Top events in Ecuador

March
24

Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is held the week before Easter. Celebrated throughout Ecuador, it is particularly impressive in Quito, where a sombre...

April
01

Religious music played and sung by ensembles from around the world.

April
01

Easter Week is known as 'Semana Santa' and is celebrated with great fervour, with processions through the streets, religious statues carried...

Iglesia de La Campania, Quito, Ecuador
Pin This
Open Media Gallery

Iglesia de La Campania, Quito, Ecuador

© iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Ecuador Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

283,561 sq km (109,483 sq miles).

Population

15.4 million (2013).

Population density

54.3 per sq km.

Capital

Quito.

Government

Democratic republic.

Head of state

President Rafael Correa Delgado since 2007.

Head of government

President Rafael Correa Delgado since 2007.

Electricity

120 volts AC, 60Hz. Plugs used are American-style (two perpendicular flat blades with or without a circular grounding pin).

Ecuador is a tiny country by South American standards, evidence if proof were needed that the best things come in small packages. Bisected by the equator, one part lying in the southern hemisphere and the other in the northern, it’s the smallest of the Andean nations and it is a sort of South America in miniature, a microcosm of everything that is exceptional and appealing about this fascinating continent.

Tucked between Colombia to the northeast, Peru to the south and east and bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Ecuador manages to hold its own against these heavyweights, by being compact, with a good infrastructure, and small enough to travel round easily. It has such an extraordinary geographical and biological diversity that all itineraries make for excellent excursions. In a single days’ drive it’s possible to breakfast on exotic jungle fruits and then drive from the Amazon and the heavily forested interior, across a range of volcanoes, through verdant cloud forest to arrive on the Pacific coast in time to dine on fresh, exquisite seafood.

It was this diversity that initially attracted early scientists and explorers, including Charles Darwin. These days you don’t have to be a pioneer or an academic to appreciate everything that you’re seeing and discovering for yourself. This is especially true if you get off the beaten path, Although the main cities boast contemporary facilities and a wide range of hotels, cafés, restaurants and bars, Ecuador is essentially still a wild, natural, culturally authentic place.

It is a land divided into three distinct geological regions – Costa, Sierra and Oriente. These regions seem like three different planets squeezed into one tiny country. In addition, Ecuador controls the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago that is even more like a distant universe.

The Andes range runs through the centre of the country, with the highest peak towering well above 6,000m (19,685ft). Still, the country is full of startling contrasts in scenery and landscape, boasting tropical rainforests, windswept highlands, snow-capped volcanoes and palm-fringed beaches. What’s more, all of these are within easy reach of the capital, Quito.

Quito itself is one of the tourist centres of South America. The second highest capital, it boasts a spectacular location and has UNESCO World Heritage status. Smaller towns such as Guayaquil, Cuenca, Otavalo and Banos have an even more authentic atmosphere and a multitude of attractions and reasons to tarry. As you travel, look out for attractive colonial architecture, colourful indigenous markets or traditional fiestas and archaeological sites that hint at the country’s rich history.

Ecuador has lots of national parks and reserves, and is one of the richest places for birdlife in the world. The Galapagos are also a world-class wildlife destination, making the country as a whole ideal for eco-tourists.

Ideal for birdwatching and nature tourism, Ecuador also has superb diving and snorkelling on offer. For those that want to remain on dry land there are some exceptional treks and breathtaking climbs. Explore the country on two wheels or four hooves; choose to raft, kayak, surf or paraglide. Whatever adventures you seek out, you’ll certainly find them in Ecuador.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 25 February 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Muggings and pick pocketing are common. In Quito, take particular care in ‘La Carolina’ and ‘El Ejido’ parks, the districts of ‘La Mariscal’, ‘La Floresta’ and ‘La Marin’, the old town including the central bus station, and ‘El Panecillo’ hill. Avoid travelling to ‘El Panecillo’ hill on your own or by foot. Use one of the standard tours or reliable transport instead. In Guayaquil, be particularly careful in the Kennedy, Alborada, Urdesa and Malecon Simon Bolivar districts.

Don’t wear expensive jewellery when walking around and watch your bags on public transport. Wear your rucksack on the front of your body. Where possible, don’t store anything under your seat or in the overhead storage on buses. Keep your passport and money secure at all times.

Carry a colour copy of your passport, including the visa entry stamp page, and keep the original safe. Only take out as much money as you need. Take care of your belongings in restaurants or cafes and watch out for thieves. Criminals sometimes squirt liquids (ketchup, mustard, water, etc.) on you and then steal your bag while ‘helping’ to clean you up. Other methods of distraction include requests for assistance, staged fights and pushing or shoving. Don’t resist a robbery.

Take care when withdrawing money from a bank or at an ATM. The local authorities suspect that gang members inside banks inform others outside when a potential target withdraws cash.

Criminals often use drugs to subdue victims. Home-made versions of the drug ‘scopolamine’ leave victims in a sedated, compliant state and cause amnesia. Be wary if you’re approached by a stranger offering you food, drinks, leaflets, telephone cards or cigarettes, no matter how friendly or well dressed they appear.

Armed robbery is a constant hazard throughout Ecuador, but especially in Quito, Guayaquil and in remote areas. Seek local advice about the safety of the area you are visiting and travel in a group whenever possible.

Quito has a Tourist Police unit with branches in the north and old town of the city. The Ministry of Tourism has a tourist service complaints management system e-mail: denuncias@turismo.gob.ec; toll free number: 1800 turismo (8874766).

The Ecuador District Attorney´s Office (Fiscalia General) now has an English online tool for tourists to report robbery, theft and loss of belongings and documents.

Since 2012, there has been an increase in robberies on interstate transport and at bus stations, especially in Baños tourist town. Most incidents took place at night. You should avoid travelling by road after dark. Cases involving British nationals have been reported in the provinces of Pichincha, Guayas, Azuay, Manabi, Imbabura,Tungurahua and Loja. Avoid taking interstate buses with a reputation for stopping to pick up passengers at night as many criminals use this means to attack passengers.

Express kidnappings - short-term opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim - also occur, particularly in Quito and Guayaquil. Victims can be targeted or selected at random and held while criminals empty their bank accounts with stolen cash cards. This type of crime can involve illegitimate and registered taxis. Ecuadoreans and foreign visitors are targets.

In 2012, in the old town and in La Mariscal in Quito, 2 British couples were attacked by taxi drivers and accomplices who boarded the taxis to assist in the robbery. The passengers were pepper sprayed. The victims were later released in an isolated area of Quito. In March 2012, a taxi driver ran off with a British tourist´s rucksack and other bags when he stopped to withdraw money from a street cash point. On 28 December 2013, a Japanese tourist was murdered, and his wife seriously injured by a taxi driver in Guayaquil.

The use of unregistered taxis significantly increases the risk of becoming a victim of crime, including armed robbery and express kidnapping. Try to book a taxi through your hotel or by calling a known radio taxi service. If you are using an authorised taxi (yellow cab) in Quito and Guayaquil make sure it has the municipality registration number sticker displayed on the windscreen and doors; the orange license plates or the new white plates with an orange strip on the top and video cameras inside. Avoid hailing a taxi on the street. Larger supermarkets and airports have taxi ranks.

In 2012, the Municipality of Quito launched a ‘safe taxi passenger’ campaign in which a taxi passenger can send an SMS to 2468 with the taxi’s registration number to get an instant confirmation about the taxi’s status. In mid 2013, the Ecuadorean National Transit Agency launched the ‘Secure Transport’ project throughout Ecuador. This includes the installation of security kits - video cameras, panic buttons and GPS - inside interstate buses and registered taxis. You should only use the yellow registered taxis, with the ‘transporte seguro’ logo, if a radio taxi isn’t available.

You can order a secure taxi from a new free smartphone application “Easy Taxi”, available for Android and iPhone. A photo, the name of the taxi driver and the vehicle description will be sent to the customer.

Local travel

There is a 20 km exclusion zone along the entire northern-border with Colombia under army control. The FCO advise against all travel to this area except the official border crossing town of Tulcan in Carchi province. Guerrilla groups, drug traffickers and criminal gangs are active and there is a risk of kidnapping and a high risk of crime. Foreigners, including oil workers, are potential targets.

If you’re crossing the border at Tulcan (Rumichaca land official border point) you should enter and exit the town via the main highway. Lago Agrio (also known as Nueva Loja), the main town in the border province of Sucumbios, and San Lorenzo, in the border province of Esmeraldas, both lie within the 20km zone.

The FCO advise against all, but essential travel to the area bordering Colombia in Carchi province inside the 20km exclusion zone. The border area in Carchi province is home to various eco-lodges, near El Angel Ecological Reserve. Illegal armed groups and criminal gangs are present in the area. If you’re travelling to this area, make sure you travel with a reputable operator with good communication systems, emergency plans in place and an official guide.

The FCO advise against all, but essential travel to the area of Tarapoa and the Cuyabeno reserve in Sucumbios. In February 2012 a group of tourists including British nationals were assaulted at gunpoint by a criminal gang in the Cuyabeno reserve. In September 2012 a group of tourists were robbed and 2 tourists were kidnapped in the Cuyabeno reserve but subsequently released.

There is a higher risk of crime in southern parts of Sucumbios province, including Coca (also known as Francisco de Orellana). There are popular eco-lodges in the area along the Napo river, between Sucumbios and Orellana provinces. Use only reputable operators to visit this area. Some lodges are a long distance from the nearest major hospital and helicopter evacuation may be necessary in an emergency. Reputable eco-lodges in this area have good communications and emergency plans in place.

Take care if you travel to Quininde in Esmeraldas province. Violence and crime is on the increase. Tourists are not generally targeted, but you could be caught up in an incident.

If you’re joining a ‘volunteer’ or ‘adventure expedition’ programme, make sure the organisation is fully represented or partnered in Ecuador and has sufficient autonomy to act in an emergency. Be wary of unauthorised intermediaries ‘enganchadores’ trying to offer you cheap hotels or tour deals.

Road travel

You can drive a hire car using a UK licence or International Driving Permit.

The Ecuadorean police recommend that you also get a local temporary driver permit. Always carry your passport, driving licence, vehicle registration and proof of insurance with you when in the vehicle.

Road conditions are variable. Heavy rains and mudslides often close or wash away roads, which can cause significant delays and accidents.

Serious accidents are very common, mainly due to careless driving, speeding and badly maintained vehicles. Ecuador has one of the highest rates of road accidents in Latin America. In May 2014, near Papallacta region, a road collision involving a bus carrying foreign tourists caused the deaths of 2 British nationals and injury to others.

Where possible, avoid travelling by road outside major cities after dark. If you take public buses, check the reputation of the bus company and make sure it’s insured with a ‘SOAT’, mandatory traffic accident insurance policy. If you are a passenger in a vehicle that is travelling at an unsafe speed, you should firmly instruct the driver to slow down.

When taking yellow registered taxis in the major cities make sure the taxi meter is reset. The minimum charge in Quito is US$1, even if the meter registers less for your journey. If you or the hotel called a taxi, agree a price before you get in.

Rail travel

The national rail company, Ferrocarriles del Ecuador, offers a range of train routes along the Andean region in Ecuador. Most of the rail system has recently been repaired.

Travelling on the roof of trains is no longer allowed due to serious risks posed by overhead cables and bridges.

Air travel

The new Quito ‘Mariscal Sucre’ International Airport is in Tababela, at about 37 km towards the north-eastern part of Quito. The main connecting roads have now been completed. Journey times from the airport to central Quito can vary from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the time of day.

Sea travel

There have been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in and around Ecuador’s waters. Sailors should be vigilant and take appropriate precautions.

There have been several serious accidents in the Galapagos Islands involving boats operated by tour companies. You should ask about safety features before making a booking, and check that life boats and the life vests are provided before boarding.

Political situation

Presidential and parliamentary elections were held in February 2013. President Rafael Correa was re-elected and began his new term on 24 May 2013. Local municipality elections took place peacefully on 23 February 2014.

Street demonstrations, protests and strikes are common. Although most are peaceful, they can turn violent. You should monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.

Newsletter