Ecuador offers travelers a world of experiences, from trekking the high mountain trails of the Andes to snorkeling alongside the reefs of the Pacific, plus many lively cities from Quito to Manta. Unfortunately, you can't count on a favorable exchange rate. Ecuador switched to the dollar after its own currency, the Sucre, collapsed in 2000, so there's no cash advantage for American travelers.
Even though Ecuador uses the dollar, things are generally less expensive than in the United States. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is about 55% cheaper than Washington D.C., according to Expatistan.com. Coin collectors will be in paradise, however, as $1 Sacagaweas are very common. Ahead are 7 ways we at GET.com have narrowed down for you to help you save your Sacagweas while traveling through Ecuador.
1. Galapagos, Book Now Or Later?
Want to spot some blue-footed boobies, or snorkel with some green turtles? The Galapagos Islands is the only place in the world you can, but how do you get there?
You can book a flight to Isla Baltra or San Cristobal, the only 2 airports on the Galapagos Islands, days, weeks or months in advance. Ticket prices don't change much, even if you book at the last minute. Flights from Quito costs about $450, while accommodation options on the islands usually cost less than $25 a night.
Flights from Guayaquil are a little less expensive than flights from Quito, but there are fewer places to book and less to do while you wait, so I think it's better to take one of the twice-daily flights from the capital. You'll have to get a round-trip ticket, proof of accommodation and pay the $100 "park entrance" fee that goes toward preserving the islands' ecosystem.
Be sure to bring cash to pay the fee, as well as your daily expenses. There are not many ATMs on the islands and many businesses only accept cash. I recommend booking a flight and a tour package through a hostel in Quito: You'll usually get a deal on accommodations through one of their partners on the islands.
2. Manta or Salinas?
Ecuador's pristine coastline is dotted with dozens of small towns that are a worth a look, but if you're like most travelers to Ecuador, your choice of where to soak up the sun and surf will probably come down to two choices: Manta or Salinas.
Each beach town has its fans: The fishing is supposedly better in Manta, while surfers prefer Salinas. Salinas has a well-deserved reputation as a party town for Guayaquil's young and restless, while Manta is more laid-back, called home by plenty of expat retirees.
Can't decide? Then visit both. If you do decide to visit both, you might be better off flying from Manta or Guayaquil first then taking the bus to Salinas. A bus ride from Manta to Salinas offers a picturesque view of Ecuador's scenic coastline on the Ruta del Sol and is very affordable, although it takes 6 hours.
Traveler's Note: A magnitude 7.8 earthquake rocked Ecuador's coast in April 2016, and you may still see some evidence of the destruction when you visit. Manta's main shopping district, Tarqui, was leveled, and many coastal cities are still rebuilding.
3. Getting Around: Bus or Plane?
Image source: Tame Línea Aérea del Ecuador via Facebook
Say you're in Quito but want to head to Manta before hopping over to the Galapagos. Do you take a bus or throw caution to the wind and fly? A bus ride takes nearly 12 hours, but the upshot is that it only costs $20.
On the other hand, a trip from Quito to Manta on TAME, Ecuador's national airline, costs about $50 and takes less than an hour. TAME is a member of SkyTeam, which lets you earn miles with the Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program. Or you could pay slightly more, about $60, for a flight on Avianca to earn miles with the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program through Star Alliance.
If you're on a tight schedule and want to earn some miles, I recommend flying. But if your schedule's flexible or you just want to pinch your Sacagaweas, Ecuador's scenery is certainly worth the extra time of bus travel.
4. Where To Stay? Hotels, Hostels or Hospedajes?
Accommodations are very affordable in Ecuador, so it's all a matter of what you prefer. What surprised me most about Ecuador, particularly Quito, was how many affordable hotels there were. You can save a couple bucks a night by staying at a hostel, but if you're burnt out on the hostel scene, there's usually an affordable alternative that offers more privacy and less bustle and noise.
If you're really traveling on a budget, try a hospedaje. Hospedajes are like informal Airbnbs: Families rent out rooms for a few days or weeks at a time to make extra money and hear travelers' stories. Homestays at hospedajes are very affordable, costing only a few dollars a night in rural areas, and it's a great way to practice your Spanish, too. The hardest part about hospedajes is finding them, so don't be afraid to ask.
Uber isn't available in Quito (yet). If you're stuck in downtown Quito on a late Saturday night and need a ride back to your hostel or hotel, it's EasyTaxi to the rescue. The app can be a lifesaver, but you'll still pay the standard, government-set rate. Taxis are cheaper in Ecuador than in the United States, but that doesn't mean they're cheap.
A trip from Quito's new Mariscal Sucre International Airport into Old Town costs about $30, with a tip. You're definitely better off taking a shuttle from the airport into the capital. But for short trips about town, you shouldn't have to pay more than $8 per trip, including tip.
In the worst-case scenario, say your battery dies or you're out of service at a bar or restaurant at 2 o'clock in the morning, just ask the staff or a local to call you a cab.
6. Shop Domestic Before Imported
Ecuador is a great shopping destination, but it depends on what you're buying. If you're hoping to score some cheap designer clothes or electronic gadgets, you're in for some serious sticker shock. But if you want some authentic, locally-made gear, you're in a shopper's paradise.
Taxes on imported goods are meant to encourage Ecuadorians and tourists to buy domestic goods. You'll often see billboards encouraging you to buy domestically-produced products, from clothes and shoes to milk and meat, and you should heed the advice: You'll save money plus support Ecuador's bustling economy.
If you're planning to move to Ecuador, you'll have to pay 75% of the assessed value of your stuff in order to ship it into the country. Because import taxes are so high, most Ecuadorians and expats hop the border into Colombia or Peru to buy pricey things like electronics and appliances. Everybody loves to hate the import taxes, but it's all for a good cause: Supporting the development of Ecuadorian industry.
7. Skip Guayaquil
Guayaquil is Ecuador's most populous city with 3 million inhabitants and its port is the main trade artery for the country. What it's not, is a tourist hotspot.
The climate is hot, muggy and smoggy, and the city itself doesn't have much to offer visitors. Travelers looking for nightlife should look elsewhere. Downtown on a Saturday night in Guayaquil, I was the only person on the street for 5 blocks.
The best part of Guayaquil is the airport. Trust me, if you spend any length of time in Guayaquil you'll be relieved to leave. Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International is small but very modern, so if you're just in town for a layover, you won't be too disappointed.