13 things to know before going to Ecuador


With four geographic regions squeezed into a compact 283,561 sq km (109,484 sq miles), Ecuador caters to all kinds of travelers.

Whether you’re looking for adventure in spectacular landscapes, relaxation on white-sand beaches, or cultural experiences in UNESCO World Heritage Sites, booking a trip to Ecuador will surely fit the bill.

But just like traveling anywhere, visiting this enchanting country has its own peculiarities. Here are our useful tips to help you make the most of your trip to Ecuador, one of the most biodiverse places in the world.

Yes, the Galápagos are wonderful, but don’t skip over the rest of Ecuador © RPBMedia / Getty Images

1. Ecuador is more than just the Galápagos Islands

Although many consider continental Ecuador a stopover on the way to the Galápagos Islands, visiting the country is well worth your time. For adroit travelers, staying in Ecuador for seven to 10 days will allow them to explore its main attractions. However, if you can stay longer, anywhere near 15 to 20 days will suffice to tour Ecuador’s most prominent cities and towns.

Ready to plan your route? Here are the best places to visit in Ecuador

2. Be aware of altitude sickness

Sitting at 2850m (9350ft) above sea level, the Ecuadorian capital Quito, is the second-highest capital city in the world. This means travelers are prone to altitude sickness upon arrival — manifested through headaches, nausea and dizziness. 

This can also be an issue if you visit cities in the highlands with similar elevations. If you arrive from low-altitude places, take things slow and allow your body to acclimate during your the first few days of your visit. If you’re feeling sick, keep hydrated, and don’t exhaust yourself with excessive physical activity.

Person with red umbrella strolls along a beach on a cloudy day
It may not be a tropical country, but the UV is strong in Ecuador, so you will want sun protection © Holger Leue / Getty Images

3. Despite popular belief, Ecuador is not a tropical country…

Perhaps fueled by the moniker of “the country in the middle of the world,” many travelers wrongfully believe Ecuador is a tropical country and that they’ll encounter oppressively hot weather.

Though the climate will largely depend on the region you stay at, you can expect moderate temperatures.

In the highlands, anticipate chillier weather and occasional rain, especially between October and April. Meanwhile, the coastal region enjoys warmer and generally steadier temperatures, although watch out for rain between February and April. 

4. …and you should pack accordingly

If you’re planning to venture into the mountains in the highlands, bring a packable jacket that keeps you both warm and dry and comfortable sturdy footwear for long walks.

If you’re staying in Quito, bring a jacket or cardigan everywhere — as you will discover, the weather can switch dramatically within minutes. You might also want to sunbathe on the shores of the Pacific coast or explore the Amazon rainforest, so don’t forget your beach essentials, comfortable clothing and a hat that protects you from the intense sun of the equator.

Choose the right time for your visit to Ecuador with this seasonal guide

5. Make sunscreen your best friend

You may believe sunscreen is not a priority while visiting the Andean highlands or strolling down a colonial city, but due to its geographical location (standing on the equatorial line), sun rays shine perpendicularly in Ecuador.

To protect your skin from UV rays throughout your stay, keep the sunscreen close and reapply regularly.

A city with buildings tightly packed together on a hillside
Ask at your accommodation before flushing toilet paper, as some plumbing systems are easily blocked © John and Tina Reid / Getty Images

6. Tackle the toilet paper myth 

There are contradicting testimonials on the internet about discarding toilet paper in Ecuador. While many claim flushing toilet paper in Ecuador is safe, some cities and buildings (as modern as they are) don’t have adequate plumbing to guarantee you can do this without clogging the system.

The best way to solve the dilemma is to actually ask your hotel or the people in charge of the accommodation. When in doubt, always use the waste basket.

7. Tipping is a courtesy and not mandatory

The US dollar is the official currency in Ecuador, so eating out might not be as gasp-inducingly cheap as in neighboring countries. However, prices are relatively affordable compared to the US and Europe.

Generally, service is included in the bill (you’ll see a disclaimer on menus), so tipping is not mandatory. But if you’re feeling generous, leaving a tip is always a courtesy to show appreciation for the good service.

8. Don’t drink the tap water 

Most urban cities in Ecuador have reliable potable water systems, so using tap water to cook and wash is considered safe.

Ecuadorians, however, will never drink tap water unless it has been purified and will mostly stick to boiling it before drinking. In rural areas, water is not necessarily potable, so opt out of drinking tap water entirely and favor boiled or bottled water.

Don’t miss Ecuador’s best experiences. Here’s our guide to things to do

A senior man steers a canoe down a river with jungle either side
Learn a few words of Spanish for the best experience with local people © Westend61 / Getty Images

9. Learn basic Spanish phrases

While knowing how to communicate with locals is a good idea on any trip, memorizing some Spanish keywords can truly make a difference in Ecuador. L

earning etiquette words such as buenos días (good day), por favor (please) and gracias (thank you), as well as useful traveling phrases, will go a long way when interacting with Ecuadorian people.

Many Ecuadorians will find ways to communicate with you even if they can’t speak your language, but don’t assume or expect them to understand you without first trying to speak in Spanish.

If you lack confidence in your Spanish-speaking skills, head for Quito, a preferred destination for language learning because of quiteños’ slow and almost accentless way of speaking. This is an excellent place to book a class or engage in Spanish learning experiences.

10. Violence and crime has increased

Unfortunately, Ecuador has experienced violent crime associated with drug cartels and transnational criminal organizations.

Violence is predominant in port cities and the coastal region, but this doesn’t mean you have to entirely rule the country out from your itinerary. People are still carrying out their daily lives, working hard to offer the best experiences to visitors.

Check the latest foreign travel advice from your government (the FCDO advises for UK citizens, the Department of State for US citizens), to see which areas, if any, they advise against travel to.

11. Take safety precautions

While falling victim to crime can happen to anyone, being careful and taking additional precautions is always encouraged. If you travel to Guayaquil, the country’s second-biggest city and main port, and the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas and Los Ríos, be sure to avoid conflict areas and red zones.

As a general rule everywhere in Ecuador, don’t wander alone and avoid being out late at night.

12. Be wary of overly friendly people

Traveling is synonymous with meeting new people and making friends. However, be cautious when going out, and don’t trust just anyone.

Solo travelers in beach areas and the night scene should be particularly aware of common theft and robbery techniques (scams, drugs in drinks, the use of scopolamine to subdue victims). 

Pay attention when meeting people. Don’t trust people who seem too eager to establish a conversation or get physically close to you for no reason. Don’t accept anything (flyers, cards etc) in the streets, and keep your valuables hidden.

13. Make basic checks on taxis and ride-hailing apps

Using apps and hailing taxis on the streets is relatively safe and affordable in Ecuador, but always check their credentials — car plates are nonnegotiable, if the car doesn’t have one, don’t get in. 

If you opt for a taxi, always make sure that the meter is on when you hop in. If you’re uncomfortable with hailing taxis from the street, ask your tour guide or hotel staff for their trusted taxi or transportation companies.

This article was first published Oct 7, 2023 and updated May 14, 2024.



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