Planning a Trip to Ecuador: What to Know, Do and Budget (2020)

Picture of a girl who wrote Ecuador travel guide in front of a mountain in Cuenca Ecuador.Ecuador sits on the equator on South America’s west coast. There are booming cities in Ecuador—such as Guayaquil, Quito, and Cuenca—as well as tons of natural landscapes to explore. Ecuador is the most famous for its biodiversity in the Galapagos Islands, but tourists can also find adventure in the Amazon jungle and the Andes Mountains.
 
I found Ecuador to be one of the best countries to visit in South America because of its rich culture, great food and impressive natural landscapes. This guide includes everything you need to know while planning a trip to Ecuador.
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A comprehensive guide to the best things that visitors can see, do & eat while in Cuenca, Ecuador. 

Basic Tips: What to Know When Planning a Trip to Ecuador

Language

Spanish is the official language of Ecuador and is spoken by the majority of the population. Some indigenous languages are also spoken and recognized as official languages in areas throughout the country.

It’s recommended to learn some basic Spanish while planning a trip to Ecuador. Apps like Duolingo work well for this. 

When to Visit

Ecuador is a good destination year-round. There are two seasons: wet and dry. Wet season is from December to April when there are showers, clear blue skies, and high temperatures. Dry season is from May to November when the country is overcast and cool, with less precipitation.

Currency & Payment

The official currency of Ecuador is the U.S. Dollar. Credit cards are accepted as a form of payment in major cities. Small cities and local vendors will only accept cash. ATMs can be found throughout the country.

Transportation

Transferring between regions in Ecuador is possible via bus or plane. Major cities have public buses and cabs. Ride share apps such as Uber work in major cities. In some cities, motor scooters are available. Negotiate the rate before getting into a motor scooter or cab. If taking a cab, make sure they are licensed and use a meter.

What to Pack for a Trip to Ecuador

Picture of New Cathedral in the distance. Picture shows 3 blue domes behind another court yard and building.

Here’s a list of suggested items to pack for a trip to Ecuador. These items are above and beyond what you might automatically think to bring on your trip. 

  • Power adaptor: Ecuador uses 110 volt, 60 cycle electricity, same as the US and Canada. Plugs are typically the 2 pronged flat types, so US & Canadian travelers will not typically need a converter or adapter. If coming from another country, you will need a two-pin flat adapter and a 220-volt converter.

  • Small backpack: If you’d like to go hiking or on an excursion, bring a small backpack that you won’t mind getting dirty to easily carry your things in. 

  • Comfortable shoes: You’ll do a lot of walking in Ecuador and will also likely participate in many outdoor activities, so bring some comfortable shoes. Be sure to bring shoes with a good grip if you plan to hike mountains or volcanoes. 

  • Layered Clothes: Dress in layers when visiting Ecuador. The temperatures can often be warm by day and cold at night.

What to Experience in Ecuador

Picture of a fence with graffiti in Cuenca Ecuador. Andes Mountains are in background as well as some homes and other buildings in Cuenca.

Here’s a list of some top things to experience in Ecuador:

  1. Visit Cuenca: A colonial gem of a city that’s located in the Andes Mountains. Check out this full list of things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador

  2. Explore Quito: Ecuador’s capital, located in the Andes mountains at an altitude of 2,850ms⁠—the city brings a mix of both modern and colonial charm. 

  3. Climb to the peak of Cotopaxi: Hike along this active volcano to catch some incredible views. 

  4. Ride the Devil’s Nose train: take a thrilling train ride through the Andes mountains. 

  5. Go on an adventure in the Amazon: Immerse yourself in remarkable biodiversity and spend a night in a lodge within the Ecuadorian Amazon. 

  6. Check out the iguanas in Guayaquil: Guayaquil is a port city in Ecuador, known as a gateway to Pacific beaches and the Galapagos Islands. And within it, there is a park that houses tons of iguanas, sometimes with pigeons perched on top of them very casually.

  7. Cruise the Galapagos Islands: The Galápagos Islands is a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. This is considered to be a top place in the world for biodiversity. 

  8. Trek the Quilotoa Loop: This is a long, multi-day hike through the Andes Mountains. The hike culminates at Quilotoa Lake, which is a stunning crater lake in the Cotopaxi province.

  9. Have an adventure in Baños: Baños is an entry point to the Ecuadorian Amazon and a top tourist attraction in Ecuador. Here, you can go on a hike through the mountains, to a waterfall, or relax in one of the region’s thermal baths. 

  10. Learn to Surf in Montañita: Montañita is a quintessential surf city with small-town beach vibes. The waves are great here and it’s an awesome spot to learn if you’re a beginner. 

Fun Facts About Ecuador

Lady standing in Ecuador with white shirt, hat and red skirt.

Here are some facts about Ecuador that you may have not already known!

  1. Ecuador is the closest country in the world to space.

  2. The first UNESCO World Heritage Site was the Galapagos Islands.

  3. Ecuador is the largest exporter of bananas in the world. 

  4. The U.S. Dollar has been the official currency of Ecuador since 2000.

  5. Ecuador is named after the equator, which runs through the country. 

  6. The Panama Hat actually comes from Ecuador. It was first made by artisans in the cities of Cuenca and Montecristi. Then, it was shipped and sold to the Panama Canal for distribution—where it became famous.

  7. Ecuador was the first country to legally recognize the rights of nature in its constitution. 

  1. Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is based on discoveries in the Galapagos Islands.

  2. Ecuador is known as one of the seventeen mega-diverse countries in the world.

  3. Ecuador has one of the highest densities of active volcanoes in the world.

Budget Suggestions to Consider While Planning a Trip to Ecuador

Here’s a look at what you might spend on the basics during a trip to Ecuador. Costs may fluctuate based on the region that you visit or the time of year that you go. This estimate is based on what it would cost to go to Cuenca, Ecuador from December to March. 

Item

Budget Travel

Mid-Range

High End

Notes

Accommodation

$7 – $10/Night (Hostel dorm)

$20 – $40/Night 

(Airbnb or hotel)

$50 – $100+/night (Hotel)

Hostelworld.com, Booking.com & Airbnb are good resources for affordable housing.

Food

$1 – $5/meal
(Local Food)

$7 – $20/meal
(average restaurant)

$25-$75+/meal
(high-end restaurant)

Alcohol

$1 – $2
(Domestic Drinks)

$3 – $10
(Cocktails, Wines, etc.)

Transportation

$.30/way 

(public transport)

$1.50/per km (public taxi)

Explore Ecuador Virtually From Home

Due to the change that the travel landscape has seen recently and the hardships surrounding travel, I’ve decided to include a list of resources that can be used to visit Ecuador Virtually. If you are planning a trip to Ecuador, then these resources can give you a taste of what you’ll experience in Ecuador and get you amped for your trip. 

  1. Discover Ecuador in 4K

  2. Take a 360 tour of Ecuador’s Independence Square

  3. Experience Ecuador in Virtual Reality

  4. Go on a virtual tour of the Galapagos Islands