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Driving Guide

Ecuador Driving Guide

Ecuador is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit.

2021-08-06 · 9min read
Ecuador-Magdalena-Kula-Manchee

Ecuador inherited its name from the fact that it lies within the Equator. Specifically, Quito is the only capital city that is divided precisely between the northern and southern hemispheres! Ecuador’s geographic location brings about a humid, tropical climate. The climate provides a conducive atmosphere for a lot of fascinating wildlife like the Galapagos iguanas and penguins. Fun fact? The Galapagos penguins are the only species of penguins that you can find north of the Equator!

How can this guide help you?

This guide about driving in Ecuador will give you a glimpse of what to expect when traveling in the country. This feature includes getting an International Driver's Permit and following road rules and etiquette when driving around Ecuador. This consists of some of the most iconic destinations and their corresponding driving distances within Ecuador that you will surely dote on!

General Information

The Republic of Ecuador is a haven for both leisure and business travelers. Due to the relatively low cost of living, the country also has become a conducive home for expatriates worldwide. You can live a comfortable life in Ecuador for just US$1800 a month, a value that approximately covers only real estate rent in the mainland US.

Geographic Location

Ecuador is a small country located in Southern America along the equator. The greater portion of the country is located in the southern hemisphere, while the rest is in the northern hemisphere. Ecuador is a coastal compact country that is bounded in the west by the Pacific Ocean, in the north by Colombia, and in the south by Peru.

Languages Spoken

Before traveling to any country, it would be beneficial to brush up a little on the local language. Apart from saving time to interpret and translate what you want to say and what the locals are trying to say, you wouldn’t be worried about getting lost in Ecuador! Besides, who isn’t excited to acquire a new skill?

In Ecuador, the official language is Spanish. However, local dialects also dominate some of the regions. To name a few:

  • Quechua (highlands)
  • Kichwa (Amazon region)
  • Shuar (Amazon region)
  • Wao (Amazon region)

Due to the thriving tourism industry as well, Ecuadorians have learned to speak English. And don’t be too surprised if you come across native Ecuadorians who fluently speak German and French! These people are some of the most skillful in the world!

Land Area

The country covers an area of 283,560km2, and it is divided into 24 provinces. You might’ve noticed online why some hikers wear layers even though they are in a generally humid country. Well, indeed, countries between 30°N and 30°S of the equator rarely exhibit seasonal climate variations. However, temperatures during the day versus the night may vary significantly, especially in areas with geography changes like higher altitudes. Furthermore, rainfall is year-round, especially on the eastern side of the Andes Mountain Range.

According to the historical monthly temperature data in Ecuador, the highest temperatures occurred in March, while the lowest occurred in July. This general climate should not mislead anyone, though. Because of the topography of Ecuador, there are still prevailing microclimates. Four (4) microclimate regions divide Ecuador. These are:

  • La Costa (Coastal Lowlands) - rainy from December to April
  • La Sierra (Andean Mountains) - rainy from October to May
  • El Oriente (Amazon Region) - rainy from April to July
  • Galapagos Islands - little to no rainfall all year-round, but cool

If you’re planning on driving in Ecuador, it would be best to identify which microclimate zone your destination is located in.

History

Ecuador has hosted a diverse population for centuries. If you review the historical lineages in Ecuador, four (4) central cultural descents come into the picture. In descending order, these include:

  • Mixed Spanish and Amerindian (Mestizos)
  • Amerindians
  • Criollos (Caucasians of unmixed Spanish descent)
  • Afro-Ecuadorian

Roughly 7% of the entire Ecuadorian population is also composed of indigents. Nine (9) of the most prominent indigent groups in Ecuador include:

  • A’i Cofan
  • Shiwiar
  • Siekopai
  • Siona
  • Sapara
  • Epera
  • Manta
  • Andean Kichwa
  • Shua

Government

Ecuador operates under a representative democratic government. The head of government is the president, and the parliament (legislative branch) is unicameral. Both the president and president of the legislative branch are elected every four (4) years.

There are three (3) branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judiciary. The executive branch is in charge of protecting the sovereignty of the country and defining foreign policies, among others. The legislative branch / the national assembly is in charge of passing laws. Lastly, the judicial branch takes care of the justice system in the country, with 21 judges in the National Court who are elected every nine (9) years.

Tourism

From 1995, Ecuador has experienced an average increase in tourist arrivals. During 1995, around 440,000 tourists visited the country; 23 years after, the numbers have gone up to 2.54 million. It is no doubt that these values will continue to increase in the succeeding years.

The highest percentage of revenue in Ecuador comes from the export of petroleum products, followed by agricultural and seafood products. From 1980 to 2019, the country exported an average of 344.090 barrels/day, with a record-breaking 432.895 barrels/day in 2015. Among the top 33 oil-producing nations, Ecuador ranked 20th in 2019.

In recent years, Ecuador has seen a consistent ascent in its economic performance after a rapid downturn in oil prices. Inflation rates continued to decrease since 2015, while its gross domestic product increased by 8.21%. Indicators show that Ecuador has a relatively fast recovery potential post-pandemic. Hence, if you were looking for a long-term venture that does not put your economic safeguards at risk, you might want to consider this tropical wonderland!

IDP FAQs

An International Driver's Permit is an official translation of your domestic driver’s license. It allows you to drive a vehicle outside your home country. Two (2) international conventions guide the International Driver's Permit in Ecuador: the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic and the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.

In the last five (5) years before the onset of the global CoViD-19 pandemic, Ecuador has seen a consistent ascent in its economic performance after a rapid downturn in oil prices. Inflation rates continued to decrease since 2015, while its gross domestic product increased by 8.21%. Indicators show that Ecuador has a relatively fast recovery potential post-pandemic. Hence, if you were looking for a long term venture that does not put your economic safeguards at risk, you might want to consider this tropical wonderland!

But what is the driving license in Ecuador for international visitors? How necessary is an International Driver's Permit in driving around Ecuador, and how do you get one? Continue reading to find out.

When driving in Ecuador, do you need an International Driver's Permit?

Countries have different laws that regulate road traffic users, and this includes foreign drivers. For Ecuador, licensing rules are not very strict as long as you have your domestic driver’s license. If you’re from the U.S., you can go driving in Ecuador with a U.S. license. Simply put, they do not officially require foreigners to have a visitor’s driving license-Ecuador, nor an International Driver's Permit. This standard applies to all nationalities.

However, having an International Driver's Permit with you in Ecuador is highly recommended. For one, if ever you get hailed by an authority of the law which does not understand your native language, your Spanish IDP will save you.

Some of the other benefits include:

  • You have a translated document of your native drivers’ license that you can present to authorities who are not adept with your native language
  • You can drive legally in other foreign countries
  • You have another supporting document to rent a car
  • You can have a highly accessible, digital driving license, Ecuador-approved
  • You can apply for a visitor’s driving permit when needed since some countries require tourists to apply for a local driving permit

Where can you apply for an International Driver's Permit?

Only an authorized agency can issue an International Driver’s Permit. This means that you cannot just have your native drivers’ license translated by any Spanish translator. You can apply for an International Driving License in Quito, Ecuador, but the most convenient would be to apply for it online.

We offer an excellent way to secure an International Driver's Permit with only a six (6) step process. It wouldn’t take you 20 minutes to complete your application. Furthermore, the standard processing time of IDA is only for two (2) hours. Considering you passed all the requirements, you will get hold of an IDP faster than Bangalore traffic!

The requirements include:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age
  • Valid drivers’ license from your country of residence
  • Passport-sized photos

Once you’ve secured your requirements, you can just follow these steps:

  1. Go to the internationaldriversassociation.com.
  2. Click on “Start My Application” in the upper right corner.
  3. Select an IDP Plan that would best suit you.
  4. Enter your personal information.
  5. Enter your shipping details.
  6. Verify your identity.
  7. Wait for confirmation.

Your IDP plan will depend on the validity of your choice, as well as the type of copy you want to have (hardcopy+digital copy or digital copy alone). You should choose an IDP plan that would best fit your travel intentions in the succeeding years. Lastly, if you’re somewhat in a hurry, you can get an IDP within 20 minutes! All you need to do is choose the express shipping package and you’ll find yourself driving in Ecuador in no time!

How long is an International Driver's Permit valid in Ecuador?

Ecuador initially participated in the 1949 convention and retook part in the 1968 convention. With this, Ecuador was allowed to recognize an IDP that is valid for three (3) years instead of (1). In general, countries that only participated in the 1949 convention and not in the 1968 convention can only recognize an IDP valid for one (1) year.

Supposing your trip was cut short and you still want to go back to Ecuador. You might want to experience driving to Ecuador the next time around if you flew to the country the first time. You can still use the same International Driver’s Permit as long as you go back within the next three (3) years.

Can you use your International Driver's Permit in other countries?

One of the reasons why it is worth spending for an IDP is you can use the same valid IDP in many countries aside from Ecuador. One (1) hassle-free application will not go to waste!

If you secured an IDP for Ecuador, you could also use it in countries that took part in Ecuador’s same convention. That’s about more than a hundred countries! If you want to experience driving to Ecuador from the U.S., having an IDP is beneficial, especially since you’ll pass through multiple countries. Likewise, if you want to pursue your road trip by driving from Ecuador to Peru or driving from Ecuador to Colombia, your IDP will serve you a lot!

What should you do in case you lose your International Driver's Permit?

You can be driving in Ecuador with a U.S. license or any domestic driver’s license. If you lose your IDP, do not panic as you can still use your native driver’s license while you're applying for a new IDP. Just be prudent in the meantime.

The great thing about securing an International Driver's Permit through the International Drivers’ Association is that you get to avail yourself of a free replacement service. If you lost your IDP immediately following its delivery, you could request a replacement with no extra admin costs. All you need to do is pay for the shipping fee and wait for your replacement to arrive. That’s customer care at its best!

Renting a Car in Ecuador

Road trips are best experienced without the worry of time. If your itinerary involves distances that reach across regions, renting and driving a car in Ecuador would be the best thing to do. Here are some tips and tricks to help you rent one.

Car Rental Companies

Finding a rental car in Ecuador is not tricky. Significant cities like Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil have many car rental companies just waiting to be explored. You can also find companies outside of these cities and score cheaper rates, but you’ll have to be more mindful of where you’re putting your money at.

Some of the most internationally-renowned car rental companies operating in Ecuador include Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, Europcar, AutoEurope. If you plan on driving to Ecuador from the U.S., some of these car companies will allow you to get your car from U.S. soil.

There are also trustworthy local operators that you can check out. These include:

  • Ribas Rent a Car
  • Localiza Rent a Car
  • Golden S.A. Rent a Car
  • Zaruma Rent a Car
  • Orlli Rent a Car

Most car rental companies in Ecuador, including the local ones, have an online booking platform where you can choose and pay for a car in advance. It would be best to get in touch with car rental companies before traveling to Ecuador so you can compare more rates and packages. In that way, once you land in Ecuador, you won’t need to go through the entire filling-up forms, validations, etc. All you need to do is to pick up your car, double-check its conditions if it's in a good shape, and start the road trip of your life!

Documents Required

Before you can soak in the most exciting driving-in-Ecuador experience, you’ll first need to satisfy all the car rental qualifications. You should expect that renting a car anywhere in the world has its fair share of rigid standards. This is because vehicles don’t come cheap. There has to be a degree of assurance that the lessee will take responsibility for the car. With this, the requirements to rent a car include:

  • You need to have a valid drivers’ license
  • You need to have an internationally-recognized credit card

There are also special requirements associated with the lessee’s age and other conditions. These are further discussed in the costs of renting a car in the succeeding paragraphs.

Vehicle Types

The most rented type of vehicle in Ecuador is the SUV. This is perhaps due to the dirt roads and high hills in the country. SUVs will allow you to pass through these types of terrains easier and safer. Other types of commonly rented vehicles are the Chevrolet Spark, the Kia Picanto, the Hyundai i10, the Nissan Versa, the Toyota Yaris, Toyota Innova, and the Ford Ranger.

Car Rental Cost

Renting a car in a foreign country doesn’t need to burn your pocket. If you want to save up on car rental costs and allocate your budget for more immersive travel experiences instead, go for the economy cars. These can start as low as $10/day, while premium cars like SUVs can go up to more than $100/day.

Take note that those are just the rental rates, not the total rental cost per day. Renting a car also has its associated fees that keep the company running and keep them from damage liabilities. Below is a brief run-through of these fees.

Security Deposit

A security deposit is a fixed amount of money that you need to pay as a guarantee. In Ecuador, security deposits range between US$1000-US$2000 depending on the type of car and the rental company. The security deposit is usually to guarantee rental and guarantee against damage. This is different from the insurance charge. Once the car company gets the vehicle back, the security deposit will be given back to you in full if you didn’t incur any untoward damages.

You can pay for your security deposit via credit card or cash. However, as mentioned above, refundable payments via credit card will take some time to be credited back. If you pay for the deposit via cash, you may be able to get it back immediately or sooner than a credit card.

Insurance Fees

Car insurance is mandatory in Ecuador. You do have an option, though, to use your car insurance as long as it satisfies the minimum car insurance coverage for rentals in Ecuador. Best to check with your car rental company for this. If you do not have car insurance, you can also get one with your car rental company.

These companies have partnered with third-party car insurance providers and will be happy to assist you with it. Usually, lessees have two insurance package options: the basic (approximately $15) and the complete (roughly $25). Also, you need to have a Seguro Obligatorio de Accidentes de Transito or Insurance for Transportation Accidents. This insurance is exclusively for injured or dead victims of road accidents and does not cover vehicle damage costs.

Upgrade Charge

Upgrade charges are charges you pay if you decide to take a different car from the one you booked initially. When you choose to upgrade, you will have to pay for the higher daily rental fee plus an additional admin fee, similar to a rebooking fee.

Some car rental companies may entice you to upgrade your car once you arrive in Ecuador. However, if you think the upgrade features are not necessarily a need, saving your budget may do you more good. On the contrary, if you have the extra funding for a comfortable upgrade, a little bit of treating yourself may not hurt that much!

Tax Charges

Taxes are also charged on top of the regular rental rates. When you book online, you will see your total tax charge when your final bill is generated. Otherwise, car rental tax in Ecuador usually falls at 12% of the entire car rental fee and computed as follows: rental rate x number of days + add-ons and other costs.

Extra Days Charge

Extending your car rental might be inevitable, especially when you’re driving in Ecuador, where the popular destinations are just hard to resist. If you stretch your rental outside the dates you booked initially, you will have to pay for the additional day’s charge. If you’re planning to extend for more than seven (7) days, you can ask your car rental company if you’re eligible for a discount.

If you can, try to plan your itinerary in the best possible way. Rental rates are naturally higher during peak season. So if you are in the country during these general travel times, extra charges might become too overwhelming. If you can do away with car rental extensions, the better for your pocket.

Rebooking Fees

In case you decide to change the time frame of your rental after you’ve confirmed your booking, you might be charged a corresponding fee. However, it wouldn’t hurt to talk to your car rental company. Perhaps you can have it stored as a voucher (like a travel voucher), which you can make use of in the future, or maybe they can present you with alternatives that will place you both in a win-win situation.

Age Requirements

In Ecuador, if you’ll provide all the necessary documents and financial requirements, you are qualified to rent a car in good condition considering you’ve reached the age of 21. However, like many countries, car rental companies charge additional fees for people between 21 and 24 years old. This is also true for senior drivers.

  • People below the age of 25 are assumed to lack driving experience, even if you’ve driven since you were 17. Likewise, car insurance companies set a maximum car rental age of 70 or 75. So if you’re over 70 and would like to rent a car in Ecuador, you’ll need to provide more guarantees to the rental company.

Car Insurance Cost

Most car rental companies in Ecuador will offer you two insurance options: the Basic and the Complete. The basic insurance costs around USD15/day, while the complete insurance costs around USD25/day. Insurance packages may still vary per company, whether it’s basic or complete. Usually, complete insurance packages include personal accident insurance, theft, fire, collision damage waiver, and third-party liability.

Note that if you get the basic package, you can still add more riders to your insurance if you have your preferences. We recommend prioritizing the personal accident coverage and collision damage waiver. Then again, you can also add roadside assistance cover in case your car breaks down.

Car Insurance Policy

Car insurance is mandatory in Ecuador, and the minimum coverage is the Seguro Obligatorio de Accidentes de Transito or the Obligatory Insurance for Transportation Accidents. This is similar to third-party liability insurance, wherein the insurance company will cover the medical expenses or death of vehicular accident victims. When you rent a car, this coverage is included in whatever insurance package you’ll choose.

Other Facts

Most car rental companies in Ecuador, including the local ones, have an online booking platform where you can choose and pay for a car in advance. It would be best to get in touch with car rental companies before traveling to Ecuador so you will be able to compare more rates and packages. In that way, once you land in Ecuador, you won’t need to go through the entire filling-up forms, validations, etc. All you need to do is to pick up your car, double-check its conditions, and start the road trip of your life!

If you’re not yet decided on whether renting a car is advantageous, here’s other information that might help you weigh.

Is it better to rent a car than take public transportation in Ecuador?

Although you can travel from north to south within 15 and a half hours in Ecuador, the different tourist destinations are scattered throughout the island, even where public transportation is sparse. Driving distances in Ecuador can occupy just a portion of an hour or an entire day. It would be best to plan your itinerary to weigh which mode of transportation will best suit you.

Buses serve local inter-provincial travel from 6:00 am - 9:00 pm daily. Within major cities like Quito, there are electric buses, ongoing construction of an underground railway, and metered taxis. For taxis, the standard flagged-down rate in Quito and Cuenca is $1.50, while in Guayaquil, it starts at $2.00. Charges are further incurred per kilometer at a rate of $1.50 and at least $8.00/hour if you keep the taxi waiting. So considering your itinerary, how much would it cost you to take a taxi? Would it be cheaper to do self-driving in Ecuador instead?

Ecuador still has a long way to go in its pursuit of a more efficient public transport network. Nevertheless, renting a car would be a good option at the moment, not to mention that some of the most popular destinations are found tucked away from the humming districts!

Can I rent a car in Ecuador and drive it outside of the country?

Supposing you’re planning on driving from Ecuador to Peru or driving from Ecuador to Colombia. You can rent a car in Ecuador and go to Colombia or Peru. You can return the vehicle to another country if the company allows it. Companies that enable inter-country crossings are those that have offices in the destination country. You’ll have a greater chance of having this kind of package if you rent from internationally-renowned car companies.

Are there ample parking areas in Ecuador?

What’s nerve-wracking about driving a car in a bustling area with narrow roads is that you’d have to exercise more caution when driving, turning, stopping, and parking. In Ecuador, there aren’t many designated parking spots. Locals just usually park their cars along the streets, which is not advisable for the car’s safety.

Road-Rules-in-Ecuador-Juan-Ordonez

Road Rules in Ecuador

Driving laws in Ecuador are put in place to maintain safety for all road users. Even when you drive beyond the major roads and urban outskirts where traffic is minimal, and pedestrians are fewer, exercising the road rules should not be questioned.

Important Regulations

In Ecuador, the road rules are made official by the Ecuadorian Transit Law. All road users are expected to follow the rules except when there are inevitable risky circumstances like natural disasters, road emergencies, health emergencies, fire, and other catastrophes. Below are some of the most important regulations in the law.

Drunk-Driving

It is not advisable to be drinking and driving in Ecuador. The general population, including young drivers, novice drivers, and professional drivers, can only have a maximum blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%. Beyond that, you can be fined between $170 - $1,020 and risk imprisonment for up to 30 days.

Also, Ecuador has the power to confiscate your International Driver's Permit, only to be returned to you when you leave the country. Always drive responsibly.

Parking Laws

Parking in Ecuador may be a challenge. This is because there are rarely any parking road signs that guide the drivers. You may be able to find vehicles parking haphazardly even on the major roads of Quito. Nonetheless, designated public parking lots still exist in built-up centers, and it would be best to park in these areas rather than the roadside.

General Standards

Roads in Ecuador usually have 1-3 lanes per carriageway. The road markings follow the universal standards like double yellow lines to denote 2-way roads, broken lines to denote that you may overtake or change lanes, white solid lines to denote traffic traveling in the same direction, and many more.

Speed Limits

In 2019, there was a reinforcement of higher penalties for speed limit violations. The degree of a breach depends upon how far the actual speed is from the speed limit. There is a moderate range, and there is a high range. Below are the corresponding penalties per speeding violation.

Urban Roads

When driving in Ecuador, the maximum urban speed limit is 50 km/h. If you drive between a 50 km/hr - 60 km/hr speed, you will be liable to a fine of $87.60 and lose 6 points from your license. Likewise, if you will be caught driving at a speed of more than 60 km/hr, you will be liable to a fine of $292, lose 6 points off from your license and spend three (3) days in prison without trial.

Perimeter Roads

The maximum speed limit within perimeter roads is 90 km/hr. If you drive between a 90 km/hr - 120 km/hr speed, you will be liable to a fine of $87.60 and lose 6 points from your license. Likewise, if you will be caught driving at a speed of more than 120 km/hr, you will be liable to a fine of $292, lose 6 points off from your license and spend three (3) days in prison without trial.

Straight Roads (i.e., highways)

The speed limit within highways is also 90 km/hr. If you drive between a 100 km/hr - 135 km/hr speed, you will be liable to a fine of $87.60 and lose 6 points from your license. Likewise, if you will be caught driving at a speed of more than 135 km/hr, you will be liable to a fine of $292, lose 6 points off from your license and spend three (3) days in prison without trial.

Driving Directions

Ecuador has plenty of roundabouts that come in one (1) – three (3) lanes. To drive in these, you have to know beforehand which exit you’ll need to take, so you’ll have to watch out for directional traffic signs. If your exit is not the 1st exit, try to stay on the inner lanes first before approaching your exit. Likewise, when you are in the countryside where paved roads are less or non-existent, you just have to make sure that you stick to the driving side and exercise more patience for other approaching vehicles.

Traffic Road Signs

Las señales de tráfico en Ecuador están en español. If you haven’t brushed up on your Spanish yet, that means “road signs in Ecuador are in Spanish.” Yes, you read it right. But don’t worry, many traffic signs come with symbols that are of international standards, so it shouldn’t be that difficult. Nonetheless, here are the common road signs and their meanings.

  • Doble Via - Two-Way Traffic
  • No Estacione - No Parking
  • Velocidad Maxima - Maximum Speed
  • Peso Maximo Vehiculo - Weight Limit x Tons
  • Pare - Stop
  • No Rebase - No Overtaking
  • No Entre - No Entry
  • Una Via - One-Way Traffic
  • Prohibido Dejar Y Recoger Pasajeros - Passenger Pick-up and Drop-off is not allowed
  • No Doble En U - No U-Turn
  • Ceda El Paso - Yield
  • No Estacione De Este Lado - No Parking At This Side
  • No Doble Izquierda - No Left Turn

Despacio- Slow down

If you want to make sure that you don’t miss any traffic signs, you can also buy booklets that contain Ecuadorian road signs. For the tech-savvy traveler, there is a Google Assistant to the rescue.

Right of Way

The Right of Way dictates who can proceed first in particular road sections and road situations. This includes who can proceed first in merging roads, who can proceed first in intersections, and when to give way to another road user. In Ecuador, the universal Right of Way standards are followed. This includes:

  • Vehicles that are inside roundabouts and intersections should be allowed to pass first
  • Vehicles that are on main roads/highways should be allowed to pass first
  • Vehicles that are responding to emergencies should be allowed to pass first

Regarding the third provision, whenever you hear emergency vehicles approaching, you should stop or try to drive your car to the side. You should clear a path for these vehicles and not obstruct the lane they are trying to pass through.

What is the legal driving age in Ecuador? The minimum driving age in Ecuador is 18. Considering you are 18 and have a valid driver’s license from your country of residence, you can legally drive in Ecuador. Again, if your native drivers’ license is not printed in Spanish, it would be best to secure an International Driver's Permit.

Suppose you come from a country with a higher minimum legal driving age, for example, 20 years old. In that case, you might be wondering if you can drive in Ecuador, considering that you’re 18 years old. Unfortunately, you cannot drive in Ecuador if this is the case because you’ll still need a driver’s license from your home country.

Laws On Overtaking

When overtaking, you should be aware of the road markings first. If there are solid, double, yellow lines, it means that you cannot overtake in that road section. In road sections where overtaking is allowed, here are the rules that you need to remember:

  • Make sure that the road is clear of any oncoming traffic or road obstruction
  • Make sure that there are no other vehicles behind you that also want to overtake
  • Drive past the vehicle in front of you quickly especially if it’s a truck
  • You should only overtake on the left-hand side of the road

Driving Side

Ecuadoreans drive on the right-hand side of the road. This means that the driver is seated on the left side of the car. If you haven’t experienced driving on the right-hand side of the road, turning junctions, crossing intersections, and driving in roundabouts is often a challenge. With this, it is recommended that you practice driving first on roads with no heavy traffic before you drive long distances.

Driving Etiquette in Ecuador

Road rules are strengthened when road users also observe the correct driving etiquette. These are sort of the unwritten, unofficial road rules that further secure all road users’ safety in general travel times. If it’s your first time to hear about driving etiquette, below are a few points to consider.

Car Breakdown

Before driving out, make sure to memorize the emergency hotlines in Ecuador. Keep your cellphone, radio, or any communication device near you at all times. But of course, don’t use them while driving. If you find yourself caught in an emergency, like your car breaking down, just remain calm and be aware of potential hazards that may have developed during the incident. If there are, try to walk away from the car and dial any of the emergency hotlines below:

  • Emergency - 911
  • Fire Department - 102
  • Police - 101

Police Stops

If traffic police call you over, this would usually mean that you committed a traffic violation. With this, you should cooperate respectfully. Drive your car to the side of the road so as not to block traffic. Just roll down your window and make sure to lock your car doors in case there are petty criminals in the area.

The police officer would most likely ask for your driving license, and as such, do not forget to show him/her your International Driving Permit if your native driving license is not written in Spanish. If you did violate any traffic rules, you have to comply with its corresponding penalties or risk incurring more fines.

Asking Directions

If you find yourself lost while driving in Ecuador, you can always ask for directions. If you are within urban zones, asking for directions from a local guide shouldn’t be very difficult. Most locals, especially in tourist areas, are adept at understanding and speaking English. However, if you find yourself confused while driving in rural roads, learning a bit of Spanish might come in handy.

“Hello” : “Hola

“Good morning” : “Buenos días

“Good afternoon” : “Buenas tardes

“Good evening” : “Buena noches

“Excuse Me” : “Disculpe

“Do you speak English?” : “Habla usted Inglés?

“I am going to ___” : “Voy a ___”

“Can you help me?” : “Me puedes ayudar?

“Can you tell me where __ is?” : “¿Puedes decirme dónde está _____?”

“Am I driving in the correct direction? : “¿Conduzco en la dirección correcta?”

“Thank you very much” : “Muchas gracias

Checkpoints

The Ecuadorian law system continues to tighten over the years. This is to keep driving in Ecuador safe. Police or Road Traffic Enforcers randomly station roadblocks around the country to conduct breath tests, check your driving license in Ecuador, check for car permits, and many more.

Before driving out, make sure that you have all your documents with you. This is also where an International Driver’s Permit will help you since not all local authorities converse in foreign languages well. If the police pull you over, cautiously get your car off the middle of the road first. Greet the local authority and politely ask why you were pulled over and give them what they need right away.

Other Tips

Having good or bad driver behavior isn’t just measured by how you interact with other drivers. This also includes maintaining a decent driving attitude (not being an aggressive driver) and making sure that all basic driving necessities on your end are met.

What should i do before driving out in Ecuador?

Anywhere you are in the world, you always need to practice responsible driving. This involves keeping your car in excellent condition at all times to avoid technical failures. Driving distances in Ecuador can also be far, so your car needs to be in top shape.

  • Check if you have enough fuel for your travel route and itinerary
  • Check if your oil level is just below the maximum
  • Check your tires for any tear and deflation
  • Check your tires if they have the correct pressure
  • Check your wiper blades if they are fully-functioning
  • Check your coolant system, especially if you’ll be driving far
  • Check if your headlights and foglights are working well
  • Check if there is no problem when starting your car (engine)
  • Check if you have enough screen wash
  • Check if your seatbelts are not stuck
  • Check if your car horn is working fine
  • Check if there are no breakages in your mirrors

These are just some of the few of the most critical parts to check. Apart from that, you also need to double-check that you have all permits with you, including your driver’s license, car registration, and the like.

Driving Conditions in Ecuador

The advantages of responsible driving do not only come when you’re in a densely populated area. In a lot of cases, it would also save you from the hazards of poor road conditions. How is driving in Ecuador? Is driving in Ecuador safe? Are the roads easy or challenging? Find out below.

Accident Statistics

According to the World Health Organization, road traffic fatalities belong to the top five (5) major causes of death in Ecuador. For every 100,000 people, 24 people die which places Ecuador in the top 60 countries with the highest death rates.

Likewise, a 2016 Epidemiological Study of Fatal Road Traffic Accidents in Ecuador reported that 13 individuals per 100,000 people in Ecuador die from road traffic accidents. In the same study, researchers noticed that the greatest number of traffic accident deaths occurred during the weekends. With this, it will be safer for you to take extra caution when driving on Saturdays and Sundays.

Common Vehicles

With regards to the common types of vehicles involved in traffic incidents, there is little to no robust data about it. However, apart from individual motor vehicles that violated traffic rules, the second most involved cases are motorcycle accidents, followed by frontal-side collisions between motor vehicles, then finally pedestrian-motor vehicle collision.

Toll Roads

There are plenty of toll road sections in Ecuador, particularly along the freeways and main highways. You can either pay in cash at tollgates or pay through your vehicle transponders. Vehicle transponders are electronic toll payment systems that are usually included in your car rental.

Road Situations

You might also be wondering, “Is driving in Ecuador safe?”.If you read a lot of informal driving-in-Ecuador essays, a famous commentary would be that driving in Ecuador is gravely dangerous. Contrary to popular belief, urban roads and major highways in Ecuador are generally safe to drive on. You’ll observe this in Quito and when you’re driving in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Roads in the countryside, however, are the ones that present some challenges, like the 40 km dirt road going to the Cotopaxi Volcano National Park.

If you drive along with these areas, it won’t pay too much to double your alertness. On the other hand, most road accidents in Ecuador were not because of poor road conditions. Records have noted that the majority of road incidents occurred because of drivers not driving responsibly. This includes drunk driving and driving over the speed limit. As mentioned in the preceding sections, penalties for overspeeding have been heightened due to so many violators.

Nonetheless, this nation is not the worst country to drive in. However, when driving in Ecuador, safety should always be a priority. Some tourists even gush about how fun it is to drive around the country. Maybe you’ll find yourself on the same boat after traveling to Ecuador!

Driving Culture

The number of cars on the road increase during the weekends because this is the time when most people intentionally go out for leisure. When you drive around, you might perhaps meet other drivers who honk their car horns to say “Hello”, “Thank You”, and “You’re Welcome”.

Also, a lot of Ecuadorean transit drivers are chatty, as some travelers would say. If ever you want to try riding a taxi or any form of public transportation, expect to be entertained. If not, you can always say that you don’t prefer them asking questions.

Other Tips

Topography and climate play a huge role in the traffic situation of Ecuador. Unpaved roads in the mountains can be impassable at times for small cars, while night driving can sometimes be dangerous because of fog.

How is driving in Ecuador during the rainy months?

Ecuador has four (4) distinct microclimate zones. This means that you can chase dry, sunny days all year round in various provinces. Sunny days are the more advisable times to drive because roads are not slippery, muddy, and dangerous to drive in, unlike during the rainy months.

The best months to drive in Ecuador according to the region are:

  • La Costa (Coastal Lowlands) - May to November
  • La Sierra (Andean Mountains) - June to September
  • El Oriente (Amazon Region) - August to March
  • Galapagos Islands - All months

Things to Do in Ecuador

Ecuador is not just a haven for tourists. It is also a prime choice for many ex-pats, students, volunteers, and working professionals to live in and work on their craft. If you’re thinking of staying in Ecuador for more than 90 days, here are a few random tidbits that will hopefully help you answer some questions.

Drive as a Tourist

If you already have a full driving license from your country of residence, immediately secure an International Driving Permit for you to be able to drive in Ecuador as a tourist. You don’t need other requirements, and you don’t definitely don’t to miss going on a self-drive adventure in this country.

Apart from traveling at your own pace and being able to go random places any time, you get to learn about the culture of Ecuador on the roads. The only thing you’ll need to watch out for is violating traffic rules like overspeeding. Traffic cameras are all around the country, and some visitors have been charged with multiple violations in just a few hours. Nonetheless, some visitors have also driven around the country for weeks without getting a single violation. Avoid worrying about the exact costs of the fines in Ecuador by practicing proper driving etiquettes.

Work as a Driver

Taxi drivers in Ecuador usually earn between USD200 – USD680/month. If you fancy going around and earning money, you can work as a driver in the country. Driving jobs aren’t only for public transit, but there are also delivery driving jobs, tour drivers, and personal drivers.

To be able to work as a driver in Ecuador, you’ll need to obtain a work visa or a 12-VI visa from the Ecuadorian Embassy nearest you. The requirements to apply for this include:

Work as a Travel Guide

If you do not want a driving job and love talking to people, perhaps you’d want to consider working as a travel guide. Travel guides in Ecuador earn between USD191 – USD523. All you need is to learn how to converse in Spanish and English, learn about the sites you’re going to visit, learn everything you can about Ecuador, and guide people on tours.

If you have a driving license and an International Driving Permit, it will be bonus points. You never know; you might be able to earn more if you guide and drive.

Apply for Residency

Suppose you have a Temporary Resident Visa and have stayed in Ecuador for at least 21 months. In that case, you can already apply for a Permanent Resident Visa. However, if granted, you cannot be away from Ecuador for more than 180 days for the first two (2) years.

Likewise, those who are eligible to apply for a Permanent Resident Visa are:

  • Dependents of an Ecuadorian citizen or permanent resident
  • Spouses of an Ecuadorian citizen or permanent resident

If you have a Permanent Resident Visa, driving in Ecuador would be a lot easier since you’ll be able to apply for a local driver’s license.

Other Things to Do

Working professionally isn’t just your only option to be able to extend your stay in the country. You can also pursue your studies in Ecuador or volunteer in various advocacies. If applying for permanent residency seems to be a long way to go, you can check out the Extended Tourist Visa and other Temporary Residence Visas first.

How do I get an extended tourist visa?

Only 23 countries in the world are required to get a tourist visa to enter Ecuador. These are:

  • Afghanistan
  • Angola
  • Bangladesh
  • Cameroon
  • Cuba
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • The Gambia
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • India
  • Iraq
  • Kenya
  • Libya
  • Nepal
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Congo
  • Senegal
  • Syria
  • Somalia
  • Sri Lanka
  • Venezuela

If you want to stay in Ecuador for more than 90 days as a tourist, you can apply for a Special Tourist Visa (STV) right away. An STV has a validity of 180 days, and it could only be granted once (1x) every five (5) years.

On the other hand, a Temporary Residence Visa will allow you to stay in Ecuador for up to two (2) years, depending on the type. However, take note that these visas are for non-tourists only. There are 14 types of Temporary Residence Visas that you can apply for. These are:

  • Work Visa (12-VI). A visa that you can apply for only if you are officially employed with an Ecuadorian employer.
  • Retirement/Rentista Visa (9-I Visa). This is a visa that is open for foreign pensioners. You should have a minimum monthly income of $800.
  • Investor Visa (9-II and 9-III). If you can invest a minimum of $40,000 in any Ecuadorian industry, you can apply for an Investor Visa.
  • Academic Visa (for scientists and investigators). Suppose you have academic partnerships in Ecuador or are working on a project with an Ecuadorian institution. In that case, you can apply for this type of visa.
  • Cultural/Sports/Artist Visa. This visa is for athletes, performers, and innovators. One (1) visa is valid for 180 days but renewable multiple times of the year.
  • Episcopal Conference Visa. This is for foreigners who have official duties for the Ecuadorian Religious Episcopal Conference.
  • Religious Visa (9-IV). This visa is for foreigners who need to carry out official religious duties not associated with the Ecuadorian Religious Episcopal Conference.
  • Volunteer Visa (12-II). You can only get this visa if you volunteer for a registered non-government organization.
  • Student Visa (12-V). If you want to pursue your studies in Ecuador, you have to apply for a Student Visa.
  • Professional Visa (9-V). This visa is popular among freelancers. Suppose you are a professional who needs to do technical or artisan work in Ecuador. In that case, you can apply for this type of visa.
  • Convention Visa. This visa is for foreigners who work for international organizations and need to travel to Ecuador to carry out official duties.
  • Mercosur Visa. Mercosur countries include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Suppose you are a resident of these countries and want to live, work, or do business in Ecuador. In that case, you will have to apply for this type of visa and not the regular work visa.
  • Unasur Visa. Unasur countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay, and Venezuela. If you come from any of these countries, you’ll need to apply for a Unasur Visa if you want to live and work in Ecuador.
  • Commercial Activity Visa. This visa is for foreigners working in commercial or industrial vessels such as cruises or cargo ships. This visa has no validity and will allow entry to the holder multiple times.

Can I study in Ecuador?

The education sector of Ecuador has a lot to offer. Multiple universities welcome international students who wish to pursue their undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate studies in Ecuador. You can explore the different programs of the following institutions online:

  • Universidad Estatal de Milagro
  • Escuela Superior Politecnica de Chimborazo
  • Universidad Tecnologica Equinoccial
  • Universidad del Azuay
  • Universidad Central del Ecuador
  • Universidad de Guayaquil
  • Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador
  • Universidad San Francisco de Quito
  • Universidad Politecnica Salesiana
  • Universidad Tecnica de Ambato

The list above only comprises about half of all academic institutions that accept international students. You can still broaden your search and email each of the schools to know more about their course offerings.

What NGOs can I volunteer with in Ecuador?

If you want to be part of something greater, Ecuador has many opportunities for you. Well, it’s not for you, but for the benefit of the bigger world. NGOs in Ecuador cover diverse advocacies that range from religious, health, education, and environmental protection to policy, women and children, indigenous peoples’ rights, and many more! Check out some of them below:

  • Equilibrio Azul
  • Camp Hope Foundation
  • Chiriboga Ecological Protection Foundation
  • Un techo para mi Pais Ecuador
  • For His Children
  • Gotitas De Luz
  • Animal Protection Ecuador
  • Charles Darwin Foundation
  • Fundacion Niñez Internacional
  • Fundacion Integrar
  • The Salesian Children’s Project
  • UNESCO

The Top Destinations in Ecuador

Whether you are crazy about soaking in the cool breeze of the Pacific Coast or crave the rugged adventures of the Andes and the Amazon, visiting Ecuador's major cities and rural town attractions ​will surely be one for the books. Plus! Driving within Ecuador is crowd-approved.

Where to start? Here are some of the fascinating spots you can visit if you’ll be driving a car in Ecuador.

Galapagos-island-Nathalie-Marquis

The Galapagos Islands

It isn’t surprising that many people who are not from the Americas assume that Galapagos is a highly uninhabited island apart from the iguanas. Located about 1000km off Ecuador’s western coast, this pacific gem consists of 13 major islands and numerous islets. What’s more interesting is that three (3) of the islands have a thriving community of Ecuadorians!

Driving Directions

You can only reach the Galapagos archipelago by plane from mainland Ecuador. You can ride a plane in Quito or Guayaquil and land in the Galapagos either at San Cristobal or Baltra Airports. Baltra Airport is the nearest to Puerto Ayora, the busiest district in Galapagos. However, whichever airport you land at, you’ll need to ride a boat again to reach Puerto Ayora. When you plan to travel to and from the Galapagos Islands, you might want to try stopping by Guayaquil. Driving in Guayaquil, Ecuador also has its own set of surprises

You can tour the Galapagos Islands via boat cruises, charter a taxi, or rent a car. Many tourists who visited Galapagos noted that the price between a car and hiring a taxi in the Galapagos is not much different.

If you prefer to rent a car, there are three (3) main islands in the Galapagos that you can roam around at. These are the islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isla Isabela. It would also be useful to note that there are only specific regions on the islands that you can drive around due to their topography. Perhaps it’s the reason why the prices of taxis and car rentals are not much different.

Things to Do

The Galapagos Islands is mostly known for being the home of so many Galapagos iguanas and Lava lizards. By many, you should think hundreds of thousands. For marine iguanas alone, an estimated 4,500 individuals are present per square mile. However, there is more to the Galapagos Islands than these unique creatures.

You can:

  1. Meet Lupe, the Sea Lion, in the Puerto Ayora Fish Market

Puerto Ayora is the busiest wet market in the Galapagos. Maybe it is because the market is such a lively place that Lupe, the sea lion, loves to visit the area all the time! (or get free food, perhaps!).

2. Snorkel in the Deep Yet Crystal Clear Las Grietas Channel

The channel took its name from the word “Grieta” which means crevasse/crack. True enough, this narrow strip of water is sandwiched between towering rock cliffs. Before you can reach Las Grietas, you’ll have to hike for 15-minutes through rocky sands, a lava field, and a cactus forest.

3. Observe the Giant Sea Turtles Near the Charles Darwin Research Center

The Galapagos Islands became famous because it was visited by world-renowned naturalist Charles Darwin, who established the Theory of Evolution. At present, the 1964 Charles Darwin Research Center in Puerto Ayora continues to work on conservation, protection, and sustainable development initiatives to ensure the preservation of the entire Galapagos Islands.

4. Hike to El Muro de Las Lagrimas and see the Galapagos Flamingos

The Galapagos Flamingos are the brightly colored birds that fly back and forth around the Galapagos Islands. The main breeding grounds for these flamingos are located in the southern area of Isabela island, but you can them in all other islands.

Baños-de-Agua-Santa-Azzedine-Rouichi

Baños de Agua Santa

Baños is a relatively small town teeming with over 60 waterfalls, numerous hot springs, and fresh cascading rivers. The town’s name translates to “Baths of Sacred Water,” and locally, it is known as Nuestra Señora de Agua Santa. Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary appeared at the Cascada del Virgin Waterfall, giving the waters its healing power. Apart from that, tourists, both local and foreign, flock to Baños for all the adventures that seem surreal.

Driving Directions

Baños is nestled between Parque Nacional Llangantes and Parque Nacional Sangay in the central portion of Ecuador. From Quito, it will take you about 3 hours to drive to Baños via the Carr. Panamericana.

  1. Exit Quito via Av. Simon Bolivar and drive southwards.
  2. Continue moving towards Colectora Quito-Tambillo/E28A.
  3. From E28A, continue to drive straight towards Carr. Panamericana/E35.
  4. E35 will take you to Baños de Agua Santa.

Things to Do

A day in Baños may not be enough for all the activities, both thrilling and relaxing. The Andes’ magic seems to pour abundantly in this quaint town, and you don’t want to miss this when you travel to Ecuador. Here are some activities you can do while in Baños:

  1. Learn About the Story of Mama Tungurahua

Tungurahua is a stratovolcano. Like its adjacent volcanoes, there is an ancient legend surrounding this mountain. If you love stories, especially romantic ones, you’ll like to hear the story of Mama Tungurahua.

2. Ride the Rapids at Pastaza River

Pastaza River is a tributary of the Maranon River that runs through the Amazon Basin. Its water comes from the Patate River that originates from the Cotopaxi volcano. If you don’t mind getting soaked in river water, definitely try whitewater rafting in Pastaza River!

3. Ride the Infamous World Swing at the Tree House

A treehouse on a cliff — how much height can this country bear! If you are fond of heights, swings, and the sudden rush of adrenaline, visit the End of the World Swing. You’ll be swinging over the canyon, and don’t worry, as you’ll be wearing a harness!

4. Visit the Devil’s Cauldron Waterfalls

At 61 meters high, the Devil’s Cauldron Waterfalls got its name from the fact that the water at the foot of the falls enters a big hole, and no one knows where its exit is. It is believed that things that enter the Devil’s Cauldron do not resurface anymore.

5. Bathe In the Hot Springs of Termas de la Virgen

After a day of hiking exploring, one of the best ways to wind down is to take a dip at the hot springs of Termas de la Virgen. This is a natural hot spring resort with plenty of small, cemented pools.

Tena-Vince-Fleming

Tena

Located on the edge of the Amazon basin, Tena is a sought-after destination for nature-adventurers. Suppose you want to experience first-hand the Amazonian culture outside your television or laptop screens. In that case, Tena is just waiting for you around the corner.

Driving Directions

Tena is about a 3.5-hour drive from the capital city of Quito. If you’re used to driving along the worst city traffics around the world, this 3.5-hour drive will be more of a long relaxing drive. Be informed, however, that the road going to Tena is along mountain slopes. There is no straight road section, which means that you will be driving along numerous road curves.

From Quito:

  1. Take Av. Libertador Simon BOlivar and Ruta Via towards E28C in Puembo.
  2. Driving along E20 and E45.
  3. E45 or Calle Teniente Hugo Ortiz will take you directly towards Tena.

Things to Do

A trip without hearing the enchanting melodies of wildlife within the lush, verdant rainforests of South America is a trip half-done. Even if you are not a seasoned mountaineer, an outdoor buff, or a cowboy backpacker, Tena also has comfortable spots.

Some of the things you can do in Tena include:

  1. Hike to the San Rafael Waterfalls

With so many waterfalls in the country, this one is the highest. Standing at 150 meters high, San Rafael Waterfalls is nestled in the middle of a thick cloud forest, between the Amazon Basin and the Andes Mountains. However, over the years, the water has subsided because of an upstream sinkhole. At present, the viewpoints around the area are still open for visitors to see its entire surrounding landscape.

2. Ride the Thrilling White Water Rapids at the Jatunyacu River

If not Baños, you can also go whitewater rafting at Jatunyacu River. The river features class three (3) rapids that are safe and exciting enough for both beginners and experienced rafters. You can even swim in some sections, then back up to the raft again to ride the rapids.

3. Go Spelunking

If you’re not too claustrophobic, you can visit the Jumandi Caves. It is an open cave system, and you won’t need to go through tight spaces and passages to explore the cave. You’ll need a guide, though, when you visit this because they will also provide you with headlamps and other safety gear.

Zaruma

Fully known as the Villa Real de San Antonio del Cerro de Oro de Zaruma, this hillside community was once a mining town. Walking or driving along the cobblestone streets will transport you to the dawn of urbanization in Ecuador.

Driving Directions

Zaruma is located in the southern region of Ecuador. The fastest route from Quito is via the Carr. Panamericana/E35. It will take you about 10.5 hours to drive from the capital city to Zaruma.

  1. Drive along the southbound lane of Av. Simon Bolivar.
  2. Stay on Av. Simon Bolivar until you reach Carr. Panamericana.
  3. Drive straight along Carr. Panamericana towards Colta.
  4. Follow E487 towards E40 in Guayas.
  5. Continue to drive along E40 and take E58, E25, then E50 towards E585 in El Oro.
  6. Follow E585 until you get to Zaruma.

Things to Do

Many of the structures in Zaruma were once home to the aristocrats, consisting of mining investors and workers who made it big time. At present, you will still see the original structures but already lined with shops and other business establishments.

In Zaruma, you can:

  1. Conduct a Photoshoot With the Old, Spunky Buildings As a Backdrop

The town of Zaruma exudes a unique charm. Taking a picture on the street alone might seem that you have been transported to another era (an era that you may not want to leave behind anymore).

2. Chill At a Local Specialty Cafe After a Day of Exploring

Zaruma is a relatively quiet town. Going around will not be stressful, but in case your feet need a little bit of rest, you can choose from a dozen of specialty cafes that serve the best afternoon snacks. We recommend looking for the café/restaurant that serves Tigrillo Plates and Campo Cheese.

3. Visit Reserva Buenaventura

When visiting Zaruma, the places to see aren’t only limited to the central town. You can also access Reserva Buenaventura from here and go birdwatching. When you visit, bring in your binoculars and see what kinds of birds you can spot!

Driving in Ecuador will give you the kind of inspiration you can take for the rest of your life. If you want to get real-time updates on travel restrictions and protocols in Ecuador, make sure to check out the International Driver’s Association travel restrictions page or contact the IDA at +1-877-533-2804.

Reference

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