What is Your Address? About receiving mail and packages in Ecuador

We are occasionally asked for the address of property listings so that the area, etc. can be explored online using Google Earth. However, especially in the small coastal towns where we work,  there are no specific addresses. The streets do in fact have names (although you usually wouldn’t know it due to the lack of street signs) but there are no street numbers. Instead, locations are generally referenced using cross-streets and landmarks.

For instance, we are currently located along the main road in San Clemente, called Avenida Quito, two properties north of Hotel Palmazul. That’s our functional street address.

Hotel Palmazul’s address in their promotional brochure translates as: “Quito Avenue, no street number, and smaller cross street, 500 meters from the main highway. along the road towards Punta Bikini.” (Punta Bikini is one of the names for the scenic beachfront cliffs at the northern end of San Clemente).

 

And just FYI, the main road into and out of most towns is often called Avenida (or Calle) Quito, “calle” meaning street and pronounced “KAI-yay.”

When we bought a house in Crucita almost eight years ago, there was a giant, partially completed wooden fishing vessel on the beach one property in front of us. So our highly descriptive, yet totally functional address at the time translated to, “the thatched roof house behind the big boat, along the southern waterfront, below the paragliding hill(!)”

Southern end of Crucita in 2006 when the partially built fishing vessel was a Crucita landmark. The boat was finally completed at the end 2008.

 

So, without specific addresses (and no mail boxes), how does one receive mail? To be honest, we did not know the answer to this for years. All of our US bills were sent to us online and any other mail we had sent to my parent’s address in Texas–most of it junk mail anyways. For receiving packages, we often have people who are visiting bring us items that we’ve purchased online and had sent to their home address.

However, after many years of being asked this question, we FINALLY have some comprehensive answers.

 

INTERNATIONAL MAIL

There are basically four options for receiving international mail depending on your circumstances:

1.     If you plan to receive letters and packages regularly, one option is to rent a PO Box (“apartado postal”) at the post office in a nearby city. The national postal service is called Correos del Ecuador. For those of us living in San Jacinto/San Clemente we might choose either the post office in Bahia or Portoviejo. Rates for a standard sized P.O. box is $25/year.

PO Boxes are available for $25/year.

 

2.     To receive an occasional letter or package,  you can have it sent general delivery to the nearest post office where they will hold onto it until you come to claim it. The sender would address it in the following manner:

LAST NAME, First Name
Lista de Correos
Correo Central
City, ECUADOR

3.    If it’s an important document; e.g. containing powers-of-attorney, official birth certificates for getting your visa, etc. you should use an international courier service such as DHL which has offices in Manta and Portoviejo. There are no FedEx offices in this region–the closest is located in Guayaquil. These services are of course pricey (around $100 to send a couple of pages) but reliable.

4. Finally, if you live in a condo complex or a gated community, you can usually have mail sent to you directly since the location itself is a prominent landmark . The on-site guard/caretaker can receive the letter from the postman and then bring it to you. My in-laws who live in a Crucita condo have received mail on a number of occasions this way and say it typically takes 2 weeks from the US. Tom recently received a package at his parent’s address with prescription glasses and it took about a month to arrive from the time he ordered them. Mail sent in this manner would be addressed in the following way:

Recipient name
Condo number (if applicable)
Name of condo complex/gated community
Address using cross streets (and/or landmarks)
City, Province
ECUADOR

 

POSTAL CODES?

The other day I heard Tom exclaim, “Look at that! We actually have a postal code!” Sure enough, there is a website through Correos del Ecuador that enables you to look up your postal code (and actually has fairly detailed maps with street names when you zoom in). While postal codes technically exist, they don’t appear to be necessary or even used regularly. Not yet anyways.

Our location using the post office’s postal code finder. We discovered the names of the surrounding streets during this process and now know that we’re located between Streets H and I.

 

ADVANCES TO ECUADOR’S POSTAL SYSTEM

The national postal service has advanced significantly over the last several years. For example, the number of post office locations nearly doubled between 2006 and 2011 (today there are 412 offices in all 24 provinces), and now offer a variety of services including tracking, expedited mail service,  certified mail, and even Western Union.

Photos of postal delivery vehicles in 2006 (left) and in 2011 (right).

 

RELOCATION = LIFE WITHOUT AMAZON.COM?

Another service offered through the national postal service is Club Correos which  simplifies the process of receiving online purchases while living in Ecuador. In other words, you can still shop online from Ecuador.

Club Correos is an inexpensive service that handles your online purchases so that you can receive them in Ecuador with minimal hassle.

 

When you sign up for Club Correos, you are assigned a Miami-based mailing address that you use for your shipping address. Club Correos receives your online purchases at this address in Miami, takes care of any customs forms, and then ships your package to your Ecuador address (most reliably to a P.O. Box). As long as your package is valued at less than $400 and weighs less than 4 kg (8.8 lbs), they are duty free. There are some restrictions, now including all cell phones.  

The fee to join Club Correos is 11.20 per year. The website has a shipping calculator to determine your shipping price based on weight and value. For example, a 4 lb package valued at $100 would cost $23.21 in shipping.  In our experience thus far, it takes around 2 weeks to receive your purchases from the time they arrive to Miami.

Logistical Note: When you sign up for Club Correos they request a 10 digit identification number (US passports are 9 digits). Just add a zero and then enter your passport number.

Another note: I learned the hard way that it’s important to have all of your items shipped in a single package. Amazon often ships things separately so they arrive quicker. Instead of paying around $36 for my three items as I had expected, I paid almost $100 because each item was mailed separately. Ouch.

Here is nice summary about mail in Ecuador which also discusses sending mail (with some specifics pertaining to Quito). The ins and outs of sending and receiving domestic mail is a topic in and of itself that I’ll have to save for another time.

 

Boat Ride Tour at the Boca

We work largely in the Portoviejo River Valley which extends along the Ecuador’s central coast from Crucita to San Clemente. The Rio Portoviejo bisects the valley and separates the far northern end of Crucita from San Jacinto at the “Boca,” or the “mouth” of the river as it drains to the ocean.

Satellite image of the Portoviejo River Valley

 

Although it is only about six miles as the crow flies between Crucita and San Jacinto, it currently takes about 25 minutes in a vehicle because there is no direct, coastal route. Instead travel between the towns is along bumpy, meandering inland farm roads. There are plans in place to build a bridge at the Boca and to improve the beachfront roads of San Jacinto and Crucita starting in the coming year which will reduce the drive time to less than 10 minutes.

The other week we had friends/clients in town for whom Tom is building a house at the Boca. They were interested in hiring a boat to take us upriver to explore the area a bit more. We traveled roughly 4.5 miles upriver and fully enjoyed the peaceful scenery.

Beginning at the Boca, the river is lined with mangroves that are teeming with pelicans and frigate birds. We also saw lots of different wading birds including several kinds of herons and ibises. A few years back, Tom and I even remember seeing a flock of flamingos shrimping at the Boca as well!

Kai standing at the mouth of the river (the “Boca”)

 

View of the mangroves, home to hundreds to birds, including pelicans, frigate birds and herons.

 

 

Perfect setting for peaceful kayaking and bird-watching.

 

As we traveled further up the river, there were fewer birds but LOTS of giant iguanas hanging out in the trees along the banks. Some of these iguanas were at least 3-4 feet in length (sorry the zoom on our camera didn’t adequately capture the impressive iguana scene)!

Tom and Kai looking for giant iguanas.

 

Kai enjoying the river ride in the fishing boat.

 

The mangroves were soon replaced with simple houses as well as farmlands growing corn, onions, peppers, bananas, rice, mangoes, and papayas using pumps to capture river water for irrigation.

Mangroves turn to small homes fringing the river bank, most with plots of farmland.

 

A few sketchy looking bridges along the way (including one that had long since collapsed).

 

Lots of coconuts, mangoes, bananas/plantains, and papayas are grown along the river banks.

 

 

Many homes along the river have their own simple boats for fishing and river transportation

 

Kai actually smiled at the camera for this one.

 

Back to the San Jacinto side of the Boca at the construction site where Tom is currently building a house.

 

Here is a summary of our track along the river showing the georeferenced locations of where some of the above photos were taken.

 

We enjoyed our morning on the river and left with a better sense for some untapped tourist activities in this area, including kayak rentals and birdwatching tours. There are still many niches like these  to be filled in Coastal Ecuador.