ECUADOR TRAVEL GUIDE
This page on Ecuador travel tips is a complete guide to traveling to Ecuador and includes everything I have written about this incredible destination. I will be continuously updating it as I write more.
Ecuador is the smallest country in Latin America and yet the one with the highest diversity per square mile in the world. Thanks to its closeness to the equator, Ecuador territory is incredibly diverse and you can find yourself basking on the beach in your bikini in the morning and on top of a volcano in your winter jacket three hours later.
Among the amazing interesting facts about Ecuador, you should know that there are 47 volcanos, some of which still active, 32 on the mainland, and 15 in the Galapagos.
Ecuador is the preferred country for expatriates for its friendly people, relatively cheapest living costs, with decent salaries. It’s also the Latin American country with the lowest unemployment rate.
But of course, it’s most of all a beautiful country loved by outdoorsy travelers of any age and budget.
Let me tell you all the beautiful things to do in Ecuador, the best places where to stay, and all the practical tips you need to know to travel in Ecuador.
ECUADOR ENTRY REQUIREMENTS AND COVID PROCEDURES
Mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, have officially reopened!
So If the Galapagos were on your bucket list you should take advantage of these weird and difficult times and take a break from stress and uncertainty, while enjoying this wildlife sanctuary.
The local authorities and operators are going beyond their ways to create a safe environment for locals and visitors alike, and protocols are in place and strictly followed.
Now, the Mainland and the Galapagos islands have slightly different entry requirements, which am explaining here below.
MAINLAND ECUADOR ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
As of mid-July Ecuador’s international airports reopened, and flights have resumed with the following requirements:
- Proof of a negative COVID PCR (PCR test only) test within 10 days of arriving in Ecuador,
- Not presenting any symptoms of COVID on arrival
- If the above conditions are met there is no need for self-quarantine, on the contrary, passengers must self-quarantine in a designated hotel at their expense for 14 days and then take the test again.
GALAPAGOS ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
- For the Galapagos islands, policies are a little stricter, as follow:
- A negative COVID PCR test within 96 hours of arrival in the islands (please note only PCR tests are accepted)
- Proof of
Travel Insurance, including medical coverage for COVID-19,
- Proof of confirmed itinerary in the islands.
- Entrance requirements for Ecuador and Galapagos are subject to change.
TEST TIMING AND LOGISTIC
Please note the timing difference. That means that if you don’t want to take the test twice you need to make sure to enter the Galapagos Islands within 96 hours from when you took the test before coming to Ecuador. So make sure you do the maths.
Timing can be stressful. I had a similar situation when I crossed the border to Guatemala from Mexico. If you want to avoid stress, you can just take your time and arrange another test in Quito before getting to Galapagos. There are around 20 clinics in Quito where you can take it, and the cost is around 85 to 105 USD. You will have your results in 12 hours.
SECURITY PROTOCOLS IN ECUADOR
Both on the mainland, and in the islands, in all public spaces, including hotels, airports, yachts, and transportation, there are social distancing measures in place and new sanitation procedures.
ECUADOR AT A GLANCE
- ECUADOR CAPITAL CITY Quito
- ECUADOR LARGEST CITY – Guayaquil.
- OFFICIAL LANGUAGE – Spanish, however, there are dialectal differences between Sierra and Costa Spanish; Sierra Spanish has been influenced by Quichua. Quichua and Shuar (both of which are official intercultural languages), as well as other ancestral languages, are spoken by the country’s indigenous people. (source)
- OFFICIAL RELIGION none, however, the majority of the population is Roman Catholic
- ECUADOR CURRENCY (U.S.$) – since 2000
- POPULATION(2019 est.) 17,379,000
- TOTAL AREA (SQ MI) 98,985
- INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS – Quito and Guayaquil are the most important although there are more than 30 international airports in Ecuador
- WILDLIFE – Ecuador is the smallest country in Latin America but with the highest biodiversity density in the entire world
- MAIN CITIES – Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Baños, Tena, Ambato, Loja, Otavalo, Salinas, Rio Bamba, Ibarra, Puerto Ayora, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Mindo, Villamil, Vilcabamba.
FUN FACT ABOUT ECUADOR: Did you know that the Panama hat originates from Ecuador and not from Panama? Now you do! 🙂
Read more interesting facts about Ecuador.
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN ECUADOR
With its incredible diversity of climate and territory, Ecuador will never stop surprising you with countless breathtaking natural sites both on the coast, with its stunning beaches, the Sierra with the soaring volcanos, waterfalls, the cloud forests, and its tropical climate home to the most incredible bird species, the Amazon (locally called Oriente) and the Galapagos with their spectacular wildlife. Nature lovers will find their ultimate paradise in Ecuador, and that’s why I have fallen in love and can’t wait to go back.
In this section, I will list my top 6 places to visit in Ecuador but I leave a more complete guide to the things to do in Ecuador for another post.
EXPLORE THE GALAPAGOS ISLAND
Don’t skip this part. The Galapagos are not so expensive as you may think. They can be expensive if you want, but it’s a choice.
There are many ways to explore the Galapagos. I have traveled around these beautiful islands, the first place to be nominated UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also a protected reserve with an incredible amount of friendly wildlife to discover and stunning landscapes. I have written a huge guide to the Galapagos Island that you can read to plan your own trip. If you are undecided between taking a cruise or traveling on your own in the Galapagos, I have written a specific post on the difference between a Galapagos cruise and a DIY trip, which I am sure will offer some clarity on both options.
If you choose an Island hopping solution which I honestly loved, I am sharing with you all the free things to do and paid tours available in the three main Galapagos Islands, Isabela, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz. I have also created a few examples of Galapagos travel itineraries depending on the number of days you have, which will turn out very helpful to plan your own.
I have spent about a month in Quito. I was staying in an amazing Airbnb in the historical center with stunning views over the city right in front of the Panecillo. Quito is an incredible city to explore where I recommend spending some time. There is so much to see in Quito.
Take the Teleferico and enjoy the views from up there, or go further and hike the Ruco Pichincha, enjoy a free walking tour, take a walk around the historical center (better with a guide). Enjoy the local restaurants, and take a taxi to the Panecillo (it’s not very safe to walk in that area). And speaking of which, take all your precautions.
Petty thefts and robberies are quite common, especially in the historical center, which is not very safe at night. La Floresta and La Mariscal, are the most vibrant and modern neighborhoods but still make sure you mind your surroundings. In my article on the things to do in Quito I also mention all these practical tips on safety and the best neighborhoods.
Insider tip: keep in mind that Quito is the second-highest city in the world with an altitude of 2800 mt (about 9000 ft), so make sure you take some time to acclimatize and no worries if you feel dizzy or if your stomach feels funny. Just drink a lot of water and dress in layers because the climates may change a thousand times in one day. If you keep feeling bad, go and see a doctor.
SPEND A FEW DAYS IN MINDO
Whether you are a birder or you just want to escape from the busy city of Quito, you will enjoy spending some time in Mindo, the town in the clouds.
Coming on the bus from Quito you will be fascinated by the abrupt change of landscape and suddenly you will find yourself devoured by a thick lush tropical vegetation covered by a blanket of clouds. It’s of unimaginable beauty.
If it’s raining, do not fret. It’s part of the experience. Mindo it’s a tiny little village, where time seemed to have stopped a while ago. It’s a world apart where you can enjoy the simple life, spectacular walks in the jungles through hidden waterfalls, get up early morning to go spot the colorful birds, visit a chocolate factory, or just relax and enjoy the sound of the rain..
HIKE THE COTOPAXI
One of the must-do things in Ecuador is hiking the Cotopaxi. But no worries if you are not an expert hiker. It’s an easy hike to the glacier. You can leave the summit to the pro. That one is no joke. But the rest is for everybody. There are many ways to get to the Cotopaxi. You can join a tour from Quito or you can stay in one of the resorts at the foot of the Volcano.
I had opted for the latter and stayed for 3 nights at Secret Garden Cotopaxi. Even though I don’t like these sort of places where everybody eats together, and sleep together and mingle all day long (I am an introvert), in this case, I had a blast and I met many nice people.
From there you can organize many different hiking trips including the hike to the Cotopaxi Glacier, or to the summit (a little more expensive).
For those who love adventure, you can also rent bikes and bike all the way back from the parking lot to the entrance of the park, where your transport will be waiting for you to take you back to the hotel. I didn’t do it, but my fellow travelers were thrilled.
BIKE ON THE WATERFALL ROAD IN BAÑOS
I spent a week in Baños, as it’s packed with amazing things to do, among which hiking to the famous swing, the heavens’ door, a long and steep but amazing hike, splurging in one of the stunning resorts on the hills, and enjoy the hot springs, jumping from a bridge or, my favorite, biking along the waterfalls route. I was traveling alone at that time but I met up with some people from the Secret Garden and we organized a couple of tours together. It was fun. The last one, El Pailon del Diablo is breathtaking. I have never seen such thing. The perfect combination of nature greatness and man’s work.
VISIT OTAVALO MARKETS AND ALL THE OTHER THINGS TO DO AROUND OTAVALO
Otavalo is a small town only 2 hours from Quito, mainly renowned for one of the biggest markets in Latin America. However, after spending an entire week in this town, I have discovered that there is so much more to do, and I did almost everything, walked around the Cuicocha lake, hiked the Imbabura Volcano, explored the waterfalls, and much more. Check out my post on all the things to do in Otavalo.
Obviously the list of things to do in Ecuador doesn’t end here. Stay tuned for a more detailed post on the things to do in Ecuador.
HOW TO GET AROUND ECUADOR
I was moving around Ecuador mainly by bus, (and boat in the Galapagos) and I found it extremely easy and safe. I didn’t take the train, but it’s also an option, though a little more expensive. I am planning to do it next time I go to Ecuador. There are different bus options that you can take depending on where you are going. In every city, there is a bus station or more where you can get your bus ticket and ask for information.
If you have a limited time, for long distances you could use domestic flights but you will miss the views. But let’s talk about each option.
TRAVELING IN ECUADOR BY BUS
Traveling by bus in Ecuador is extremely cheap and easy. There are hundreds of busses that connect the major cities and small towns. Costs range from 1 to 15 USD depending on the length of the trip. Around 40USD for longer interstate routes such as Quito to Lima, for example. ( A very long trip). But if you are anything like me you would break down long trips into small ones and spend some time to explore the area in between. That’s how I do it, of course when I have time.
You can normally show up at the station and purchase your ticket but if you prefer you can check out the time schedule and routes on these useful sites:
As I mentioned before I have traveled on many different public busses in Ecuador and always felt safe but if you are concerned you can always join a private bus system. It’s called Wanderbus and they have different pre-establish itineraries. You purchase the ticket for the itinerary and the desired amount of time and then you can hop on and off the bus as you please. I don’t particularly find it convenient for the way I travel, because I would still be tight to a schedule and I love to be able to change my plans freely. However, I reckon that it’s a great system and they also include a guide on every bus to give you great information about Ecuatorian culture and society. So you have this option as well.
TRAVELING AROUND ECUADOR BY AIR
In Ecuador there are more than 30 airports connected by local airlines.
If you have limited time you can consider flying to your destinations, but also keep in mind that Ecuador is small and the distances are relatively short. The longest one is from Quito to Guayaquil (10 hours). And I would personally opt for a daily bus because I can see the landscapes.
To get to the Galapagos, instead, your only option is by air. Either from Quito or Guayaquil, you can get either to Santa Cruz (Baltra) or San Cristobal. Here below I include the local airline websites for your convenience.
TRAVEL IN ECUADOR BY TRAIN
As I mentioned I didn’t experience traveling by train due to lack of time but I am especially enthralled by the nose devil route, which is the most popular among tourists for the thrilling (if not scary) experience. Traveling by train in Ecuador is apparently more expensive and with that exception not particularly practical. I will tell you more about it when I will try it. In the meantime, you can check out the Ecuador rail site to get more specific information.
ACCOMMODATION IN ECUADOR
I found the accommodation options in Ecuador quite vary and relatively cheap, even at the Galapagos, where you can easily find a modest but decent room for 20 USD per person. The best part is that at the Galapagos they don’t have single supplement. So if you are traveling by yourself you just pay for yourself. This is very unusual because normally the cost of the room is the same for 1 or 2 people or you might get a discount if you are solo, but never the exact half. So one extra point for the Galapagos.
In Quito and in Ecuador as well I have found great single rates which was quite comforting.
I used Airbnb most of the time and I am going to write some Airbng guides for the main cities in Ecuador. In the meantime, if you are not familiar with the platform, you can check out my guide on how to make the most of the Airbnb platform and find the perfect accommodation for you.
I also use Booking.com for the hotel deals and also because I find the platform very user friendly. It also allows you to pay when you get to the hotel, even if they ask for credit card details. That’s for their cancellation policy.
Read also for following accommodation guides in Ecuador:
BEST TIME TO VISIT ECUADOR
Despite being such a tiny country, Ecuador has such a variety of climates so different from one another that it makes it difficult to tell when it’s the best time to go. However, these weather information should help you decide when to visit Ecuador, depending on where you want to go and what you wish to visit.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Traveling to the Galapagos is possible all year round depending on the kind of wildlife you wish to encounter. However, keep in mind that from June through December it’s the cool and dry season where the sea tends to be choppier and cooler. Whereas from January through May, it’s the hot and humid season where the sea is warmer and calmer (consider it if you have seasickness issues). Read more about the best time to visit the Galapagos.
On the coast, you will find better weather from December to April, when you find high temperatures and blue skies although showers are frequent. From May to November there is less chance of rainfall but temperatures are cooler and it’s often overcast.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE ECUADORIAN AMAZON
For the Ecuadorian Amazon, it’s slightly different. The wet season is from April to September where it may rain non-stop. However, your travel planning depends on what you want to see. According to Umberto Castillo, a Chilean photographer that lives in Ecuador and specializes in photography tours in the Amazon ” the best time to visit the Yasunì reserve is August if you want to see the Tucans because that’s when they find more food after the heavy rains and they become easier to spot. February is a better month to see parrots, instead. Whereas in the Cuyabeno, the wet season is more favorable for spotting monkeys because they come down from the trees and get closer to the boats. Also, as Humberto says, Limoncocha and Yasuni are much better for birds than Cuyabeno. I will tell you more in another post. But you can check Humberto’s website for more info on Ecuadorian wildlife, photography, and tours.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE ECUADORIAN COAST
The best time to visit the coast is from December to April when temperatures are high and the sky is blue, after occasional passing showers. From May to November we have the dry season, so less chance of rainfall, but the sky is mostly overcast and quite cool temperatures.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE ECUADORIAN SIERRA (ANDES)
June through September is definitely the driest season when you can enjoy a warm sunny weather and the sky is more clear for spectacular hikes with panoramic views from the volcanos. It’s also the highest season for the same reason and therefore expect higher costs of accommodation and flights.
As I always mention, I prefer to move around on my own because I love the freedom I have to decide what to do and change plans, take a day to rest of work, or go on a tour, tag along to somebody nice I have just met, or go on my own. For example, I loved the way things worked out when I was in Baños and two people I met in my previous destination were coming to Baños as well and we decided to go on a couple of tours together. We had a blast.
However, there are some situations where you need to take a tour if you want to see a specific place, such as in the Galapagos where all the tours are controlled by government regulations to protect the environment. In this case, I would join local tours. I talk about it in all my Galapagos Islands guides.
For daily tours, you can check out with local travel agencies once you are on the location or you can book in advance. It’s suggestible to book in advance in the high season and if you have a limited time, so you make sure you don’t miss your chance to visit your desired attraction.
It is also possible to organize travel itineraries with a guide. This option is especially used when you have a limited time and you want to see as much as possible, but also when you don’t have a travel companion but you don’t feel comfortable traveling alone. Also if you don’t have time to plan and organize all your itinerary, you just book a prem-made itinerary and the travel agency does everything for you. Cool, right?
I partner with two reputable travel companies, G ADVENTURES and INTREPID TRAVEL. They both organize amazing travel itineraries all over the world, including Ecuador and you can chose your favorite itinerary depending on the time available and what you want to visit. G Adventures also has its own boat for amazing cruises in the Galapagos, if you prefer to join a cruise. I like these companies especially because:
- They have small groups
- They group people by interest, age, and kind of travel, culture, party lovers, etch.
- They use local guides and support local companies.
- G Adventures have a special single-use discount (which I particularly love)
I leave their links below for you to check out their programs.
A quick note on INTREPID TRAVEL packages. You will notice some of their trips include the Galapagos Islands BUT not all of them include a cruise. Some it’s just island hopping with an organized itinerary.
In my opinion, you don’t need an organized itinerary to visit the Galapagos Islands. Use my free guide to the Galapagos to understand the logistics of the island and book your individual tours directly with the local agents.
That is unless you want to go on a cruise in the Galapagos Islands. In this case, I recommend G Adventures or Liveabord.com. Liveaboard.com is a reputable cruise company for which I was working before the COVID time, that specializes in diving cruises and small natural cruises including G Adventures boats, but many more other companies.
IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL IN ECUADOR FOR A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER?
As I was mentioning before I felt very safe while traveling around Ecuador with the only exception of Quito historical center at night. DO AVOID IT!
Other than that I felt really comfortable traveling by bus or walking around Quilitoa, Otavalo, Cuenca, Mindo, and all the small touristic towns. Ecuadorian people are the kindest I have met in Latin America so far, ok like the Peruvians.
Obviously, petty thefts and robberies are a danger and you need to be careful using some common sense rules such as:
- Do not flash your valuables
- keep them with you when riding a bus
- Do not walk in Quito historical center at night, but even other cities
- In Guayaquil especially stay in the touristy areas and don’t walk out at night.
- Avoid hailing cabs in Quito and Guayaquil, use UBER instead or Cabify the taxi app, to avoid notorious taxi scams
- Follow your gut feelings. If you don’t feel comfortable in your hotel or you don’t like your taxi driver for some reasons, just leave.
Quick note on UBER – It is not an officially authorized service in Ecuador, and taxi drivers are still trying to stop the service to exist (sometimes not using particularly orthodox methods). However it’s the safest way to get around. Make sure you seat beside the driver seat so that you don’t cause them any issues. Also make the payment through the app so that there is no money exchange in the car.
I never travel without
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING ECUADOR
- Ecuador has an incredible altitude variation like nowhere else. Quito is at 2800 mt above sea level, while the Galapagos are at sea level. So it might be possible that you experience altitude sickness if your body is not accustomed to abrupt changes of elevation, or even if it is. Altitude sickness is unpredictable. If you are feeling the symptoms and they don’t seem to go away, see a doctor. (that’s why I always recommend insurance).
- To enter Ecuador there is no mandatory vaccination
- To visit the Galapagos Islands there are specific entry requirements, besides the COVID policy. Check my Galapagos Guide to learn about them
- In Ecuador, just like in any Latin American country you don’t flush toilet paper in the toilet, but you toss it in the side bin.
- Tap water is not safe to drink – You can use a refillable water bottle that you can top up in your hotel if they have free drinkable water available.
- I didn’t do it this time, but if you want to rent a car in Ecuador, it’s completely safe to drive.
- Ecuador’s currency is the US$, but the coins are different. Also if you want to pay with a 20$ bill at the market, it’s very likely that they don’t have change.
- In Quito always dress in layers because you can have winter weather in the morning and a hot summer day in the afternoon.
- English is not widely spoken so a pocket Spanish dictionary goes a long way. But you would be better off if you learn the basic words before getting there.
- Buy a local sim to be able to use the most useful apps when you don’t have a wifi connection.
- The main apps you should consider using are Google Maps, Whatsapp, Uber, Cabify, Ecuador safety app.
ECUADOR PACKING LIST
Depending on what kinds of activities you are planning to do, but if you are outdoorsy like I am here is what I suggest including in your suitcase/backpack.
- Backpack – I was using the Lowe Alpine 80+10 lt for men but I love space. I couldn’t find a similar one on Amazon, but to give you an idea, it’s very similar to the Mountain top
- Camera bag and camera + lenses
- 1 foldable light backpack for dailiy tour
- 3 pairs of hiking pants
- 1 pair of hiking boots
- 1 pair of running shoes (which I can also use to walk)
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- A few T-shirts
- 2 warm sweaters
- 3 pairs of wool socks
- 2 pairs of swim suites
- 2 shorts usable also for swimming
- 2 light towels
- wool hat, gloves, and scarf
- a rain poncho
TOILETRIES (including tampons if you can’t use the menstruation cup)
- dental floss
- hair brush
- coconut oil ( for haircare and facial)
- facial hydrating cream
- small scissors
MEDICAL KIT – keep in mind that you find almost anything in Ecuador Pharmacies. But I always bring with me the following
- FIRST AID HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES (in your case take the medicine that you know you might need)
- Antibacterial Alcohol
- Calendula and Arnica creams
- Key combination lock (remember the combination)
- Packing cubes – to keep everything organized in your backpack
- Battery charger
- Ecological sunscreen
- Book your transfers between destinations on the trusted booking platform Bookaway
- Store your bags in the main cities and walk around freely hands and weight free with Bounce
- Check if you need a visa and get help processing it with iVisa
- Never ever leave without
travel insurance. Get complete coverage from World Nomads or long term insurance from Safety Wing
- I find all of my flights on Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, Google flights, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and always remember to compare
- Book your daily tours locally to support local businesses, or if you don’t find any reliable company, or you prefer to book in advance, check out GetYourGuide or Viator. Some of their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- I rent my long and mid-term apartments on VRBO
- Book hotels with Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Compare car rental prices at Auto Europe, Discover Car Rentals
- Check out my travel planning guide if you are planning your trip and feeling overwhelmed