Ecuador may not be a mainstream tourist destination, yet this small South American country offers a dazzling array of wonders, including vast swathes of Amazon rainforest, the towering Andes mountain range and active volcanoes. Ecuador is also a stepping stone to the iconic Galapagos Islands, famous for their unique wildlife which inspired Darwin to develop his theory of evolution.
Most journeys begin in the country’s capital, Quito, famed for its Spanish colonial past and situated in the foothills of the Andes mountains at an elevation close to 3000m. Other large cities hosting international airports include Cuenca and Guayaquil.
In less than two hours you can drive to Cotopaxi National Park, dominated by the towering snow-capped volcano which still erupts on a regular basis. Baños is only three hours away and is very popular with adrenaline junkies, offering white-water rafting, canyoning and ziplining. Guenca is an eight-hour drive away but is well worth a visit as a gorgeous colonial city with cobblestone streets. In the north of Ecuador, one can find some of the best beaches such as Bahia de Caraquez, Manta and San Clemente with inexpensive hotels and great food.
The official language in Ecuador is Spanish, and visitors will find that English speakers are limited in number. Since 2000, the official currency has been the US dollar, with Ecuadorian centavo coins – identical in value to US cents – being the only money minted in Ecuador.
Driving in Ecuador is not for the faint-hearted. Ecuadorian roads are well maintained in major cities but once you venture off the beaten track the road quality deteriorates dramatically. If you intend to venture outside the cities then renting a four-wheel drive vehicle may be your best bet, especially during the rainy season between October and May, when flooding and even landslides may occur.
Bear in mind that even on the main highways, signposting is not always of a high standard and getting lost is not uncommon. A GPS system is highly recommended. Once again, many roads are not lit up at night and driving after sundown is not recommended.
Driving standards leave much to be desired, with aggressive driving and horn-blaring being commonplace. There is poor enforcement of driving laws, and it is best to be on the lookout for the sudden appearance of a pedestrian, cyclist or animal to avoid unpleasant consequences.
Car rental prices in Ecuador usually start at around $20 per day when renting for a week but can rise significantly for shorter periods. Prices do not vary significantly from month to month, and it’s probably easiest to pick up and drop off your vehicle at the airport, as there are rarely any significant savings from choosing an alternate location. Check out our list below for some great deals currently available in Ecuador.
Avis, Budget and Hertz are some international auto hire companies with a presence in the country, and Localiza is a Brazilian firm with good deals in the region.
In order to rent a car, you will need to be at least 21 years of age. Drivers under 25 should be prepared to pay an additional surcharge.
Police checks are common, so do not be alarmed if this occurs. Should you be pulled over by the police, you will probably be requested to show the following documents:
Traffic drives on the right.
Speed limits must be observed, or a driver risks being arrested and taken to jail. Limits vary between 30mph in urban areas, to 60mph on straight highways.
Before venturing on the road make sure that you have an adequate insurance policy.
If you are involved in accident, contact the police by dialing 101 throughout Ecuador. If you are in the Quito region, you have the added luxury of calling the tourist police and might be lucky enough to find someone who speaks English.
Breakdown recovery services are rather limited outside of Quito and the larger cities. When collecting the keys for your car you should discuss this with the rental clerk and make sure you have the necessary emergency numbers.
Many rental cars have a manual rather than automatic transmission so make sure you check about this point if you are not comfortable using a manual gear shift.
Make sure that you have a road safety kit in the trunk of the car before leaving the rental booth. Besides being important in case of a breakdown or accident, this is something that the police check if you get pulled over. Car theft can also be a problem, so whenever possible park your car in a secure garage and avoid parking in the street at night.
* Disclaimer: Prices displayed may not reflect today's rates.
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