Ecuador was a place we were told numerous times to skip, just because it was pricier than other South American countries and, besides, we weren’t even going to the Galápagos, so what’s the point?! Well, after spending a month there, I can say for sure that going to the Galapagos is probably a ton of fun but also definitely not necessary to enjoy Ecuador. Aside from that revelation and a half, I also figured out a ton of things while travelling in Ecuador that, just like with Colombia, nobody tells you about.
Although I will admit I’d been pre-warned about the creepy clown bins. And yes, you read that right.
Either way, if you’re planning a trip to one of South America’s most diverse and petite countries in the near (or distant, whatever) future, this rundown of things to know before you travel to Ecuador will be invaluable. And funny. Always funny.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO ECUADOR
It’s Ecuador, not Equador. Don’t be that guy (my dad, in his emails). OK, I’m just kidding with this one, but, really guys, it’s Ecuador with a C.
Things seem cheaper because of the dollar. I know that sounds bizarre, but if you’re fresh off a visit to Colombia with their crazy peso system, and are typically used to paying for things in pounds, dollars, or even euros, Ecuador seems cheap. Be warned though, it’s decidedly not cheap in comparison with neighbouring Peru and Colombia.
However, ‘long-distance’ buses are crazy good value. A good rule of thumb is to work out how many hours the journey should last and convert it to dollars. That’s what you’ll pay.
And, post-Colombia (or Peru), ‘long-distance’ bus rides in Ecuador seem like actually-quite-brief bus rides. Refreshing.
Although, while they (mostly) all have flat screen TVs, very few have toilets. Maybe this is something to do with the fact that most city-to-city journeys can be done in 5 hours or less and the assumption is that people won’t need to go, but…yeah, plan accordingly.
They also have a very efficient conductor on every bus. These men (they’re almost exclusively men) will herd people into seats and come round to take your fare. They also let you know when to get off and generally make bus travel run far smoother.
You shouldn’t put your bags anywhere but your lap when travelling by bus. The long-distance buses in Ecuador may be great value, but it’s common knowledge that you need to keep your shit within sight at all times.
There is clearly some kind of national napkin shortage. I feel like I need to start some kind of social media campaign, because obviously Ecuador is suffering from a countrywide lack of napkins. I mean, they only give you one or two per person with your meal, so what other explanation could there be?!
You can try your bus purchases before you buy. Every so often, vendors will hop onto the bus to sell you some sweets, biscuits or, weirdly, ice creams. Sometimes you’ll be allowed to try a bit before you buy, typically candied nuts or biscuits, but it’s a nice touch you’d be unlikely to see in Mexico, for example.
This is one for the Mexican Spanish speakers, but Ecuadorians also say mande. No longer do I get stared at blankly when I say mande.
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The seating system can be confusing on buses. I’m talking the ones you get on to go from city-to-city, not the inner-city ones. Anyway, there’s always one solo seat right at the front. It must be number 1, right? No, it’s actually number 44, so don’t plonk yourself there if your assigned seat is #1.
Popcorn is sometimes given as an added extra with soup or almuerzos. I don’t know why, but it’s usually really fucking great popcorn. Eat it. Also, it’s called canguiles there, not palomitas or crispetas. Spanish is fun.
Quito is super high altitude. Remember when I said Bogotá was high up? Well, Quito is higher. In fact, La Paz, Bolivia is the only capital city in South America that sits at a higher altitude. (Although Cusco, Peru is far higher still than Quito). Fun fact: I walked five blocks uphill for a bus on my first day in Quito and nearly fainted—I’m inclined to blame the altitude rather than my fitness levels. For obvious reasons.
There are tons of random police searches on public transport. The first time our bus was searched it was right after crossing the Colombian border, so I guess it makes sense that no one was smuggling something shifty into the country, I guess. This was also the bus ride when me and Inti had to get off and have our bags searched, because a Mexican travelling with a Brit clearly gave the police enough pause to suspect us of wrongdoing. Hmm. However, we were also searched on another occasion too. I can only assume it’s something that happens on the reg, given the nonplussed responses of the locals.
The craft beer scene is surprisingly good. Far better than in Colombia.
The Mitad del Mundo monument is FAKE NEWS. The real monument is just round the corner from the huge Mitad del Mundo site and worth visiting if you’re especially anal about the exactitude of your tourist attractions. We just went to Mitad del Mundo though.
Panama hats originated in Ecuador. Blame the press for this one, because while Panama hats are Ecuadorian, Teddy Roosevelt was pictured wearing one in Panama and…well, the rest is literally history.
Only drink the Cuenca tap water. This is apparently the only place its safe to do so. I can vouch for the fact that it didn’t make us sick at least.
$20 bill? Think again! This is the biggest bill I’d even attempt to spend in Ecuador, and even then you’ll likely have trouble getting change if you’re making a small purchase.
Skip Riobamba, but definitely head to Cuenca. My boyfriend ranked this as his favourite city on our entire trip. Some people find it boring and a bit same-y after numerous other Latin American cities, but it was actually pretty laidback and chill. Different strokes, I guess.
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Taxis should have cameras, panic buttons and orange number plates. According to a handout I was given at the border, these are the legal requirements for all Ecuadorian taxis. That’s not to say we didn’t get in some that had different coloured licence plates, but still, it’s useful to know. Also, ask them to use their taximetro (taximetre), and if they refuse, just get out. That’s non-negotiable.
While Colombia has yellow coloured, petite empanadas, Ecuador has large white ones. Choose from deep fried empanadas de morocho (made from corn masa and filled with meat and veg) or empanadas de viento (stuffed with cheese, usually). Both are greasy. Both are delicious.
You should eat all the chocolate. As the world’s biggest exporter of cacao beans, it should come as no surprise that the chocolate in Ecuador is delicious. The most prevalent brand you’ll see dotted around is easily Pacari, but if you get the chance to take chocolate tours do it. Duh.
Stamps ain’t cheap. I paid at least $3 for a stamp back to the UK and I don’t think the bloody postcard ever even arrived.
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Quito has two wildly different bus terminals. The northern Carcelén terminal is…rundown for want of a better way of putting it, while the southern Quitumbe terminal is super modern and expansive. Don’t get them confused either, because they’re bloody miles apart and you’ll have to either take an expensive taxi or hop on a public bus (which costs around a dollar per person) in order to make your way between them.
The best Ecuadorian cheese is made in the Andes. The tiny town of Salinas de Guaranda is a bit of a ballache to get to. And very cold. And kind of like a ghost town. But, it’s also the producer of Ecuador’s best cheese, Salinerito.
You can go to the Galapagos on a budget. Kind of. I mean, I didn’t, but I will point you in the direction of someone who did, for reference.
Clown bins. Not as creepy as expected, but certainly a little bizarre. They also come in duck head and cartoon character versions.
Wild pigs. Everywhere. Cute and then also a little unsettling after a while. (Well, they almost certainly have owners, but they certainly look wild.)
ALPACAS ARE LOVE, ALPACAS ARE LIFE. This needs no further explanation.
Do you agree? What surprised you about travel to Ecuador? Tell me in the comments!