Money Matters

Currency & Exchange

The U.S. dollar is Ecuador's official currency, making currency exchange a non-issue for American visitors. But the country also mints its own coins, equivalent to half-dollars, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies, which circulate freely with their U.S. counterparts. The $1 coin bearing the portrait of Native American guide Sacagawea, which never caught on in the United States, is used widely here. Most small businesses have trouble making change for anything over $5. Do not bring $50 or $100 bills to Ecuador. So many counterfeits circulate that no one will accept them as payment for any bill of any amount, including the $100 Galápagos entrance fee. If you find yourself with these denominations, you have no choice but to exchange them for twenties or smaller at a bank, which is capable of determining that your bills are real.

Most large establishments in the cities take credit cards, with Visa and MasterCard the most widely accepted. Some businesses add a surcharge of 3%–10% on credit-card purchases, or may offer a discount if you pay in cash. You can use your card to obtain cash from ATMs, but a surprising number of machines take only Cirrus-affiliated cards. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, get cash from an ATM when the bank is open. Security personnel are present, and if you encounter a problem with your card, you can tend to it immediately. Few businesses take traveler's checks as payment. You can cash American Express traveler's checks for dollars at some banks and casas de cambio.


Many goods and services—from taxi fares to textiles—are inexpensive by Western standards. Although international chain hotels are pricey, you can stay in perfectly nice places for less than $75.

Sample Prices:. Some sample prices are: cup of coffee, 50; bottle of beer, $1.50; soft drink, 50; bottle of wine, $10; sandwich, $2; 2-km (1-mi) taxi ride, $1; city bus ride, 20; movie, $5; cocktail, $5; theater or concert ticket, $10–$20; museum admission, $2.


Most hotels add a 12% tax and 10% service surcharge to your bill. Some include this amount when they quote prices, but others do not. Be sure to inquire when you book your room. Restaurants levy the same charges on top of the prices listed on the menu.


A tip of 5%–10% is appropriate for waiters in upscale restaurants. (The 10% surcharge often added to a bill is supposedly for service, although whether waiters actually receive it is questionable.) Porters and bellhops should receive the equivalent of 50 per bag. Guides expect about $10 per day for each person in a tour group, while drivers expect about $2. Taxi drivers don't expect tips.

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