Renting a Car in Ecuador: What You Should Know

Are you one of the intrepid souls who wish to rent a car here in Ecuador? If so, then here’s some up-to-date information about car rentals, provided by a client of ours who returned his car yesterday. Note: this information is from October of 2016 so if you are reading this 2 years (or even 2 months!) from now, some of the facts may well have changed.

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So let’s get started. Many people who are planning their visit to Coastal Ecuador like the idea of renting a car during their visit so they can explore the country at their leisure. Makes sense, right?

First things first.

Driving a vehicle in Ecuador is, no kidding, an adventure in and of itself, and is not for the faint of heart, especially if you have only have driving experience in places where there is good signage and most people abide by traffic laws. Tom often warns newbies of the “virtual 3rd lane” that is common on double lane roads.

City traffic can be grueling and stressful

City traffic can be grueling and stressful

Here, you can expect to get lost at least once (even with GPS), be cut off and honked at regularly in the cities, get passed by Kamikaze drivers on blind, hairpin curves, dodge dogs wandering (or even sleeping) out in the roads, motorcycles with no headlights, and the list goes on. We’ve definitely heard our share of stories from clients who say they’ll be hiring a driver next time!

Also, note that if you don’t know how to drive a stick shift, unfortunately you’re out of luck. Virtually all cars here have manual transmissions.

 

If You’re Still Game, Then Where to Begin?

First, be aware that you are allowed to drive in Ecuador using your foreign driver’s license the first 30 days you are in the country. After that, technically you are required to apply for an Ecuadorian license (good fodder for a future blog). The Avis website says an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required in addition to a valid license from your country of residence. From our client’s experience, no one ever mentioned the IDP. And from our experience, having an International Driver’s Permit was never particularly helpful as the local police who stopped us at routine checkpoints on a couple of occasions were never impressed by the little paper booklet as it does not look “official” enough.

 

Where to Rent Your Vehicle From?

To save you time and unwanted headaches/stress, our usual recommendation is to fly into Quito and then take a 30 minute domestic flight into Manta. And then from Manta, rent the car to explore the coast. (Again, more specifics on a variety of topics related to planning your visit can be found in our “Know Before You Go” guide. Sign up HERE to get your free copy.)

We generally do NOT recommend renting a vehicle from Quito. Although the drive out of the Andes Mountains is gorgeous, it also pretty harrowing for most newcomers and can vary between 6 to 12 hours (depending on if or how often/ badly you get lost!!).

Andean rainforests are part of the beauty of driving out of the mountains to the coast.

Andean rainforests and waterfalls are part of the beautiful scenery of driving out of the mountains down to the coast.

Your other option is to fly into Guayaquil. You could rent a car from there but signage isn’t great and it’s common for people to get lost or become very stressed attempting to get out of the city. From Guayaquil you can take a bus to Manta (~$5, 4 hours), a shuttle (~$25, 3.5 hours), or hire a private driver (~$100, 3.5 hours). There are NO flights between Guayaquil and Manta.

 

How to Find a Secure and Reliable Car Rental?

How to go about finding and reserving a rental? The EASIEST and MOST SECURE way is to just type in Manta, Ecuador or Manta’s airport code (MEC) into an online site like Kayak.com or Orbitz.com. Currently, the only option that comes up for any online site that I have tried thus far is Avis. Budget used to come up for Manta but their office has closed.

Screenshot of a search using Expedia.com

Screenshot of a search using Expedia.com

Daily rates though an established, international car rental agency may be higher than a local company but there are countless tales of poorly operating vehicles, getting charged up the nose for *previously* incurred damages, poor customer service, and unexplained charges that show up a month or so after the fact. You’ll have a far better chance for a positive experience and have more power to rebuke any unwarranted charges with an established and reputable company.

 

Summary of important details from our client’s recent AVIS rental car experience (He’s rented out of Manta twice now over the last 3 months):

  • Avis’ cars are now available AT the Manta airport. In the past, you had to hire a taxi to take you into Manta proper to pick up your rental. So this is a very nice improvement.
  • Note: The Avis rental office is apparently ONLY open around flight schedules (online the hours are listed as 6:30am to 8:30pm but they close in between flight times).
  • The economy car is very small but functional for most people unless they are very large or have an excess of luggage. My husband is about 6’2″ and he fit ok.
Example of an Economy vehicle

Our client’s Economy vehicle that he rented from Avis in Manta

  • Low clearance on the economy vehicles obviously means to WATCH OUT and TAKE IT EASY over those speed bumps and potholes!
  • The economy car comes to about $18 per day with taxes and fees. There is also generally a mileage allowance of 100 km (60 miles) for each day you rent. If you go over, you will be charged another $0.20 per km (which adds up!). In some cases, you might be able to find a deal with unlimited mileage but it is not common.
  • A $5,000 authorization is held on your credit card to cover costs of any damages, driving violations, etc. This authorization is kept on the card for 1 month following the end of your rental in case you are caught speeding by speed-detecting cameras.
Speed limits in Ecuador

Speed limits in Ecuador. “Urbana” = urban areas, “Perimetral”=major roads on outer parts of cities, “Rectas en Carretera” Highway, straight sections, “Curvas en Carretera” = Highway, around curves.

  •  If you opt into paying for insurance (a wise idea) then you can purchase it for $11/day at the time of making your reservation; however, this is NOT REFUNDABLE if paid for in advance. Alternatively, you can purchase your insurance at the time of pick up for $35/day. A BIG difference so if you are confident about your dates it is worth doing.
  • Be aware that although online you may be able to select add-ons such as car seats and GPS, these options are actually not available. For our client, such was the case for the GPS he was assured he would have (after speaking with an agent in the Quito office). Once in Manta, he was told they hadn’t had vehicles equipped with GPS for at least a year.
Interior view of Scott's rental car

Interior view of rental car

  • Bring your own smartphone with GPS. Check with your carrier for roaming fees and/or download the navigation areas you will be needing in advance to be able to navigate offline:

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Good luck out there! We’ll look forward to seeing you here on the beach soon!

*Update (Oct 31, 2016): Here are some more great car rental tips from another friend and client who has rented on several occasions. Here’s what he had to add:

  • We always use a different city drop-off.  We either pick up in Manta and drop off in Guayaquil, or vice versa.  It depends on the plans for travelling the coast.  AVIS charges $60 for the alternate city drop-off.
  • For collision damage waiver (DDW) insurance, I added it to my credit card.  Any reservation I make, and pay for with that card, has CDW coverage.  It is a lot less expensive.  The only drawback, I am told, is that you will have to pay for damages up front, and be reimbursed by the credit card insurance.
  • Photo radar is rampant in Ecuador!  The government has a website that you can check to see if you got any tickets. To do so, go to www.ant.gob.ec and then click on Consulta de Citaciones (menu on far left), then drop the top box down for Placa (“license plate”) and enter your plate number on the lower box. You also have the option to select Pasaporte (your passport number).

Ecuador’s Advances its Capacity for Dealing with Emergencies

Over the last couple of years, Ecuador has significantly advanced security measures to prevent and to better respond to crimes and other emergency situations.

As of October 2013, Ecuador has operated a nationwide 911 emergency call and response system, referred to as SIS-ECU 911.

An advanced, nationwide 911 emergency response system has been in operation since October 2013.

 

As in the US and elsewhere, all 911 calls are free. There are eight call centers throughout Ecuador, representing different regions of the country, with the closest to us in the nearby city of Portoviejo (40 minutes from San Clemente).

The ECU 911 service integrates a host of institutions including the national police, the armed forces, local fire departments, the National Transit System, Ministry of Health, Ecuador’s institute for social security, the Secretary of Risk Management, and the Red Cross as well as other local organizations.

The modern ECU 911 call center in Portoviejo

 

An integral component of the ECU 911 system is the “Transporte Seguro” (“Safe Transit”) program. This program was created in coordination with the National Transit System to reduce the number of road-related emergencies through monitoring and control of commercial transportation services. Part of this program was to install “Kits de Seguridad” (Security Kits) in all public buses and registered taxis in major cities across Ecuador.

Each of these security kits contains two video recording and infrared surveillance cameras and a panic button equipped with a GPS tracking device that immediately notifies 911 responders with the exact location of the vehicle. The system has a battery pack as a back up source of power. Buses are also equipped with sensors to remotely open and close the doors.

So far,  over 17,000 buses and 38,000 taxis have had security kits installed throughout Ecuador.

Schematic of the “Transporte Segura” program designed in part to reduce incidence of crime in public transportation.

 

Another innovative component of the ECU 911 system is a free smartphone app to quickly report emergencies utilizing a smartphone’s geo-referencing capabilities.  The app is called ECU 911 and is available for iPhones, Androids and Blackberries.

I discovered this app when doing research for this post and just installed it on Tom’s and my phone.  It can be programmed in English or Spanish. You do not have to be an Ecuadorian resident or citizen to use it so I would highly recommend visitors to set it up in advance of their trip.  To set it up, I had to input my name, passport or Ecuador cedula number, cell number, emergency contact name and number, select my blood type from a pull-down menu, and list any physical disabilities or allergies.  This app is an excellent option for residents and visitors who are not fluent in Spanish.

View of the new smartphone app to report categorized emergencies to ECU 911. The app is free, easy to use, and immediately sends your exact location to the appropriate emergency responders.

 

And another interesting security advancement I recently learned about was the programming of a panic button on any kind of cell phone. To do this, you take your phone into the nearest police station where they register your phone and your specific home address (well, as specific as possible, anyways). In the event of an emergency at or near where you live, you press a single digit on your phone and it immediately notifies the local police. The cost is a mere $0.05. A recent newspaper article reported an average response time of 3 minutes in Quito! So, in a small town like San Clemente, we should expect a rapid response time as well.

Police station located in San Jacinto with jurisdiction over the towns of San Jacinto and San Clemete.

 

Like in so many other sectors of Ecuador,  technological advances are being made rapidly. As Tom was saying today, some of these changes are taking place so quickly we don’t even find out about them until a few months after the fact! It truly has been fascinating to watch the development that’s taken place inEcuador since we first came in 2006 and we look forward to all that is surely still to come.

An Easy Way to Travel from Guayaquil

When flying to Ecuador from another country you have two airport options: Fly into either Quito (airport code UIO) or Guayaquil (GYE).

To get to the central coast where we are located, we normally recommend flying into Quito and then taking a short (25-30 min) domestic flight to Manta (MEC).  Unfortunately, there are no domestic flights between Guayaquil and Manta so Quito is your only option if you want to fly.

However, over the years, we’ve had a number of friends and clients have trouble with the altitude of Quito which sits at 9,350 ft or 2800 m above sea level; one client even required brief hospitalization. So, if you think you might be susceptible to altitude sickness, your best bet if possible is to fly to Guayaquil.

If you do arrive to Guayaquil and want a safe, reliable, and inexpensive means of traveling to the central coast there is an express van service called the “Manta Express” that runs between  Manta (and Portoviejo) and Guayaquil.

One of the Manta Express vans (photo from www.mantaexpress.com)

 

Here are the Manta Express “need to knows”:

  • The service offers multiple trips each way daily, beginning as early as 5am and ending at 7:30pm.
  • The trip takes between 3 – 3.5 hours.
  • The cost is $10 per person or $8 each if you are aged 65+ with Ecuadorian residency.
  • Reservations at least 1 day ahead are generally necessary. Note: the folks at Manta Express only speak Spanish. The bilingual representative at the information booth at the Guayaquil airport can assist you in making your reservation. Another option is to use Google translate to send them your translated reservation details via their contact form on their website.
  • The van is  air-conditioned.
  • The van seats ten people comfortably. Leg room for the taller guys may be a little tight. Luggage is strapped to the top of the van and covered with a tarp.
  • The van typically makes one brief stop where passengers can use the restroom and grab a snack.

The vans have AC and are comfortable. Photo from www.mantaexpress.com

 

Here are the Manta Express office locations and phone numbers as dialed within Ecuador (visit this post for more details about calling Ecuador from abroad):

Guayaquil:

  • Blvd 9 de Octubre and Del Ejercito (Avenida 4) (near the Hotel Oro Verde of Guayaquil).
  • Landline: (04)2532027,  Cell phone: 0996333061  or  0994200289

 

Manta:

  • Malecón y Calle 19 at the Central Comercial Plaza Jocay (just past the museum)
  • Landline: (05)261-1016 / 261-0567, FAX: 261-1763,,  Cell: 0999025094 or 0985147384 or  0991563000

 

Portoviejo:

  • Pedro Gual y Garcia Moreno (Hotel Cabrera).
  • Landline: (05)2656621 Cell: 0993852655

 

The service also offers transfers to and from the Guayaquil airport. In many cases, they would take you to your final destination in Manta or Portoviejo if it’s not far from their office location.

Moving your Pets to Ecuador

Getting current and reliable information regarding real-life logistics of bringing your pet to Ecuador can be a bit daunting. So I thought I’d share details provided to me by some friends who recently (May 2012) moved to Ecuador from the US with their three dogs (1 extra large, 2 small). I’ll focus on dogs here but I assume that the same general rules would apply to cats as well.

Please note: Ecuador’s rules and requirements can and DO change so be sure to triple check everything before leaving your home country with your pets!

It basically boils down to this: there are 2 options for bringing in dogs (1) as cargo and (2) as baggage. I’ll go over those in a second but we’ll start off with the general requirements for bringing in pets to Ecuador.

GENERAL PET REGULATIONS AND REQUIREMENTS

As the law currently stands, you are allowed to bring two dogs per person. There is apparently a new rule in place too that if you bring more than 2 dogs then a special permit is required. I was told that it in this case, it would be easier to pay a friend to fly down as your surrogate pet parent to avoid the permit process.

There are 3 steps for fulfilling the basic paperwork for traveling with your pet:

  1. Get your vet to fill out an international health certificate that verifies that your pet is up-to-date with its shots, etc.
  2. Send the health certificate to the USDA for their endorsement.
  3. Send the endorsed health certificate to the Ecuadorian consulate to be legalized.

 

Here are the nuts and bolts of this process:

You are required to bring an international health certificate filled out by your vet not more than 10 days in advance of your arrival to Ecuador. Be sure to ask your vet before making your appointment whether they are accredited by the APHIS USDA to fill out the form; if they are not, then they need to refer you to a vet who is. Each pet must have its own certification completed which will be linked to its owner’s passport name. Double check with the Ecuadorian Consul office closest to you for any updates on requirements, shots, external and internal parasites.

The international health certificate must then be sent to the APHIS USDA nearest you for certification. Generally speaking you must set up an appointment in advance. However, as in the recent case of my friends with the 3 dogs, their closest USDA was out-of-state so they sent their health certificates to their area office via overnight FedEx with the USDA’s prior notification and approval. This certification cost $37 per pet.

This certified form then must then be legalized at the nearest Ecuadorian consulate and costs $50 per pet. If the nearest office is far away, you may again use a courier service and include a prepaid mailer to have it returned to you. Our friends actually included two prepaid mailers when they sent their certificates to the USDA (one to the Ecuadorian consulate, the other to their own address) so that the once the USDA certified the health certificate, they mailed it direct to the consulate and then the consulate sent it back to their home address.  Again, make sure to notify the consulate in advance so they are expecting your paperwork.  **Important: The stamped certification it’s only good for 10 days** so plan accordingly!

You will also need to provide the airlines with a separate vet certification for each dog. You will present these when you check in for your flight.  If you’re flying on multiple airlines, each will require these so make sure you have enough for your route.  The certifications are also required for domestic flights within Ecuador.  In the case of our friends, they needed three certificates for each dog (2 in the US since they flew on both Delta and Copa Airlines and then a third for their flight from Quito to Manta).

 

CARGO VERSUS BAGGAGE

There are two ways to bring dogs in to the country.   One is via air cargo. Our friends spent a lot of time talking with professional pet relocation companies and they all recommended not going this route if possible.  However, due to temperature restrictions (85 degrees F), dog weights, and heights for certain airlines, etc. it may be the only choice some people may have.

CARGO

If you go with the cargo option, get in touch with Sandra (Sandy) Baquero who is a highly recommended customs agent who will explain the process to you, check your cargo bookings, and help you to get in to see your beloved(s) while they are being cleared through customs and agricultural departments. Another friend of ours used Sandy’s services in April 2012 and was very pleased.  She arrived to Quito at 9:17pm and her dogs were released to her before 5pm the following day. Note: We know other folks who had to wait several days before their dogs were released.

Sandra Baquero
cell (as dialed within Ecuador): 099690583

 

BAGGAGE

The option most recommended for traveling with your pet is on your flight either as checked baggage or in-cabin if possible (in-cabin weight including the carrier restricted to 20 lbs). The reason this option is recommended instead of cargo is that your dog will arrive as your personal baggage and thus will go through airport customs, not cargo customs meaning there is no 24 hour hold and no customs agent required to get your dog through.

Airport camping with three dogs and seven pieces of luggage

Our friends sent their extra large dog as checked baggage and their 2 small dogs in-cabin in carriers that fit below their seats.

Temperature restrictions

Our friends bypassed the temperature restrictions for their large dog Bela by flying at a time of year before Delta airline’s temperature restrictions were in place for their Seattle-Miami flight. However, Delta’s restriction was already in effect for their Miami-Quito flight so they switched airlines to Copa whose temperature restriction had yet to go into effect.

Size restrictions

For Bela’s size, US regulations required her to travel in an extra large 700-series crate required by US regulations from Seattle to Miami.  However, Copa Airlines restricted crate height to a 500-series carrier (and 100 lbs) for their Miami-Quito flight. Our friends worked around this restriction by cargoing a 500-series crate as extra baggage and then switching Bela to that one before checking in for their Miami-Quito flight (leaving the larger crate behind at the airport). They overnighted in the Miami airport which gave them time for a break between flights.

Other Pet Policies

Just as with temperature and size restrictions, different airlines have differing policies regarding making flight reservations for your pet. Our friends chose Delta Airlines because they allow dog reservations to be made 14 days in advance while other airlines allowed  only 48 hours.

Final recommendations

Check on everything before you book your flight as timing is everything and you don’t want to get bumped from a flight and have your health certificate run out before your arrival date. Also, you can check on each flight to make sure your dog has boarded too.

Helpful Links

A very clear and succinct description (and they have a cat in case you have any cat-specific questions).

A place to learn more and submit your own questions (a pet relocation website)

USDA’s page about international travel with your pet

More helpful details from Gary Scott’s site (regarding taxes, breed restrictions, etc.)