Most Popular Facts about Ecuador
Capital City: Quito
Time Zone: UTC-05:00
Location: Ecuador lies in the northwestern corner of South America, bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the south and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Climate: Because Ecuador is on the equator, the country has 12 hours of direct equatorial daylight all year round. However, depending on where you live in Ecuador, the climate will vary. If you live in Quito, for example, which lies between the Andean Mountains’ eastern and western ridges, the climate is spring-like all year: 50 F at night and 69 F during the day. The coastal areas and rainforests have a tropical climate with temperatures ranging between 80 F and 90 F.
Currency: U.S. dollar
Financial Information: Major hotels and restaurants accept credit cards. You will need to have cash if you eat at small, homey restaurants. Local street artisans accept only cash so if you plan to shop, come prepared! Note that most small shop owners cannot change large bills so make sure you have plenty of $1 and $5 dollar notes.
If you plan to use your ATM card, be sure you know your PIN number.
Language: Spanish is the official language of Ecuador and you’ll find the version spoken in most of the country to be one of the purest and easiest to understand in the Spanish-speaking world for non-native speakers.
Telephone Country Code: 593
Emergency numbers: In case of an emergency, call 911 or 101 for the police only.
Popular Expats Regions: Quito, Cotacachi, Ibarra, Cuenca, Loja, Vilcabamba, Salinas and Manta. Links to these towns can be found in the further resources section below.
Some Vital Facts on Ecuador
Residence: There are a number of ways to become an Ecuadorian resident, or to stay in the country for extended periods, and the process usually only takes a few months at most to complete. And the good news is, the process has become less complicated and time-consuming than in the past.
In addition to existing offices in Quito and Guayaquil, the government has opened an office in Cuenca in response to the growing expat population there. All offices have bilingual staff to assist non-Spanish speaking applicants.
The document requirements have been streamlined, and foreigners are now sometimes receiving their visas within weeks rather than months. The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Comercio e Integración (MMRRE) is the authority for both non-immigrant as well as immigrant or residence visas.
Cost of Living: Ecuador is one of the least expensive countries in the world in which to live. From the price of real estate and rent, to the cost of hiring a full-time maid, to the price of produce and dinner at a good restaurant, you’ll be surprised at the low cost of living in Ecuador. A survey of some of our expat friends living in Ecuador came to the conclusion that it costs about 50% to 70% less to live in Ecuador when compared to a similar standard of living in North America.
Healthcare: Although Ecuador is a developing country, you will find low-cost, first-rate medical care here, particularly in the major cities. Many doctors are educated in the U.S., Europe, Argentina, Chile, and Cuba, and continue to train around the world.
Real Estate Market: After more than seven years of 8% annual appreciation nationwide and double-digit appreciation in some markets, including Cuenca, Ecuador’s real estate market appears to be cooling down.
In the more active markets of Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, greater supply and slower sales indicate that a market top is being reached. This is mainly due to a decline in the number of sales to Ecuadorians living or returning from overseas, particularly from the U.S. and Spain.
Expats are an obvious target, and their influx is often blamed for recent increases in real estate prices. In truth, sales to gringos account for less than 1% of transactions. Rising material and labor costs, a government mortgage program for first-time homebuyers, and market speculators are more likely factors.
However, real estate experts don’t foresee a “bubble” similar to the one that caused so much damage in the U.S. in 2008. They point out that, following the banking crisis of 1999 and 2000, real estate prices in Ecuador were flat for years and in some areas actually went down. So in the last few years the market has been playing catch-up. In all likelihood, current activity points to healthy stabilization, with the expectations of reasonable appreciation and properties being on the market longer.
Renting: In Ecuador, one of the best ways to find a good rental (and most adventurous, depending on your level of Spanish) is to wait until you get to the town/city you’d like to relocate to and simply to stroll the area you find most attractive. Look for Se Renta or Se Arrienda (“for rent”) signs and call the telephone numbers on them. Another good way is to check the classifieds section of the local newspaper.
Tipping: A tip is not required in restaurants. A 10% service charge—which should be shared among all employees—is included in most bills. Many restaurants and bars, however—including some owned by expats—fail to pass the money on to the employees, using a variety of excuses. Therefore, if restaurant service is good, you can give something directly to the service person. 10% is adequate. For airport porters and hotel employees, $1 to $1.50 is an adequate tip for handling your bags. Taxi drivers are not tipped but will often claim not to have correct change. Carry plenty of $1 and $5 bills when using taxis. Taxis are inexpensive in Quito, usually no more than $1-$3, although you will pay more from the airport—usually about $5. Nature guides, boat captains, and private tour guides are usually tipped based on performance: $5 to $10 per day.
Business Hours: Hours vary. U.S. business hours are becoming more common, but long lunches are still the rule, usually from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Soccer matches and fiestas can cause late openings and/or early closings.
Food and Water: Most hotels provide bottled drinking water in the rooms. The food in Ecuador is great…an abundance of fruits, exquisite fresh juices (try them all!), fresh vegetables, and excellent seafood. Most of the hotels and restaurants here are careful to serve food that has been specially washed and prepared with health concerns in mind. It is doubtful that you will get sick, but please don’t take a chance and do not drink the water from the tap. (Also brush your teeth with bottled water.)
What to Pack: Packing is an art and everyone who travels has his or her own style. These points of advice, however, should help you bring the right combination of clothes for this diverse country. Quito is a cosmopolitan city, so you should bring at least one nice outfit to wear when you go out to dinner, although it doesn’t need to be too formal and you won’t need a necktie. Outside the cities, however, dress is fairly casual, so the key word is comfort—good walking shoes for exploring the markets, a sweater or jacket and warm pants for those cool highland evenings, and a hat to keep the equatorial sun at bay. (You could buy yourself a Panama hat when you first arrive—they’re made in Ecuador, you know!)
If you are planning to visit the coast, bring warm-weather clothing (and don’t forget your swimsuit and sunscreen). The hottest time of the year at the beach is between January and May, when high temperatures often reach the low 90s F. In the rainforest stick to natural fibers to stay comfortable when it’s humid. You might want to bring a small, dependable flashlight, as well as a good guidebook and a Spanish/English dictionary.
It’s always advisable to make photocopies of your passport and plane tickets—keep one set with you, and leave a set with someone back home who can e-mail or fax them to you in case of an emergency.
Altitude Sickness: Ecuador is home to some of the highest volcanoes and mountain peaks in the world. Quito is nestled in a long narrow valley between the lush hilly base of the Volcano Pichincha to the west and the precipitous canyon of the river Machángara to the east, and sits at 9,500 feet, (3,000 meters). Someone flying to Quito from New York City, for example, experiences an elevation change of nearly two miles in little more than six hours.
Abrupt changes in elevation such as this sometimes have ill effects on travelers. Altitude sickness usually manifests itself in insomnia, headaches, and/or nausea. In the event that you do experience symptoms of altitude sickness, in most cases, they can be remedied by drinking lots of water, getting lots of rest, and taking aspirin. Avoid alcohol and caffeine and try some coca tea, which helps to alleviate some of the symptoms. Your hotel will usually offer this. To combat the symptoms of altitude sickness such as fatigue, nausea, and mild headaches, taking DIAMOX, or its equivalent, is an option. DIAMOX is a drug that increases oxygen profusion and is readily available in Ecuador pharmacies, however it is advisable to start taking the drug a day or two before you arrive.
One final note with respect to altitude—use sunblock. You may feel cool while high in the Andes, but because of the altitude you are much closer to the sun, and the risk of sunburn is greater. Use a sunblock level rated at least 15 SPF.
Fun and Interesting Facts about Ecuador
Ecuador is a major source of cacao. About 70% of the world’s cacao used for chocolate products comes from Ecuador each year. Ecuador is also know for their own chocolate products, with many varieties and flavors available to sample. Ecuador even has a chocolate flavored wine, marketed locally under the brand name “KKO”.
Ecuador may be small, but it is home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites:
Quito – Capital city, founded in the 16th Century. This cosmopolitan town has a beautifully preserved historic district, and many great tourist destinations. Just outside of town, Mitad del Mundo, the park at the equator, is the most popular tourist destinations in Ecuador.
Cuenca – Also founded in the 16th Century, Cuenca’s historic district has maintained its orthogonal town plan for over 400 years. Many beautiful parks and great examples of colonial architecture make this a wonderful place to visit or live.
Sangay National Park – This natural heritage site includes the active volcanoes of Tungurahura and Chimborazo, the latter of which is the tallest mountain in the world (measured from the center of the earth to the summit). This park has plains, glaciers, rain forest, and snow-capped peaks.
Galapagos – This cluster of islands, famous for the birthplace of Darwin’s revolutionary insights into the origins and development life, is one of the world’s “bucket list” destinations.
In addition to these four sites, there are currently no less than seven other nominations for UNESCO from Ecuador that are currently under consideration.
Fin de Año or Año Viejo
Few people enjoy a good fiesta like they do in Ecuador. One of the biggest celebrations is the one held on what North American’s consider New Years Eve. In Ecuador, they celebrate the passing of the old, rather than the start of the new. And they do it in style!
For weeks before the celebration, Ecuadorians are hard at work on monigotes. These are paper mache figures made to resemble everything from cartoon characters, political figures, sports stars, animals, or just about anything else. Some are the size of small dolls, others tower up to 20 or 30 feet tall!Elaborately decorates and painted, these effigies are then filled with scraps of clothing, notes listing things like bad habits or problems you would like to leave in the old year, and often fireworks.
As soon as it starts to get dark on December 31st, the fireworks begin. At midnight, the monigotes are piled up and set ablaze. The firework shows get even more intense, and continue until the sun comes up. In some areas, people try to leap over the flames for luck, or have traditions about what colors to wear, and more. On the beaches of Salinas, Ecuador’s most popular seaside resort, the bonfire are much to large for leaping – but wherever you are in Ecuador on December 31st, you will be treated to a fiesta you will long remember.