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How to Avoid a Sunburn in Ecuador

Posted in: Ecuador Travel, Galapagos Islands

Sun protection is very important while traveling in Ecuador – especially in the Andes. And it is even more important if you are living in Ecuador.

The atmosphere is thinner at higher elevations and allows more harmful UV rays to get through. This puts you at higher risk of burns and other skin problems.

ecuador sunburn

We created this guide to the best sun protection hats – specifically for travelers to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

The weather can be deceptive. Don’t allow the cooler temperatures at higher elevations fool you into thinking the sun is less harmful than it would be on the beach. It’s actually more dangerous.

Skin Damage From The Andean Sun

After living in the Andes for around 4 years I developed a sun spot on my face. It was getting bigger and turning red so I went to a dermatologist to get it checked out. It was not skin cancer, but I must admit the fear crept into my mind.

I needed to have the spot removed. So I had a couple of treatments with liquid nitrogen and it was gone.

The dermatologist talked to me about the importance of sun protection. She told me that I needed to be more careful in the sun and use sunblock every day. I had thought that the sun protection in my makeup was enough, but she said that it was not. This was a bit of a reality check.

avoid ecuador sun damage

Dena kayaking in the Galapagos

I have sensitive skin and was worried about what all that greasy sunblock would do to my complexion. The dermatologist recommended a sun block called Umbrella, which has been wonderful. She recommended the spray, it feels a little lighter than the cream. I spray it onto my hands and rub it around before applying it. That way I avoid blotchy tan marks. Applying makeup over the sunblock has not been a problem.

The dermatologist also told me that the “freckles” and white spots on my arms are signs of sun damage. After the visit I wished I had thought of visiting a dermatologist when we arrived in Ecuador because I would have been more careful.

Beach in Canoa Ecuador

Beach in Canoa Ecuador

Read more about the beaches in Ecuador

How We Protect From Sun Damage in Ecuador

I am much more careful now, and try to remind Bryan and Drew to be as well. Whenever I spend the day in the sun I wear sunblock, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed sun hat. I also carry an umbrella for those really sunny days (my favorite is the London Fog umbrella – in red). Here are some other options.

avoid ecuador sunburn

Bryan with his hat and GoPro camera on the edge of the Sierra Negra Caldera, Isabela Island, Galapagos

A sun hat is a really important part of your sun protection gear. Make sure you get one you really like, otherwise you will not want to wear it. I love mine, it’s lightweight, has a wide brim, and doesn’t loose it’s shape when I fold it up, so it travels really well. It’s also versatile, it looks fine for hiking and for something a little more dressy.

Our favorite hats are made by Outdoor Research. Bryan uses the Sombriolet sun hat and Drew has the Oasis sun hat.

Sun protection is especially important from 10 a.m to 4 p.m when the sun is at it’s strongest. The sun is also dangerous on cloudy days, so don’t skip the sun block just because of heavy cloud cover.

It’s important to talk to your doctor and check the warnings on any medication or supplements you may be taking because they could make you more sensitive to the sun. Some kinds of diuretics, antidepressants, birth control pills, and antihistamines are like that. There may be may more medications that could cause problems, so make sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Long sleeved shirts and long pants will provide more protection than shorts and short sleeved t-shirts. Loose fitting, dark colored clothing is also said to provide more protection from the sun than light colored, tight fitting clothing would. Many adventure apparel companies produce shirts and pants with UPF 50+ sun protection.

Read my Coolibar hat review.

Don’t forget about your hands! I usually apply sunblock at home, by the time I head out my hands are no longer protected because I’ve washed it all off. I like to keep sunblock in my bag so I can make sure my hands are protected as well.

If you will be spending time in high elevation areas don’t forget the need to be extra careful about sun protection.

Your Turn

Please share your favorite sun protection gear by commenting on this post.

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Travel.

13 comments… add one
  • Hannele Laari-White Mar 17, 2018, 11:55 pm

    Living on the coast, I have found that I can burn my lips very easily!! Sun blisters are not pretty! Protect your lips with a good sunblock.

  • Bob Weisenberg Jan 1, 2015, 10:56 am

    Thanks for the great advice and detailed information. And thanks for reposting these articles from the past on facebook. It’s a great way for someone new like myself to get the benefit of all your past writing. We’ve got our flights to Cuenca for March 31.


  • Mcooks Jul 12, 2014, 3:53 pm

    Excellent info! I use a hat that I’ve had for years from San Diego Hat Company. It is very durable (machine-washable), and I wear it almost every day that I leave the house. I also carry a “paraagua/sombrella/para perros” with me — that’s an umbrella to your English speakers. 🙂

    I brought my own sunscreen with me when we moved to the Sierra, but I will definitely check out the “Umbrella” brand, too, so see if I can use it, since I have such sensitive skin.

    Please remember that we do need some sun on our unprotected, uncovered skin so that we can make the vitamin D that we need for our immune systems to fight off all the “gripe” (cold/flus) that are here, but that equals much less time here than it does up north. This was well illustrated by the experience above of getting badly burned in 10 minutes. Enjoy the sun, but take care in order to avoid glaucoma and skin cancer (very common here in Ecuador) with your “gafas” (sunglasses), protective clothing and hats, and sunscreen (remember to keep reapplying every couple of hours or so). Most sun-damage is NOT visible to the human eye. 🙂

  • Joyce Jul 12, 2014, 12:10 pm

    Great info! I’ve always been careful in the sun. Where do you get the Umbrella sunscreen? Is that a product available in Ecuador?

    • Bryan Haines Jul 14, 2014, 7:11 am

      Yes, it is sold at the pharmacies in Ecuador. We usually buy it at Farmasol – a government run pharmacy – it is almost always in stock and costs a little less. I don’t know if it exists outside of South America. It is made in Colombia.

      • Tamar Apr 4, 2015, 10:58 am

        May i ask how much you pay for it, approximately?
        Usually good suncream (without alcohol, which is the case with the umbrella, yeah) is difficult to find (here in germany) and pricey. Since it has to be applied very generously (at least half a teaspoon for the face only) it won’t last very long. Thank you for a reply!

  • Rich Jul 12, 2014, 1:21 pm

    Good post. I just wish that it had been up and I had seen it before this past February. I spent a month in the Andes and usually took adequate precautions. I got burned “good” twice. The first full day in Cuenca riding up top on the bus tour around town, and the next to last day around Cotacachi. It did make for an uncomfortable return trip to the States.

    Thanks for sharing,

    • Bryan Haines Jul 14, 2014, 7:13 am

      Until we moved to Ecuador, I never “felt” my skin burning before. It can happen very fast.

  • Jakob Jul 12, 2014, 10:45 am

    I detest hats, so I used to get sunburn on the top of my head even though I do have normal hair on my head. Up on the Tungurahua I got burned all over my body after being exactly 10 minutes shirtless. The solution to not wearing a hat for me has been putting sunblock right into my hair. That has worked fine.

    • Bryan Haines Jul 14, 2014, 7:18 am

      I agree. I hate hats too. I never wore anything besides a ball hat before coming to Ecuador but I now wear a big wide-brimmed hat when we are hiking. Even with sunblock I was still getting burnt on my neck.

      I haven’t tried sunblock on my scalp yet…

  • Jaye Wilson Jul 12, 2014, 10:35 am

    Thank you for the sun information. I also recently heard that it is important that sunglasses are not all the same, that the lens darkness or mirror lenses make no difference. You must buy glasses that indicate on the tag that they are UV (both A and B ultraviolet protective lenses) to insure that your eyes are correctly protected.

  • Andreas Wiedenfeld Jul 12, 2014, 6:45 am

    Can you please give us a referral to your dermatologist in Cuenca

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