When traveling to any country, finding ways to get around is one thing that every expat is eager to learn. Having come from an island nation (The Bahamas) where transportation is expensive, I can say that it’s been a relief that Ecuador is relatively easy and affordable to explore.
Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America, but it’s still quite large. The country has different regions, each of which offers different forms and challenges for transportation.
In the coastal areas, there’s the option to drive. The same applies to the mountains, although it’s more difficult because of the terrain. The jungle region is probably the coolest part of Ecuador, but for traversing it, that is definitely a journey. Some areas can only be accessed by hopping in a canoe.
Obviously, not everyone’s going to be going on a jungle expedition, so I’ll just focus on the areas that are most traveled.
Traffic jams in Guayaquil
The coastal areas of Ecuador are relatively flat and easy to drive on. The major city in this region is Guayaquil, which is usually very congested.
The amount of traffic is pretty intense, and traffic jams can last for a while.
Go outside of the city and the roads become mostly open and one can easily zip around. Car rentals are rather cheap, no matter which part of Ecuador you’re in.
Not to mention the price of gas is relatively low! Usually, costs less than $3 a gallon.
If you don’t want to drive or can’t drive a car, then there’s the option to hop on a bus. Ecuador’s bus system is fairly decent, with various companies offering routes all over the country. There are even buses that travel to other countries like Peru and Columbia.
Comfortable seats…and Snacks
I took a bus from Guayaquil to Peru back in December 2016, and it was really nice. The bus was in good condition, the seats were comfortable, there was air-conditioning and they even had complimentary snacks and drinks. The entire trip was about five hours and cost less than $20.
The buses that take the domestic routes are also equally nice (depending on the company) and are cheaper than the international routes.
For instance, a bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca is only $8 and lasts three hours. Speaking of the route from Guayaquil to Cuenca, now is a good time to talk about the aforementioned experience of driving in Ecuador’s mountainous region.
Over the Mountains
Called the Sierra, the mountainous regions of Ecuador are made up of valleys, volcanoes, and expansive plains. It runs almost entirely through the center of the country and separates the coastal and jungle regions.
Buses go all over the Sierra, whether it be to major cities like Cuenca and Quito or some of the smaller towns.
I haven’t had a bad bus experience yet, but I have heard some serious stories from others!
Watch Your Fellow Passengers
As you would expect, foreigners are usually prime targets for thieves. Many folks have had their belongings stolen while riding on the bus. Some of these thieves are very crafty, so it’s not always easy to spot them.
Some of them pretend to be looking for their own bag in the overhead bins, while others may grope around under the seat in front of them to grab someone else’s bag. So while the buses are usually surprisingly decent, it’s the passengers you have to keep an eye on.
As I mentioned, driving in the Sierra Region can be tough due to the terrain. Sometimes you can literally be above the clouds, as some roads go as high as 14,000 ft above sea level.
Look out for the rocks
There are many volcanoes in the region, and the highways go near some of them. While they are absolutely beautiful to look at, they also cause hazards like rock slides and road collapses.
Driving at night is also extremely nerve-wracking since a lot of the mountain roads are of the serpentine variety. It’s both exciting and terrifying to constantly be winding around sharp turns when you literally can’t see much of anything outside the window.
Combine that with the cloud cover from being up so high and it turns into something scarier than some of the most intense roller coasters. In addition to challenging some of the best drivers, the mountain routes are also very hard on the vehicles.
Sometimes you might see a car pulled over on the side of the road because its brakes overheated, for instance. These routes are also excessively long due to the constant need to be making turns and slowing down on steep declines.
Nevertheless, the scenery is still gorgeous and I never get tired of looking at the vast expanse of mountains, valleys, and the occasional intimidating volcano.
Flying is an Option
If I’ve scared you so much that you’d rather fly than drive, then I’m sorry. The good news is that flying in Ecuador isn’t half bad, but there’s still a bit of a fear factor.
The local airline TAME, goes to the major cities around the country in addition to some international destinations.
There are other airlines, too, such as LATAM and Avianca.
While obviously more expensive than driving, the duration of travel time is massively reduced.
For instance, driving from Cuenca to Quito takes about 10 hours, whereas flying only takes 30 minutes.
Beware of Turbulence
The only issue, depending on how you look at it, is that flying in the mountains is incredibly nerve-wracking.
Wind currents can cause turbulence, and it’s definitely intimidating to come in close proximity to the terrain. Even so, I’ve never been on a flight where I felt like I was in any danger. The pilots here certainly know their stuff.
So as you can see, traveling in Ecuador is definitely doable. It just has some quirks here and there.
Even so, you honestly can’t beat the price of everything. With bus routes and car rentals being so cheap, the only excuse you should ever have to stay put in Ecuador is that you’re too chicken.
What is your preferred mode of travel around Ecuador? Let us know.
by: Akia Rahming