhas in the Amazon rainforest. Do I even need to continue?
It is a fact that Ecuador’s natural wonders attract many people. You will find many ecosystems in Ecuador, such as the Amazon rainforest, Galapagos Islands, the Pacific coast, and the Andes mountains. And all are quite easily accessible and close to each other.
No wonder, that people are coming back all the time. You can never have enough of Ecuador.
We wrote this Ecuador travel guide to help you plan your trip to Ecuador. Our Ecuador travel tips:
Is Ecuador dangerous – Ecuador travel guide
We didn’t find Ecuador dangerous, we felt safe walking around and didn’t fell in danger at all. The only problem with Ecuador is the pickpocketers- there is a lot of them. You have to be careful of your possessions, have them with you all the time.
Don’t put valuable stuff off your hand ever! A lot of the thieves are skilled and they have their techniques for how they will rob you. Don’t have a lot of money with you, don’t make phone calls in crowded areas. We know more people that were robbed in Ecuador than Colombia for example. Most of the thefts happen on public transport and bus stations, be very careful there.
Ecuador also has a high risk of earthquakes. We downloaded this app, which shows potential earthquakes, just to be safe and sure.
Altitude sickness is another thing you should be aware of when visiting Ecuador. If you are for example flying to Quito (2850 m) wait a day or two to acclimatize before riding a Teleferiqo (Quito’s cable car) to the heights of 4000 meters. Some friends we met on our travels got sick like this and it wasn’t pleasant for them.
Visa + Vaccination + Water – Ecuador travel guide
Citizens of Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, and Britain don’t need a visa for a stay up to 90 days. Besides your passport, you may be required to show an onward or exit ticket. But this rarely happens. We didn’t have one and nobody said anything to us. Your passport must have at least 6 months of validity when entering the country.
Some recommended vaccines for Ecuador: Hepatitis A&B, Yellow fever, Rabies, Tetanus, Typhoid. We did shots of Hepatitis A and Yellow fever, for Tetanus we had from before.
The fact is, that Ecuador should have very good drinking water. The locals explained to us that the problem starts in the old pipes, which can make the water bad on the way to your tap. So, water in Ecuador is not safe for foreigners to drink. We advise you to buy bottled water, which is very affordable. Tap water is safe for cooking and brushing your teeth with it.
When to visit Ecuador – Ecuador travel guide
Ecuador is so diverse that it’s hard to say which time is the best for your visit. Ecuador has two seasons: the wet season and the dry season. But the season varies though the country depending on the altitude. The dry season is from June to September and the wet season is from October to May.
It depends on which parts you want to visit – if you want to visit the coast, the best months are December – April. If you want to visit the Amazon rainforest you should go from December to March. If you want to visit the higher lands you will have chillier and colder weather throughout the year.
The busiest months are June to September, the country gets filled with tourists, which for us is a downside. If we have to choose which time is the best we would choose from December to March.
Money in Ecuador – Ecuador travel guide
We were really surprised when we heard that the official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar. I had some euros with me, exchanging them wasn’t a problem, also the exchange rates were good. It is also easy to exchange Peruvian soles and Colombian pesos, but you can maybe have problems with exchanging other currencies.
Otherwise, the best way to get the money is for sure ATM’s, daily limits are around 400-500$. Withdrawal as much as possible and avoid transaction fees. We didn’t have any problems withdrawing money in Ecuador.
Language in Ecuador – Ecuador travel guide
We won’t lie, you will be much better off if you speak Spanish in Ecuador. Spanish is the official language and it is spoken all around the country. We were lucky because one of us (Tjasa) speaks Spanish which helped us a lot. English is not a very common language in Ecuador, we met only a few English speakers just in bigger cities.
Food in Ecuador – Ecuador travel guide
After spending 2 months in Colombia, where the food (besides their amazing fruits), was not appealing to our taste buds (to say the least). So it is probably not a surprise that we were super excited to try the Ecuadorian cuisine. As much as the country is diverse, so was the food, and we enjoyed it a lot.
Most of Ecuador’s food is quite simple and based on the region’s local ingredients. In the mountains, it’s mainly meat and a variety of root vegetables, while on the Pacific coast is more about fresh fish and seafood.
For seafood lovers, we highly recommend to buy straight from the fisherman or the local fish markets along the pacific coast and cook it by yourself. It is cheap, super fresh, and probably will taste better than in any standard restaurant. We ate like kings!
Like in most of South America, also in Ecuador you will find the ‘Menu del dia’ – affordable lunch deal that includes soup, a main dish (usually a piece of meat\fish with rice and yuca), and a refreshing drink.
Ecuador also has a rich street food culture and you can find food stands almost on every corner. If you are looking for a foodie adventure, go try their snail snack, a full bag of tiny snails mixed with a lot of lemon and spices. Another common street dish – grilled plantain, filled with cheese.
For meat-eaters, we advise learning the names of the dishes beforehand. The thing is, that Ecuadorians use all parts of the animal, which can be sometimes a bit strange or unpleasant to taste. For us, it was definitely the tripe (‘callos’) – an inner part of the animal stomach. A very classic ingredient in the Ecuadorian kitchen. For us, it was a big no-no.
Accommodation in Ecuador – Ecuador travel guide
Accommodation in Ecuador comes in all types and shapes: hotels, hostels, lodges, homestays, camping. It is for all budgets and tastes. Just be careful in the holidays and the main season (June to September), book in advance, otherwise, you have a chance to be left without a room.
For a simple and clean double room (usually) with breakfast included we were paying between 14 – 20 dollars. Or even less.
Transportation in Ecuador – Ecuador travel guide
A completely different story than in Colombia! This was like poetry to us – public transportation in Ecuador is working great and most importantly, on time. We mostly used buses or collectivos (minivans). Buses connect all the country extremely well and you don’t need to worry about not getting to your destination. Because the country is so small, we don’t recommend flights, we only had one ride longer than 6 hours.
Buses usually cost 1-2$ per hour of driving (similar to Colombia).
What to do in Ecuador:
You won’t get bored in Ecuador, that’s for sure! For a quite small country, it will keep you occupied for at least 3 weeks. Here are some of our highlights:
See the Amazon rain forest
There is no excuse for traveling in South America without visiting the majestic Amazon. And you can do that in Ecuador, it is also very convenient and affordable. After we got very good recommendations from our friends about some special tours along the river we decided to go for it. Even though it wasn’t an easy experience, this adventure will stay with us forever.
We started our Amazon journey from a small town located next to the Colombian border called Lago Agrio, where we booked a guided 4 days tour (we paid 250 $). That included a ride to the starting point of the river, 2 lovely guides with decent English, a lodge with private room and 3 meals a day.
Most of the tour goes by cruising on a riverboat along the astonishing Amazon, where you can absorb the atmosphere of the jungle, watch wild animals and learn about the life and nature of the area. Besides the river cruising, we got also the chance to go inside the forest, including a night hike which was exciting and a bit scary. Another activity was visiting indigenous locals to learn about their traditions and lifestyle.
Take into consideration that the weather can be very rainy and there’s a lot and we mean a lot of mosquitoes, so equip yourself with a good mosquito replant (best to buy local one) and a thin (it’s also super hot) long raincoat.
Quito is the capital and the second biggest city in Ecuador. With an elevation of 2850 meters is the second-highest capital city in the world. If you fly to Quito, take it easy for a day or two, otherwise, you can have problems because of altitude.
We spend 3 days in Quito and we loved this beautiful town, surrounded by volcanoes and beautiful mountains.
We loved to stroll in Quito’s old town, which is a Unesco World Heritage site. The colonial squares in the Old town get very alive especially on the weekends when they fill with street artists and musicians. You can enjoy beautiful architecture around while enjoying one of the many delicious food options (local and international). Visit the churches and cathedrals in this area and learn something new in city museums.
If you are into higher altitudes you should ride the Teleferiqo (Quito’s cable car), which will take you all the way to 4000 meters. Maybe you get lucky, and the sky will be clear, so you will be able to see the famous Cotopaxi volcano and enjoy the views of the city from the top. Do you feel like walking more? You can hike up to Pichincha volcano for even greater views.
Just be careful! If you just arrived in Quito from lower altitude places, wait a day or two, just that you acclimatize. Our friends flew to Quito from Germany and they went to Pincicha the next day. They got altitude sickness, which ruined a couple of their travel days.
Otavalo market is the biggest and the most spectacular indigenous market in South America. It is easily accessible too, only 2 hours drive North from Quito – you can even make it as a one day trip if you don’t have much time. The market is opened every day but Sunday is the busiest. Also, Wednesdays are busier than other days in the week. One day wasn’t enough to explore the whole market, it is so huge and with so much variety.
First, we stopped at the food stalls, where the local ladies serve the most delicious food all from local fresh ingredients. Then we started shopping. Handmade bags, scarves, wallets, sweaters, jewelry, instruments… It didn’t stop. We wanted to buy everything! Be careful! You can spend a lot of money there, the products are so beautiful and of such good quality that you think you need everything.
After clothes shopping, we went for fresh fruits and vegetables. How many colors! And all organic! A really unique experience. We felt the culture of indigenous people and Ecuador in the Otavalo market and we recommend it to everyone.
Quilotoa loop trek
When I first heard about Quilotoa loop trek I wasn’t exactly sure what it is. All I knew was that at some point, there is a volcano at a very high altitude, with a lake inside. I also heard that you walk through valleys, indigenous villages, and that the views are spectacular.
The trek is perfect for travelers that are on a budget. You don’t need a guide, accommodation is cheap, and we even brought some food with us, which lasted for two days. Otherwise, you only need to arrange a lunch cause dinner and breakfast are usually included in the accommodation. In 3 days we spend less than 100$ together, everything included: transportation, food, water, sleep. You can read more about the trek HERE.
Walk to Chimborazo
Ecuador is famous for its many volcanos (47 in total), and especially Chimborazo which is also the highest mountain in the country. The summit is at 6,263 meters and it’s the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s center. The conical shape volcano has many climbing routes, some of which involve mixed rock/ice climbing and many travel agencies offer guided tours.
We weren’t so much into intensive mountaineering and just wanted to have a glimpse at the mountain so we decided to go there by ourselves. We took an early bus from Riobamba which stop at the entrance to the site at 4350 meters. After drinking hot coca tea we rented a ride towards the hiking trail. The climb itself was pretty intense due to the attitude, and we finished our hike at 5100 meters.
While driving the majestic landscape we got the chance to see wild Vicunas (ancestor of the alpaca) running around and to admire the magnitude of the snowy volcano.
This place is heaven on earth, when we arrived we had to rub our eyes cause we couldn’t believe the beauty that surrounded us. The scenery is mind-blowing with green mountains everywhere you look, endless waterfalls, and one big magnificent volcano that watches from above.
Banos is a small city in the middle of all these natural phenomena where most of the tourists come for accommodation, food, and activities. If you are into extreme-sport, you will love it! All along the area, there are affordable adrenaline activities like bungee jumping, canopy zipline, and many more.
Another great way to spend the day is by renting a bicycle and just go and explore around. We went by ourselves and did the Rute of the Waterfalls (Ruta de Las Cascadas) which was super fun and uplifting experience and it is highly recommended. The only downfall for this place – it can get very touristic and overcrowded, so it’s best to visit on weekdays or off-season.
Visit the Pacific coast
The Ecuadorian coast was the ‘crème de la crème’ of our travel in this country. We had such a good relaxing time there it was very hard to leave. The first place we visited was a small sleepy town Olon – a carefree chillout town with almost no tourists. We absolutely loved it.
Every day we woke up and went to their cute small fish market, hanged with the locals, and bought some super fresh seafood to cook lunch at our hostel. Of course, we also went to chill on the beach, the shore is massive, one of the biggest we ever saw. And there were almost no people, we felt like we have the whole place for ourselves.
After a few days of serenity, we wanted to party a bit so our next stop was Montanita, a surfing beach town that attracts tourists, surfers, and clubbers from all around the world. In Montanita you can find dozens of restaurants, clubs, and small hotels for every pocket. In the daytime, the town is quite peaceful but as the evening comes, the nightlife starts to rise, and you can see people partying and enjoying life.
Most of the accommodation are in the center, but we recommend you to find something a bit away from the crowds as we did. We found an amazing guesthouse, located on the beach, and we had the best time there.
Our hostel was a bit away from all the action which was perfect, quiet, and the views were spectacular.
The poor man Galapagos
Yes, you heard it right! Such a place exists in Ecuador. If you don’t have the money to visit the expensive Galapagos islands, we have an alternative for you! The poor man Galapagos island (Isla de La Plata – ‘Silver island’) is located on Ecuador’s central coast, close to Puerto Lopez.
We traveled in South America for 7 months, which is an expense already so we, unfortunately, couldn’t afford to visit the real Galapagos Islands. The prices are extremely high, when we calculated all the expenses they added up to more than a month of backpacking.
So we decided with sadness in our hearts that this time we skip the Galapagos Islands. I think you can imagine how happy we were when we found out that we can still experience a small piece of Galapagos on the budget!
Isla de la Plata is a protected natural reserve island, approx. A 1-hour boat ride from Puerto Lopez. It is a perfect spot for bird watching, you will see the famous Blue – Footed Boobies, Frigate birds, Red pawns,…
We think that the best for a visit is during the »Whale season« (July-September) because you can catch a glimpse of migrating humpback whales.
You will need to book the tour if you want to visit Isla de la Plata. We booked a tour directly in our hostel in Montanita, but we have heard that you can also do it directly in Puerto Lopez. The average price for the tour is from 35-40$, guide, boat ride, snorkeling, food included.
We couldn’t finish our Ecuador trip in a better place! We loved Cuenca, Ecuadorian third largest city, situated in the Ecuadorian highlands!
Explore this beautiful colonial town through the cobbled streets, visit the beautiful cathedral and a church or two or just relax on a bench and observe the beautiful architecture all around you. Cuenca’s historic center is listed as a Unesco Heritage Site and we don’t wonder why.
If you want to see Cuenca from above, we recommend you head to the Mirador de Turi, the views won’t disappoint you! The walk from the city center takes about one hour but you can also take a taxi, as we did.
Don’t miss the free Museo Pumapungo, it is a must if you visiting this beautiful city. It is a modern museum with a lot of history and it will keep you occupied for a while.
Full of diversity – Ecuador travel guide
Diversity is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about Ecuador. Such a small country with so much to do! Postal colonial cities, indigenous villages, Amazonian rainforest, the Pacific coast, and the breathtaking Andes mountains – so many wonders squeezed into this small country.