Ecuador’s official currency is the US dollar. If you’re not traveling from the USA, consider bringing a small supply of US dollars with you on your trip in case you have trouble exchanging currency from your home country. Western Unions are in most big cities.
ATMs are the easiest way of getting cash, period. They’re found in most cities and even in smaller towns, though they are occasionally out of order. Make sure you have a four-digit PIN; many Ecuadorian ATMs don’t recognize longer ones. Bancos del Pacífico and Bancos del Pichincha have MasterCard/Cirrus ATMs. Bancos de Guayaquil and Bancos La Provisora have Visa/Plus ATMs.
US dollar bills are the official currency. They are identical to those issued in the USA. Coins of one, five, 10, 25 and 50 cents are identical in shape, size and color as their US equivalents, but bear images of famous Ecuadorians rather than US presidents. Both US and Ecuadorian coins are used in Ecuador. There are no plans to print Ecuadorian versions of US dollar bills. The US$1 ‘Sacajawea’ coin is widely used.
The biggest problem when it comes to cash is finding change. It can be hard to cash a $20 bill even in big cities. No one ever has sueltos (literally ‘loose ones, ’ meaning ‘change’), so change your bills when you can. Forget about changing a $50 or $100 bill outside a bank.
Credit cards are great as backup. Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club are the most widely accepted cards. First-class restaurants, hotels, gift shops and travel agencies almost always accept MasterCard or Visa. Small hotels, restaurants and stores don’t. Even if an establishment has a credit-card sticker in the window, don’t assume that credit cards are accepted. In Ecuador, merchants accepting credit cards will often add between 4% and 10% to the bill. Paying cash is often better value.
It is best to change money in the major cities of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, where rates are best. Because banks have limited hours, casas de cambio (currency-exchange bureaus) are sometimes the only option for changing money. They are usually open 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday and until at least noon on Saturday. They’re entirely credible places, though the exchange rate might be a percentage point or so lower than that given by banks.
If you’re in a pinch, cambios (as they’re abbreviated) at the airports and major hotels in Quito and Guayaquil stay open past the usual hours.
Euros, Peruvian pesos and Colombian nuevos soles are the easiest currencies to exchange in Ecuador.
Commission for changing traveler’s checks ranges from 1% to 4%, with the highest rates charged in small towns. Traveler’s checks are safer than cash because they are refunded if they are lost or stolen. Don’t bring all of your money in traveler’s checks, however. It’s always useful to have a supply of US cash and an ATM card.
Reproduced with permission from the Lonely Planet website www.lonelyplanet.com © 2009 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd.