Wednesday, June 1, 2016

TRAVEL: Tips for traveling in Ecuador

This isn't a travel blog, and I rarely get much traffic from non-outfit posts, but these are some things I had forgotten between our last year visit here to Ecuador and this year's visit, so even if no one else benefits from these reminders, I will! 

Ecuador is such a great country.  Beautiful, varied, relatively inexpensive and with a wide range of travel options, from luxurious to budget.  But, especially if you're from a more developed country, and you haven't traveled extensively in developing countries, it's good to know a few things.


1. Unless there's a sign stating otherwise, your used toilet paper goes NOT in the toilet, but in the bin next to the toilet.  Some newer places, like the Quito and Guayaquil airports have tougher plumbing, but most homes and hotels cannot handle the toilet paper, only the waste.  Yucky, but part of life here.

2. Bring cash!  Most of life uses cash here (United States dollars), not credit or debit cards.  Only the more touristy (and expensive) stores and restaurants take cards, so you'll really limit yourself if you plan on only using a card.  Also, don't bother to bring anything bigger than a $20 bill.  Even that is pretty big, don't expect someone in a small store or street market to change a $20 bill for a small purchase of a few dollars.  When you can, try to break your $20s into smaller bills of $10, $5 or those ubiqitous $1 coins that I only see in Ecuador, never in the US.  If you must bring bigger bills, plan on changing them at a bank.  Many stores and restaurants state that they don't accept $50 or $100 bills.


3. Buses can take you almost anywhere, ranging from 25 cents for a local bus in Cuenca to $15 or so for an all day ride from Quito to Guayaquil (beautiful, but brutal - fly if you've got the means to do so).  You're going to want to try to get the higher end buses with air conditioning, bathrooms (although they usually only handle liquid waste, and the driver will tell you that).  Some even have wifi.  Those buses cost a little more ($8 for an adult vs. $4 or $2), but they make much less stops, and don't have animals or other interesting cargo on them.

4. Bus tickets will state your assigned seat numbers.  If you're traveling in a group, the printout may include all of the seats you purchased on one receipt.  Hang on to this receipt!  You need to know where to sit, and they will come through and collect the ticket once you are underway.  Sometimes the driver collects the ticket as you exit the bus.

5. Your bus ticket will also state the "disco" number.  That is the number on the outside of your bus.  Sometimes more than one bus leaves for the same location at the same time, so pay attention to the spot where your bus is to be parked, and the number of your bus.  The different buses may end up at the same location, but via a different route and some take less time than others.  Plus you need to be on the bus for which you bought your ticket!

6. Often salespeople will get on the bus at the depot and ride along for a while.  They will spend 10-15 minutes giving a little talk about their product, usually something low-priced like energy vitamins or a teeth whitening pack for around a $1. As they begin, they'll often pass out their product to each person on the bus, then when they are done, they either collect the product or your money if you decide to buy the product.  Don't feel like you're obligating yourself by taking the product when they pass it out.  Just hold on to it until the person is done and give it back to him or her if you don't want it.  They won't fuss about it or try to force you to buy it.  But you'll look like a jerk if you don't just hold on to the product during their talk.  It's easier to just take it for the moment.  I personally find the experience relatively entertaining - like a free show during the (usually) long trip.


7. WhatsApp.  Everyone in Ecuador uses WhatsApp for texting and voice calls.  If your phone doesn't have international service, you can still make voice calls or texts using wifi with this app.  You might be amazed how many of your friends and family who travel or have international contacts might already be using this app.  It's very useful if you're traveling briefly to a place where you don't plan on getting international phone service or setting up a local card.  We would have found this very useful on our first trip to Ecuador, when we didn't have international phone service, and wanted to contact our new friends without having to resort to direct messaging them via Instagram, which they often didn't see until much later.

8.  Super helpful downloadable maps that don't require data or wifi to use once they are downloaded.  It even shows you where you are on the map, and there is a search function to find attractions and plan a route.  You can also drop pins so you can always find your way to a particular spot again.  It also shows where bus routes pick up and drop off, and since you can see your location on the map, you know when to get off the bus, always the hardest part of using the bus when traveling.  This app was life changing for us.  

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