In September 2000 Ecuador completed its dollarisation process and the sucre was eliminated. Despite this, the sucre (Su) is likely to persist for quite a while yet. Made up of 100 centavos. The notes in use are Su100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 and coins are in denominations of Su1, 20, 50, 100 and 1,000. Notes smaller than Su5,000 are rare as are the smaller coins.
Spanish is the country’s official language but there are numerous indigenous languages spoken in the different regions. Some English is also spoken in the larger cities and tourist areas.
Ecuador enjoys a warm subtropical climate but weather within the country can be extremely localised and variable due to the mountain range of the Andes and the fact that part of the country lies along the coast. Most places, however, have a dry season and a wet season. The Amazon basin is usually wet from September to April where temperatures will average at about 28 degrees Celsius and it rains most days. Between May and August rainfall decreases and temperatures increase to about 32 degrees Celsius. In the east, the wet season is from June to August with average temperatures of about 20 degrees Celsius. In coastal Ecuador the dry season is between June and December but during this period the sun can disappear for up to three months at a time. So, as is clear from this the weather is very different from place to place so you really should keep abreast of the weather for your particular destination in the weeks prior to travelling.
Mainland Ecuador lies five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time while the Galapagos are six hours behind. Neither region observes daylight saving time.
Most shops and businesses are open between 9.00am and 5.30pm from Monday to Friday and from 9.00am until midday on Saturday. In more rural they may also close for up to two hours for lunch during the day while in the bigger cities and tourist regions many places are not open for a full day on Saturday and some also open on Sunday. Banks are open between 9.00am and 1.30pm from Monday to Friday and some open between 9.30am and 2.00pm on Saturdays and government offices are between 9.00am and 5.30 from Monday to Friday with many also closing for lunch for one hour during the afternoon.
The voltage used is 110/120V, 60Hz AC.
The majority of visitors to Ecuador will require a tourist visa and as well as this you will also need to ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months after the date of your arrival. The tourist visa which you need is a T-3 tourist card which is valid for a period of between 60 or ninety days depending on which you are entitled to. This visa is free and can be obtained on arrival in the country either at the airport or the border crossings but should be kept on your person at all times. If you wish to extend your visa you will need to do so at the immigration office in Quito.
If you intend to stay in the country for a period of longer than ninety days or to work or study there you should contact the embassy in your home country before travelling. As well as this, there are certain nationalities who will need to obtain a visa before entering Ecuador so if you are unsure it is also worth contacting the embassy to confirm.
The tourist office run by the Ecuadorian government is CETUR and this agency has offices in all the major cities. Nonetheless, it is not really an organisation aimed at budget travellers and it rarely has staff which speak English so your best bet is to take a good guide book with you and hope for the best. The staff and people staying in your hostel, however, should be able to point you in the right direction so you don’t need to worry too much.
Due to the dollarisation of the Sucre last year, you are recommended to carry both US bills and traveller’s cheques while you are in Ecuador. Any other currencies are virtually impossible to exchange once you leave the major cities of Quito, Cuenca or Guayaguil.
You can change cash either in any of the banks or in the host of exchange houses or ‘casos de cambio’ which you will find in all the major towns and cities as well as the main tourist locations. Most choose the latter as the commission rate is usually better and while banks only open between 9.00am and 1.30pm from Monday to Friday with some opening between 9.30am and 2.00pm on Saturday, the casos de cambio are open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Friday and between 9.00am and midday on Saturday.
All major credit cards are also widely accepted and if you have the PIN you can use these to receive cash in compatible bank machines. The same applies to bankcards which are members of any of the international banking networks.
The country code for Ecuador is 593 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 593, the two-digit city code and the local six digit number. The main city codes are 2 for Quito, 4 or Guayaquil, 5 for Manta and the Galapagos and 7 for Cuenca. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country. You should also note that you need to omit the 0 from the local code where applicable.
In major cities local calls can be made from street phones which are located throughout. While some coin phones still exist, the majority are now card phones which you can purchase in stores run by the two main networks – Bell South or Porta – or in some pharmacies and convenience stores. Some tiendas or shops also allow public use of their phones are usually not the cheapest facility and prices vary from store to store. For the most competitive rates for any type of call use an Andinatel office which is run by the state’s official phone company.
The more upmarket restaurants and hotels will include a 10% service charge as well as 10% tax in the bill but smaller establishments don’t do this. Nevertheless tipping, even in the case of the latter, is entirely at your discretion. If you wish to do so 10% is considered sufficient and you should tip the waiter directly as opposed to leaving it on the table. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped but if you want to give them any small change from your fare this is perfectly acceptable.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Ecuador they take place on January 1st, Good Friday, May 1st and 24th, August 10th, October 9th and 12th, November 2nd and 3rd and December 25th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.