Ecuador by bus

Continuing with a series I’m calling SAGEFAQ this entry addresses frequently asked questions about getting around in Ecuador.

  • In general, how is bus travel in Ecuador?
  • Do Ecuadorians travel with livestock on buses?
  • What is the lechero?
  • How can I avoid the lechero?
  • What are the travel times between the major terminals in Ecuador?
  • Night bus versus day bus for long distances?
  • The Quito bus terminal… logistic

The Quito bus terminal… logistics?

The quito bus terminal is in a sketchy area on the southern end (near to nothing of relevance for a tourist). If you are in the northern part of Quito looking to go south, ask around for the Panamericana or Flota Imbabura (has the newest busses in Ecuador). Instead of heading all the way to the very southern part of town to the official bus terminal, I believe both of these companies have offices from where night busses depart in the central part of Quito much closer to the Mariscal district.

What are the travel times between the major terminals in Ecuador?

Route Time Cost
Quito – Guayaquil 8-10hrs ~$10.00
Quito – Cuenca 8-12hrs $9.00-12.00
Cuenca – Guayaquil 3.5-4hrs $8.00

Night bus versus day bus for long distances?

Trips between Quito and Cuenca are arguably better at night, if you can sleep through voracious speeds and curvy mountain roads. During the day, the options for direct buses are few and far between, meaning if you dont plan well, you will lose an entire day on a lechero. Direct day buses are nice because there’s lots of beautiful scenery between the two Andean cities, but, again, not for the faint of heart. If you know you easily get bus sick, I recommend going for a flight: 30 minutes, US$49… well worth the price in time saved and avoiding constant nausea.

In the end, as stated above in the sections about the lechero, some buses are light-years more comfortable than others. Its worth paying a few extra dollars for the $12 Flota Imbabura direct night bus.

Now-a-days its not so necessary because the newer buses have heating, but on older night buses a heavy blanket, or tons of layers is a must.

QUICK TIP: If the night bus you are on seems to be really cold, its probably because

  • Some windows are cracked, stuck, or left open.

    An obvious problem in Ecuadorian buses, but often very hard to fix.

  • Not enough cows on board!

    The bus lacks enough bodies to produce interior warmth. This is also an unfortunate situation that can’t really be helped.

  • The window shades are open!

    Subtly, these fabric/canvas shades do a lot to keep a buffer between the interior warmth generated by body heat and the constant stream of cold night air pushing against the glass windows from the exterior. Close as many as possible around you, and get others to do the same. This also helps keep distracting oncoming headlights from ruining your good nights sleep ;)

In general, how is bus travel in Ecuador?

Bus travel is by far the most popular means of public transportation in Ecuador. Whether you are going to pueblitos within a specific province, or heading across the nation long distance, you can generally find a bus to get you there at a very low price. Quality, however, varies widely between routes and bus companies. A good model to keep in mind for longer distances is that they should charge you betwee US$1.00 and US$1.50 for each hour of travel. As nothing is ever “certain” in Ecuador, this factor does change in various circumstances. For example, the route between Guayaquil and Cuenca is now operated by an alliance of bus companies who, working together, have devised a schedule by which a bus leaves every 40 minutes during peak hours eachway and fixed the price at US$8.00 (for a 3.5-4 hour ride). This seems to me a bit outrageous when the most luxurious night bus between cuenca and Quito (twice the distance & time) costs only $12.

In general, tickets are only sold the day of travel. If you are planning one of the longer interprovincial night busses between Quito/Cuenca or Quito/Guayaquil, call ahead to find out the schedule for the evening as each company usually have 2 or 3 busses heading out each night. Buy your ticket in the afternoon, or try the true ecuadorian way by showing up 30 minutes to an hour early to get your ticket. Its only slightly more risky because these busses rarely fill up the notable exception being during holidays when busses are packed out, stuffy, and stinky.

Do Ecuadorians travel with livestock on buses?

Outside the larger cities, livestock is a way of life, and occasionally you do see people bringing smaller farm animals such as chickens or ducks onto the slower provincial buses. But certainly it is a rarity to see this type of thing on a daily basis, especially on interprovincial buses that don’t stop every 5 km to drop off or pick up locals. I’ve never seen a sheep on a bus, but it doesnt mean it wont happen to you!

What is the “lechero”?

I’ve heard Ecuadorians say something to the effect of “i caught the lechero”, which, in busing terms, means they caught the bus that is always slowest to arrive to a destination, because of frequent stops. These “lechero” buses are provincial (but also sometimes long-distance) buses that tend to stop in every village waiting for a “minimum” number of people to straggle in to warrant onward travel. They are also characterized by driving extremely slowly (10 to 15 km per hour) on the road out of town picking up every additional man woman and child until filled to literal capacity, in order to make an extra dime. These buses are the most interesting (read: dangerous) vehicles on the road, because if they are willing to overload the bus with passengers to exorbitant levels, then they are also as equally likely to throw caution to the wind, disobeying ever traffic law imaginable, in order to get to the next stop more quickly. Doubting, anyway, that any traffic laws are enforced or heeded by the majority of the public transport system.

How can I avoid the lechero?

In some smaller out of the way places, the lechero simply cannot be avoided. This could be because not many people happen to be traveling at that moment, and waiting for the bus to fill up is the only viable means of turning a profit. In other places, where there are different companies going to the same place, you have more options, and a better chance to avoid the lechero. It takes skill and a keen eye to succeed in beating the lechero. Here’s my tips for avoiding a long painfully slow, generally uncomfortable ride:

  • Be wary of older buses covered in dust. They usually take the “long dirt road” home.
  • Regardless of what the chofer (driver) or cobrador (guy who takes your money) tells you about when they are leaving, don’t ever get on a bus that is stationary with fewer than 6 people. Exception: large bus terminals where buses must come and go more or less on a schedule.
  • Given a choice of buses: always pick the one with fewer medallions hanging in the rear-view and pictures/slogans of the virgin Mary or Jesus. These superstitious buses tend to throw all caution to their god(s) putting faith in these plastic or furry objects that they will arrive in one piece.