Transportation In Ecuador
Planes, trains, buses, and automobiles — all of these are reasonable options for traveling throughout Ecuador. Some are easier than others, to be sure. We will briefly highlight some of the key elements of travel around Ecuador, with the suggestion that you do further research for more specific detail when you are ready to plan your travels.
Ecuador offers inexpensive and generally reliable bus service, the preferred form of public transport which goes just about anywhere there is a road. Hundreds of companies compete for business along the most popular routes, carrying people at little cost to all but the remotest regions.
Luxury buses with air-conditioning, TV, toilet, and even on-board snacks travel the most popular long-distance routes. These buses require passengers to have a pre-booked ticket and stop only at scheduled destinations, reducing journey times. Standard buses will stop anywhere for anyone who wants to get on until every available crack of space has been filled. Travelers will also find a fringe-type “bus” network of pickup-trucks, mini-buses, and open-sided trucks converted with wooden benches. If you choose the less-luxurious route, and don’t really know the area you’re traveling to, most drivers are happy to let you know when you’ve arrived.
By contrast, the train network covers only a small fraction of the country. The old traveller’s adage, that all the fun is in the getting there, is especially true with Ecuador’s trains. A train ride here is a real treat – you can sit on the roof enjoying the scenery while the train slowly rattles down the track – but is not the most efficient way to travel the country.The train network currently consists of three short tourist routes: Riobamba to Sibambe, down the Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose); Quito to El Boliche (by Cotopaxi national park); and Ibarra to Primer Paso in the northern highlands.
Flying within Ecuador is a quick, convenient and relatively inexpensive way of bypassing the country’s serpentine and often crude road network. Those short on time can cut an all-day bus journey down to a 30-minute hop – and if the weather’s clear, enjoy wonderful aerial views of volcanoes and rainforests in the process. Some of the domestic carriers include TAME, Icaro, Aerogal, LanEcuador , VIP, and Saéreo, plus a number of small-scale and local charter companies, particularly on the coast and in the Oriente. TAME offers the most extensive service, flying to most of the country’s major cities, with ticket prices between $50 and $90 one-way, apart from flights to the Galápagos Islands, which are disproportionately expensive. Busier routes should be booked days, if not weeks, in advance and it’s important to reconfirm as overbooking is not uncommon. The weather can be a problem, particularly in Quito and the Oriente, resulting in fairly frequent delays, cancellations or diversions.
If you intend to zoom around the country in a short space of time, or want to get to really off-the-beaten-track destinations, renting a car is a worthwhile option. Theoretically, you only need your own state/national license to rent a vehicle, but you’re strongly advised to bring an international license as well – the Ecuadorian police, who frequently stop drivers to check their documents, are often suspicious of unfamiliar foreign licences and much happier when dealing with international ones. The national speed limit is 100kmh on highways (or less if indicated), and usually around 50kmh in towns or urban areas. Note that there are some extreme penalties for minor driving offenses, such as not wearing your seat belt; driving the wrong way down a one-way street is supposedly punishable by a fourteen-day mandatory jail sentence.
When choosing which type of vehicle to rent, remember only a small portion of the country’s roads are paved, and those that are surfaced can be in an atrocious state of disrepair. Four-wheel-drive, or at least high clearance and sturdy tires, definitely comes in handy on unpaved roads, especially in the rainy season, but isn’t necessary for the big cities and better-maintained parts of the road network. Air conditioning is another consideration for long journeys in the lowlands and Oriente. Ecuadorian drivers tend to be undisciplined and sometimes downright dangerous; aggressive overtaking is particularly common, as is abruptly veering over to the wrong side of the road to avoid potholes. As long as you drive defensively and keep your wits about you, however, it’s perfectly possible to cover thousands of kilometers without running into problems. Never leave valuables in your car at any time, or your car on the street overnight, as it will almost certainly be broken into; try to stay in hotels with a garage, or else leave your vehicle overnight in a securely locked parqueadero.