Ecuador travel guide
Tiny by South American standards, Ecuador is packed with an amazing range of natural and cultural attractions; a microcosm of everything that is appealing about this fascinating continent. Tucked between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador outdoes its heavyweight neighbours because of, rather than despite, its size. In a single day you could take an early morning safari in the Amazon, drive up through a valley of active volcanoes and past verdant cloud forest before winding down to the Pacific coast in time for a seafood dinner.
Bisected by the equator (hence the name), Ecuador is divided into three distinct regions – Costa, Sierra and Oriente. The coast, or Costa, is hot and dry with sandy beaches, rolling surf and lively Afro-Ecuadorian towns. The mountainous centre, or Sierra, is a place of snow-capped Andean peaks, colonial towns and vibrant local markets. And the tropical lowland, the Oriente, which takes in parts of the Amazon, is home to innumerable species of wildlife and indigenous inhabitants. In addition, Ecuador controls the Galapagos Islands, a wildlife-rich archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution.
At the heart of all this is Quito. As well as laying claim to being the world’s second highest capital city (after La Paz in Bolivia) this lofty metropolis has the best-preserved historic centre in Latin America, not to mention an excellent culinary scene, vibrant nightlife and string of world-class cultural attractions.
However, it’s Ecuador’s natural beauty that draws in the crowds. Visitors flock from around the world to admire the wildlife, particularly on the Galapagos Islands, which is home to giant tortoises, whale sharks, sea lions and many more. For those seeking an adrenalin hit, world-renowned scuba diving, exceptional trekking and breathtaking climbing is rarely far away. Whether you explore it on two wheels or four hooves; on a raft, kayak or surfboard, Ecuador is a joy to get to know.
283,560 sq km (109,483 sq miles).
16,385,450 (UN estimate 2016).
66 per sq km.
President Lenín Boltaire Moreno Garcés since May 2017.
President Lenín Boltaire Moreno Garcés since May 2017.
Last updated: 26 November 2019
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.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel within the 20km exclusion zone along the border with Colombia, except for the official border crossing town of Tulcan in Carchi province.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:
- the areas of Tarapoa and the Cuyabeno reserve outside the 20km zone in Sucumbios
- the areas of El Angel Ecological Reserve inside the 20 km exclusion zone in the province of Carchi
- all other areas of Esmeraldas province outside the 20km exclusion zone.
For more information, see Local travel
Around 30,210 British nationals visited Ecuador in 2018. Most visits are trouble free.
There were nationwide protests across Ecuador between 3 and 13 October 2019 which caused extensive disruption. Some of these protests became violent, especially in Quito, and led to a number of fatalities.
The Ecuadorean government has announced that a dialogue process is underway to review the economic measures that triggered the protests. However, tensions remain heightened and there is a risk of further protests. If you’re travelling in Ecuador, you should remain vigilant, avoid any protests or demonstrations and keep up to date with developments via official local sources (ECU 911 emergency services) and this travel advice. You may wish to sign up to receive email alerts to be notified of any updates.
Although Ecuador doesn’t have a history of terrorism, in 2018 there were a number of bomb explosions and kidnappings in the northern province of Esmeraldas.
The security situation in the province of Esmeraldas can change very quickly. If you’re undertaking essential travel in areas of the province beyond the 20km exclusion zone, you should pay close attention to warnings issued by the Ecuadorean authorities, be particularly cautious and vigilant, and monitor this travel advice regularly.
Ecuador is situated in an area of intense seismic activity. There is a high risk of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. You should make sure you are aware of the risks and are familiar with the relevant safety and evacuation procedures. In the event of a natural disaster, you should monitor official channels – the Ecuadorean National Geophysical Institute and the National Service for Risk and Emergency Management (both Spanish only) – and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Cases of armed robbery are increasing and petty crime is common.
UK health authorities have classified Ecuador as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. Consular support may be limited in parts of Ecuador.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Muggings and pick pocketing are very common. In Quito, take particular care in ‘La Carolina’ and ‘El Ejido’ parks, the districts of ‘La Mariscal’, ‘La Floresta’ and ‘La Marin’, the bus terminals and the old town including the main square 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 Urdesa, Kennedy, Alborada, and the Malecon Simon Bolivar districts (including Cerro Santa Ana) and the bus terminal.
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.
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.
Look after your belongings. 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. There have been cases of violent robbery outside banks in Quito in 2018 and 2019. The Ecuadorean national police offers a free escort service from/to banks when large amounts are involved. You are encouraged to use this service, which you can request by calling 911.
Incidents of attacks and serious sexual assault against foreign women have increased in the city of Montañita (Santa Elena province in the east of Ecuador). All visitors, particularly women, should take extra care to find reputable and secure accommodation whether travelling alone or as a group. Avoid travelling after dark and be alert to the use of date rape and other drugs in drinks. If you feel unwell, seek urgent help from people you know.
Criminals often use drugs to subdue victims. Home-made versions of the drug ‘scopolamine’ leave victims in a subdued, compliant state and cause amnesia. Be wary if you’re approached by a stranger offering you food, drinks, leaflets, perfume samples, telephone cards or cigarettes, no matter how friendly or well dressed they appear.
Armed robbery is a risk 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 Tourism Police unit with branches in the north and old town of the city but also at the airport and bus terminals. The Ministry of Tourism has a national tourist service complaints management system e-mail: email@example.com
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 (the tool is listed under ‘Denuncias online para touristas).
“Zebra crossings” are usually not respected by drivers throughout Ecuador. Pedestrians are recommended to exercise extra caution when crossing roads.
There have been reports of robberies on interstate transport and at bus stations, especially Quito, Baños, Cuenca, Tena, Riobamba, Mindo and Loja tourist towns. Most incidents took place at night. Where possible you should avoid travelling by road after dark. Cases involving British nationals have been reported on the routes between Quito and Baños; Baños and Cuenca; Baños and Quito; Guayaquil and Baños; Tena to Quito; Quito and Mindo; Quito and Cuenca; and Loja and Vilcabamba. Don´t store your bag in overhead luggage space or underneath your seat. Keep your valuables in a safe place, preferably in a money belt or safe inside pocket.
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.
The use of unregistered taxis significantly increases the risk of becoming a victim of crime. Try to book a taxi through your hotel or by calling a known radio taxi service. Where possible, try to travel in a group. 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, especially at night. Larger supermarkets and airports have taxi ranks.
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 also order a secure taxi from new free smartphone applications ‘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.
Watch this video from the British Embassy in Quito for more information and tips on transport safety:
There is a 20 km exclusion zone, under army control, along the entire border with Colombia. 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.
In 2018 there were serious attacks within the exclusion zone, in the northern province of Esmeraldas. These have included 2 bomb explosions and a kidnapping of local journalists in the San Lorenzo and Mataje areas. The Ecuadorian authorities have declared these attacks to be terrorist incidents. For more details, see Terrorism
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to all other areas of Esmeraldas province outside the 20km exclusion zone. The security situation can change very quickly in the province. On 4 April 2018, a home-made explosive was detonated in the town of Viche, near a bridge on one of the main roads connecting the highlands to the coast and various popular beach destinations. If you’re undertaking essential travel in this area, you should pay close attention to warnings issued by the Ecuadorean authorities, be particularly cautious and vigilant, and monitor this travel advice regularly.
If you’re crossing the northern border at Tulcan (Rumichaca official land border point), Carchi province, you should enter and exit the town via the main Panamericana international 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.
The Ecuadorean Ministry of Tourism and the National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT) have launched a Tourist SIM card (“travel SIM”) available for purchase for smartphones or tablets, aiming to provide tourists with various services during a 30 day period. It includes 1GB of data, free Facebook and Whatsapp, and voice call/SMS credit.
Volunteer and adventure activities
If you’re joining a ‘volunteer’ or ‘adventure expedition’ programme, where possible make sure the UK organisation responsible for the travel has an official local agent in Ecuador with sufficient autonomy and resources to handle an emergency situation. Be wary of unauthorised intermediaries ‘enganchadores’ trying to offer you cheap hotels or tour deals.
If you’re planning to undertake adventure activities like canopy, bungee jumping, quad biking, rafting or kayaking, make sure you use a reputable local tour operator, properly accredited to provide this service (with a specific licence). Check that the equipment is in good condition. In addition, for water adventure sports, ensure that the operator provides you with an accredited specialised guide and that the weather condition and river currents are within the advisable standards. In May 2012 and January 2016, 2 foreign tourists died in Mindo and Bucay areas due to canopy accidents. In 2017 and 2018, 2 British tourists died while undertaking rafting and kayaking activities.
Due to high altitude and unpredictable climates, if you are hiking in Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands, you should be well prepared and sufficiently fit and healthy. Ascend at a more moderate rate to give your body some time to adjust. Stay well hydrated. Don’t stray from established paths and avoid exploring remote areas without an experienced guide. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you expect you will be back.
The teleférico (cable car) from Quito to Pichincha volcano, that overlooks the city (at 4,050 metres above sea level), is a popular day trip from the capital. However, there have been some accidents, including fatalities from hypothermia. You should take warm and waterproof clothing, as well as high factor sun block – even on a clear day, as the weather can change quickly – and take an accredited specialised guide who knows the route well. Where possible, try to start the excursion early to minimise any potential risks related to unexpected heavy mist or storms. Tourists have been killed by electrical storms while climbing Pichincha, so you should pay close attention to the weather, and re-consider your plans if conditions look bad.
Watch this video for adventure sports safety tips from the British Embassy in Quito:
Use of traditional hallucinogens
Traditional hallucinogens, often referred to as Ayahuasca or San Pedro, are found in Ecuador. These substances are often marketed to tourists as ‘spiritual cleansing’, and typically contain dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a strong hallucinogen that’s illegal in the UK and many other countries. There are many risks involved. Consumption isn’t regulated. Intoxicated travellers have been assaulted and robbed. Health risks are not well understood, and on occasions people have suffered serious illnesses and in some cases deaths after taking these drugs, which are often taken a long way from medical facilities making the risks even greater.
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. Similar accidents in the same route were reported in 2018. In March 2018, a bus crash on the Guayaquil to Quito route caused 11 deaths and 54 injured people, including 2 British nationals who were seriously harmed. In the same week, there was another critical road collision in Manabi province resulting in 12 deaths.
If you’re a passenger in a vehicle travelling at an unsafe speed, you should firmly instruct the driver to slow down.
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 ‘SPPAT’ (formerly SOAT), mandatory traffic accident public insurance. There is an online interstate bus booking system.
When taking yellow registered taxis in the major cities make sure the taxi meter is reset. The minimum charge in Quito is US$1.45 during the day and US$1.75 at night, even if the meter registers less for your journey. If you or the hotel called a taxi, agree a price before you get in.
The national rail company, Tren Ecuador, offers a range of train routes along the Andean and coastal regions in Ecuador. Most of the rail system has been repaired.
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.
Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL Air. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out. UK government officials have been told to do the same as a precaution.
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. Even for short journeys, you should use reputable boat transport operators and ask about safety features before making a booking. Check that life boats and the life vests are provided before boarding.
Street demonstrations, protests and strikes are common. Although most are peaceful, they can turn violent. You should monitor local media and avoid all large gatherings.
Although Ecuador doesn’t have a history of terrorism, in 2018 there have been a number of bomb explosions and kidnappings in the northern province of Esmeraldas, bordering Colombia.
On 27 January, a car bomb was detonated outside a police station in the town of San Lorenzo. Twenty eight people were injured, and the Ecuadorean government declared a state of emergency in Esmeraldas. A further bomb attack on 20 March in Mataje left 4 soldiers dead and 11 injured. The Ecuadorean authorities have declared these attacks to be terrorist incidents.
On 26 March, 2 journalists and their driver from the leading local newspaper, El Comercio, were kidnapped and subsequently killed. On 17 April, an Ecuadorean couple were also kidnapped and killed. These kidnappings and bomb attacks occurred within 20km of the border, an area to which the FCO advise against all travel.
On 4 April a home-made explosive was detonated in the town of Viche, on one of the main roads connecting the highlands to the coast and various popular beach destinations. This was outside the 20km exclusion zone, in the area of Esmeraldas province to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel.
If you’re undertaking essential travel in this area, be aware that the security situation can change very quickly. You should pay close attention to warnings issued by the Ecuadorean authorities, be particularly cautious and vigilant, and monitor this travel advice regularly.
There’s considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Local laws and customs
Drug production and trafficking has spread into Ecuador from Colombia and Peru. Any involvement in the trafficking or use of illegal drugs is a serious crime. The penalties are harsh and prison conditions are very basic. Over 90% of foreign prisoners are in jail for drug-related crimes.
It is a legal requirement to carry ID. You should keep a photocopy of your passport pages including your photograph and Ecuadorean immigration entry stamp with you at all times.
Until November 1997, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in Ecuador. Following its decriminalisation there have been other positive changes. The 2008 Ecuadorean Constitution recognises homosexual relationships and gender equality. The 2014 Criminal Code sanctions any kind of hate crime on the basis of sexual orientation. In June 2019, the Constitutional Court legalised same-sex marriage. As of 9 July 2019, the Ecuadorean Civil Registry Offices is offering this service. The Quito Gay Pride parade in June 2019 passed off without incident and showed a greater turnout and higher level of support than in previous years. However, in reality there is still some level of discrimination. Public displays of affection may be less tolerated than in the UK and may attract negative attention, especially in small towns. This may be the case for transgender people in particular. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You can visit Ecuador without a visa, but you may be asked about your reason for travel and to provide evidence of a return or onward flight/bus ticket when you arrive. On arrival in the country, you’ll normally be allowed to remain in Ecuador for up to 90 days per year.
If you’re planning to stay for longer, you should apply for a visa from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London (or from another Ecuadorean embassy overseas) before you travel. You can extend your 90 days for a further 90 days (before the first period expires) only once and by paying a fee. If you want to change your immigration status, by applying for another type of visa, you can do so at the Ecuadorean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility before the 90 or 180 days expires.
Within the new Organic Law for Human Mobility, since February 2018 overstaying involves a fine. As with other immigration offences, if the fine is not paid, you will not be able to return to Ecuador for 2 years and your name will remain on immigration records. If the fine is paid you can return with an official visa issued by an Ecuadorean Embassy overseas. The relevant deportation local regulation is still under consideration.
If you wish to work or study in Ecuador, check visa requirements with the Ecuadorean Embassy in London before travelling.
As of January 2019, permanent and temporary resident visas are issued electronically. Ecuadorean visas are no longer stuck in passports. The online visa is sent by email to be printed out. The immigration authorities have access to online visa records.
If you enter Ecuador via the border with Peru or Colombia, you must insist on being given an official entry stamp at the border showing the date of your arrival. There have been cases of buses not stopping at the border, which has caused great difficulties for foreign visitors who may need to return to the border entry point to get the required stamp and entry registration. If there is no exit stamp from the country you are coming from, in principle the Ecuadorean immigration officials cannot give you an entry stamp, thus you will be denied entry.
Although local regulations may not always be implemented, all visitors to the Galapagos Islands should provide a copy of their hotel booking. Likewise, visitors staying with local residents in the islands should have an invitation letter from their host available. The maximum stay in this region as a tourist is 60 days.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from your date of entry. This is a strict legal requirement from the Ecuadorean government. If your passport does not meet this requirement, you will be denied entry to Ecuador.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETD) are also accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Ecuador. Your emergency travel document must be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Ecuador.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website. Please check if you will be required to present a yellow fever certificate to travel to your next destination from Ecuador.
Travelling with children
Under Ecuadorean law, children under the age of 18 born in Ecuador are automatically considered as Ecuadorean citizens, even if travelling on a British passport (dual nationals).
They, along with British minors who have resident status in Ecuador, will need notarised written consent from the non-accompanying parent(s) to be able to leave the country. In non-straightforward situations due to a legal dispute, the child will need a judicial written permission (Autorización de Viaje Judicial) issued by a judge (Juzgado de la Niñez y Adolescencia). If one of the parents is deceased, the other parent would need to submit the death certificate to a public notary, so that an indefinite notarial permit to travel with the child is issued. The immigration authorities are responsible for checking all the above legal documents.
British children (or British-Ecuadorean dual nationals) who have tourist status do not need these permissions, unless they have stayed in Ecuador for over 90 days. If so, they need to comply with the same local regulations.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
UK health authorities have classified Ecuador as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
The Ecuadorean authorities are recommending travellers to have a yellow fever vaccination if travelling to some areas in the Amazon region. A yellow fever vaccination is obligatory when entering Ecuador from endemic countries such as Brazil, Dominican Republic, Congo, Uganda, etc).
As with other medical matters, travellers should assure their own healthcare arrangements. This might include obtaining access to anti-viral medicine or to seek medical advice. Private treatment can be very expensive and private hospitals will demand a credit card guarantee for admission. The Ecuadorean public healthcare system provides the same level of assistance to locals and foreigners, at no cost. However, good/specialised medical treatment may not always be available outside the main cities.
Make sure you have adequate travel and medical insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. For life threatening emergencies, in principle every private or public health institution is obliged by law to assist patients.
There are limited facilities on the Galapagos Islands. If you travel to the Galapagos make sure your insurance includes evacuation by air ambulance. In December 2014, a new public well-equipped hospital opened in San Cristobal island, however Santa Cruz island only has a basic hospital. If you travel to the Galapagos Islands by boat you may be asked to state your blood group in the medical and emergency contact information collected when you board the ship.
Parts of Ecuador (including Quito at 2,800m) are at high altitude. Don´t underestimate the effects of high altitude on your body. Be aware of higher exposure to UV radiation. Use high factor sunblock and keep well hydrated. If you plan to travel to altitudes over 2,500 metres discuss the health risks associated with travelling to high altitude with your GP before you travel. Check this factsheet for more information and advice on how to reduce the risk of altitude sickness and recognise symptoms.
If you’re taking a long bus/plane journey, make sure you keep yourself well hydrated during the trip and move around regularly.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Ecuador has an Emergency Integrated Response Service (ECU 911) to respond to any emergency incidents that may require immediate assistance from emergency agencies. Dial 911 to report or request emergency help. Consider using ECU 911 free smartphone application to register any medical issues and to report various types of emergencies involving yourself or others for emergency assistance.
Ecuador is situated in an area of intense seismic activity. There is a high risk of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. You should make sure you are aware of the risks and are familiar with the relevant safety and evacuation procedures. In the event of a natural disaster, you should monitor official channels – the Ecuadorean National Geophysical Institute - IGEPN and the National Service for Risk and Emergency Management – and follow the advice of the local authorities.
For information on seismic-volcanic activity and evacuation routes and other useful links, download the “Ecuador Seguro” smartphone app and follow “IGEPNecuador” Facebook (also in Spanish).
Given the high risk of earthquakes across Ecuador, you should familiarise yourself with safety procedures and particularly the instructions in your hotel. Further information on what to do before, during and after an earthquake is available from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency website.
On 22 February 2019, there was an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude in Morona Santiago province in the Amazon region, causing minor damage to buildings. On Tuesday 28 May 2019, 6 minor tremors were reported in the north-western part of Quito. The strong, but short, tremors were connected to Quito´s location on geological faults. For further information, please follow official channels, the National Service of Risk and Emergency Management and the National Geophysical Institute.
There was a major earthquake (7.8 magnitude) on 16 April 2016, which caused extensive damage and hundreds of fatalities. The coastal provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas were the worst affected, though the earthquake was felt strongly in the capital, Quito.
Seismologists assess the risk of earthquakes in the province of Esmeraldas on the north-western coast as particularly high because of its proximity to the convergence of the Nazca and South American plates.
The National Service for Risk and Emergency Management and the National Geophysical Institute are the only official channels responsible for providing information and instructions.
There is a high risk of tsunamis along the coast and in the Galapagos Archipelago. There is a network of sirens in Esmeraldas and Manabí provinces which will sound in case of a tsunami alert. You should familiarise yourself with evacuation routes maps and follow the advice of the local authorities.
There are numerous active and potentially active volcanoes in the highlands of Ecuador and the Galapagos Archipelago, some of which are currently in a state of eruption. Ash fall from active volcanoes can disrupt national and international flights across the country and can also pose health hazards, especially for travellers with existing respiratory problems.
There is a high risk of ‘lahars’ around glaciated volcanoes such as Cotopaxi. These are flows of water, mud, lava and debris which can be extremely destructive. The town of Latacunga and Salcedo and low-lying areas in the valley to the east of Quito are particularly vulnerable (Los Chillos and Rumiñahui).
Ecuadorean law stipulates that anyone wishing to climb a glaciated mountain must be accompanied by an officially accredited guide.
You should review your itinerary taking into account information from the Ecuadorean National Geophysical Institute and the National Service of Risk and Emergency Management. There are currently alerts and access restrictions in place for the Reventador active volcano (amber).
In March and May 2019, the active volcano Sangay, located in the Amazon region (Morona Santiago province) started new eruption phases. Due to its high eruption activity in March, the Ministry of Tourism issued an official statement asking all visitors not to approach the immediate surroundings of the volcano and not to attempt climbing it. You are advised to monitor closely the official news and instructions from the local authorities.
On 4 October 2017, the summit of Cotopaxi volcano was re-opened after more than two years of restrictions following the August 2015 eruption. You should monitor official sources of information closely before considering a climb.
The Cumbre and Sierra Negra volcanoes on Fernandina and Isabela islands in the Galapagos archipelago began erupting in mid-June 2018. There was no impact to tourists given that one is located in an uninhabited island and the lava and ash from the other did not reach any populated areas. Lava did not flow towards any populated areas.
Rainy season usually runs from December to May. The irregular ‘El Niño’ climatic phenomenon occurs every few years and can cause unusually heavy rains, widespread flooding and a hotter climate across Ecuador. The risk of landslides is higher at times of heavy rainfall.
During a heavy rainy seasons, you should monitor local media and discuss your itinerary with your tour operator to avoid disruption. You should also avoid crossing rivers due to potential strong currents and take care in affected areas. In the coastal region you should seek local advice on tidal activity and take appropriate precautions.
Forest fires occur in many areas of Ecuador, but especially in Pichincha province. This is due to high temperatures, strong winds and little rain, but also people lighting fires. If you see a fire call 911.
Apart from Ecuadorean-minted 5c, 10c, 25c and 50c coins, which are used in parallel with the US equivalents, the US Dollar is the only legal currency in Ecuador. Credit cards and travellers’ cheques are generally accepted in cities.
The maximum tax free cash limit that can be taken out of the country is US$1,158 (equivalent to 3 minimum salaries). You may be asked to declare the amount of cash you’re carrying when leaving the country. If you wish to take more than this amount of cash out of the country you will be required to pay 5% tax (ISD).
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.
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