Ecuador Tourist Information
Things to do on your Ecuador Scuba Diving Holiday
Looking for some information to make your Ecuador diving trip run smoothly?
This section contains tourist information for your visit to the following locations:
The main reason divers come to Ecuador is to experience the heart-pumping marine action around the Galapagos islands. Amazing land tours and a fascinating historical education make it a unique diving destination ...
Ecuador straddles the equator after which it is named, and occupies an area of approximately 280,000 km². Quito is the nation's capital and has the buildings, events and nightlife to prove it. It is considered to be one the best preserved historic centres of South America, a distinction for which UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage Site.
Set inland from the coast in a long valley in the Andes, Quito's historic sites, museums and the surrounding mountainous area, make it an interesting place to spend some time. It is well located to be a base from which to explore elsewhere in the country. Although less convenient for cheap flights to the Galapagos and well timed international transfers, if you intend to spend some time in mainland Ecuador, Quito is a great place to start.
Guayaquil, located on the Pacific coast, is the main port of Ecuador and its most populated city. It is a hot sea port with what some call a ‘Caribbean air’ as the music of steel drums fill the air and seafood sizzles on the grills.
It is becoming an increasingly important tourism hub and, with the generation of new green zones and tourist-friendly features, it is trying hard to leave behind a past image of being a dirty and edgy city. Many divers pass through on their way to dive in the Galapagos and maybe spend a night or 2 here.
• View a map of Ecuador
• Watch our Galapagos diving videos
The rest of this page contains information about Quito and Guayaquil:
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Security and Safety
Quito has the same issues as every big city, and sometimes more. You would be well advised to take special care in certain areas.
The Old Town is a busy tourist area during the day with a strong police presence. Aside from taking the usual precautions against notorious pickpockets and opportunistic thieves, there is no particular threat here. Pickpockets can be a threat elsewhere such as at the main trolley station, so you may wish to make good use of your hotel safety deposit box and carry only what cash you might need.
In the evenings some places are best avoided, particularly as a pedestrian, such as El Panecillo, Mariscal Sucre and other parks and the area around Hospital Militar. Taxis are always the best way to get around.
In Guayaquil, again sensible precautions and the avoidance of potentially risky situations should see you enjoy your time here without incident. However sensible precautions in Guayaquil may be a little more extensive than elsewhere.
Night times are not a time to be on foot and you should stick to the safer areas. These are generally accepted as being Las Penas, Plaza de la Administración and Avenida 9 de Octubre. Malecón 2000 is a safe and well patrolled spot day and night. As with Quito, you should avoid carrying too much cash or any credit cards with you and avoid wearing flashy jewellery. We advise you to pre-arrange all airport transfers and organise taxis through your hotel. Taxi robberies are a danger in Guayaquil.
How to Get There
Most visitors who dive in Ecuador at the Galapagos Islands stay on the Ecuadorian mainland for at least 1 night. Unless you get perfectly timed flight connections, there is a chance that you will spend at least a day or 2 here.
Flights to Ecuador from Europe and USA are frequent and often less expensive than you might think.
Flying into José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport, Guayaquil (elected as best South American Airport) is our recommended route since onwards flights to the Galapagos are cheaper and better timed than from Quito. However you can still go through Quito although both your outbound and inbound flights to Galapagos will stop in Guayaquil.
From China, Japan, Canada and USA, the flights are routed through Miami, New York and Houston. From Europe, the flights depart from Madrid, Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt always have a layover in the Caribbean islands, Panama City or Bogota. There are many flights from elsewhere in central and South America.
Airlines that fly to Ecuador include: Delta, American Airlines, KLM, Air France and Iberia.
Where to Stay
Our affiliated hotel reservation agents Agoda.com have a variety of accommodations in Ecuador. Browse the choices on their website, use their live chat to ask your questions, and then simply use your credit card to make your reservation.
You can book your mainland Ecuador accommodation for over-nighting or for extending your stay. Locations include Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Manta and Salinas. In any location you can benefit from Agoda's 'Low Price Guarantee', so you will always get top-dollar value for money.
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Guayaquil can be hot and humid although the temperature ranges between 20 and 34° C. January to June sees the most rain and the dry season runs from July until mid December.
Quito is subtropical and, because of its highland location (2,850 metres), maintains a cool temperature that stays fairly constant in the mid 20's. The wet season is October to May, while the dry season is June to September.
Sightseeing and Things to Do
Most tourists tend to focus on the Old Town, around the central plaza. The Old Town is what made Quito a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 1978. Cathedrals, places and statues of independence heroes dominate the streets.
Colonial homes can be visited in the Old Town, the choice of which are 2 of a distinctly historical nature, Casa de Benalcázar, the home of one of the nation's founders, and Casa de Sucre, where Field Marshall José de Antonio de Sucre, a hero of Latin American battles for independence, lived.
Museums are worth visiting in Quito, particularly the Museo Franciscano in the Monastery of San Francisco, the oldest colonial building in Quito. Other museums within monasteries include San Augustín and San Diego. The Museo del Arte y Historia and the Museo de Arte Colonial are great places to see the varying influences of Spanish, Italian, Moorish and indigenous art.
Given Quito’s beautiful natural setting, it is unsurprising that hiking tours into the nearby highlands overlooking the city are a popular pastime among tourists. Your hotel will have information on the various tours available.
You would be wise to stick to the downtown area near the main hotels in Guyaquil. This is a regenerated area, designed to ensure the safety and comfort of tourists, and there are a number of things to see and do.
The Malecon del Salado is an area where you can enjoy fresh air and wonderful sunsets, with restaurants serving local delicacies, all within a safe new park and free of the worst excesses of traffic and potential pickpockets.
Take a walk up the 400+ steps to the top of the Santa Ana and El Carmen hills. From here you can see almost the whole city. There is a lighthouse, church, museum and a small park. At the foot of the steps in the Malecon Simón Bolivar you will find another lovely park with an IMAX theatre.
Nearby is a market worth checking out for souvenirs and all manner of kitsch. It is known locally as the Mercado Artesanal - the ‘Artisans’ market’.
For a wide range of eco-, nature and adventure tours throughout Ecuador, visit the specialists: Ecuadorian Tours and Escape to Ecuador.
Quito has plenty of bars and clubs to choose from, and you should find something that you consider a nice watering hole. Popular bars include The Bungalow 6 in the Mariscal area, the ubiquitous Irish pub in Finn McCool's, one block from Plaza Foch, and the intriguingly named Kama Sutra Bar & Café, Calama 380, where the young and beautiful hang out.
There are quite a few internationally owned bars so you may forget you are in Ecuador since in some bars there is more paraphernalia from the theme country than from Ecuador. If you want to set your fire burning on the dance floor, you might want to check out the popular Papillon Disco (on the corner of Pinezón and Colón).
Guayaquil has an active nightlife scene although it is a little less international and a little more rough around the edges than in Quito. The Kennedy Mall is home to several different bars and nightclubs, and if you don't find what you are looking for there, try those on Avenida de las Americas.
In Quito, there is an invisible line (sometimes breached) between fancy restaurants and those serving international cuisine in the New Town, and simply cooked and served local fare in the Old Town.
You can find just about any type of food here including Chinese, Italian, Arabic, French, and international fast food, such as at the Magic Bean in the New Town. Vegetarians and vegans should check out Govinda, in the Old Town.
The finer New Town restaurants include names like Il Risotto, La Ronda, La Terraza de Tartaro and La Vina - an upscale eatery in La Mariscal. The Old Town features juice bars, cafés and hawkers stalls, so you can stick to corn on the cob, or devour a roasted guinea pig. There is really something for everyone.
Arguably the most populated restaurant area in Guayaquil is along the Malecón 2000 where you can find the quick and easy Bopan's, which is one of the few places you can find a real espresso. There is also the Resaca , meaning 'hangover', a popular place which does a great range of bar-snack-style meals.
A short distance from Malecón, on the corner of Boyacá and Clemente Ballén, is the Pepe de Oro in the Grand Hotel, where dinner is accompanied by traditional music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Seafood is the specialty here on an extensive menu.
BBQ lovers should head to La Parilla del Nato (on the corner of Luque and Pichincha), although you may need to be careful ordering from the menu if you wish to avoid blood-based delicacies or intestines.
Until the 15th century, people lived in clan-based, tribal societies prior to the bloody colonisation by the Incas who had spread north from modern day Peru. The Inca reign which began in 1462 degenerated into a bitter family feud between 2 of the Emperor's sons. The feud had developed into civil war when the Spanish, lead by Francisco Pizarro, landed in Ecuador in 1532.
The Spanish Colonial era began in earnest a few short years after Pizarro's arrival until its ultimate independence in 1830. At this time, the political claims of Spain, Peru and Colombia were all officially removed. By the end of the year of independence 2 of the men most responsible for achieving independence - Marshall Sucre and Simon Bolivar - were dead.
However the Republic of Ecuador was born and lives on to this day, although the first 30 years saw tremendous civil unrest and turbulent fighting. A quasi-dictatorship, military rule and other periods of instability would all follow as Ecuador found its democratic feet. In modern times a period of relative calm dominates the political scene; calm in Ecuadorian terms, at least.
Geographically Ecuador can be divided into 4 regions: The Galapagos Islands, the coast, the sierra or highlands and the Amazon Basin in the east. It has over 2,300 km of Pacific coastline and is bordered by Colombia and Peru.
The Local People
More than half of the population comprise of the Mestizo race, which is in fact a mixed indigenous group of Caucasian people. The rest of Ecuador is made up of Caucasian, African and some other ethnic groups.
Reasonable medical care is available in Quito, Guayaquil, and most of the other big cities. Pharmacies are plentiful. Medical facilities outside the major towns are limited.
We recommend you drink only bottled or sterilised water during your time in Ecuador, avoid unpasteurised dairy products, eat only meat that has been well-cooked, peeled fruit and cooked vegetables.
Since June 20, 2008, any person from any country can enter Ecuador and obtain a visa for a period of 90 days. Normally all you need is your passport (valid for at least 6 months) and a return ticket. We recommend you double-check with your Ecuadorian Consulate before you travel.
Quito and Guayaquil Standard Time is -5 hrs GMT.
Shopping hours for shopping malls are Monday to Friday 10:00 hrs – 20:00 hrs and Saturdays 08:00 hrs – 21:00 hrs. Local stores may have shorter opening hours.
Most banks are open Monday through Friday from 09:00 hrs until 18:00 hrs, and in Quito and Guayaquil a few stay open until 20:00 hrs (in Quito, Banco del Pinchincha on Amazonas stays open until 20:00 hrs). Likewise, casas de cambio (money changing houses) are open Monday through Friday from 09:00 hrs to 18:00 hrs. A few banks and casas de cambio are also open on Saturday mornings.
In Quito, the stretch of Avenida Amazonas between Patria and Veintimilla will cover most of your financial needs. There is a wide range of banks, ATMs, casas de cambio, and money transfer facilities. In Guayaquil you will find a similar area dedicated to financial services on the first few blocks of Avenida 9 de Octubre near the waterfront.
The currency in Ecuador is the US Dollar. Small denominations should be brought for shopping. Avoid bringing $100 dollar bills as these will not be easily accepted except at banks.
Electricity appliances operate on an alternating current, the same as the United States - 110 volts, 60 cycles (Hertz), AC, 2 flat pins.
In major cities, local calls can be made from street phones. You will probably need to buy a debit card and the service is unreliable. There are also stores that allow the use of phones but these too can cause frustration and be busy.
Calls to the USA are best done via net-phones from internet cafés. Through a computer you can connect to dialpad.com and make calls for free, and of course there is always Skype and other forms of instant messaging and internet calling.
Internet cafés are plentiful, reasonably cheap and straightforward to both locate and use.
Codes of Behaviour
Shaking hands when meeting and parting is normal in Ecuador. Body proximity is something you may note here as Ecuadorians tend to stand much closer to each other in normal circumstances than people from other cultures. You may also find them very inquisitive with many questions. In a safe environment this is an endearing way of showing interest in you. In a less safe environment you may not welcome such interest.
Tipping and Bargaining
In Ecuador tips are generally given in restaurants, to supermarket bag boys and parking lot guards. How much depends on the person doing the tipping and how satisfied they are with it. Generally it varies between 20 cents for parking and bag boys and up to US$ 5 in restaurants.
Bargaining in markets is normal and indeed essential as there is normally no set price. Often the first one suggested is hugely over-inflated, so the best first response is shock and retreat. You should counter with a maximum of half what the seller began with and settle on a price you think reasonable.
There are no clear rules about dress code, however skimpier outfits may be frowned upon away from tourist areas. Sometimes, and certainly in the highlands, the temperature can drop below what you might call ‘equatorial’ so a long sleeved sweater or jacket is worth packing.
Most tourists will not encounter any difficulties in this regard although the usual precautions should be adhered to in order to avoid petty crime in the towns. Pick-pocketing in Quito and Guayaquil can be an unwelcome problem for the unwary or under-prepared.
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Be sure to book in plenty of time to avoid limited choice. The small number of liveaboards and popularity of this destination means that you must book well in advance to ensure your reservation!