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American Express -- American Express has two travel offices in Ecuador -- one in Quito, the other in Guayaquil -- both run by Global Tours (www.globaltour.com.ec). In Quito, the office is located on Av. República El Salvador 309 and Calle Suiza (tel. 02/2265-222). In Guayaquil, the office is located in the Edificio Las Cámaras, on Avenida Francisco de Orellana and Alcivar (tel. 04/2680-450).

Area Codes -- Cities and provinces across Ecuador have single-digit area codes (Pichincha province and Quito, 2; Guayas province and Guayaquil, 4; Azay province and Cuenca 7; and so on). In some cases, a single area code will cover several provinces. If you are calling from one area code to another, you must dial "0" before the area code, however neither the "0" nor the area code is used if calling within the area. To call a cellphone, you must first dial "09" or "08" (depending upon the cellphone provider) and then the seven-digit number.

ATM Networks/Cashpoints -- Ecuador has a well-developed network of ATMs. Just about every bank branch in the country, particularly in the major cities, towns, and tourist destinations, has an ATM or two. While many of Ecuador's ATMs will work fine with five- and six-digit PINs, some will only accept four-digit PINs. Before traveling, it is wise to change your PIN to avoid any unexpected hassles in getting access to quick cash.

Business Hours -- In general, business hours are weekdays from 9am to 1pm and 2:30 or 3 to 6:30pm. In Quito and Guayaquil, most banks stay open all day from about 9am to 5pm, but some still close in the middle of the day, so it's best to take care of your banking needs early in the morning. Most banks, museums, and stores are open on Saturday from 10am to noon. Everything closes down on Sunday.

Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age is 18, although it's almost never enforced. At discos, however, you often need to show a picture ID for admittance. Everything from beer to hard spirits is sold in specific liquor stores as well as at most supermarkets and even convenience stores.

Drugstores -- A drugstore or pharmacy is called a farmacia in Spanish. Drugstores are quite common throughout the country. Those at hospitals and major clinics are often open 24 hours a day. Fybeca has 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 in most major cities in the country.

Electricity -- The majority of outlets in Ecuador are standard U.S.-style two- and three-prong electric outlets with 110-120V AC (60 Hz) current.

Embassies & Consulates -- The embassy of the United States in Quito is at the corner of Avenida 12 de Octubre and Avenida Patria, across from the Casa de la Cultura (tel. 02/2562-890, ext. 480); there is a U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil at Avenida 9 de Octubre and García Moreno (tel. 04/2323-570)

The embassy of Canada in Quito is at Av. Amazonas and UNP 4153, Edificio Eurocenter, 3rd floor (tel. 02/2455-499); the Canadian Consulate in Guayaquil is at Avenida Juan Tanca Marengo and Orrantea (tel. 04/2296-837).

The embassy of the United Kingdom in Quito is at Avenida Naciones Unidas and República de El Salvador, Edificio Citiplaza, 14th floor (tel. 02/2970-800); the U.K. Consulate in Guayaquil is at General Córdova 623 and Padre Solano (tel. 04/2560-400).

There is no Australian Embassy in Ecuador, but there is an Australian Honorary Consul (tel. 04/6017-529) in Guayaquil, on Rocafuerte 520 in the Fundación Leonidas Ortega Building.

Emergencies -- In an emergency, call tel. 911. Alternately you can dial tel. 101 for the police only.

Gasoline (Petrol) -- Gasoline, or gasolina in Spanish, is sold as extra and super, both of which are unleaded. Super is just higher octane. Diesel is available at almost every gas station as well. Most rental cars run on premium, but always ask your rental agent what type of gas your car takes. Gas stations are widely available along the highways, and in all major cities, towns, and tourist destinations. But make sure to have a full tank when you're heading to a remote destination. At press time a gallon of super costs around $2.10 (£1.40). Note that gas in Ecuador is sold by the gallon.

Holidays -- Official holidays in Ecuador include New Year's Day (Jan 1), Easter, Labor Day (May 1), Simón Bolívar Day (July 24), National Independence Day (Aug 10), Guayaquil Independence Day (Oct 9), All Souls' Day (Nov 2), Cuenca Independence Day (Nov 3), and Christmas Day (Dec 25). The country also closes down on some unofficial holidays, including Carnaval (Mon and Tues prior to Ash Wednesday), Battle of Pichincha (May 24), Christmas Eve (Dec 24), and New Year's Eve (Dec 31). Foundation of Quito (Dec 6) is observed as a holiday only in Quito.

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.

Insurance -- For foreign travel, most U.S. medical insurance plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services upfront and reimburse you only after you return home.

As a safety net, you may want to buy travel medical insurance, particularly if you're traveling to a remote or high-risk area where emergency evacuation might be necessary. If you require additional medical insurance, try MEDEX Assistance (tel. 410/453-6300; www.medexassist.com) or Travel Assistance International (tel. 800/821-2828; www.travelassistance.com; for general information on services, call the company's Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc., at tel. 800/777-8710.

Canadians should check with their provincial health plan offices or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to find out the extent of their coverage and what documentation and receipts they must take home in case they are treated overseas.

Travelers from the U.K. should carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the E111 form as proof of entitlement to free/reduced-cost medical treatment abroad (tel. 0845/606-2030; www.ehic.org.uk). Note, however, that the EHIC only covers "necessary medical treatment"; for repatriation costs, lost money, baggage, or cancellation, travel insurance from a reputable company should always be sought (www.travelinsuranceweb.com).

The cost of travel insurance varies widely, depending on the destination, the cost and length of your trip, your age and health, and the type of trip you're taking, but expect to pay between 5% and 8% of the vacation itself. You can get estimates from various providers through InsureMyTrip.com. Enter your trip cost and dates, your age, and other information, for prices from more than a dozen companies.

U.K. citizens and their families who make more than one trip abroad per year may find an annual travel insurance policy works out cheaper. Check www.moneysupermarket.com, which compares prices across a wide range of providers for single- and multitrip policies.

Most big travel agencies offer their own insurance and will probably try to sell you their package when you book a holiday. Think before you sign. Britain's Consumers' Association recommends that you insist on seeing the policy and reading the fine print before buying travel insurance. The Association of British Insurers (tel. 020/7600-3333; www.abi.org.uk) gives advice by phone and publishes "Holiday Insurance," a free guide to policy provisions and prices. You might also shop around for better deals: Try Columbus Direct (tel. 0870/033- 9988; www.columbusdirect.net).

Trip-cancellation insurance will help retrieve your money if you have to back out of a trip or depart early, or if your travel supplier goes bankrupt. Trip cancellation traditionally covers such events as sickness, natural disasters, and Department of State advisories. The latest news in trip-cancellation insurance is the availability of expanded hurricane coverage and the "any-reason" cancellation coverage -- which costs more but covers cancellations made for any reason. You won't get back 100% of your prepaid trip cost, but you'll be refunded a substantial portion. TravelSafe (tel. 888/885-7233; www.travelsafe.com) offers both types of coverage. Expedia also offers any-reason cancellation coverage for its air-hotel packages. For details, contact one of the following recommended insurers: Access America (tel. 866/807-3982; www.accessamerica.com); Travel Guard International (tel. 800/826-4919; www.travelguard.com); Travel Insured International (tel. 800/243-3174; www.travelinsured.com); and Travelex Insurance Services (tel. 888/457-4602; www.travelex-insurance.com).

Internet Access -- Internet access is available almost everywhere in Ecuador, including in the Galápagos islands. However, don't expect to be able to surf the Web at any of the more remote jungle lodges. Connections in major cities cost 50¢ to $1 (35p-65p) per hour. In smaller, more remote towns and the Galápagos, the connection can cost up to $3 (£2) per hour.

Language -- Spanish is the language most commonly used in business transactions. Indigenous languages such as Quichua are also widely spoken throughout the country. Shuar is common in the Amazon basin. It's best to come to Ecuador with a basic knowledge of Spanish. Outside the major tourist sights, it can be difficult to find people who speak English.

Legal Aid -- If you need legal help, your best bet is to first contact your local embassy or consulate. Alternately, you can ask at your hotel, or at a local tour agency that works frequently with foreign visitors.

Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two.

To report a lost or stolen American Express card, call tel. 02/2560-488 in Ecuador, or 905/474-0870 collect in the U.S.; for Diners Club, call tel. 02/2981-300 in Ecuador, or 303/799-1504 collect in the U.S.; for MasterCard, call tel. 636/722-7111 collect in the U.S.; and for Visa, call tel. 410/581-9994 collect in the U.S.

If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 1800/989-898 in Ecuador; www.westernunion.com).

Mail -- Post offices are called correos in Spanish. Most towns have a central post office, usually located right on the central park or plaza. In addition, most hotels will post letters and post cards for you. 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 mail your letter and buy your stamps from the post office itself, especially because there are no public mailboxes.

However, it is best to send anything of value via an established international courier service. Most hotels, especially in major cities and tourist destinations, can arrange for express mail pickup. Alternately, 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). Note: Despite what you may be told, packages sent overnight to U.S. addresses tend to take 3 to 4 days to reach their destination.

Maps -- The Corporación Metropolitana de Turismo (Metropolitan Tourism Corporation; www.quito.com.ec) hands out excellent city maps of Quito and the entire country at all their desks, which include those at both the major international airports in Quito and Guayaquil. The most detailed map available is produced by International Travel Maps (www.itmb.com), available online from the website listed or from www.amazon.com.

Measurements -- Ecuador uses the metric system, although gasoline is sold by the gallon. See the chart on the inside front cover of this book for details on converting metric measurements to nonmetric equivalents.

Newspapers & Magazines -- There are several Spanish-language daily papers in Ecuador. The most popular and prominent are El Mercurio, El Universo, and El Comercio.

At the airports in Quito and Guayaquil, and at the high-end business hotels, you can find the latest edition of the Miami Herald for around 50¢ to $1 (35p-65p). English-language copies of Time or Newsweek are also available at some newsstands in the most touristy areas of Quito.

Passports -- The websites listed below provide downloadable passport applications as well as the current fees for processing applications. For an up-to-date, country-by-country listing of passport requirements around the world, go to the "International Travel" tab of the U.S. Department of State at http://travel.state.gov.

    For Residents of Australia -- You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.

    For Residents of Canada -- Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca). Note: Canadian children who travel must have their own passport. However, if you hold a valid Canadian passport issued before December 11, 2001, that bears the name of your child, the passport remains valid for you and your child until it expires.

    For Residents of Ireland -- You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 21/494-4700) or at most main post offices.

    For Residents of New Zealand -- You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.

    For Residents of the United Kingdom -- To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency, or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.

Police -- Throughout Ecuador, you can usually reach the police by dialing tel. 101 in an emergency. The tourist police can also help sort out problems. In Quito, the number for the tourist police is tel. 02/2543-983.

Smoking -- By law, smoking is prohibited in all indoor public spaces, including restaurants, shops, cinemas, and offices. (Bars and discos are exempt.) That said, enforcement is virtually nonexistent. While not as rampant as in most of Europe, a large number of Ecuadoreans smoke, and smoke-filled public spaces are common. Bars, discos, and clubs are often especially smoke-filled in Ecuador.

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 $26 (£17.33) from Guayaquil, and $41.80 (£27.87) from Quito.

Telephones -- To call Ecuador: If you're calling Ecuador from abroad:

1. Dial the international access code: 011 from the U.S.; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia.

2. Dial the country code 593.

3. Dial the one-digit area code; for Quito, the area code is 2.

4. Dial the seven-digit number. The whole number you'd dial for a number in Quito, Ecuador, would be 011-593-2-0000-000.

To make calls within Ecuador: If you are calling within the same area code inside Ecuador, you simply dial the 7-digit number. However, if you are calling from one area code to another, you must dial "0" and then the area code.

To make international calls: To make international calls from Ecuador, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, and New Zealand 64). Next, you dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 00-1-202-588-7800.

To reach an international operator, dial tel. 116. Major long-distance-company access codes are as follows:

  • AT&T: tel. 1-999-119
  • Bell Canada: tel. 1-999-175
  • British Telecom: tel. 1-999-178
  • MCI: tel. 1-999-170
  • Sprint: tel. 1-999-171

For directory assistance: Dial tel. 104.

For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial tel. 105.

Toll-free numbers: While all toll-free numbers in Ecuador begin with 1800, there's no hard and fast rule about how many digits you'll find following them. Many toll-free numbers are just six digits long (after the 1800), while others are seven digits long. Calling a toll-free number in the United States from Ecuador is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.

Time -- Mainland Ecuador is on Eastern Standard Time, 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The Galápagos Islands are on Central Standard Time, 6 hours behind GMT. Daylight saving time is not observed.

Tipping -- Restaurants in Ecuador add a 10% service charge to all checks. It's common to add 5% to 10% on top of this, especially if you feel the service merits it. Taxi drivers don't expect tips. Hotel porters are typically tipped 50¢ to $1 (35p-65p) per bag.

Toilets -- The condition of public facilities is surprisingly good in Ecuador. In museums, the toilets are relatively clean, but they never have toilet paper. If you have an emergency, you can also use the restrooms in hotel lobbies without much problem. Note that most buses don't have toilet facilities, and when they stop at rest stops, the facilities are often horrendous -- usually smelly squat toilets. It's always useful to have a roll of toilet paper handy.

Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory, tel. 202/647-5225 (manned 24 hrs.); U.S. Passport Agency, tel. 202/647-0518; U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline, tel. 404/332-4559.

Water -- Always drink bottled water in Ecuador. Most hotels provide bottled water in the bathroom. You can buy bottles of water on practically any street corner. Small bottles cost about 30¢ (20p). The better restaurants use ice made from boiled water, but, to be on the safe side, always ask.

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.