Sunday, 20 December 2009

BACKPACKING - Ecuador using public transport

On 11th September 2009 we arrived in Ecuador to begin our 7 months trip of South America.  We have travelled by public transport all the way and this is a log with some information about the buses and trains used, times taken, prices paid, observations and comments in order to help fellow travellers.

Full travel log includes accommodation and other information.

At the moment QUITO airport is in the valley surrounded by the city, they are building a new one and when this opens it will be 45 minute north of the city (much to the delight of the taxi drivers!)  At the moment to get
to the city by taxi is inexpensive.  Within the airport they ask for US$12 but outside you should be able to negotiate a fare of US$5 into the city centre (don't be afraid to ask more than one driver).  Within the city taxi fares range from US$2 to US$5.

Alternatively leaving the airport you can walk a couple of blocks to the main road where the electric buses and regular buses run with the standard far just 25c.

The electric buses run on 3 roughly parallel routes from north to south of the city (rarely meeting up).  Most of the stops are in the centre of the road in a raised area.  You enter at one end and buy your 25c token from a booth.  They are much quicker than buses as they have a dedicated lane. 

QUITO TO TONSUPA BEACH Esmeraldas bus leaves from north of the city centre.  The 7-hour journey costs $8 (£4.80) on a comfortable coach with reclining seats.  There are a couple of comfort stops en route.  The front of the bus is closed off from the driver area so it is preferable to sit a few seats back to get a better view. On the journey out we were served a cup of coke and packet of biscuits within 30 minutes of departure but nothing on the return leg.

QUITO TO LAGO QUILOTOA The bus station for southern bound buses is a long way south of the city centre so we took a taxi there, US$5.  The modern bus station has lots of offices for the different companies that run the routes.  They have the names of their destinations clearly shown so go to the applicable booth to buy your ticket.  The bus to Latacunga cost $1.90 (£1.20) and took about 1 1/2 hours.   In Latacunga it dropped us off in the town streets and you must walk over the bridge to the bus station for an onward connection.  At this bus staition things are a bit more chaotic.  There are many touts trying to get you to go on their buses.  For Lago Quilotoa there is little choice, one bus a day at at 11.30am, $3 (£1.80).  It is a very basic bus that makes slow progress with locals hopping on and off but the views are superb and the landscape very interesting.

LAGO QUILOTOA TO BANOS There is only one direct bus a day from Quilotoa back to Latacunga and that is in the afternoon.  For $5 (£3) you can comandeer a caminoneta (mini truck with seats in the back) to the village of Zumbagua.  There we took the 9am camioneta to Latacunga, $2 (£1.60) and sat in considerable discomfort freezing to death in the back for 1 1/2 hours!  Next we got a comfortable coach with reclining seats to Ambato, $1 (60p),   On coaches in South America they say that if you are lucky you get one with music playing, if not you get the DVD, our bus had both going simultaneously!  Ambato to Banos bus, $1 (60p).  From Banos you can do a half day tour past many of the waterfalls by chivas truck (an open back lorry with benches running across) waterfalls tour for $5 (£3).

BANOS TO RIOBAMBA We caught the 8.45am, $2 (£1.20) bus to Riobamba. The direct road is still closed after the February 2008 eruption of volcano Tungurahua so you skirt Ambato then head south along the “avenue of the volcanoes”. There are beautiful views of Volcano Chimborazo, at 6310m the highest one in Ecuador and famous as the furthest point from the centre of the earth due to the Equatorial Ridge. A cab from the bus station to the centre of Riobamba $1 (60p).

RIOBAMBA TO ALAUSI  The famous “Devils Nose” train journey only leaves on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and it is as well to book ahead, $11 (£6.60).   The train is more like a bus on wheels but runs along the old train tracks.  The left hand side of the train seemed to have the better views, for the actual devils nose area it makes no difference as you all get a good side either during descent or assent.  You can return to Riobamba by bus or continue to Cuenca and both journeys can be completed in the same day but we opted for an overnight in Alausi.

ALAUSI TO CUENCA This should be a straighforward trip on a direct bus.  We booked the 7am, $5 (£3) pp for the 4 hour journey.  Unfortunately we didn't make it as we struck road blocks during a protest by the indios.  Apparently this sort of thing is common in South America.  If this happens you get off the bus at the road block, walk until you get to the end of it where other transport (bus, camioneta, local car) should be waiting to take you to the next block where you repeat the process.  It was quite frightening seeing tyres being burnt etc but were assured that we were never at risk.  We always tried to walk with others and followed the lead of the locals.  On our second day travelling through blockades we managed to find a comioneta driver who for $20 would take us on back roads through the mountains to get us to Azogues from where a 50c (30p) bus ride got us to Cuenca. 

CUENCA TO MANCORA IN PERU  It is easiest to take an International bus straight through to Peru as it waits for you to do the border formalities.  The 9am International bus to Mancora in Peru cost $11 (£6.60). The driver seemed to be on a mission driving at hair raising speed through the mountains.  It is supposed to take 8-hours and be a through bus but we had to change at the Ecuadorian customs and wait 1 ½-hours for a second bus meaning we arrived in Mancora just as it was getting dark.  Think it would have been better to take an earlier bus to ensure arrival in plenty of time to find a room before dark. (About 50 km into Peru the bus will pull over for a baggage check.  You all have to get off the bus and walk your bags through an area before re boarding.)


Double check the price of the bus if it seems much higher than $1 per hour.  Buying your ticket at one of the offices assures you pay the correct price, at Azogues the conductor wanted us to pay $5 each which we knew was way too much as the rule of thumb is $1 per hour for bus travel. I went to the ticket office and found out the correct price was 50c.

Take care if you put your bags on the floor, they may be dragged away from you but I also had a problem when my laptop bag was on the floor between my feet and a passenger behind spilt water. 

Any seat beyond the rear tyres gives you a very bumpy ride

Consider which side of the bus the sun will be on if you don't want to be baked alive however sitting on the side where your bags are loaded gives you the comfort of being able to see that they have not been off loaded without you however other companies give you a ticket for your individual bags and you have to show it to reclaim them

Backpacking through Peru, Boivia, Argenitna, Chile and Uruguay to follow


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