There are a ton of sites already with basic, generic Ecuador travel tips.
“Ecuador means equator. The Galapagos are there. Bring an anti-theft bag. Wear sunscreen (technically, if you’re worried about aging, you should do this anywhere you are, whether or not it’s sunny…).”
This is not one of those sites.
Here are some lesser known Ecuador travel tips, targeted towards people who have already done a little bit of research for their trip or people who want some less talked about info!
Do not forget insect repellant
Yes, even if think you’re only going to high altitude. You probably read that mosquitos are rare in high altitude- which is true, but rare doesn’t mean non-existent. If you end up going to forests high in the mountains with waterways, for example, you might still get mosquito bites. Okay, I’m still a little bitter of the time we did a waterfall hike in Cotopaxi National Park, and I got 14 mosquito bites. Don’t be me.
Plus, who sticks to their travel plans? Even if you think you’ll stay in one region, there is so much cool stuff to see in Ecuador that you might end up in another region where mosquitos are more common (namely, the Amazon and the coast)! It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.
Buses may not start on time
I mean the buses that go to different cities, not the inner cities buses.
A few travelers said that this is a thing in other Central or South American countries because they wait for other people to fill up the bus before taking off, if it’s still pretty empty at the set time. I couldn’t find an Internet source to back this up, but it does sound cool because it’s kind of environmentally friendly.
Whatever the reason, this section is really here to say make sure to put some buffer so you’re not catching the bus with a time constraint. The wait in my experience was never super long, maybe at most 30 minutes. But don’t, like, try to catch the Baños to Quito bus thinking it’ll take you back in time to be three hours early for your flight home.
Speaking of buses, there’s also a hop on, hop off bus that takes you to many cities/travel destinations within the country. We hadn’t used it because we found out about it the last day of our trip, but it did look interesting for people who have more money and want more arranged for them in terms of travel routes and bus stop locations.
You might not actually want to spend a lot of time in Baños
If you read other blogs or talk to hostel people, they will hype up Baños as the best place in Ecuador and where you need to spend all your time. Baños is great if you’re a high-adrenaline type of adventure person who doesn’t mind doing touristy stuff. Like if ziplining, canyoning, rafting, and clubbing is what you want to do on your trip, Baños is for you.
But if you’re into slower adventure travel or doing your own thing, you might want to spend most of your time somewhere else- like the small towns near the national parks or lakes. My most memorable Ecuador memory is probably doing Quilotoa Loop on our own. If you’re more into culture, cities, or food, you might want to spend more time in Quito or Cuenca.
Ecuadorean meals are not all rice, fries, a meat, and side veggies
Related to the above, depending on where you get your information from (I’m still on the white expats who are obsessed with Baños) you might have read that this is the most common type of meal in Ecuador. But there are so many other local foods to try!
Like when you’re in Quito, you need to try hornado, which is roasted pig, seco de chivo, which is a goat stew, and empanadas de viento, which are giant cheese empanadas with some sugar on top. And of course, try ceviche- especially if you’re on the coast. These are just my favorites of what we tried, so if you want more ideas of Ecuadorean food from an actual Ecuadorean check out this site listing some of the top street foods.
People tend to be really honest
I read that theft is really common in Ecuador and to be super cautious because everyone is going to steal all your things, but really in my experience, it was the complete opposite.
Like I dropped $100 in $20s on the ground in Quito and five different people ran up to me to tell me that I dropped my money. Bags on the bus are tagged with numbers, and you can only grab the bag with your number. People always gave me my money back when I accidentally (constantly) overpaid in restaurants and taxis (I blame the altitude).
This section is not saying theft doesn’t happen. And you definitely should practice basic self-awareness and caution (as you should anywhere else in the world- here’s a pretty extensive list of ways to stay safe from theft). Just don’t go to Ecuador thinking everyone is dishonest and will steal everything from you.
Hola is not typically how people greet each other
What’s more common is buen@s dias/tardes/noches, which might be different than what you learned in Spanish class. No one will freak out if you use hola, and many locals do use it, but it’s just more common to use buenos dias, etc.
Ecuador’s regions have really different weather systems
Instead, Google the regions/cities/towns you’re going to, and pack based on that. The coast has really different weather from the Andes, which have really different weather from the Amazon, which has really different weather from the Galapagos.
Even then for some reason, googling Chucchilán, Cotopaxi, or Baños weather was always off by half for me. So it would say the high is 35°F in Google, but it would be 70°F in reality. I am not sure why this is, or if this has been fixed since I was in Ecuador. I do remember our canyoning tour guide saying “Ecuador weather is fake news.” Just pack layers.
The hiking rating system may seem off
One example of a hike that AllTrails defines as “hard” is Washington state’s Mailbox Peak, which is an ~8 mile, <4000 ft elevation gain hike. This hike is my hard baseline too.
But in Ecuador, hikes that locals said were “moderate” would have been considered “hard” with that definition. Like the hike to the top of Pasochoa volcano was a “moderate” and also like an ~8 mile, <4000 ft elevation gain trek, with a much more intense scramble to the top. What is their hard then?!
My guess is it either has something to do with the altitude and how well adjusted you are to it, or the fact that they have much more intense hikes/volcanoes/mountains compared to the US’s west coast, which could influence the rating system.
Note: For Pasochoa’s hike, facts came from volunteers at the hostel we stayed in.
Limit your sun exposure
If you’re going to be outside all day, it may not be enough to reapply your sunscreen every two hours and let it absorb 15 minutes before sun exposure (assuming you do always remember to do this). Consider limiting your sun exposure, and if that’s not possible, consider wearing a hat or some other sort of protection when you’re out.
Why? As everyone knows, Ecuador is on the equator, which means that more sun passes through the atmosphere, as compared to places not on the equator. Also, if you’ll be in the Andes, know that it’s easier to get sunburned at higher altitudes because, again, more sun passes through the atmosphere. You can read more about these factors and others that affect the likelihood of getting a bad sunburn here. Because of these two things, Quito is actually on this Huff Post list of places where you can get the worst sunburn.
Like I’m serious, I’m black and live in Southern California so I thought I was used to the sun. I used to work for skincare companies, so I reapply Korean SPF 50 PA+++ sunscreen regularly. But because I was doing 9 hour hikes every day in Ecuador, I still got terribly sunburned.
Toilets get clogged easily
Make sure you read the signs because each toilet is a unique snowflake, but this could mean either flush toilet paper separately from poo or don’t flush your toilet paper down the toilet at all, throw it away in the trash next to the toilet paper.
Many pipes in South America are small, and not following the signs may clog them up.
Bonus: Go to the doctor in advance if you need vaccines
This is true wherever you travel which is why it’s bonus. But I’m putting it in here because there are some vaccines that are recommended to get depending on which region of Ecuador you visit. What you may not know (aka, what I did not know) though is you’re supposed to go to the doctor 2-4 weeks before your trip, so that there’s enough time for it to fully kick in. Also, do a little bit of research on the clinic you go to if you live in the US and cost is a big deal for you, because they all have different prices.
Bonus: Ecuador composts!
This is bonus since it won’t affect the outcome of your trip, but it’s a fun fact since we’re living on a dying planet largely due to bigger countries not taking care of their resources and waste properly. Anyway, there are lots of public compost bins in many cities and small towns!