Dropping by the Galapagos or trekking about Quito? Make sure you have the right travel insurance for your trip.
Ecuador has the most rivers and biodiversity for it’s size of any country in the world drawing visitors each year to take in it's natural variety, awe-inspiring landscapes and rich local traditions. Bordering both Ecuador and Peru, Ecuador has long been a popular destination for those on the South America backpacker trail but also appeals to those on quick trips to see the mountainous city of Ecuador or majestic Galapagos islands.
Ecuador is not without risks and like any country, it's important to understand what to be weary of before starting your trip. This guide will explore some of the risks to be cautious of and what to look for in your travel insurance policy.
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When travelling in Ecuador, the Australian government advises you to:
- Reconsider your need to travel to the Sucumbíos province
- Not travel to areas within 20 kilometers of Colombia, except the official border crossing at Tulcán
If you intend to travel to either of these regions, you may not be covered by travel insurance. Throughout all of Ecuador there have been warnings against:
- Disease: Yellow fever, dengue fever, malaria and Zika are all known to occur in Ecuador. Ensure you are up to date on all vaccinations and take steps to protect yourself from mosquitos. It’s also advisable to drink boiled or bottled water and to avoid ice cubes and undercooked foods. Be aware that in the event of a health emergency in isolated areas, including the Galápagos Islands, you may require medical evacuation to more advanced facilities at a great expense. Travel insurance with cover for medical expenses can provide a safety net if you become ill or injured on your travels.
- Crime: Both petty theft and violent crime with firearms occurs in Ecuador, particularly in the border regions where kidnappers are known to target even large groups and organised tours. Crimes may be facilitated with spiked food, drink or cigarettes and has also been known to occur through incapacitating aerosols and paper handouts. Avoid travelling alone or at night where possible, take care with valuables and consider cooperating with assailants to ensure your own safety. Ensure you have adequate cover for any high-value items you are taking with you.
- Natural hazards: The wet season in Ecuador is from December to May in coastal regions and from May to November in El Oriente (east of the Andes). Flooding, landslides and resulting travel disruptions are more common at this time but can occur at any time of year. Ecuador is also seismically active so you should also be aware of the risk of volcanoes, tsunamis and earthquakes. Familiarise yourself with local evacuation and emergency procedures and consider policies with travel cancellation cover.
- Civil unrest: Avoid protests, strikes and demonstrations as they may turn violent with little warning. You are required to carry personal identification with you at all times in Ecuador or you may be detained. It may be worth taking out cover for travel documents.
- Travel hazards: Avoid unlicensed taxis and only use those with a clearly displayed registration sticker. Licensed taxis in Ecuador are equipped with panic buttons and video cameras. Roads in Ecuador are of a reasonable standard in developed areas, but may be poorly lit and maintained in rural areas. Consider travel insurance for rental car excess if you plan on driving a hire car in Ecuador.
- Eco-lodges: Ecuador’s many eco-lodges cater to nature-loving tourists all around the country, but many of them are in isolated regions. With the likelihood of road closures, you may find yourself stranded or delayed, so it may be worth considering travel insurance to cover tour cancellations.
- Ayahuasca tourism: Increasing numbers of tourists are going to Ecuador for Ayahuasca trips, using legal psychedelics administered by local shamans to take a “spiritual tour.” Be aware that there is no effective way to vet Ayahuasca tour operators, it may be difficult to predict how the substances will affect you and that visitors have reported being robbed or assaulted while under the influence. Carefully look at the exclusions in your policy for language like “remain aware of your surroundings”, which could allow your insurer to refuse Ayahuasca-related claims.
- Boating and watersports: Ecuador’s coastline and numerous rivers lend themselves to boating and watersports, but it’s important to check how your travel insurance policy covers these activities
- Hiking and mountaineering: Many parts of Ecuador, including the popular Quito region, are at heights of more than 2,500m and altitude sickness can be a life threatening concern even if you’re physically fit. You may wish to discuss any pre-existing respiratory issues with your insurer to get them covered and consider travel insurance policies for hiking at altitude.
- Adventure sports: Ecuador’s vibrant landscape provides opportunities for adventure sports such as bungee jumping and rock climbing. Think about comparing adventure travel insurance policies to make it easier to find effective cover for these activities.
The standard for medical facilities in private hospitals in Quito and Guayaquil is reasonable, but outside of these areas, including the Galápagos Islands, it can be very limited.
- Travel insurance for medical evacuation and repatriation can be a potential life saver. A serious medical event on the Galápagos Islands or outside a major city will almost certainly require a very expensive medivac.
- Treatment at private hospitals and clinics is very expensive and they will expect cash payments up front. Find a travel insurance policy that pays for medical treatments up front or be prepared for the possibility of paying out of pocket for these costs.
Depending on the nature of the emergency, your best contact may be one or more of the following:
- Your airline, employer or tour operator. For relevant issues it may be best to contact them first.
- Your insurer. If you’ll be making a claim of any kind, contact your insurer on their 24/7 claims helpline as soon as reasonably possible.
- Local emergency services. Familiarise yourself with the emergency numbers in your area. Call 911 in Quito and Ibarra, 112 in Guayaquil, Cuenca and Loja and 101 everywhere else in Ecuador. Make sure you obtain a police report for insurance purposes when reporting a crime.
- The Australian consulate or embassy. Contact your nearest Australian government office for general or miscellaneous assistance. If you are in Quito you can also go to the Canadian embassy there for lost passports and travel documentation issues. Call +593-4 601 7529 or 593-4 600 0447 for the Australian consulate in Guayaquil and +56 2 2550 3500 for the Canadian embassy in Quito.
Australians do not require a visa when visiting Ecuador.
Instead, with a passport valid for at least 6 months from the date of arrival you can:
- Get a 30, 60 or 90 day tourist stamp on arrival
- Apply for extensions of up to 90 days for a total stay of up to 180 days
Applications fees apply and you may sometimes need to show proof of income.
- Failure to take precautions: This can include not using safety equipment, not getting the required immunisations, failing to properly secure belongings or otherwise not taking reasonable steps to ensure your own safety. Be aware of this exclusion as you travel.
- Failure to obey signs, warnings and laws: These can include road signs, local laws and marked warnings like the minefield signs around the Ecuador-Peru border. If failure to obey posted signs or the law leads to a claim, your insurer may refuse to pay it.
- Unreasonable or reckless behaviour: This can include actions that put yourself or others in unnecessary danger, or actions that can be considered something a reasonable person would not have done in that situation. This general exclusion can be applied to a range of circumstances and may extend to taking in the nightlife or a visiting an Ayahuasca shaman without taking suitable precautions to ensure your own safety.
- Pre-existing conditions: These are often a blanket exclusion on travel insurance policies. You will typically need to mention pre-existing conditions to your insurer if you want cover for them. The likelihood of needing to make a claim for a pre-existing condition means you will benefit from making sure it is covered.
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