37 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Ecuador

Planning on visiting Ecuador? Check out this list of things you should know before visiting ecuador so that you get there prepared.

I spent 3 months in Ecuador includig three weeks in the amazing Galapagos and you will find a lot of useful guides on this site as well (see at the bottom of this post)

The first and foremost thing to know before you go to Ecuador is that the elevation may affect your arrival or other travel plans. If arriving by plane, chances are you’ll fly into Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO).

Quito is the highest official capital city in the world. While La Paz, Bolivia is higher and is the seat of government in the country, Sucre is actually Bolivia’s constitutional capital.

Chew on some coca leaves to alleviate the altitude sickness (don’t try to bring them home, though – the dogs will sniff them out!). Wait until you’ve acclimatized before attempting to hike any of the nearby volcanoes!

I learned it the hard way as I spent about a month in Quito, the first days were hard. So make sure you take it easy.

Ecuador Cuicocha Lake
Ecuador Cuicocha Lake

Things You Should Know Before Visiting Ecuador

1. Climate

Wondering when to go or what to pack? Ecuador is split into a rainy and dry seasons that alternate in the highlands, the coastal region, the Galapagos Islands, and the Amazon basin. With four different microclimates, be sure you bring layers!

What you pack and when to go completely depends on the area you’re visiting. Know before you go – Ecuador is a relatively small country, so checking off different regions in one trip is doable if you’ve got the time! Remember – layer, layer, layer!

2. Currency

U.S. Dollar reigns supreme here! Which makes it very easy for American travelers to visit this beautiful country. Not having to deal with mentally calculating exchange rates is seriously underrated.

It’s worth noting that Ecuador has dollar and half dollar coins that are NOT accepted in the States, so, if you’re American, use ’em up before you head home.

3. Fake bills

If you can, try withdrawing cash from home in lieu of using ATM’s in Ecuador. It’s easy for people to deposit fake bills into the ATM, and there have been many issues of people withdrawing money only to find the bills are counterfeit. I learned of this issue only after I left, and had no problem withdrawing money in Ecuador.

MIndo hummingbirds - Things You Should Know About Ecuador Before Traveling
Hummingbirds in Mindo

4. Making change

Know before you go: Don’t try to pay with a bill larger than a $20. Usually that will still be too large. Ecuadorians love exact change, especially the taxis. I had to go to a bank to get change for a $20 – seriously, it’s a little ridiculous.

5. Public transportation

Public transportation is SUPER cheap in Ecuador. So cheap that I took taxis/Ubers everywhere and each ride was usually less than $3. A bus ride in the city will run you about .25 cents!

6. Inter-city bus prices

The main inter-city bus stations in Quito are farther removed from the city center – an Uber cost me $25 from the historical center to La Ofelia bus station.

It’s so easy to estimate how much your inter-city bus ride will cost. In general, for each hour the ride takes, you can expect to pay $1. So a 3 hour bus ride will be roughly $3. CHEAP!

THING TO DO IN QUITO - Boundlessroads.com
Plaza Grande – Quito

7. Taxis vs. uber

Considering the fact that exact change is essentially required in city taxis, I suggest Uber. The prices are roughly the same, and you don’t have to worry about being taken advantage of. You also don’t worry about exact change, since the trip is prepaid.

8. Drinking water

Don’t drink the water! Many locals can drink the tap water and stay safe and healthy, but remember, their gut systems are accustomed to drinking that water and what is in it – yours is not!

Side note – some places (like Mindo) – have super fresh, clean water that you can drink. To err on the side of caution, use your purifying water bottle and sleep easy knowing you’ll be protected from any parasites, pathogens, or other microbes that may be in the water.

8. Vaccines

There are no mandatory vaccines in Ecuador at the time I am publishing this. But you should check the official entry requirements before traveling as things can change suddely.

9. Haggling

This is a skill that I still have yet to acquire. It makes me super uncomfortable. So it’s really up to you.

THING TO DO IN QUITO - Boundlessroads.com
Views over Quito

10. Pickpockets

This is probably the number one concern for travelers, and some of the tactics employed are crucial to know before you go to Ecuador. Remember, everyone’s experience will be different. No matter where you are traveling, have your wits about you and be mindful of your surroundings.

If you’re holding your phone up to take a photo, hold it tight. There have been reports of people driving by on motorcycles or mopeds and snatching phones or cameras right out of the hands of unsuspecting tourists.

When traveling on overland buses, keep your bag in your lap. Even if you keep it tucked between your feet, pickpockets can slash your bag from behind and take what they want.

Don’t accept unsolicited help from people – this is a common ploy tactic used to distract you while another person steals your things. This goes for people who say they work on the buses and will store your bags for you!

11. That equatorial sun!

This was from one day of walking around El Parque Nacional Cajas DESPITE consistently applying and reapplying SPF 30. In the taxi on my way back to Cuenca, I had to contort my body in the seat to prevent the sun from touching my skin. Owwwiieeeeee. Try wearing light cotton plus SPF to fully protect yourself.

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12. The real middle of the world

So you’re going to the country that’s actually named after the equator – and you want to straddle the line, balance an egg, do all of that fun shit? Well, you need to do some digging to find the actual equator.

If you head to Mitad del Mundo, you’re in the wrong spot! The actual equator is a little far removed from the monument that tourists flock to in order to test their balance.

13. Toilet paper

Here’s an interesting one! So, many places will not have toilet paper in the bathrooms. This is especially true near bus stations or other high-traffic facilities.

Be prepared to pay a few cents to use the bathroom, do like I did, and tuck some tissues in your pocket or bag for such occasions.

Secret garden Cotopaxi - Boundless Roads

14. All things chocolate

If you’re a chocolate fiend looking for your fix in Ecuador, you’ll have no problems finding some of the best you’ve ever tasted. Ecuador is one of the top three producers of the world’s best chocolate (alongside Switzerland and Belgium).

The best place to go for chocolate tours and tastings in Ecuador? That would be Mindo, situated in the cloud forest, about 2-3 hour bus ride from Quito. Can’t make it to Mindo? Check out Chez Tiff – this is what happens when a Swiss and an Ecuadorian get married! Pure magic. Free demonstrations of the process, and all the tasting you can handle. Try the chili and passion fruit varieties!

15. Language barriers

Do not expect to get by in English. At least try to learn some basic greetings. It will be immensely appreciated. Besides, it’ll be very difficult for you to interact with most people, especially older generations.

Helpful phrases: ‘thank you,’ ‘have a good day,’ ‘I would like…,’ ‘Do you have…,’ ‘Where is the….,’ ‘Please,’ ‘How much is….,’ etc. I like Duolingo for learning basic language skills. Also, having a translator app downloaded on your phone will come in handy for those obscure words you never thought you’d need to know.

16. The art of eating ceviche in ecuador

When you order a Ceviche, you will be served a plate of corn nuts. I recommend not to eat it first even if you are starving.

In fact it’s meant to go into the ceviche. Or that’s how they eat it.

17. You might want to pass on the cuy if you’ve ever owned a guinea pig!

Cuy, spit-roasted guinea pig, is considered a delicacy in Ecuador. Personally, I did not try it even if I had many occasions. I now eat meat although I have been vegan for a while but I just can get myself into the Cuy.

18. aji

Ecuadorian food is typically super-fresh, local, and even organic – but generally lacks in flavor. Enter aji. A necessary condiment, you can find this stuff on every table, just like you might find ketchup in America or mayo in Canada.

Cuenca from the lookout point

19. Almuerzos & desayunos

Especially helpful if you’re visiting Ecuador on a budget, these meals generally consist of a multi-course meal for as little as $2! Your almuerzos will come with rice or potatoes, a small helping of greens, chicken or beef, soup, fresh juice, and a dessert.

20. Corn is life

You’ll find corn, in one shape or form, on almost every plate you have in Ecuador. Between the tostados served with Ecuadorian ceviche and the corn masa for breakfast, corn basically everywhere.

21. Expats

Cities all over Ecuador have bustling expat communities. I met many more in Cuenca and Mindo than Quito, but there are many factors that make this an appealing country in which to resettle or live post-retirement.

Cost of living, healthcare, and quality of life are three of the main factors that draw foreigners here. The locals are friendly and helpful.

The main drawback that most expats mentioned was the spotty-internet quality – apparently this is more true in coastal regions – I personally had no problem with the WiFi in any of the cities I visited.

THING TO DO IN QUITO - Boundlessroads.com
Teleferico Quito

22. Medical Tourism

One of the most remarkable things I learned about Ecuador was the high quality and affordability of healthcare.

When I would think about medical treatments in Latin and South America, my mind always defaulted to botched, back-alley surgeries and people needing life-saving treatment back in their respective home countries. This is NOT the case. Dental work in particular is very popular. An MRI? $150 without insurance!

That is why, just like in Mexico, medical tourism in Ecuador is very popular.

23. Panama hats…. are actually ecuadorian

Considering the name, a common misconception is that Panama hats originated in Panama. Nope! There was a mass-export of Panama hats from Ecuador to Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal in the 19th century.

After Teddy Roosevelt returned to the States from visiting the construction of the canal and was seen sporting one, the trend in America took off.

24. Street dogs

It was devastating to see the amount of street dogs in EVERY city I visited in Ecuador. Sadly, I could not bring them all home – and you probably won’t either.

It takes some getting used to, but it’s just a part of life here.

25. Proof of onward travel

Very important to know before you go to Ecuador – If you’re planning on staying in Ecuador long-term and only have a one-way ticket, or if you plan on traveling to your next destination overland, be prepared to show proof of onward travel.

The responsibility for checking this is generally with the airlines and not customs.

What I did was purchasing a return ticket on Expedia, for which you can get a refund if you delete it within 24 hours. And so I did.

There are companies that provide fake onward flights but I haven’t used them yet.

26. Tipping

Your restaurant bill will generally include a 10% service charge for gratuities. If you’re very pleased with the service, add an extra 5-10%. Check your bill for this charge – if it’s not there, leave them something to show your appreciation. Tipping in taxis is not required.

27. The land of cheap roses

Did you know that Ecuador is the world’s third largest exporter of cut-flowers? Neither did I! You can get 2 dozen long-stemmed roses here for less than 5$. The daily flower market in Cuenca was a very pleasant experience to peruse, with the aromas of blooming flowers of all varieties wafting through the air.

quito buildings with a statue on a hill at the back

28. Shrunken heads

Want to check out something super morbid and unnerving while you’re visiting Cuenca? Check out the Museo Pumapungo, where you can see the real deal. Head-shrinking was a common practice unique to the Jivaro natives near Ecuador and Peru.

29. Compulsory voting

Similar to other Latin American countries, such as Uruguay and Brasil, voting is not just encouraged among citizens of Ecuador – it’s required. That’s right – if you are between the ages of 18-65 and are not illiterate, voting is mandatory.

30. Colonial capital of south america

Quito was the first city to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the best-preserved example of Spanish Colonial influence in South America.

31. Voltage

The standard voltage is 120 V and the frequency is 60 Hz in Ecuador – so if you’re from the Americas, you’re probably good. Grab an adapter if you’re coming from elsewhere.

pinnacle rock galapagos islands

32. Last-minute galapagos deals

If you are wonderig how to get to the Galapagos islands without breaking the bank, I can help you.

I went the the Galapagos for three weeks island hopping and I found that it’s not as expensive as they picuture it.

Cruises can be expensive but you can check on the Liveaboard.com site for last minute deals and you may find some great opportunties.

33. Isla de la plata

Isla de la Plata is a small island off the coast of Puerto Lopez. Touted as the ‘poor man’s Galapagos,’ Isla de la Plata is a good alternative if the Galapagos Islands’ are out of budget.

Dying to see Blue Footed Boobies? No problem. Want to witness the Humpback Whale migration or dive with giant Manta Rays? Look no further. Keep in mind that things like mating, migrations, and sea turtle hatching are all seasonal things – if there’s something in particular you’re dying to see, make sure you’re going in the right months!

Albatros with its family in Espanola island Galapagos
Albatros in Española Island

34. Ring of fire

Ecuador has many earthquakes given its location in the infamous ring of fire. In fact, as I was just looking for a link to post here for earthquake updates, I learned that it’s had a couple just in the past few days!

I’ve never experienced an earthquake or any sort of seismic activity, but I’ve heard it can be an (obviously) unnerving experience, even if it’s not too bad on the scale.

35. Street art

If you love street art you will be happy in Ecuador, no matter which city you will go you will find amazing street art to enjoy!

cuenca street lined with murals
Cuenca Street art

36. Incredible architecture

Quito is a city heavily influenced by Spanish colonial rule, as is evident by some of the magnificent buildings you can see in the historical centre today. That being said, if Quito impresses you, Cuenca will do to.

The breathtaking buildings in Cuenca rival the most beautiful cities in Europe at a fraction of the cost. I had expected Cuenca to be a beautiful city, but I was utterly blown away by its magnificence.

Cuenca Cathedral

37. You don’t need to go to the galapagos for epic nature

There’s so much beauty to be found in this country and I can’t wait to go back and see more of it. From active volcanoes such as Cotopaxi, national parks, the Amazon, the Pacific coast, Mindo cloud forests, there is so much to visit and explore. And I can’t wait to tell you more about it.

37 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Ecuador: Final thoughts

I hope this list was helpful for planing your next trip to Ecuador, such an amazing country where I left my heart. I wrote a lot about this to help you further with your trip. I know how difficult it is to gather all the necessary information when you visit a new country.

So I put together many useful guide to make things easier for you.

Ecuador Travel Tips: The ultimate guide to Ecuador
What is Ecuador known for? 25 interesting facts about Ecuador
The best hotels in the Galapagos Islands for every budget
The top 5 Galapagos Luxury cruises for the ultimate Galapagos Islands vacation
Otavalo Ecuador – Things to do beyond the Market
13 amazing Galapagos Islands Cruises
How to visit Cuicocha lake from Otavalo, Ecuador
The 7 Best Restaurants in Quito
Where to stay in Quito, a guide to the best hotels for any budget
Your essential Galapagos Packing List
Galapagos Cruise or DIY trip? How to visit the Galapagos Islands
34 animals of the Galapagos Islands – where and when to find them
7 unmissable free things to do in San Cristobal Galapagos and other tips
How to make the most of your trip to Isabela Island Galapagos (Isla Isabela Galapagos)
Galapagos Islands Vacations: everything you should know before booking