Ecuador has a modern and extensive telephone network reaching most of the country. However, cellphones are becoming far more common and readily available than land lines. Pay phones are very rare these days, though calling cards, for both cellphones and land lines, are widely available at general stores and pharmacies all over the country.
Most mid- to high-end hotels in Ecuador have international direct-dial and long-distance service and in-house fax transmission. But these calls tend to be quite expensive, especially because hotels often levy a surcharge.
The least expensive way to make local phone calls is to go to one of the many cabinas telefónicas offices found in every Ecuadorean town. In fact, in most towns and cities, it's hard to walk far without seeing one. There, you'll have a private booth where you can make all your calls and pay the attendant after you are done.
You must pay in cash at the cabinas. The cost is roughly 5¢ to 30¢ (3p-20p) per minute for calls within Ecuador, 45¢ (30p) per minute to the U.S., and 60¢ (40p) to the U.K.
Your best bet for making international calls, though, is to head to any Internet cafe with an international calling option. These cafes have connections to Skype, Net2Phone, or some other VoIP service. International calls made this way can range anywhere from 5¢ to $1 (5p-65p) per minute. If you have your own Skype or similar account, you just need to find an Internet cafe that provides a computer with a headset.
The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobiles), a big, seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use throughout Europe and dozens of other countries worldwide. In the U.S., T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless use this quasi-universal system; in Canada, Microcell and some Rogers customers are GSM; and all Europeans and most Australians use GSM. All of Ecuador's cellphone networks are GSM.
If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable multiband phone, such as many Sony Ericsson, Motorola, or Samsung models, you can make and receive calls across civilized areas around much of the globe, from Andorra to Uganda. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high -- usually $1.50 to $4 (£1-£2.65) in Ecuador.
There are several competing cellphone companies in Ecuador. All have numerous outlets and dealers around the country, including at both international airports, and all these outlets and dealers sell prepaid GSM chips that can be used in any unlocked tri-band 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 -- a fully functional phone -- 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.
Voice-Over Internet Protocol (VOIP)
If you have Web access while traveling, consider a broadband-based telephone service (in technical terms, Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP) such as Skype (www.skype.com) or Vonage (www.vonage.com), which allow you to make free international calls from your laptop or in a cybercafe. Neither service requires the people you're calling to also have that service (though there are fees if they do not). Check the websites for details.
Even if you don't have your own Skype or Vonage account, Internet cafes in most major tourist destinations in Ecuador usually offer the option of making international calls over their VoIP connections. Rates range anywhere from 5¢ to $1 (3p-65p) per minute.
Internet & E-mail
Travelers have any number of ways to check e-mail and access the Internet on the road. Of course, using your own laptop -- or even a PDA (personal digital assistant) or electronic organizer with a modem -- gives you the most flexibility. But even if you don't have a computer, you can access your e-mail and your office computer from cybercafes.
With Your Own Computer -- In general, the more upscale and technologically savvy hotels, cafes, and retailers in Ecuador offer Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) "hot spots." Wherever possible, I've listed this in the hotel or restaurant descriptions throughout this guide.
Ecuador uses standard U.S.-style two- and three-prong electric outlets with 110-volt AC current, and standard U.S.-style phone jacks. Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Without Your Own Computer -- In Ecuador, you'll readily find cybercafes in most cities and towns, and in every major tourist destination. Heck, there are even cybercafes in the Galápagos. Although there's no definitive directory for cybercafes -- these are independent businesses, after all -- you can start looking at www.cybercaptive.com and www.cybercafe.com.
Aside from formal cybercafes, many hotels have at least one computer with Internet access available for guest use. However, I recommend you avoid hotel business centers unless you're willing to pay exorbitant rates.
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.