Notable Hand Gestures in Ecuador

Cultural differences manifest in many forms; the most obvious ones are language, dress, and food.  Hand gestures can be a subtle facet of cultural identity, yet should not be overlooked as insignificant.  Here are a few hand signals you might come across or ones you had best avoid while visiting or living in Ecuador.


Come Here

In the US and many parts of the world, we typically signal for someone to come over to talk to us in one of two ways. The first is to wag/flap your hand, palm up, in a direction towards you. The second is to extend your index finger and curl it towards yourself. The former looks a bit silly to an Ecuadorian and the latter does indeed signify “c’mere” but in a sexual advancement kind of way.

A seductive invite to come closer

A seductive invite to come closer


Speaking of which, NEVER use the above single finger gesture with your hand palm down unless you intend to send a very sexually explicit message to the recipient.

This gesture is very offensive

A very offensive gesture to a woman


The proper way to ask someone to come towards you is to extend out your hand, palm down and wag your fingers towards your palm. This same gesture is also used for hailing a taxi or bus.

Proper form of signalling someone over

Proper form of signalling someone over to you


Sorry-No Can Do!

Typical Scenario 1: You are at the fish market and you ask a man for shrimp. The man looks up at you and simply shakes his open hand but says nothing. You think, huh, perhaps he didn’t understand me and you ask again (maybe a bit a louder in typical expat fashion).  Looking slightly exasperated now, the man shakes his hand a bit more more emphatically and as you continue to stand there perplexed, he adds, “No hay” (pronounced “no EYE”).

Typical Scenario 2: You have been waiting alongside the hot, dusty road for a taxi and now, finally see one approaching. As you hail the taxi with great hope, the driver casually sticks his hand out of the half open window and shakes it at you as he drives past. What!? How rude!, you think to yourself.

The open hand, palm down, shaken from up to down is a widely used gesture that is often overlooked or misunderstood by Ecuador newbies.  As in the shrimp case above, the gesture was used to indicate that there were no shrimp available (“no hay”). The same gesture can also mean “no hay como,” which means that something’s not possible [at the moment]. In the case of the taxi driver, the gesture indicated that the taxi was not available for hire.

no hay

An open palm shaken from up to down indicates that something (or someone) is not there or available


How Tall is Your Pony?

If you are ever asked how tall someone is,  you would indicate their height by holding out the side of your hand, pinkie side facing down.  If you indicated your spouse’s head height using your palm facing down, you might illicit laughter as this gesture is used exclusively for measuring the height of animals, typically livestock.

use hand to measure the height

Proper way to indicate the height of a person, with the top of their head being the bottom edge of your hand


Incorrect way to indicate height for a person; it is used strictly for animals


Hook ‘Em Horns

A head’s up to all the Texas Longhorn fans out there who are thinking of coming to Ecuador. Flashing the hand sign of your beloved team indicates to the recipient that their spouse is cheating on them; i.e. they are “cachudo” (wife cheating on him) or “cachuda” (husband cheating on her). A side note here that the hand-horns sign IS widely used in rock ‘n’ roll concerts as a cross-over from North American/European culture.

hook em horns

Not the gesture of a Texas sports fan in Ecuador!



The A-OK sign is a vulgar sexual reference that is best to avoid. A better option to indicate your satisfaction or well-being is to offer a “thumbs up” sign instead. While in some other parts of the world, this too is a vulgar gesture, “thumbs up” here is commonly used.

All is not well with this signal

All is not well with this hand signal which is generally regarded as an extremely offensive, sexual gesture


Navigating the Wrist Shake

So this last one is not so much a gesture but instead is here for etiquette purposes. Typical scenario: You are introduced to someone who has been hard at work (landscaping, chopping fish, painting, etc.). You go to shake their hand yet instead of offering out their hand in return, they ball up their fist and offer you their wrist. Don’t be shy–just briefly shake their wrist. You have been offered their wrist not as an insult of any kind but simply because they are concerned that their hands are too dirty from work to offer to you.


Shaking someone’s wrist because they don’t want to insult you by extending a dirty hand


Hopefully the hand gestures provided here will help, if ever so slightly, with the process of familiarizing yourself with some cultural nuances. The process takes a long time no matter what but fortunately, people here tend to have great compassion and appreciation for those who genuinely attempt to immerse themselves into Ecuadorian culture.



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.

Happy About Our Casitas Development, the Weather and Bio-luminescence

Just a quick post of our son Kai enjoying the beach today out in front of our construction project here in Crucita, Casitas del Sol. These beachfront town homes are really looking great! Only two of the five of are still available. And even though the remaining units will be in the second row, they will still have fantastic oceanviews.  Check out our Casitas page to learn more!

The climate here on the coast this past week is honestly as good as it gets–bright sunny days in the mid-80s.  No rain now for over a week–seems like the rainy season is wrapping up and the nights are beginning to cool down a bit.

One of our buyers of the Casitas project told me today that she and her husband sat on their balcony last night totally mesmerized by the glowing phosphorescence in the waves each time they crashed ashore. Tom and I have seen phosphorescence (also called bio-luminescence) in the Caribbean and in the Gulf of Mexico but were thrilled to learn of it here as well. I guess we haven’t spent enough time gazing at the water at night!

Our new Ecuador Resource Guide will help you before and during your real estate visit

We receive a lot of communication from potential clients looking for ocean front real estate here in Ecuador. Apart from questions specific to our real estate listings and development projects, we are also frequently asked about the logistics of coming to visit.

To help prepare our clients for their visit to Ecuador’s Central Coast, we have created a resource guide that is packed with need-to-know logistical information and insider tips.

Preview of the Ecuador guide

The first 3 pages of our 25 page guide, chock full of information you'll need before and during your visit.


Our guide answers in detail all the most common questions we receive such as:

  • How do we get there?
  • What do we do about money once we’re in there?
  • Should we bring our own cell phone to call home?


In addition, this guide provides overviews of the most popular real estate stops along Ecuador’s Central Coast including: Manta, Crucita, San Jacinto/San Clemente, Bahia and Canoa. For each city, we fill you in on key logistical information such as getting around, availability of ATM machines, attractions, and safety precautions.

Our guide also provides a packing list as well as a summary of important actions you should take prior to leaving home.

Be prepared for your real estate visit

Within the next couple of days we will be sending this guide to everyone already on our mailing list and it is available to download right now for all new subscribers.

Happy travels!




Tsunami Report and Condo update: March 10, 2011

Here is a quick photo update of the progress on the Arena, Sol y Mar Condo project featured on our site. The elevator is being installed right now and the pool has already been tiled. The project should be complete soon! Weather has been amazing and we haven’t seen a drop of rain over the past few weeks!

In other news, luckily, the tsunami did not affect us at all. We all evacuated the beachfront and headed up to the safety of the flying hill (where the paragliders launch) to await its arrival. The president flew by in a helicopter to check on the situation and there were many emergency workers, ambulances and a firetruck on standby. We watched the waves but nothing ever happened. Everyone waited for a good hour past the expected arrival and made their way back home. We all slept well after a long day of anticipation and preparation.

A great house in Cuenca anyone?

A paragliding friend of mine asked that I help get the word out regarding his apartment for sale in Cuenca. I said that our readers are mostly looking for coastal properties… then he showed me photos and I agreed. The place is quite impressive, extremely high quality, in a great neighborhood and comes completely furnished and ready to go. A great option for someone ready to have a landing pad ready and waiting for their arrival to Ecuador… though I’m still partial to the coast!
Here are some photos:
This is the building. He owns 1/2 of the second story (on the right hand side of the photo).

The building is in a great neighborhood and has river frontage and a small park.

Here’s a bedroom

the kitchen


The apartment is 120 square meters (1290 square feet) in an exclusive area of Cuenca. The park in front of the Yanungay River is relaxed and safe. There are 4 bedrooms, 3 baths. The master bedroom has a large closet and hydrospa. The hall, living room, and bedrooms are completely furnished with high quality products. There is a washing machine and washing station, garage access, and storage room. Furniture includes 3 beds ranginf froma queen to a twin, bedside tables, a dresser with mirror, one sleeper sofa, a desk, bookshelves, complete livingroom furniture set, complete kitchen set, refridgerator, oven/stove, microwave, blender, washer/dryer, 2 29″ Sony televisions, 1 DVD player and surround sound.
The price is set at $89,000 and there is a $49.25 monthly maintenance fee. He is moving up to a larger apartment that is currently under construction and would be happy to rent the place from the new owner (potential $300/month income) until December of 2011.
Feel free to write me with any questions:

"Settle-in" services coming soon

We spent this afternoon with Eduardo and Paula, two good friends of ours that we’ve known since we arrived in Ecuador a few years back. The four of us headed out to the Boca around low tide for lunch. 

On weekends, vendors set up on the beach and serve delicious food including fresh ceviches, fried fish, shrimp, fruit drinks, and the like. Delicious, inexpensive, an unbeatable view and multiple hammocks to choose from for a little relaxation after your meal.

Over lunch, we discussed with Eduardo and Paula about working with us to offer services for new-comers to the area.

Where to get a cell-phone, how to pay the water bill, the phone number for the fruit truck, where to buy a vacuum, how to use the local bus transport, where/how to buy a car and register it, how to get your Ecuadorian drivers license, etc… will all be part of the services that they and our other local counterparts will provide.

It’s a fast-track to getting settled-into your new Ecuadorian life that bypasses much of the awkwardness of getting to know a new place, new customs, and (for many of us) a new language.

We’ll get more details up on the web soon as we sort out the pricing structure and detail the services.

Here’s Paula at the third fruit/veggie truck that came by today… We bought 60 limes for a dollar to feed our ice water with lime addiction.