You can get good value for money across the accommodation spectrum in Ecuador: at the high end, you’ll find beautiful haciendas, rich in history, which have lost none of their period charm, or the famous international luxury hotel chains. In the mid-range there are hotels as good as any in North America or Europe, but for a fraction of the cost. For travellers on a tight budget, just about every town in Ecuador has a hotel offering clean double rooms, often with a private bathroom, for $5–15 per person.
Supply is such that it’s unlikely you’ll have any trouble getting a cheap room, though coastal resorts can get very crowded during holidays, and city accommodation tends to fill for major fiestas. Except for the Galápagos Islands, the top jungle lodges and the most popular seaside resorts such as Atacames and Montañita, there’s not much of a price difference between seasons, but broadly speaking the high season is mid-June to August and December to January, and at beach resorts during national holidays. Choices at the top end are always going to be fewer, so if you’re on a higher budget, it’s a good idea to phone ahead if you’re set on one. Discounts are sometimes negotiable out of season too. The more expensive hotels are likely to add 22 percent onto your bill: 12 percent for the IVA (value-added tax), plus a service charge of 10 percent. We have included the total amount in the price where relevant.
Hotels masquerade under a variety of names in Ecuador; generally, in increasing order of comfort, they are: pensión, residencial, hostal, hotel and hostería. Beware of anything calling itself a motel, which in Ecuador indicates the sort of place that charges guests by the hour. Some hoteles are as bad as the worst pensiones, however, and there’s no substitute for having a good look round the rooms yourself before you sign in. Within any establishment, you’ll often find wide variation in the quality of the rooms even though they may be priced the same: for example, you might be suffering in a dank, windowless room while across the corridor is something bright and clean with a balcony and views. You won’t necessarily be given the best room available, so if you’re not happy, say something.
There are differences between the highlands and lowlands, too. In the highlands, you can hope for hot water in all but the cheapest places, but in the lowlands, where people largely consider it unnecessary, only the more exclusive hotels will offer such a luxury. Conversely, air conditioning and fans are more common at a cheaper level in the lowlands than in the highlands. Mosquito nets are usually only in evidence on the coast and in jungle lodges; consider bringing one from home if you plan to spend time in remote lowland areas. Across the country in almost all hotels you’ll rarely find a bathtub. A shower, sink and lavatory make up the standard bathroom.
The humblest type of accommodation is the pensión, usually a simple family home around a small courtyard with a couple of basic rooms and a cold-water shared bathroom. At $10 and under for a double, this is about as cheap as you can go without being in a tent. At these prices pensiones tend to be either great value or uninhabitable. In some cases they won’t even supply lavatory paper. Residenciales are larger, slightly more comfortable versions of the pensión, on the whole offering simple, modestly furnished rooms, often arranged around a courtyard or patio. They usually contain little more than a bed (or up to four single beds), and a bedside table, though some provide more furniture (perhaps a writing desk, chair and lamp), and a few more comforts, such as towels and soap. Most, but not all, have shared bathrooms – not necessarily with hot water (and sometimes it’s only on for an hour or two a day), even in the highlands.
A hostal or hotel can be anything from attractive nineteenth-century family houses with waxed wooden floorboards, floor-to-ceiling windows and courtyards draped with flowers, to the generic, uninspiring hotel block to a fabulous luxury chain hotel. Facilities, on the whole, are better than in a residencial, with more likelihood of private bathrooms, hot water, clean towels, soap and, increasingly, cable TV. They’ll typically cost anywhere between $10 and $80 for a double. Above around $35 a double, you should really start to notice the difference in comfort. Rooms should be well kept, clean and fresh, have good mattresses, phone, cable TV, air conditioning in the lowlands and all-day hot water powered by a califón (water heater) rather than an electric shower – a terrifying looking contraption bolted on to shower heads with wires dangling around everywhere (touching the pipes can give you a mild shock when it’s on). The pricier places often have their own restaurant and bar, and perhaps a laundry service. The best luxury hotels have all you’d expect of such anywhere in the world and charge prices to match.
Among the accommodation treats of highland Ecuador are the haciendas, grand farming estates of colonial times, converted into magnificent, out-of-the-way hotels. Many are truly luxurious, with all the period details, such as open fires in each room, and augmented by modern comforts and conveniences, including plush carpets and thundering hot-water showers. Some are still working farms, making their own produce and keeping stables and horses both for farm work and for guests. They’re sometimes called hosterías, which signifies a large country hotel, but this category also includes the far less charming out-of-town tourist complexes with concrete rooms and a large swimming pool.
Lodges, most normally found in the country’s forested regions and often made from natural materials, serve as bases for exploring the surrounding environment. The top-end ones have all the modern comforts allowed by their isolated locations. Most, though, won’t have electricity, and some are lodges only in name, perhaps little more than open-sided shelters with raised platforms, mattresses and mosquito nets. Lodges usually consist of a collection of cabañas, simple cabins with thatched roofs and wooden walls and floors. These are also popular on the coast, particularly at beach resorts.
With so few designated campsites in the country and accommodation being so cheap, not many people bother with camping, unless they’re out exploring Ecuador’s wildernesses. Generally, you’ll be allowed to pitch a tent inside most parks and reserves, where you can sometimes use the facilities of a nearby guard post or refuge, but on the whole you’ll have to be entirely self-sufficient. On private land, you should seek permission from the owner, but bear in mind that camping near towns is uncommon and not regarded as particularly safe. A few hotels mentioned in the guide allow you to pitch a tent on their grounds and use their facilities at cheap rates. See the relevant “Listings” sections for individual cities and towns for advice on where to find camping equipment. For stove fuel, white gas (Coleman fuel) is available at hardware stores, while gas canisters can be bought at camping outlets in the larger cities. Unleaded petrol/gas is also widely available at filling stations; note that “super” is likely to burn better at altitude.
Ecuador has a handful of youth hostels accredited with Hostelling International (HI). They’re often quite comfortable, with dorms as well as double rooms. Discounts of a few dollars are available to HI members, but if you’re on a budget, there’s no great advantage of being one in this country, since many hostels charge around $10–15 per person – substantially more than perfectly adequate non-hostel accommodation.