The well maintained Pan-American Highway (Ruta Panamericana) forms Ecuador’s main artery and snakes through the centre of the country connecting Ibarra, Quito, Cuenca and Loja.
Ecuador does have a rail network, but it’s tiny and the trains are purely designed to ply tourist routes close to the capital. Nevertheless, if you get the time these journeys can be exhilarating - just don’t rely on them for getting from A to B.
A more convenient option if you’re short on time is to fly. There are several domestic airlines, though prices can be steep if you don’t book far in advance.
Buses are the cheapest and often easiest way to get around. Prepare for longer-than-stated journey times, blasting air-con and and dubbed American action movies played at full volume - all of which are the norm.
If you can cope with that, then you’ll see that there are, in fact, a lot of advantages to taking the bus in Ecuador. The country is small enough for even long journeys not to be anywhere near as titanic as those in neighboring countries. Comfortable first class services are very affordable. They are also frequent and if you stick to the major routes, very efficient.
Bear in mind that if you pay substantially less for your ticket, standards will drop in several ways. Cheaper buses allow standing passengers, making the already cramped vehicle even more packed. Drivers will stop as often as passengers ask to get on or off (this happens a lot) and your leg room will be vastly reduced.
In larger towns and cities you’ll need to book prior to your journey if you want a seat on a luxury service. Your best bet is to head straight for the main bus terminal where you can ask about prices and times before committing. With standard services, you can often just wave the bus down. In smaller towns, it’s best to wait on the outskirts for one to come by; though in cities you should go to the terminal. For these services you’ll probably end up paying around $5 for longer journeys, though you can pay as little as a dollar if you’re not going far. Let the driver know where you want to get off in advance if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
If you’re travelling to more remote parts of the country independently, you’ll find that organised bus services don’t really exist. Instead, you may have to rely on pick-up trucks and minibuses until you get back onto a main route.
Booking far enough in advance can make flying a very attractive option in Ecuador. You can get good prices and vastly reduce your journey times. You won’t get to see the scenery you do on a bus, but if convenience is what you’re after then flying is the best option.
The main companies who fly internally are TAME (www.tame.com.ec), LanEcuador (www.lan.com), Aerogal (www.aerogal.com.ec), and Saéreo (www.saereo.com). Of these, TAME have the best range of routes and fly most often.
You’re also often required to confirm your booking prior to flying, though this might be a good idea either way.
Though now purely a tourist attraction, taking the train in Ecuador is a great experience and well worth doing if you have the time.
There are currently eleven routes being operated, the best of which are Riobamba to Sibambe, also known as the Devil’s Nose; Quito to El Boliche which affords great views of the Cotopaxi volcano; and Ibarra to Salinas which crosses a series of bridges with spectacular views.
You can find out more here.
Driving in Ecuador is a viable option and can be perfect for getting to less visited parts of the country without relying on tours or infrequent public transport. The country’s roads are generally safe, though watch out for aggressive drivers and cars overtaking on blind corners, both of which are all too common.
To drive in Ecuador you need to be over 21 and have a valid driving licence, preferably an international one. Most rental firms will also require you to have a major credit or debit card for a deposit. Companies commonly charge around $35 per day for the cheapest vehicles, though this is a bare minimum so expect to pay more for extra mileage. Always check the insurance coverage included - it’s not always the most comprehensive.
In large cities and towns, you’ll find taxis everywhere. Some are metered in Quito, though with most you’ll have to agree a price before you get in. Beware prices that sound too low - some drivers have been known to use this ploy to attract custom before kidnapping and assaulting passengers with the aid of accomplices, driving them around to cashpoints and emptying their accounts before dumping them. Though this is rare, it’s always best to call a reputable company for a taxi, especially at night.
In Quito, the efficient trole system is often the best way to get around. Following a central route through the city, these trolleybuses have their own lanes so aren’t subject to the traffic which can choke the city during rush hour. They have their own designated stops - covered green bus shelters which are easy to spot.