Ecuador is very underrated on the backpacking circuit and it has so much to see for a country of its size. The jewel is the Galápagos Islands which is a bucket list destination for seeing wildlife. On the mainland, Ecuador has the largest indigenous market in South America, the beautiful landscapes of Baños, and one of South America’s best hikes. Plus, the cities of Quito and Cuenca have stunning colonial architecture. The amount of breathtaking scenery in Ecuador is incredible, and its relaxed vibe is the perfect antidote to visiting its chaotic neighbor of Colombia.
What to Know Before Visiting Ecuador
1. You can visit the Galápagos Islands independently
A lot of people are under the impression that you need to spend $2500+ for a cruise, but that’s not the case. The islands are not cheap, but there are hostels, $5 meals, and ferries to island-hop.
2. Banco Guayaquil has the lowest ATM fee
Of all the ATMs I tried, this one had the lowest transaction fee ($1.50), and you can withdraw $500 at a time.
3. Bus Timetables Aren’t Online
It’s near impossible to find any useful bus information online. I recommend taking pictures of the timetable for your next destination when you first arrive at the terminal.
4. Eating pork with your hands is common
Pork is a fixture in Ecuadorian cuisine and most simple restaurants only give you a plastic spoon with your meal. I didn’t know what to make of this until I noticed the locals using their hands.
5. Put on sunscreen every day
Ecuador’s proximity to the equator and the high elevation is the perfect recipe for sunburn. On my first day I learned the hard way that you can get burnt even when it’s cloudy.
6. The currency is the U.S. dollar
Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as their official currency after high inflation in the 90s, meaning Americans don’t have to worry about exchange rates.
7. Cash is King
Even more so than in other South American countries, cash is the predominant payment method. Every store will have change for $10 bills, and some will for $20 bills, but they won’t accept $50 or $100 bills. Nicer restaurants and hotels will accept credit cards, but that’s about it.
8. The people are reserved, but friendly
Ecuadorians get a bad rap as being unfriendly to foreigners, but I have to disagree. They get mischaracterized as unfriendly because they are not as outgoing and fun-loving as Colombians or Mexicans per se.
9. Bring a winter jacket
Quito sits at 2,850 meters, so it gets chilly at night and feels a lot colder than the actual temperature. I grew up in a very cold climate and still needed a winter jacket every night.
10. Uber and DiDi operate in the big cities
In Guayaquil and Quito, you can use ride-hailing apps to avoid scams and unauthorized taxis. Both apps are typically cheaper than a taxi.
That wraps up the 10 most important things to know before visiting Ecuador. If you plan on traveling to neighboring countries, check out the most important things to know before visiting Peru and Colombia!