"When Ecuador was created, nature achieved perfection with a true Garden of Eden."
"From the majestic Andes to the teeming jungles of the Amazon and the wildlife paradise that is the Galapagos Islands, the sheer biological diversity of Ecuador will keep you spellbound. There is nowhere else in the world affording such an intimate encounter with nature. Add to this the bustling Indian markets, Inca ruins, glorious old haciendas, glaciated volcanoes and verdant cloud forests and you have a country that will do nothing but captivate and enchant you. Ecuador is spectacular."
Jane Castledine - Traveller
Official Language: Spanish, Quechua.
Religions: Roman Catholic 90%, other Christian denominations 10%.
Voltage: 110 volts. Sockets are two-pronged US flat-pin.
Most nationals entering Ecuador do not require a visa. Only visitors from Cuba, some Central American and Asian countries require a visa. There are Ecuadorian embassies and consulates in UK, USA, Canada, Australia, France, Germany and Peru.
The monetary unit in Ecuador is the United States Dollar (US$) which is divided into 100 cents. Approximate exchange rates (as at May 2008) are as follows:
1 Pound Sterling: US$1.95
1 Euro: US$1.53
In April 2000, the government in Ecuador decided to ‘dollarise’ the economy due to the instability of their own currency, the Sucre. The country now uses the US dollar as its own currency. Remember that if you are travelling through to other countries in South America, Ecuador is the best place to load up on dollars cash without paying high charges!
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
If you need to change money into dollars, you can do it at the bank after exiting the luggage hall or use one of the ATMs outside the terminal. Please note that outside of the larger towns the use of credit cards and ATM’s will be limited so we would recommend that you ensure you have enough cash to cover during these times. If you do use a credit card in restaurants please bear in mind that you may be charged a fee on top of the bill.
Banks are open on weekdays from 9am to 1.30pm. Currency exchange bureaus (casas de cambio) are usually open from 9am to 6pm, and until noon, Saturdays. It is recommended that you bring US$ in hard currency as smaller towns outside of Quito and Guayaquil may have difficulty changing currency from your home country.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: During your stay in Ecuador & the Galapagos, you will notice a general lack of small change. We recommend maintaining a small supply of coins and small denomination notes.
Credit and Debit Cards
ATM machines in Ecuador are compatible with foreign credit and debit cards. Any PIN longer than four digits is not likely to be recognised by Ecuadorian ATMs. Occasionally some machines will souvenir a card; if you wait a few minutes it may be released. ATMs accepting Visa are very common; however there is only a MasterCard ATM on the Galapagos Islands. Credit cards are commonly accepted in large restaurants, hotels, shops and travel agencies. Smaller and cheaper places will prefer cash.
The Pre-Departure Booklet contains general information about organising your spending money. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on local facilities.
There are some sites not included on tour that you may wish to visit in your free time – particularly in Quito. The average entrance fee is approx US$1.50, with the most expensive being no more than US$20.
If you have an International Student Card you will often be entitled to reduced entrance fees.
You will find the meal plan clearly indicated in the brochure and on your Trip Dossier. Approximate costs for other meals and snacks are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Ecuador see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
All drinks such as water, soft or alcoholic drinks are at your own expense at all times. The following is a rough guideline for drinks bought in a shop in the street. Prices in restaurants and hotels can sometimes be more than double the prices specified below:
It is not recommended that you drink the local tap water in Ecuador however bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available.
The international departure tax from Quito is US$41. If departing from Guayaquil a cash payment of $10 is applicable.
Taxis are an easy way to get around in Ecuador. They are usually yellow and, except in Quito, do not have meters. A long ride in a large city should not cost over $3. A short ride will be under $1. In smaller towns the fare should be about $0.50 to $2. Fares tend to be 25-50% higher at night and on weekends.
Water transport is very common in Ecuador, particularly on the major rivers of the Oriente. The most common is the motorized dugout canoe which acts as a water taxi and is capable of carrying several dozen people. As the seats are generally very uncomfortable, it is recommended that you bring some seat padding, such as a rolled up fleece. Prices vary according to the route distance.
The Pre-Departure Information that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. Please also check your Trip Dossier for any special requirements.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Bring a backpack or easy to carry luggage and travel light! You will have to carry your own luggage frequently – don't let this be an ordeal!
As a general guideline, clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. In the hot summer months, cotton clothing is much more comfortable than man-made materials like nylon. Be prepared for cooler evenings - for this reason you will generally find it better to pack several thin layers rather than one thick layer. A fleece can be invaluable and double as a pillow. Water resistant jackets are essential during the rainy season between November and April.
It is important to bring durable soft luggage or a back pack as this is a lot more practical to transport. Other essential items that we recommend you to bring can be found listed in the trip dossier.
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active.
Whenever you use a western or squat style toilet please place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper as not all toilets will supply it.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: You may find it useful to take along a supply of antiseptic gel (i.e. water free soap) and plastic bags to put your toilet paper in if it cannot be burnt / placed in a bin.
Throwing rubbish on the floor may be acceptable to some locals, but please hold on to your waste until you find a litterbin or somewhere appropriate to dispose of it.
Begging is not common in Ecuador but has started to appear at some tourist destinations. Ultimately donations are a traveller’s personal choice, however our recommendation is NOT to give money, pens, gifts or sweets as this may result in the imprisonment of the beggar by local police authorities. If you do want to help it is probably better to give to a recognised charity. If you choose not to give, simply say no with a smile and keep on walking. If you learn nothing else of the local language, try to learn to say ‘no thank you’.
The Mitad del Mundo (Equatorial Monument) including an Ethnographic Museum is 23kms outside of Quito and well worth a visit. It costs approx US$4 to get in but you also need to allow for transport – either by public bus from Avenida America & Pérez Guerrero (which takes an hour and costs US$0.35) or by taxi. An organised half day excursion will cost approximately US$25 per person. There are literally hundreds of churches in Quito and many have rich ornate façades or golden altars. Some churches charge a nominal fee to enter, for example La Compañia and San Francisco (with convent attached) cost around US$1-2 each. If you have an International Student Card you will often be entitled to reduced entrance fees. The entrance fee for Chimborazo and Cajas National Parks is US$10.
One of the most spectacular places in Quito is the Cerro Panecillo (hill) and the giant Virgen de Quito statue at the top which can be seen from all over the city. From this vantage point you can see great views of the city and the surrounding snow-capped volcanoes.
There are not too many artisan street markets in Quito and most souvenirs are to be found in shops in the New City. There you will find wall-hangings (tapestries), hand-woven textiles, sweaters, blankets, Panama hats (from Cuenca), shawls, coats, ceramics, papier-mâché ornaments, gold, silver jewellery, brightly painted carved balsa wood animals, tagua carvings (vegetable ivory) and t-shirts in bright colours and designs. All trips that start or finish in Quito should have time to visit the famous Otavalo Markets where most of these souvenirs can be bargained for (as the shops in Quito are normally fixed prices).
Bear in mind that it can be very expensive and rarely reliable to send packages home so try to buy only what you can carry home!
If you decide not to book an Imaginative Traveller transfer you will have to make your own way to the hotel. On arrival at Quito International Airport, you will find a 24 hour taxi rank outside. You shouldn’t have any problem getting a taxi as they are all metered (yellow taxis) and tend to wait in an orderly line outside the terminal. Unlicensed taxis are also available but you will have to haggle for a good price which can be difficult if you do not speak Spanish. The cost of a taxi from the airport to our hotel in Quito should be approx US$5.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers. If you have not arranged for us to meet and transfer you on arrival, it is a relatively simple matter to make your own way to the meeting point.
Care should be taken, especially whilst walking around the larger cities. Try to keep away from dark quiet areas if on your own, particularly late at night and try to always take a taxi. If you have had a few drinks and are returning to your hotel at night, it is best to always take a taxi directly to the hotel. We suggest that whenever possible you leave all of your important documents in the hotel safe. However you should always carry some form of ID or a photocopy of your passport.
It is advisable not to wear expensive looking watches or jewellery and don’t carry a wallet in your back pocket or carry loose hanging bags. Keep your camera concealed when not in use. Remember that most thieves don't use violence but rely mostly on diversionary tactics which can take place at any time of the day or night. Do not be paranoid, but just be aware that it could happen at any time. Always be vigilant and the chances are nothing will ever happen to you.
Your Tour Leader’s role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our local agents and a locally based manager. In Ecuador we also use the services of specialist guides at sights of particular interest such as in the Amazon jungle and whilst visiting the Galapagos Islands.
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
The accommodation we use on these tours is simple but clean. Centrally-located, colonial-style hotels are our preference. All have a private bathroom and are twin or triple share. All hotels should have hot water. Inform your tour leader and/or hotel staff if you are having difficulties. However if you do experience periods without hot water or lack of pressure please be patient and understanding, as Ecuador is still a developing country.
We do not include breakfast in our hotels in Ecuador but some of them do have breakfast rooms or restaurants. If there is no hotel restaurant there will always be options nearby.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex. If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
Please note: On Galapagos cruises if you are travelling alone we cannot guarantee that you will be sharing a cabin with a group member of the same sex due to high demand for cabins.
A laundry service is available in most of the hotels we use.
In Ecuador the basic diet focuses around chicken, beef or seafood, mostly with French fries or rice (or both) and possibly a little salad. Ceviche is fish marinated in lemon juice, onion and hot peppers traditionally served with corn on the cob and tostado (roasted maize). Other popular dishes include fritada (roast pork), lomo ala pimiento (pepper steak), humitas (ground corn steamed in a maize leaf) and quimbolitas (similar to humitas but with corn-flour and cooked in banana leaves). For a simple fish, you should ask for pescado which can be grilled, pan fried with breadcrumbs (apanado) or served with a sauce. An interesting local speciality is cuy. This is roasted guinea pig which some people say tastes like chicken, others, like cooked cardboard!
Maize and potatoes feature in many dishes, particularly soups. Locro de papas is cheese and potato soup, sancocho de yucca is vegetable soup with cassava or manioc root and sopa de bola verde is vegetable banana dumpling soup. Typical snacks are empanadas (little fried pasties usually filled with meat, chicken, cheese or even prawns) and patacones (fried vegetable banana chips, served as a side dish).
Much of Ecuador’s food is not too hot and spicy but you will find a bowl of aji (which is a chilli or hot pepper sauce) on most tables which can be added to spice things up.
In most of the larger cities and towns you will find an array of international cuisine. There are pizzerias on every corner and Chinese (chifas) food is very common. A cheap, filling 3 course lunch (normally called an almuerzo or merienda in the evening) can often be had for about US$1.50.
You should be wary of drinking the local tap water. Bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available and are generally safe to drink. Please note however that fruit juices are sometimes made with unboiled tap water and could upset your stomach. An easy way around this is to order juice con leche (with milk) instead. The choice of different juices is incredible e.g. mora (blackberry), piña (pineapple), naranjilla (mixture between mandarin and orange), maracuya (passion fruit), tomato de argol (like a tomato but with a harder texture), guanabana (custard apple) and curia (which has a great taste – just try it!).
In Ecuador some of the hotels we use have bars or serve alcoholic drinks. If there is not a bar in the hotel then there is sure to be a bar within walking distance. In more up-market hotels, imported beers and spirits are available but usually at a high price. If you are happy to drink the local spirits then there is an array of rums, aguadiente (a kind of ouzo) and imported Chilean and Argentine wine can sometimes be found cheaply. There are various brands of beers including Pilsener, Club and Biela.
If you are a strict vegetarian you may experience a distinct lack of variety in the food available, especially in small towns. You might find that you are eating a lot of omelettes and other egg dishes. Our tour leaders will do their best to organise interesting vegetarian alternatives for included meals, but your patience and understanding is requested.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
The easiest and cheapest form of communication is via the Internet. In Quito it is very cheap, approximately $1 per hour.
Telephone systems are a little unpredictable in Ecuador and although long distance calls can be made easily from big cities, calling from smaller villages and Galapagos Islands can be difficult. Andinatel and Pacifictel are the two major service providers for international connections. Open from 8am – 10pm. International calling cards tend not to be accepted by local agencies in Ecuador. Local phone cards are printed in English and are available everywhere.
Mail from Ecuador takes approximately 2 weeks to arrive in Europe or the US. Since privatization, the postal service has improved and stamps are available from post offices all over the country.
Availability of Film
The quality of film in Ecuador is unreliable, and some types of film are simply unavailable. In order to avoid disappointment – and capture that wonderful moment you should bring a good supply of film and camera batteries from home.
In the lowland areas it can get particularly hot on clear days, with temperatures easily topping 30°C. The coast has the most clearly defined wet and dry seasons, with the best time to visit being from December to April, when you'll get frequent showers but also clear blue skies and warm weather. From May to November, the southern coast, in particular, is often overcast and relatively cool, with less chance of rainfall.
Weather on the Galapagos Islands is defined entirely by the arrival and departure of the sea currents. The hot season is from December to May when conditions are tropical, with calm seas and occasional tropical showers, which turn the islands green and lush. Temperatures range from 26-30C, with a water temperature of around 26C and good underwater visibility. The days are sunny and warm and wildlife is not so active under these conditions. From June to November, the trade winds bring the cooler ocean currents and a thin layer of cloud. During this dry season the seas become a little choppier and the air temperature is cooler, ranging from 23-26C, and sea temperature is around 19-23C. The islands take on a barren/volcanic appearance and wildlife is at its most prolific.
The following charts show average daytime temperatures (in degrees celsius):
|City / Temp||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
(Half day holiday on 24th, full day on 25th).