Bus Travel
Bus travel in rural Ecuador.
Bus travel in Quito, Ecuador.
Open-sided bus in Ecuador
Bus service in Ecuador
Buses in Quito, Ecuador
Chiva, or open bus, in Ecuador
Quito city map, for checking bus routes

Bus travel in Ecuador offers great views and a cultural experience.  A bus journey is also a chance to meet people and practise your Spanish language skills.

Bus Travel in Ecuador

Bus travel in Ecuador is a great way to see the widely varying landscapes.  Public transport is affordable and accessible and is how much of the population travels.  The bus service is extensive with routes to almost all parts of the country, and is an economic way to get to most of the tourist attractions in Ecuador.  Although there is not necessarily a bus timetable as such (this is Ecuador!), buses depart frequently for all major destinations and a lot of minor ones too.  Travelling by bus is also a good way to meet the locals or to practise your Spanish.  The nine hour journey from Quito to Guayaquil, or vice versa, is an excellent introduction to a great cross-section of the country.
Bus journeys within city or town limits are usually 25 centavos, regardless of how many stops you travel.  Regular buses are a challenge for tourists since you need to find the right bus route and recognise when you've arrived at your destination, though if you have a city map and enough Spanish to ask for assistance, people will usually point you in the right direction.  Sometimes you pay as you get on the bus, sometimes as you get off.  Or sometimes they will come around and collect the fares.  So have your $0.25 ready.
In Quito, the 3 north to south articulated bus lines along 6 de Diciembre (the red bendy buses of the EcoVia), 10 de Agosto (the Trolé) and Avenida America (the Metro) have clearly labelled stops in the middle of the road so you can count the stops to your destination.  These also cost $0.25, paid on entry to the bus stop: put coins in the turnstile for the EcoVia, pay on entry for the Metro or buy a token to put in the turnstile for the Trolé.  Don't try to go in the Salida (exit), you will just make yourself look daft.  The Entrada (entrance) is the end you need.  At the terminals at each end of these main lines, feeder buses (alimentadores) go off to various different neighbourhoods (barrios), all included in the same fare.
Interprovincial bus journeys in Ecuador generally cost around $1 an hour, as a rough guide.  Most long distance buses have a TV, usually showing films involving ludicrous plotlines, explosions, car chases and violence, sometimes accompanied by loud music on the radio as well.  This is very much part of the culture.  If you buy your ticket before boarding, it will have a seat number on it and other passengers will expect you to sit in your allocated seat.  Seat numbers are not always clearly marked, but V indicates ventana (window) and P is for pasillo (aisle).
On long bus journeys, luggage is usually stowed in the lockers under the bus.  Some bus companies will give you a receipt for your bag, but not all.  Don't leave valuables in your luggage, keep them with you in a daypack, on your lap or the back of the seat in front of you, not on the floor or on the overhead shelf.  Most bus services take good care of your luggage and theft of bags from the luggage compartment is not common.  You are more likely to have problems with bags getting dusty or wet, depending on weather conditions - line your backpack or case with a plastic bag.  Avoid having your luggage stowed on the roof, as the honesty of any passengers travelling on the roof cannot be guaranteed and is beyond the control of the bus company. 
Guayaquil's bus terminal (Terminal Terrestre) is much better than it used to be and is relatively easy to find your way around.  Quito's old bus station, situated in a pit in the Old Town at Cumandá, has now (since 2009) been replaced by two new bus stations.  Make sure you get the correct one for your journey, as it will take a couple of hours to get to the other one (see below).  There is also another northern terminal at La Ofelia, reached by the Metro buses along Avenida America, for destinations within Pichincha Province including Mindo and Cayambe.
The new Terminal Terrestre Carcelén, in the north of Quito, is for the relatively few destinations in the north and northwest of the country, such as Otavalo and Ibarra in the province of Imbabura, and Tulcán in the province of Carchi.  A taxi from the tourist area of town will cost around $8 and take about 40 minutes.  Alternatively, take the feeder buses from the northern end of the Trolé or Metro bus lines for just 25 or 30 centavos.  It's best not to attempt the city centre part of these bus routes with luggage at rush hour - take a taxi to the terminal at La Y (for the Trolé) for $2 or $3 and then get the feeder bus from there.  There is a $0.20 entry fee to the Carcelén terminal.  While the terminal is usually efficient and easy to use, be aware that on bank holiday weekends, you may need to queue for an hour or more to get a bus, and there is virtually no shade, so be prepared in order to avoid sunburn.  There are several ticket windows, each run by a different company, so be sure you are in the right queue!
The Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe, way in the south of Quito, is much larger and serves destinations to the south of Quito, i.e. most of the country.  Getting to Quitumbe is a pain in the neck.  So far, only a couple of regular buses and the Trolé have a service out to Quitumbe, this is usually packed with no seats available and no space for luggage - a nightmare journey with a heavy backpack.  Allow about 2 hours for the trip on public transport.  A taxi from the tourist area to Quitumbe will probably cost around $12 (more from 9p.m. to 6a.m.) and you should allow about 60 to 90 minutes for the journey.   The best plan is probably to ask around in your hostel to find other passengers to share a taxi.  Alternatively, see if you can find an enterprising travel agent offering a budget transfer service to Quitumbe.
Bus terminals are popular locations for pickpockets and thieves.  Be alert, don't let go of your bags and don't fall for any scams such as strangers offering to take your bag to the bus for you, wipe dirt off your sleeve, open the bus window for you, or stow your daypack in the overhead locker.  
Overnight bus travel in Ecuador is not recommended, for safety and security reasons.  Tired drivers and limited visibility are not a good combination, and assaults on overnight buses have occurred.  You don't see the scenery at night and whilst you might save on the cost of a hotel, you really will not get any sleep and will lose the whole of the next day recovering.  (Trust me, I've tried it).
Long distance buses stop for meal breaks, though some drivers have very random ideas about meal times.  Vendors may board the bus but this can't be relied on so pack a few snacks.  Really long bus journeys, such as the 16 hours or so from Quito to Loja, can be so daunting that you might consider a domestic flight a worthwhile investment. 
In rural areas in the Costa open sided buses are sometimes used.  These are known as chivas or rancheras and are actually rows of hard wooden seats mounted on a truck chassis.  You often have to climb over other passengers to get in or out.  (Chivas are also used during the fiestas of Quito as a form of mobile party with a live band on top).  Between tiny villages with no bus service, it is sometime possibles to get a ride on the milk lorry (lechero) which will charge for the service - ask locals for information about alternatives to bus travel.
Useful vocabulary for bus travel in Ecuador:
Terminal Terrestre: bus station
Boleto: ticket
Asiento: seat               Ventana: window
Entrada: entrance         Salida: exit
Parada: bus stop
Alimentador: feeder (bus)
Chiva/Ranchera: open-sided "bus" (seats mounted on a truck chassis) mostly used in the Costa
Bus Travel in Ecuador
Notes on travelling by bus service, chiva or ranchera; public transport in Ecuador; bus stations and terminals in Quito & Guayaquil.
Note that guidebooks published before September 2009 will almost certainly have out of date information about Quito's main bus station.
Website www.ecuadortravelsite.org, text and photos by Sarah Clifford.
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