You can research all you want but there are always things you will wish you would have known before studying abroad in Ecuador. Here are some things that I wasn’t fully prepared for and would like to share with all future travelers going to Quito, Ecuador!
1. (Warm) Clothing NOT Optional
Tip número uno: Bring a warm jacket! Although Ecuador is literally on the equator (hence the name…), Quito is 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round due to its elevation of 2,800 meters (9,350 feet) above sea level. Personally, all those things considered, I thought that 50 degrees in Ecuador would somehow be a “warm” 50. Well, I was wrong. I would recommend a practical jacket that you can wear to class, work, and out at night. If you have space I would even bring two – one windbreaker and one that is waterproof and warm. For packing in general, I would recommend two or three sweaters and a few pairs of pants. I learned the hard way by not bringing warm clothes.
2. Cash is King
Fun fact: Ecuador actually uses the US dollar! I thought bringing cash would be a smart idea but didn’t think of the bill size – it turns out that carrying 50-dollar bills with me wasn’t the best decision… Big bills are very hard to break in Ecuador. So, if you bring cash, make sure they are 20-dollar bills or less. You will use change for the bus, going to eat, taxis… everything. Change will be your best friend. That being said, if you happen to have bigger bills with you, go to bigger stores like Supermaxi (there are multiple around the city) and they will be able to give you change. A good idea when splitting the bill at a restaurant is to make change from the pooled money. Also note: Ecuador actually produces its own coins – centavos – identical in size and value to coins produced in the US. So, you’ll pay with US dollar bills and get Ecuadorian coins as change.
Taxis are a common use of transportation throughout Quito. There are legal and illegal taxis going around the city. Always take a legal taxi! Things to look for in a legal taxi include having an orange license plate, a 4-digit number on the side of the cab, a top light that says taxi, and a taximeter inside. Also, if you have bigger bills and are planning to take a taxi make sure to ask the driver if he or she has enough change before you enter. Also, while taxis may have meters, drivers may or may not use them – always ask for a rate quote BEFORE committing to the ride. As with most things in Latin America, a taxi ride is negotiable. If you know the going rate, you can comfortably negotiate the driver’s quote. If you’re not sure, ask a bystander for a rough estimate and use that as your bargaining power when you get in.
4. Don’t Let Your ALTITUDE Get the Best of You
Quito sits at a cool 9,350 feet above sea level, roughly the elevation of ski resorts in Colorado. Everyone will warn you – or at least they should – to drink plenty of fluids both before arriving and for the first few days. DO IT. Make sure to bring at least a one-liter water bottle so that you can always be hydrated! Trust me, when you are out of breath from walking five blocks you are going to want to have that water bottle.
5. US Americans Are Not the Only “Americans” in Ecuador
Ecuadorians are also “Americans,” being from South America. In Ecuador, more identifiable terms for “US American” include gringo/a (“foreigner”), Estadounidense (US American), or a person “de los Estados Unidos” (from the United States). I let the word “American” slip once or twice the first few days, thinking that was a unique identifier of US Americans, and I was quickly corrected. Some people take it more seriously than others, so keep this in mind. When studying abroad in Ecuador, you want to be mindful of the local culture and this is a good way to practice curbing ethnocentrism.
6. Adapt Your, Um…Bathroom Behaviors
This may seem like a strange topic to address, but you don’t want to find out the hard way: Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet! It is a huge taboo and most people blame the poor sewage systems. You will probably see many warning signs in bathrooms, but just in case you didn’t know before, now you do! There are small trash cans next to each toilet for this purpose. And don’t think if you get away with it once (accidentally), it won’t blow up in your face (literally) the next time!
As they say, you can never be too prepared! But things will still catch you by surprise and that is all part of the journey.
Interested in studying abroad in Ecuador? Check out all the programs CIS Abroad has to take you there!