When traveling in Ecuador money exchange is pretty simple, especially if you're carrying US dollars. Since 2000, Ecuador currency is the US dollar. For other currencies, exchange offices are available; but it may be more convenient to get a hold of US dollars before your trip.
I've used travelers checks in the past. What a hassle. Not all banks will take them, and the banks that do sometimes have special hours that they will change them. Plus with the fees on both ends, it just wasn't worth it.
ATMs are the easiest and most convenient way to get money. They are located throughout the country. Master Card, Visa, Cirrus and Plus are the most widely accepted cards. Very few ATMs in Ecuador have a fee, but your bank at home will probably charge you a international transaction fee (usually a few dollars).
One caution about ATMs: Be careful when using the ATM alone or at night.
Need cash and quick? There are quite a few different companies that can quickly transfer money from a family member or friend. Some of the most popular are Money Gram and Western Union. You can find locations throughout Ecuador and most Ecuadorian banks are affiliated with one of these companies.
I recently used XOOM, a service available at Wal-Mart, to send myself a chunk of cash from my bank account in the States. I was able to do it all online. It was easy and super fast...other than waiting in line at the Banco de Pichincha. :)
Watch for counterfeit bills. Even though small bills are used, there are counterfeits. In other places anything under a $50 isn't worth a counterfeiter's time. It's different in Ecuador.
I once ended up with a counterfeit $1 Sacajawea coin. The real ones have two stripes around the edge (one is a darker bronze than the other). Mine was a solid color. No stripe. The other way to tell is the real coin is they are golden in color. The counterfeits are more like copper.
Speaking of coins...the Ecuadorians have printed their own versions of US coins. These are not accepted in the States, so use them up before you leave.
It is increasingly difficult to pay with a bill that is torn or excessively worn. In the States we often use bills that have been torn, taped back together, washed in the machine, etc, but in Ecuador they have to send bad bills all the way to the US to be replaced. This costs Ecuador millions of dollars a year.
You probably won't get anyone to accept worn out or torn Ecuador money. So, if someone tries to give you this kind of bill while in Ecuador you have two choices:
Since people here don't usually have the opportunity to travel to the States and these bad bills are like dead money for them, if you can use the worn out bills when in the States, I'm sure it would be much appreciated.
You may also enjoy these pages...