We spent nearly 10 months driving more than 9,000 miles (14,500 km) to explore every nook and cranny of Ecuador including five UNESCO sites, 11 national parks, volcanoes galore, Andean trails, the Amazon, the Galapagos Islands (three times), archaeological sites, and much, much more. We’ve documented it all in more than 40 detailed posts about travel in Ecuador on our travel blog and many freelance travel stories about Ecuador. Here we give you quick facts, quirky observations, and helpful Ecuador travel tips so you can start planning your own Ecuador trip.
Ecuador travel tips and trivia
The official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar, so you don’t have to figure out any pesky currency conversion when you travel to Ecuador. Also, after everyone in the US confused the Sacagawea dollar coins with quarters, most of them seem to have been pawned off on Ecuador and put into circulation there. We almost never saw a one dollar bill but we got Sacagaweas all the time.
Ecuador has a space program.
Markets and stores do not sell alcohol on Sundays and if you want an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant or bar on Sunday you must also order food.
Ecuador is the size of the US state of Oregon.
There’s a popular liquid hand soap in Ecuador called Sanity and there’s a brand of canned food called Snob. This makes going to the supermarket less odious.
A good sandwich can be hard to find, but they know how to do it in Ecuador, usually using roasted pernil (pork leg) or turkey on rolls with fresh avocado and lettuce.
Lorena Bobbitt was born in Ecuador. Yes, that one.
It costs US$2.50 to send a postcard from Ecuador to the US.
Ecuador for adventure travelers and nature lovers
According to Ecuador tourism officials, Ecuador has 45 protected areas and the country is considered among the 17 most biodiverse places on earth with 1,642 reported species of birds (132 of them hummingbirds), 4,500 types of butterflies, 358 species of amphibians, 258 mammal species, and new discoveries all the time like the Pinocchio lizard we went in search of in Mindo.
Ecuador has 1,390 miles (2,237 km) of coastline along the Pacific Ocean including beaches, beach towns, national parks, and protected coastal areas.
In 2012, then-President Rafael Correa decided that 10 of the country’s national parks should be free of charge so more Ecuadorans would be able to visit. So, there is no fee to explore volcano-filled Cotopaxi National Park (part of the country’s Avenue of the Volcanoes), hyperdiverse Podocarpus National Park, watery Cajas National Park or Sangay National Park where hikers can (and should) challenge themselves on the steep, muddy, high-altitude trail to the El Altar Volcano.
The one exception to the free national parks decree is Galapagos National Park where non-Ecuadoreans pay US$100 to enter. But it’s absolutely worth it for up-close and exciting Galapagos animal encounters and gorgeous Galapagos landscapes.
In addition to national parks, Ecuador has other types of protected areas including the Antisana Ecological Reserve where Andean condors flourish and the Chimborazo Wildlife Reserve where vicuña roam in the shadow of the massive Chimborazo volcano.
Ecuador also offers several ways to explore the Amazon Basin. Those looking for lower prices, fewer people, and generally close encounters with wildlife and culture should head to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Those looking for more accommodation options, including a riverboats journey, luxury jungle lodges, and excellent community tourism, should head for the Napo River area of the Amazon Basin in Ecuador.
Ecuador for culture lovers
There are dozens of indigenous groups and many languages within Ecuador. It’s a rich mix that’s celebrated in ways that travelers can enjoy including the completely legit weekly market in Guamote, and an epic drive along the Quilatoa Loop for an immersion in Andean culture.
A great way to get a glimpse of the history and heritage of Ecuador is to book a stay at one of the country’s many hacienda hotels, like these eight options which ranked as our favorite hacienda hotels in Ecuador.
Ecuador is also home to the Ingapirca Archaeological site. This unusual place, near the city of Cuenca, is one of the few archaeological sites we’ve ever visited that displays remnants and relics from two different cultures: Incan and Cañari. For more culture around Cuenca, don’t miss this handicraft trail day trip featuring jewelry makers, weavers, and much more.
So-called Panama hats actually come from Ecuador and the tradition of weaving them by hand lives on in the hat-making town of Montecristi.
And you can certainly get your culture fix in the capital city of Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes Colonial churches and one of our favorite museums of the entire journey so far.
Driving in Ecuador road trip tips
In general, Ecuador has great roads and highways. Some of them are even four or six-lane freeways with good pavement and proper lighting. But that doesn’t mean they’re safe. According to Washington University’s Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation, road injuries were the number one cause of premature death in Ecuador in 2017. November 16 is the annual Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims in Ecuador.
To help reduce the number of accidents, there’s a mobile app called Estoy Manejando (I’m Driving). If someone tries to send a text message to you while you’re driving, he or she will get a return message saying the person is busy driving. The application connects via Bluetooth with the vehicle through any phone that uses the Android operating system. This app was developed by the Ministry of Transport and Chevrolet.
For decades, Ecuador had famously-cheap fuel prices (just over US$1 per gallon for diesel, for example). But in 2019, President Lenín Moreno announced that he would be lifting long-standing subsidies that eat up more than US$1 billion each year to keep the price of diesel and gas low at the pump. This prompted rioting in the streets and the policy was ultimately rolled back.
More Ecuador travel resources
A bilingual magazine called Ñan is consistently full of information about travel in Ecuador on and off the beaten path.
Even if you wouldn’t call yourself a bird watcher, you’ll probably do some bird watching in Ecuador. It’s one of the things the country is famous for. Check out Birds in Ecuador to make the most of it.
Here’s more about travel in Ecuador