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American Express -- In Ecuador, American Express travel services is represented by Global Tours (tel. 02/2265-222; www.globaltour.com.ec), located on Av. República El Salvador 309 and Calle Suiza.

Babysitters -- Your hotel front desk is your best bet for finding a babysitter.

Banks -- You'll have no trouble finding a bank in Quito. Branches are common all over the city, especially in the more affluent and touristy areas. Numerous bank branches and ATMs can be found in the popular Mariscal and Old Town areas.

Bookstores -- Café Libro (tel. 02/2234-265; www.cafelibro.com), Leonidas Plaza N23-56, and Libri Mundi (tel. 02/2521-606; www.librimundi.com), Juan León Mera N23-83 and Wilson, are the two best bookstores in Quito. Both have excellent selections of tropical biology, bird, and flora books, as well as books on Ecuadorean history and culture, in both English and Spanish. For a wide selection of used books in English, Confederate Books (tel. 02/2527-890), Calama 410 and Juan León Mera, is your best bet. Also check out Mr. Books (tel. 02/2980-821), on the third floor of the Mall El Jardín.

Cellphones -- There are several competing cellphone companies in Ecuador. All have numerous outlets and dealers across the city, including at the airport, and all these outlets and dealers sell prepaid GSM chips that can be used in any unlocked triband GSM cellphone, as well as new phones with or without calling plans. If you're not carrying your own GSM phone, you are probably best off just buying one. Scores of storefronts around town, including those at the airport, sell already activated phones, with a few dollars of calling time loaded onto the chip. After that you simply buy prepaid minutes at any cellphone or pharmacy store around the country. The cheapest of these phones costs around $36 (£24), activated and ready to go, with $3 (£2) of calling time included.

The main cellphone companies in Ecuador are Porta, Movistar, and Alegro. According to my Ecuadorean friends, Porta and Movistar have the best coverage.

Currency Exchange -- The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador. If you have euros, pounds, Canadian dollars, or any other currency, your best bet is to exchange them for dollars prior to leaving for Ecuador. However, all the major banks in Ecuador will exchange the major currencies for dollars, for a small service fee. And most ATMs in Ecuador will give you dollars at the official exchange rate, even if your home account is in another currency.

Dentists -- Call your embassy for a list of recommended dentists, or check out the Consular Section of the website of the U.S. Embassy in Quito (www.usembassy.org.ec), which recommends local dentists as well.

Doctors -- Contact your embassy for information on doctors in Quito, or check out the Consular Section of the website of the U.S. Embassy in Quito (www.usembassy.org.ec), which has a list of recommended doctors and specialists. You can also head to one of the major hospitals in town.

Drugstores -- A drugstore or pharmacy is called a farmacia in Spanish. Fybeca is the largest chain of pharmacies in Ecuador. You can call Fybeca's toll-free line (tel. 1800/2392-322) 24 hours a day for home delivery.

Emergencies -- In case of an emergency, call tel. 911 or 101. You can reach an ambulance at tel. 09/2739-801 or 02/2442-974. For the tourist police call tel. 02/2543-983; the headquarters are located at Roca and Reina Victoria. You can reach the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) by dialing tel. 131.

Express Mail Services -- Most hotels can arrange for express mail pickup. Alternatively, you can contact DHL (tel. 02/3975-000; www.dhl.com), Fed Ex (tel. 02/6017-818; www.fedex.com), EMS (tel. 02/2561-962; www.correosdelecuador.com.ec), or UPS (tel. 02/3960-000; www.ups.com).

Eyeglasses -- Look for the word óptica. There are ópticas all over Quito. Your best bet is to ask your hotel concierge or manager. Optica Los Andes (tel. 1800/678-422; www.opticalosandes.com.ec) is the largest chain, with storefronts across the city. Or head to Cyber Optic (tel. 02/2285-747), on Venezuela N2-74, or Multióptica (tel. 02/2225-777), on Reina Victoria N26-146. Just about any óptica can do everything from eye exams to eyeglass repairs.

Hospitals -- Hospital Vozandes (tel. 02/2262-142; www.hospitalvozandes.org; Villalengua 267 and 10 de Agosto) and Hospital Metropolitano (tel. 02/2261-520; www.hospitalmetropolitano.org; Mariana de Jesús and Occidental) are the two most modern and best-equipped hospitals in Quito. Both have 24-hour emergency service and English-speaking doctors.

Internet Access -- Internet cafes can be found all over Quito, particularly in the Mariscal and Old Town neighborhoods. Rates run 50¢ to $1.50 (35p-£1) per hour. Many hotels either have their own Internet cafe or allow guests to send and receive e-mail. A few are starting to add wireless access, either for free or for a small charge.

Laundry & Dry Cleaning -- Most folks rely on their hotel's laundry and dry-cleaning services, although these can be expensive. Alternatively, head to the Mariscal district, where there are several self-serve and full-service Laundromats. Try Rainbow Laundry (tel. 02/2237-128), on Juan León Mera 1337 and García, or Wash & Go (tel. 02/2230-993), on Pinto 340 and Juan León Mera.

Maps -- The Corporación Metropolitana de Turismo (Metropolitan Tourism Corporation; tel. 02/2959-505; www.quito.com.ec) hands out excellent city maps of Quito at all of their desks, including one at Mariscal Sucre Airport (tel. 02/2300-163), located just before you leave the immigration and Customs area. Other map sources in Quito include hotel gift shops and bookstores.

Photographic Needs -- Film is generally more expensive in Ecuador, so bring as much as you will need from home. I also recommend that you wait to have your film processed at home, but if you must develop your prints down here, or if you need to pick up film, batteries, or storage cards, try Ecuacolor (tel. 02/2254-420; www.ecuacolor.com), Fujifilm (tel. 02/2551-275), or Fotogermana (tel. 02/2520-382), all of which have numerous outlets around town.

Police -- Throughout Ecuador, you can reach the police by dialing tel. 101 in an emergency. The tourist police (tel. 02/2543-983 in Quito) can also help sort out your problems.

Post Office -- The main post office (tel. 02/2561-218) is located in New Town at Av. Eloy Alfaro 354 and 9 de Octubre. There's also a convenient post office in Old Town (tel. 02/2959-875) on Calle Espejo 935, between Guayaquil 935 and Espejo. Perhaps the most conveniently located post office is on the ground floor of the Torres de Almagro Building, on the corner of Avenida Cristóbal Colón and Reina Victoria (tel. 02/2508-890). Most post offices in Ecuador are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 6pm, and Saturday from 8am to 2pm. It costs 90¢ (60p) to mail a letter to the United States or Canada, and $1.20 (80p) to Australia and Europe. From time to time, you can buy stamps at kiosks and newsstands. But your best bet is to see if your hotel will provide stamps and post your mail, or do it yourself at the post office, especially because there are no public mailboxes.

Restrooms -- These are known as sanitarios or servicios sanitarios or servicios higiénicos. The latter usage is often abbreviated as "S.S.H.H." You might also hear them called baños. They are marked damas (women) and hombres or caballeros (men). Public restrooms are rare to nonexistent, but most big hotels and public restaurants will let you use their restrooms.

Safety -- Pickpocketing and petty crime are problems in Quito. But if you keep an eye on your belongings and exercise caution, you should be fine. Never put anything valuable in your backpack. Also be careful on all public buses and trolleys. At night, Quito can be dangerous, especially in the touristy areas -- take a taxi, even if you're only going a short distance. Because the streets in Quito are often deserted at night, I recommend walking in the middle of them to prevent someone from jumping at you from a hidden doorway. Report all problems to the tourist police office, on Roca and Reina Victoria (tel. 02/2543-983).

Taxes -- All goods and services are charged a 12% value-added tax. Hotels and restaurants also add on a 10% service charge, for a total of 22% more on your bill. There is an airport departure tax of $41.80 (£27.87).

Time Zone -- Quito is on Eastern Standard Time, 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Daylight saving time is not observed.

Useful Telephone Numbers -- For directory assistance, call tel. 104; for a local operator dial tel. 105; and for an international operator, call tel. 116.

Water -- Always drink bottled water in Ecuador. Most hotels provide bottled water. The better restaurants use ice made from boiled water, but always ask, to be on the safe side.

Weather -- At 2,850m (9,350 ft.), Quito enjoys consistently mild to cool temperatures year-round. Daytime high temperatures average 18° to 21°C (64°-70°F), while evening lows average 7° to 13°C (45°-55°F). As with much of the rest of the Andean highlands, Quito experiences two distinct seasons: dry (June-Sept) and wet (Oct-May). The dry season is called summer (verano), the wet season winter (invierno). There's also a so-called "little summer" throughout much of December and early January. April is the rainiest month.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.