While we recommend that you bring most of your money in the form of traveler's checks, you should also carry some dollars in cash. Green bills will get better rates with lower bank commissions and they are easier to change - especially in out-of-the-way places such as the Oriente. Also, when all the banks and casas de cambio are closed, with cash you may have luck with not-so-legal street money changers or tourist-friendly hotels.
Bring a selection of bills from $1 to $50 and make sure they are in good condition, or you'll definitely have trouble changing them. If you find yourself in a bind with a damaged bill in Quito, pass by Confederate Books in Mariscal Area and ask for Tommy. He travels back and forth to New Orleans and is happy to trade your damaged bills for new ones.
VISA, Mastercard, American Express and Diner's Club are the most widely recognized cards in Ecuador (Diner's Club is oddly the most widely accepted card). Plastic is useful not only for purchases in hotels, shops and restaurants, but also for cash advances from Automated Teller Machines and at bank counters. Check with your credit card company regarding your card's ability to access ATMs in Ecuador.
It's worth raising the limit on your cards before getting on the plane, so you have extra funds in the event of an emergency. If you're leaving hearth and home for a long time, you should consider setting up a Direct Debit to pay off your bills, or giving a trusted friend or relative the rights to handle your account.
In the event that you lose all your belongings (even your card) or fall ill, the emergency services that your credit card offers to travelers could be of assistance. American Express has excellent emergency services for card-holders on the road, especially if you purchase your plane ticket with your card. Check with your card companies regarding the type of coverage they can offer in emergency situations.
Ecuador has a number of international money transfer offices where you can pick up money sent from abroad. Your credit card company may also be able to make an emergency advance against your account to one of these money transfer offices. Western Union (800 325-6000) transfers are available throughout Ecuador. American Express, on Ave. Amazonas, offers a check-cashing service to card-holders (up to $1000 dollars every 21 days), which is a simple and inexpensive way to receive an immediate cash infusion while abroad