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Ecuador may often get overlooked for its flashier neighbors, but this small South American nation packs a punch. Mountain, ocean, jungle, cities, Ecuador offers it all in a neat little package.
From the glitzy streets of Mariscal Sucre in Quito to the rapid currents of Río Negro where the Andes meet the Amazon, there’s a surprising amount to see and do for a country that gets missed off many travelers’ itineraries.
You know what else what surprising about Ecuador? Just how efficient, reliable and fast its mobile data network is. If you’d like to stay connected while you’re there, read on.
The main mobile phone companies in Ecuador are Movistar and Claro, with a smaller chunk of the market taken by state-owned CNT.
There are a number of resellers slowly showing up, including Virgin Mobile, but their presence and offers are still very limited.
I didn’t see any phone stores at Quito’s international airport, but the old town is packed with options to buy a SIM card. They’re available from official customer service centers, cell phone stores, and phone repair shops.
In my case, I walked into a Movistar customer center to ask about options. The representative spoke very little English, so some Spanish will get you far.
He explained the available pre-paid plans, and I settled on the tourist package (explained below), which for my two-week trip seemed like a good deal.
In order to sign up for the plan, I needed to show my passport, which I didn’t have with me. No problem: a photo of it on my phone did the trick. I didn’t need to provide a local address or any other information, and paid cash.
After activating the account, the sales rep inserted the SIM card into my iPhone for me. He asked me to turn off my device and turn it back on after an hour, which is how long the account would take to be fully operative. I did so, and voilà! Ready to roll.
The tourist package set me back $20 (Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency), for 2.5GB of data, 50 minutes of local calls, and free access to WhatsApp and Facebook, valid for a month. In two weeks of travel, I didn’t run out of data (and certainly not minutes).
That package can’t be renewed after the month is up, since it’s aimed at travelers just passing through the country. The SIM card itself remains active, though, so you can still top up your account and either use data/minutes at default rates ($0.10/minute, $0.05/MB, $0.06/SMS, plus VAT), or sign up for a different pre-paid plan.
If you’re traveling for longer than a month or would like a more flexible option, Movistar offers a standard pre-paid plan for $15 instead.
It includes 2GB, 150 minutes of local calls, free access to WhatsApp (but not Facebook,) and 150 local SMS. The plan renews automatically as long as there’s money in the account.
If you only care about data and aren’t in the country for long, Claro has a $10 pre-paid plan with 2GB (no calls, texts, or free access to any apps), valid for two weeks.
Topping up is straightforward and widely available, from anywhere displaying the sign Recarga aquí (“top up here”).
This includes convenience stores, supermarkets, cell repair shops (of which you’ll find plenty around the country) and official customer service centers.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
Coverage was pretty consistent all around the country, including Quito and the Amazon entry town of Baños.
It was also very consistent during the bus trip from Quito to Baños. I was very surprised to see how fast 4G/LTE data was in Ecuador.
Although it’s not rolled out everywhere yet (it was spotty anywhere in the Andes), download speeds reached 40Mbps anywhere it was available. That’s unheard of in many parts of Latin America.
For the rest of the country, 3G/HSPA+ was always available. Data speeds were much slower, but service was consistent and reliable.
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.