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Travel Tips for Ecuador

Travel has different meanings for different people. Why are you traveling? Some travel for business, some for pleasure. Some are backpackers with limited budgets, some have money to burn. Some travelers have special needs, such as handicap access or child-friendly facilities. In order to provide you with the best service possible, our writers here at V!VA Travel Guides have included this section on Ecuador Travel Tips. In it, you'll find all the travel tips, advice and suggestions that you'll need to custom-fit your trip to best suit your needs.

Are you a woman traveling alone? If so, you'll want to check out our page on tips for women travelers. Traveling with kids? You'll want to see our section on Ecuador travel for families. Gay / lesbian? Don't go without first looking at out Gay/Lesbian travel tips page. Senior citizens will also find useful advice, as will handicapped travelers. Planning on taking some photos while in Ecuador?
Photographers will want to take a look at our Photography in Ecuador page. So, how much is this trip going to cost you? Depending on how much you'd like to pay, we have tips for travelers in every price range below. You can also check out our Money and Costs page for more information.

Tips for Budget Travelers

Traveling in Ecuador is ideal for the budget traveler, and essentials such as food, lodging and transportation are reasonably priced wherever you go.


Every major or minor tourist destination in Ecuador has at least one or two hostels that cater to the budget traveler set. In some, you can find decent, dorm-style lodging for as little as $5 per night, though in some areas you’ll have to budget $8-15. Ten or fifteen years ago, finding a good place was a crap shoot. You showed up in a town and started looking, guidebook in hand. Maybe you would get lucky and find a nice, clean place with a vacancy, maybe you wouldn't. Word of mouth among travelers was the best way to find a good recommendation. Today, many of the better hostels accept reservations via the internet or by phone: V!VA's website is a good place to begin your search. In many hostels, the most inexpensive lodging option is a bunk room. Bring a padlock to secure your belongings while you explore. Most of the better hostel dorm rooms have small lockers for guests to keep their things. Above all, don't settle for just a clean bed and place to lock your things. Ecuadorian budget hostels often have game rooms, TVs with DVD libraries, friendly cafés and more. Often, doing a little homework beforehand can make a big difference when you finally find a place to stay.


Buses in Ecuador are what trains are in Europe: The cheapest way to get around. You may feel some nausea while traveling throughout the country on buses, so bring some medication. We also recommend you become familiar with the inner-city bus routes. Quito has a great transportation system, with the Trole, Ecovia and Metrobus running parallel north-and-south.


A true budget traveler can get by on as little as $5 a day.

If you don't need a sit-down meal, try bargaining with the little old ladies selling produce at fruit and vegetable stands. Sometimes you can cut deals coming away with five avocados for a dollar. You can always stop at a food cart, but you are taking a gamble with your health. Often times the risk is very worth it, though. Ecuador is also home to the almuerzo ejército, where you'll receive a predetermined three-course meal for $1.50-$4. Another hint is to familiarize yourself with local foods, like the empanada. In Ecuador, empanadas are pastries, folded-over with chicken, beef or cheese inside, then baked or deep-fried. Yummy and cheap, you can find them in most bakeries for under a dollar each, and there are bakeries everywhere. One is a snack, two are a meal.


If you're on a super-tight budget, chances are you won't be able to afford a long, extended tour. However, there may be some exceptions. If you want to take a big-ticket tour, like a visit to a jungle lodge or even Galápagos, you can consider going last-minute. Travel agencies in Quito often have last-minute deals. If the tour hasn't filled up two or three days before departure, they'll often dramatically cut their prices, sometimes by as much as half. Obviously, this option is more likely in low tourist seasons. You can also try a web search to find last-minute deals, too.

In addition to last-minute deals, you may want to look into day trips suck as horseback riding, whitewater rafting or mountain biking. These day trips can cost anywhere from $35-$80 or so, and if you go with a reputable company you're sure to have a good time.

Tips for Mid-Range Travelers

Good news! Ecuador is a fabulous place for mid-range ($30-$75 daily budget) travelers. Of all of our three categories, you'll be the ones who get the most bang for your buck.


Mid-range travelers get to enjoy the best lodging options available in Ecuador, which consist of everything from converted colonial homes and haciendas to bed and breakfasts and adventurous eco-lodges. Most of these carry the two-to-three star perks: free breakfast, travel info desk, adventures such as mountain biking or horseback riding, cable TV, private bathrooms, 24-hour hot water and more. Some even have spas, swimming pools, free internet and free airport pickups.

One huge bonus is internet presence of hotels: most of the best mid-range hotels have a website or at least an e-mail address so that you can make reservations. Some of the sites are better than others, but most offer at least basic contact information, rates and location. If you're e-mailing back and forth to a hotel before your trip, you can even negotiate the price a little, especially if you're coming in low tourism season (September-May) or if you're going to stay more than one night. For those who are interested, the best eco-lodges in Ecuador, such as the Black Sheep Inn and Al-Andaluz Hotel, are mid-range hotels: you may want to consider spending the night at a place that makes a difference!


Buses are still probably your best option for traveling throughout Ecuador. Even if you can afford a rental car, it's a bad idea. Quito and Guayaquil are terrible cities to drive in, as there are no street signs and one-way streets are not always labeled. Guayaquil is worse than Quito. After a few minutes in Guayaquil, you will wonder who left the asylum door open and let all the lunatics out. When you're not in the city, there are no road signs, so you may come upon an intersection in a remote location with no indication of which way you need to go. Roads are bad, and breakdowns, flat tires and other automotive problems are very common.

As an option, buses are pretty easy and comfortable and allow you to rest between adventures. An even more comfortable option is to book a tour, which is pretty affordable in Ecuador. In cities, take taxis because they're safe and cheap. See our taxis in Ecuador section for tips on dealing with cabbies.


The restaurants in Ecuador are excellent, safe and reasonably priced. Almost all of them should be within your price range, especially if you save a little money here and there, on breakfast and lunch, in order to splurge on dinner. In Quito, which is considered expensive by the rest of Ecuador, dinner at a very nice restaurant, such as a steakhouse, will cost you $15-$20 per person, all inclusive. Be sure to check out fancy restaurants offering Ecuadorian cuisine, and avoid street food.


The best part about booking a trip through a tour agency is not having to deal with pesky matters like airport transfers, worrying about the security of your luggage and not having an emergency number to call when you need it. Many mid-range travelers arrive to Ecuador with a tour already booked, which is definitely preferable. Reputable agencies such as Metropolitan or Lindblad are more expensive, but your satisfaction is almost assured. If you want to save a little money, you may want to look for a newer, up-and-coming agency looking to win a good reputation. Some mid-range travelers like to leave a few days at the end of their stay to hang out in Quito or add on optional shorter tours such as shopping or adventure trips. This is a great option for those who have a little extra time and money. Travel desks at hotels can be quite helpful for making your plans.

Tips for Luxury Travelers

Great news! Hotels, restaurants, visitor sites and travel agencies in Ecuador have the professionalism, attention to detail and elegance that the first-class traveler has come to expect.

In the major cities, internationally renowned hotels such as the Hilton and the Marriott have modern, attractive branches. In Galápagos, some of the finest cruise ships in the world, luxuriously outfitted and staffed with the best guides Galápagos has to offer, await you. Even some of the remote jungle lodges, often uncomfortable and rustic, now have fine dining, air conditioning, and other amenities which allow you to visit the Amazon without having to sacrifice any comfort.


First-class travelers will find a wide array of lodging options in Ecuador. There are super-deluxe hotels in every major Ecuadorian city: Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil. These are modern, five-star hotels that have every imaginable luxury: room service, in-room internet, mints on the pillows, you name it.

If you have some flexibility with your luxury travel, you may want to consider some options. Many of the upper mid-range hotels are cheaper and more charming than the large luxury chains. If you can choose, say, between a large international chain and an elegant converted seventeenth century hacienda, you may want to choose the latter if you're interested in history and want a more memorable experience.

Speaking of haciendas, you'll definitely want to check out one of the converted haciendas to the north of Quito: they’re truly unique and memorable and offer first-class service. For more information, visit our Haciendas In Ecuador page.


No buses or cars for you, luxury travelers! If money is no object, you'll definitely want to arrange a very complete tour that includes all transfers and trips. Buses in Ecuador are convenient, comfortable and cheap, but they can be somewhat limiting and dealing with them will take up valuable time: if you can afford it, going with a tour is definitely the way to go.

Also, if you're traveling to the Oriente – the eastern jungle – you may have the option of overland or air travel to Coca or Lago Agrio. The overland trip is interesting but long and somewhat grueling, as the roads are terrible. Flying will also change a ten-hour trip to 45 minutes: quite a difference.


You will greatly enjoy the quality of food in Ecuador's finest restaurants. In the larger cities, such as Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil, there are world-class restaurants that boast fine cuisine and excellent service. Some of the cruise ships in Galápagos offer fine dining as well: Metropolitan's M/N Santa Cruz offers lobster thermidor and filet mignon. The best news is the price: even in the finest restaurants, it is uncommon to pay more than $60 or so for a dinner for two (not counting alcohol). Remember, when calculating price for a meal in Ecuador, add 22 percent: 10 percent for service (offering a tip is optional) and 12 percent for taxes. Outside of the cities and cruise ships, fine international cuisine is difficult to find, but that's not all bad: it gives you an excuse to sample Ecuador's delicious traditional plates. Nearly everywhere you go, there will be a local restaurant or two that is a cut above the rest: your guide or tour agency will see to it that you find your way into them for a good meal.


If you can afford them, there are a variety of tour options available to Ecuador. The most famous part of Ecuador, is, of course, the Galápagos, and there are numerous tour operators who specialize in nothing but the islands. When booking a Galápagos tour, one thing to bear in mind is the luxury / comfort level of the vessel: there are many ships working the islands, and some of them are much more luxurious than others. Another thing to consider is the quality of your guide: an exceptional guide can make all the difference in the world on a Galápagos trip: the more expensive ships generally pay their guides better, which in turn attracts the best guides.

Don't simply spend a couple of days in Quito, fly to Galápagos and assume you've seen all there is of the country. There are many other tours and trips available in Ecuador to the country’s fascinating places and sites. Do some research and figure out which ones are the best for you to see. Tour agencies commonly offer trips to favorite places like Baños, Otavalo, Cuenca and the jungle. Their prices are a little bit higher than they would be if you did them by yourself, but you pay for convenience. Having the travel agency van pick you up and drop you off at your hotel is probably worth it. Tourism services in Ecuador, at least the ones at the top of the travel food chain, are excellent, and the value for the money is usually very good.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Ecuador: Social and Environmental Issues in Ecuador, Blue-Footed Booby, Sea Birds - Galápagos, Lava Lizard, King Angelfish, Gardner Bay/Tortuga Rock Visitor Site, Health in Ecuador, When to Go, The Flag Cabrilla and Getting to and away from Ibarra.

07 Sep 2012

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