Oh, Ecuador. Some people say they’ll never leave a country. I actually might never leave. I initially planned for about 20 days in Ecuador before bouncing off to Peru. I took me 43 days to finally pry myself away from this incredible country. For some reason, Ecuador has not been on my radar until recently. I’ve skipped it the last three times that I went to South America, and now, I’m finally giving it its proper due.
Ecuador is a magnificent country. It has beautiful nature in abundance, from the mountains to the jungles to the ocean to the freakin’ Galapagos Islands. Seriously, this country is incredible. Every single city that I visited, I ended up extending my stay over and over. Like I said, I literally might never make it out of this country.
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Ecuador, but for now, let’s just cover how you are going to get from each amazing place to the next. Traveling in Ecuador is an adventure in itself, and I’ve done it all. Local buses, driving a car, jumping into the back of a pickup, hitchhiking in converted army vehicles, the list goes on.
Public Transportation in Ecuador
This is the most popular way to get around Ecuador, mainly because it is cheap. However, it does come with a few negatives. Unfortunately, those negatives can be really negative. I have met a few people who have had bad experiences with public transportation in Ecuador. A friend got pickpocketed and relieved of his phone and all of his credit cards. Others, especially on night buses, would have to be extra vigilant of their stuff, often meaning they can’t get a good night’s sleep whatsoever.
Some parts of Ecuador are much safer than others, and I found public transportation to not be a problem at all in those areas. I took buses all over the coastal Manabi region, from Montanita to Puerto Lopez to Manta and Jipijapa and more. All of these were shorter bus rides during the day, though, so I did not have to worry about keeping an eye on my stuff while trying to sleep at the same time.
Flying in Ecuador
Flying is the quickest and easiest way to get from place to place but it can get expensive really quickly. I didn’t take a single flight while I was in Ecuador, aside from the one I took from the U.S. to get to Quito. The main airports in Ecuador are the two in Quito and Guayaquil for international flights, although Cuenca, Manta, and other popular tourist cities are home to small airports.
The only exception would be the Galapagos Islands. There are two options. Flying or swimming and you aint swimming. If you are going to the Galapagos, flying is the only way. Other than that, I recommend sticking to ground transportation for non-urgent travels within the country.
EcuadorHop, The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
For me, this was the way to go. As someone traveling with their entire life in their two backpacks, it is extremely important for me to make sure I keep those two backpacks. It does come at a higher price than taking normal public transportation but to me, that peace of mind was worth the premium and more. I slept like a baby the entire ride from Baños to Montañita, sprawled out with the blanket they provide and not worried about a thing.
It is also extremely convenient as you get picked up and dropped off in most cities on their route. Getting picked up from Quito at 6:30 AM was not so bad when I didn’t have to leave my hostel whatsoever. Being able to adjust your schedule directly online was also an amazing feature.
EcuadorHop should be the top choice for those on a fast-paced trip through Ecuador and those willing to pay a little bit more to have the luxury of convenience. I’ve been on both sides and have had my fair share of rough public transportation experiences in the past. It was a no-brainer for me to go with EcuadorHop. You meet fellow travelers on the bus and don’t have to worry about a thing while you’re on it.
Currently, their stops include Quito, Cotopaxi, Quilotoa, Baños, Montañita, and Guayaquil. This can be adjusted depending on whether you want to skip a city or spend more time somewhere else. Since EcuadorHop is a relatively new company, I can only see them improving from where they already are. That means expanding their routes, hopefully branching out to parts of the country, especially Cuenca.
Hitchhiking in Ecuador
I had to resort to this a few times. One of the more frustrating things about Ecuador is that their public transportation system in rural areas can be very infrequent. Since you can’t find timetables online, you just have to trust the word of people that a bus is even coming at all. Sometimes, you’ll have to wait for hours. That was the case when I was sat on the side of the road in Quilotoa. I arrived around noon and was told that the bus would come at 2PM and at 5PM. After less than an hour of suffering in the wind, a Quichua man pulled up in his truck and said he was heading for Chugchilan.
I dropped him a few dollars and got to nestle into my bed a bit earlier. Worth it. Some people will ask for money, some won’t. I usually give them money regardless but hitchhiking can be an adventurous alternative to waiting for a bus that might never come. Trust your judgment.
I ended up hitchhiking a few more times while I was in Ecuador, mostly for short distances. For those shorter distances, there was never the expectation of having to pay. If you’re hitching a ride from city to city, then maybe helping out with gas or snacks can be a good idea. It all really depends on the driver and the ride.
Renting A Car In Ecuador
So I personally didn’t rent a car myself but for a stretch, I traveled with a friend who bought a car for his Ecuadorian adventures. We used it to get around Cuenca, Cajas National Park, and then the 5-hour journey from Cuenca to Loja to Vilcabamba. That journey was riddled with plenty of stops, though, as we were both photographers and the ride was absolutely stunning.
I never drove the car but from my experience in it, driving in Ecuador needs a little bit of time to adjust. Yes, there are traffic lights and roundabouts and most drivers generally adhere to the laws of traffic. However, it can still feel a bit reckless out there. The scariest stretches were those winding mountain roads with blind spots and crazy drivers trying to pass in ill-advised situations.
However, we got away without a scratch. The benefits of having your own car are pretty endless. From Cuenca to Vilcabamba, we made a detour to some amazing waterfalls in Giron before driving back to the main highway. We stopped a few times along the highway to take in the incredible mountain views before stopping in Loja for a few hours to round out our day. We completed the journey to Vilcabamba within the next hour, but that included a stop in a local family’s backyard to watch an unreal mountain sunset.
As a passenger, I had very few qualms with riding in the car. However, as a driver, I can imagine it would be much more stressful. The costs of gas could also pile up, especially since you’ll likely be needing a more powerful 4×4 vehicle for most of Ecuador. There are a few other concerns such as parking and robberies but my experience in a car was overall pretty good. After my stretch of traveling through Ecuador with EcuadorHop, it was a nice option to have stumbled upon.