When is the last time you bought something and got a Sacajawea dollar coin for change? Chances are that unless you were buying chips from a vending machine, you can’t remember when. That’s because they’re ALL in Ecuador! Well not all, but we only saw one George Washington dollar bill during our 16 days there. I know there’s a strip club joke in there somewhere, but I digress.
Now some of you may be confused as to why we were using the US Dollar (USD) in Ecuador. You see, back in 2000, Ecuador dumped their Sucre in exchange for the almighty American greenback. Just like other countries that have gone through this process known as dollarization, Ecuador was in a horrible economic crisis (largely due to unregulated banks and dependence on oil export) and needed to put an end to the severe inflation they were experiencing. It got so bad that in 2000 it would have taken 25,000 Ecuadorian Sucre to buy a five-piece Crispy Chicken Nuggets off the Wendy’s Super Value Menu!!!
Are you still with me or did I lose you with the history/economics lesson? Assuming you’re still there, let’s move forward with the financial review of our time in Ecuador.
We had $68 USD a day to pay for all of our daily expenses This included accommodations, food & drink, alcohol, local transportation, activities/entertainment, living expenses/toiletries, and mishaps. As always, money spent on traveling between cities was accounted for separately from the daily expenses.
Continue reading to see what we spent our money on and some tips and tricks that helped us stay under budget.
Total spend: $1,020.36 USD
Total days: 16
Average daily spend*: $63.77 USD
27.2% / $282.86 USD / $17.68 per day
Just like we did in Colombia, we tried our best to find cheap lodging, as we would be spending our days exploring the beautiful equatorial country. Airbnb and Hostelworld once again proved to have the best selection at the best prices, but we tried something new in Cuenca. A combination of poor planning and lack of WiFi/cell reception led to us arriving in Cuenca at 5:00 am with nowhere to go. On top of that, we were dealing with some stomach issues, which were compounded by the 7-hour overnight bus ride from Baños. All of this led us to hop in cab at the bus station and ask the driver to just take us to a hostel near the city center that was open. He dropped us off at Alvano’s Hostal. We planned on only staying there for a day to get some rest, regroup, and find a place to stay, but it ended up being exactly what we needed in a great location and at the cheapest price we could find!
Food & Drink
38.1% / $396.86 USD / $24.80 per day
The cuisine in Ecuador has become very Americanized in the sense that they offer cuisines from all over the world. They too have welcomed the art of having fun with food via fusion, food trucks, and food courts made out of re-purposed shipping containers. Ecuador really is a great place for foodies, but food is not cheap in comparison to other countries in South America. One thing we had trouble finding was cheap street food. Like Colombia, Ecuador does have the cheap menú (three-course meal of the day), but we had grown a bit tired of it. If you want to save big money, making your own meals will be key.
22.2% / $231.00 USD / $14.44 per day
Ecuador has a lot to see and do, and it is all offered at reasonable prices. In Quito, we took two local buses to visit the Mitad del Mundo monument (Middle of the Earth) about an hour out of town. The entire ride cost $0.65 USD per person. The entrance tickets we purchased were $7.50 USD per person, but there is a cheaper option (if you don’t care to go inside the actual monument) and more expensive option (all-access, plus a chocolate bar made on-site). In Latacunga, we hiked up the famous Cotopaxi volcano to the refuge house, which is about 4800 meters above sea level and 1100 meters from the top of the volcano. For $40 USD per person, you get entrance to the park, a driver/guide, and lunch. But the most fun we had was in Baños – the land of hot springs and waterfalls. This little town was our favorite place in Ecuador and needs to be on every backpacker’s/ adventurer’s list. It has so many outdoor activities for CHEAP! We went repelling down seven waterfalls (canyoning), zip-lining (canopying), touring the various waterfalls, riding the swing at the Casa del Arbol, and relaxing in the hot springs. All of this only cost us $64 USD per person total!
SAVINGS TIPS: Never book activities through your hotel/hostel! Always go directly to the tour operator! Just like everything in life, middlemen have to increase the price to slice themselves a piece of the pie. All of the tour operators are offering the same experiences at nearly the same price, so we found that booking all of your activities through the same tour operator was a good way to ensure you have some leverage. You are offering them repeat business, so they should be passing you some savings. If they are not willing to do so, just move on to the next one.
4.2% / $43.31 USD / $2.71 per day
Ecuador did not have Uber or any other ride-share programs at the time of our visit. That was ok though, because taxis and buses were very affordable. The average bus ride was $0.30 USD per person, and cabs were about $2.00 USD per trip (of course this depends on the distance traveled). The one tip I have for saving money here is to avoid getting a taxi at your port of entry (i.e. airport, bus station) to go to your hotel/hostel. With that said, sometimes it is worth it to hop in cab and have the driver drop you off at your doorstep instead of having to figure out where you are going, ride multiple bus lines with all of your belongings in tow, and then walk to your accommodation. Oh, and doing this all at 5:00 am after being on a bus for 15+ hours.
4.3% / $44.77 USD / $2.80 per day
My favorite of the local beers was Pilsener. For $2-3 USD per beer at a bar or restaurant, you get 650 ml (about 22 ounces) of that frothy goodness. Cocktails will be closer to $6 USD. The cheaper option, as always, is buying alcohol at the grocery store.
2.9% / $30.55 USD / $1.91 per day
It was almost May and my last hair cut was over 4 months ago, so it was time to get some hairs cut. I am very prejudice when it comes to hairdressers/barbers, so it had to be a young person with stylish hair himself or herself. After window-shopping at several salons, I finally found my barber! The price was astonishing; $4 USD for cut and shampoo in the downtown district of the capital city. When he was done, Ashly was ready to love me again! Besides the haircut, we had to do laundry on two occasions. Laundry was only $0.50 USD per kilo ($5 USD total) at our hostel in Cuenca, but it was not that cheap in Quito. Our Airbnb host listed his property as having a washer and dryer (it is one of the filters we usually choose). When we asked how to use the machines, he said we were unable to use them. We showed him that the appliances were included on his listing, but he still refused us. All he did was apologize and update the listing to avoid confusion with future guests. In dire need of clean clothes, we went to the fluff-and-fold shop around the corner. They charged $2 USD per kilo! It sucked having to spend $20 USD on laundry, but everything worked out for us in the end. Perturbed, we immediately explained the situation to Airbnb via Twitter. They responded hours later with an apology and a $50 USD coupon code to use on a future Airbnb stay. Just like that we went from spending $20 to making $30! One more reason to use Airbnb ☺
0.5% / $5.50 USD / $0.34 per day
Keeping with tradition, we purchased a magnet and a bracelet. The rest of the spending was a bouquet of yellow flowers that I bought Ashly because she was stuck in our room trying to sleep away the illness. Awww that’s so cute…I know.
0.5% / $5.51 USD / $0.34 per day
Don’t you love checking out of your room and going to the bus station only to realize you left something important back at your accommodations? Neither do we, but sadly, this is what happened to us in Cuenca. So I left Ashly at the bus station with our bags and grabbed a cab back to our hostel. 15 minutes and $4 later, I was back at the bus station with ALL of our belongings this time, ready to go to Peru.
Find out more about our time and budget in Ecuador & take a look at our Ecuador Spending Report!
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