Travel Consideration: Ecuador

Contributed By RealAdventures

Ecuador is a developing country. The capital city is Quito. Tourist facilities are adequate, but they vary in quality. U.S. currency became legal tender in Ecuador in 2000, and it is valid for all financial transactions. Ecuador’s national currency, the sucre, is being phased out of general circulation, but it remains legal tender and can be exchanged for U.S. dollars.

A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and depart Ecuador. Tourists must also provide evidence of return or onward travel. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less. Those planning a longer visit must obtain a visa in advance. U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Ecuador must obtain a new passport at the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main immigration office in Quito to obtain permission to depart. An exit tax must be paid at the airport when departing Ecuador. For further information about entry, exit and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Ecuadorian Embassy at 2535 15th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; telephone (202) 234-7166; Internet -; or the Ecuadorian Consulate in Chicago (312) 329-0266, Houston (713) 622-1787, Jersey City (201) 985-1700, Los Angeles (323) 658-6020, Miami (305) 539-8214, New Orleans (504) 523-3229, New York (212) 808-0170, or San Francisco (415) 957-5921.

The U.S. Embassy in Quito advises against travel to the northern Province of Sucumbios. Since September 1996, U.S. Government personnel have been restricted from travel there. Travelers are also cautioned against visiting the areas of Carchi Province adjacent to the Colombian border. Both areas are dangerous because of the significant incidence of common crime, extortion, and kidnapping. Caution also should be used in other areas bordering Colombia, as local law enforcement is faced with growing challenges from Colombia-based organized crime, drug traffickers, and armed insurgents. Since 1994, five U.S. citizens have been kidnapped near the Colombian border.

The city of Guayaquil has experienced a dramatic increase in kidnappings for ransom, often in connection with carjackings. Travelers are advised to be observant of their surroundings, particularly in the restaurant district of Urdesa.
Political demonstrations occur sporadically in urban areas, usually to protest the Ecuadorian Government’s handling of the economy. Past demonstrations have been marked by burning tires, blocked streets, and Molotov cocktails. Handguns have been fired into the air and, occasionally, at the police during demonstrations. The police generally respond by using water cannons and tear gas. Public transportation tends to be disrupted during these incidents. Rural highways are also sometimes blocked by protesters, and demonstrations against government policies have occasionally taken place in the Galapagos Islands. Travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are in progress, and keep informed by following the local news and by consulting hotel personnel and tour guides.

The President of Ecuador has declared temporary states of emergency in parts of Ecuador on several occasions, often as a response to high crime rates. Under these states of emergency, the military is allowed to perform joint patrols with the police, and curfews may be imposed. The police and military are often granted expanded search authority under a state of emergency, and roadblocks may be set up to check personal identification and vehicle registration. U.S. citizens should carry identification at all times, including proof of U.S. citizenship, and abide by any restrictions imposed during a state of emergency, or risk arrest. Travelers should follow the local news or consult with the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil for specific information.

Since 1998, the cities of Quito and Guayaquil have experienced an increase in crimes such as armed robberies, assaults, carjackings and kidnappings. Most crimes are of a non-violent nature, such as pickpocketing, burglary of personal effects, or thefts from vehicles or hotel rooms. In a rapidly increasing number of cases, however, thieves are armed with guns or knives. House burglaries and carjackings can result in violence. The Ecuadorian Government has increased police patrols in tourist areas, but travelers in resort areas along the coast and in Quito and Guayaquil should remain alert to their surroundings and maintain constant control of personal belongings. Expensive-appearing jewelry and watches should not be worn.

In Quito, extreme caution should be taken in tourist areas and crowded marketplaces, especially on the crowded streets of south Quito, the Panecillo, Old Quito, and all transportation terminals. Backpackers are frequently targeted for criminal activity in Quito. Tourists were robbed in 1999 at the Cotopaxi National Park and La Carolina Park. Travelers should not frequent the city parks (La Carolina, El Ejido, La Alameda) before dawn and after dark, and they should not go into the interior of these parks at any time. Other areas identified as dangerous for tourists are El Tejar, Parroquia San Sebastian, Mariscal Sucre, Avenida Cristobal Colon and Gonzalez Suarez. Since 1999, several U.S. Government employees and private U.S. citizens have been victimized in the Mariscal Sucre district, prompting the U.S. Embassy to put certain bars off-limits and to declare a nighttime curfew in the area for its employees.

In Guayaquil, extra caution should be taken in the downtown area, on the waterfront (El Malecon), in the street market area of La Bahia, at the Christ Statue (Sagrado Corazon de Jesus) on Cerro del Carmen, in the airport area, and in the southern part of the city. Luggage theft occurs frequently at the airport. U.S. travelers have been followed to or from the airport, assaulted and robbed. These assaults have occurred during the day as well as at night and often in public areas that might otherwise be considered safe. There have been numerous armed robberies of restaurants and their patrons, including restaurants located in the fashionable areas of Guayaquil.

Many beach areas are relatively deserted at night, and crimes such as rape and robbery have been reported.

Medical care is available, but it varies in quality and generally is below U.S. standards.

U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, although some hospitals do accept major U.S. credit cards. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.

Please check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Ecuador is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
Many roads and bridges that were damaged during the 1997-1998 El Nino weather phenomenon remain unrepaired, causing delays and detours. Bus travel throughout Ecuador is dangerous, especially at night, because of poorly maintained and unmarked roads and bridges. Bus passengers are often targets of crime, including robbery and rape. Travelers should guard against theft of personal belongings on all forms of public transportation.

A peace treaty ending the Ecuador/Peru border conflict was signed on October 26, 1998. The border between the two countries is open, but crossing or approaching the Ecuador-Peru border anywhere except at official checkpoints is dangerous.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Ecuadorian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ecuador are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and heavy fines. U.S. citizens arrested in Ecuador for drug-related offenses may experience prolonged pretrial detention without bail. Prison conditions are sub-standard.

SPECIFIC HEALTH RISKS: Travelers to Quito may require some time to adjust to the altitude (close to 10,000 feet), which can adversely affect blood pressure, digestion and energy level. Travelers are encouraged to consult with their personal health care providers before undertaking high-altitude travel. In particular, travelers with heart or lung problems and persons with sickle cell trait may develop serious health complications at high altitudes.

Travelers to Ecuador’s beach areas should be aware that strong currents, undertow, and underwater hazards are common, and warnings are not posted.

Scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands can be hazardous, and it is not recommended for beginners. Because there is no decompression chamber in the archipelago, divers are advised to obtain adequate medical evacuation insurance to allow emergency air transport to the nearest chamber, located at the San Eduardo Naval Base in Guayaquil. The Ecuadorian Navy charges a fee for use of its decompression chamber.

The Ministry of Health has declared an emergency in Ecuador’s coastal zone (the provinces of Esmeraldas, Manabi, Guayas, El Oro, Los Rios, and Loja) and the interior province of Sucumbios, bordering Colombia and Peru, due to an increase in cases of malaria and dengue fever. The emergency zone includes the coastal city of Guayaquil. Quito and other high-altitude locations are not included in the emergency zone. Travelers should consult with their personal health care providers about taking malaria prophylaxis medication before traveling to the above-mentioned provinces. Yellow fever and cholera are also reaching epidemic levels in some outlying regions and are encroaching on the outskirts of cities such as Guayaquil.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax: 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299); or via CDC’s Internet site at

VOLCANO INFORMATION: Beginning in September 1998, the Guagua Pichincha Volcano, located west of Quito, has exhibited a significant increase in the number of tremors and an accompanying rise in magma level. Since October 1999, there has been an intermittent series of explosions. Volcanic ash has fallen on Quito during some of the explosions, causing temporary closings of area schools and the airport. In the event of a full-scale eruption, geological experts conclude that the city of Quito is protected from possible lava flows, avalanches, and lateral explosions by the bulk of Pichincha Mountain, which stands between the city and the volcano crater. Parts of Quito could be affected by secondary mudflows caused by heavy rains that usually accompany an eruption. The entire city could also be affected by slight to significant ash falls and resulting disruptions of water, power, communications, and transportation.

The town of Banos, a popular tourist destination located approximately 80 miles south of Quito, was evacuated in November 1999 because of the increased activity of the adjacent Tungurahua Volcano. The volcano has been ejecting significant amounts of ash and incandescent rocks. Geological experts advise that an explosive eruption could occur quickly and with little warning. The resulting pyroclastic flows would pose a significant and immediate threat to Banos and several small villages in the vicinity. Travelers are advised not to travel to Banos or the surrounding area.

The Quito City Government and the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute continue to monitor these volcanoes and issue regular reports on their activity. Travelers are advised to pay close attention to the news media in Quito for updates on the situation. Besides Guagua Pichincha and Tungurahua, other volcanoes in Ecuador may, from time to time, also exhibit increased activity. Further information about these and other volcanoes in the Western Hemisphere is available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via the Internet at More information about Ecuador’s volcanoes is available in Spanish from the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute’s home page on the Internet at

TOUR BOAT SAFETY: A significant number of Ecuadorian tour vessels, including many operating in the Galapagos Islands, do not meet internationally recognized maritime safety standards. The Government of Ecuador has very limited search and rescue capability in the event of an accident. In 1998, four U.S. citizens drowned when a tour boat capsized within the Galapagos Archipelago.

The Government of Ecuador now requires that vessels carrying more than fifteen passengers comply with the International Safety Management (ISM) code established by the International Maritime Organization. A copy of the vessel’s ISM certificate should be made available upon request. The ISM requirement has been in effect since July 2000, and it is not yet clear how rigorously the new safety standards are being enforced by Ecuadorian authorities. Large tour boats (those carrying eighty passengers or more) generally have better safety records than smaller tour boats, particularly those carrying fifteen passengers or less.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Ecuador are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of either the U.S. Embassy in Quito or the U.S. Consulate General in Guayaquil and obtain updated information on travel and security in Ecuador. The Consular Section in Quito is open for citizen services, including registration, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 4:00 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, excluding U.S. and Ecuadorian holidays. The Consular Section in Guayaquil is open for those services from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Tuesday through Friday, excluding U.S. and Ecuadorian holidays. The U.S. Embassy in Quito is located at the corner of Avenida 12 de Octubre and Avenida Patria (across from the Casa de la Cultura); telephone (011-593-2) 562-890, extension 480, during business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) or 561-749 for after-hours emergencies; fax (011-593-2) 561-524; Internet web site at The Consulate General in Guayaquil is located at the corner of 9 de Octubre and Garcia Moreno (near the Hotel Oro Verde); telephone (011-593-4) 323-570 during business hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) or 321-152 for after-hours emergencies; fax (011-593-4) 320-904. Consular services for U.S. citizens in the Galapagos Islands are provided by the Consulate General in Guayaquil.

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