While Ecuador is not as cheap as it was before converting to the U.S. dollar in 2000, it is still quite affordable for most travelers.
Travelers in Ecuador should have no problem withdrawing money from local banks using a debit or credit card with VISA, MasterCard, Cirrus or Maestro representation. Travelers checks can be difficult to exchange, even in major cities, so it's a good idea to always have an emergency stash of cash. Most travelers find it best to bring a combination of cash, credit or debit cards and travelers checks. Several banks in Ecuador can help with international transfers, wiring money and taking money from an ATM (cajero).
ATM Warnings and Advice
Your home country bank will likely charge a hefty amount for each time you use an ATM in Ecuador, even if you are just looking at your balance. Also, at times Ecuadorian bank will not acquire a good connection to your home bank and will tell you that you have insufficient funds. Sometimes this is true, but often it is not, so before making an expensive and frustrating international call to your home bank, try another ATM or wait a day. In general, however, using ATMs are the easiest way to stay supplied with cash in Ecuador. If your country does not use the U.S. dollar, an exchange rate fee will also be charged to your account, as the ATMs in Ecuador only deal in dollars.
NOTE: Criminals sometimes target foreigners at ATMs. Be careful after dark or in very busy or deserted areas. Always use ATMs located inside banks or malls with a guard nearby. Some ATMs in tourist areas, such as Quito's Mariscal, are staffed by security guards. If someone is standing too close to you, he or she may be trying to look over your shoulder at your PIN code. When in doubt, walk away and use another machine later.
It is a good idea to come with an emergency stash of travelers' checks. Many hotels accept travelers' checks (American Express is best; VISA is not always accepted) even in remote areas where you have to travel for hours to reach a bank. While hotels may accept them, you are likely to have a difficult time cashing travelers checks for dollars at a bank. Always bring your actual passport. Banco de Guayaquil, which is American Expressâ€™ representative in Ecuador, is your best bet for cashing such checks, but be prepared to pay an exchange fee.
MoneyGram (URL: www.moneygram.com) and Western Union (URL: www.westernunion.com) agents are common in Ecuador, as they form alliances with local banks around the country. Check the websites for the nearest office. Fees vary and tend to be high, so this option is best for emergencies.
All international hotels and most higher-priced hotels and restaurants accept Visa and MasterCard. Many also accept Diners Club and American Express cards. Beware: an extra 10 percent is often added to your total bill if you pay with a credit card. Depending on the price, you may be better served withdrawing the cash from an ATM and stashing the credit cards. In general, most Ecuadorian shops do not accept credit cards. Some exceptions are mall stores, and high-end gift and artesanĂa stores.
If your card is lost or stolen, be sure to report it: American Express (Tel: Ecuador, 02-256-0488; U.S. collect, 905-474-0870), Diners Club (Tel: Ecuador, 02-298-1300; U.S. collect, 303-799-1504), MasterCard (Tel: U.S. collect, 636-722-7111), Visa (Tel: U.S. collect, 410-581-9994).
If you come with Euros, British pounds, Colombian pesos or other such foreign currencies, you will be able to change them â€” but only in very few places. Most Quito banks only have one single branch which will do currency transactions, usually the branch in the more touristy part of town. A casa de cambio (exchange house) usually do not give good exchange rates and are few and far between. Remember to bring ID (or a photocopy). In Quito, a couple of cambios can be found in Mariscal on Av. Amazonas, like MegaCambios on Amazonas N24-01 and Wilson. Another place does change in the Centro HistĂłrico, on the corner of Venezuela and Plaza de la Independencia.
See our Tips for Travelers section for detailed guidelines for budget, mid-range and luxury travelers.
Budget travelers easily can survive in Ecuador on about $25-30 per day, staying in hostel dorm rooms, eating at almuerzo-style restaurants and traveling on buses. If you are traveling in a group or watch your spending, you can cut daily costs down to $12-15 per person. Hostels usually range from $8-15 per night, depending if you are in a city or a rural area. Budget $5 per day for food, granted you can cook a meal at the hostel and you eat an almuerzo lunch for $1.50-$4. Pack some oatmeal and fruit for snacks. You'll have to board economy-priced buses, which can be rather unsafe but may also unravel a great travel story.
This class of travelers will get the most value for their dollar. For $35-75 per day, you'll have the luxury of staying at modest, yet comfortable low-end hotels or hostels, which usually have complementary WiFi and may even include a breakfast in the packet. Youâ€™ll be able to eat out, and won't have to scour the entire town or city to find the cheapest option; budget $5-10 per meal. At the end of the day, you'll have a little money left over to enjoy the nightlife or embark on weekend day trips such as rafting or hiking.
On the other hand, if money is no object you can travel very comfortably using private transportation and have a lot of fun eating out. (Quito offers some world-class restaurants, many of which are located in stunning colonial buildings.) Nice dinners in Ecuador range from $15-30 per person. (If you add drinks the price may amount to a bit more.) You can tour the GalĂˇpagos and Oriente in style with a highly reputable company and include an itinerary of shopping to your heartâ€™s content at Ecuadorâ€™s many craft markets. Luxury hotels start at about $75 per night International hotels like the Marriott and Hilton cost $160-300 per night.