How to travel to and around Ecuador (without a car)

I had two weeks to travel anywhere in the world—the only problem was that we had to leave right after Christmas when plane flights are pretty pricey.  I searched on Kayak ( for flights without a destination. The site doesn’t search exact dates, but does give you a general idea of what counties/cities have low-cost flights. Central America was pretty cheap, but I had just gone there. I found Columbia and Ecuador had fairly reasonable fares. Ecuador was a smaller country, which would be easier to navigate in just 14 days, so I booked a flight into the capital city of Quito and out of the country’s largest city Guayaquil.

I have several entries and videos about Ecuador. This is about how to get around the countries.

By Air:

I flew into Quito, which has a pretty new airport. It was clean and easy to get around. Many of the signs were in both Spanish and English. We arrived just after midnight and the Customs line only took 10-15 minutes. Luckily the agent I dealt with spoke English. Once you get your passport stamped, the baggage claim is just steps ahead. I booked United, which put me on a Copa Airlines flight in and out of the United States. Please note Copa lost my travel mate’s luggage on the way there and mine on the way back. You may want to consider packing a change of clothes in your daypack if you fly with them.

If you aren’t renting a car, there are plenty of taxis at the airport, even overnight. We took an official yellow taxi that took 30-40 minutes to get into the center of the city and cost $27.  Ecuador uses the US dollar.

On the way out of the country we flew from Guayaquil’s airport, which is very close to the city. The airport was clean, modern, and easy to get around. It is also about a 10 minute walk to the bus terminal.

Also—flights in country tend to be VERY cheap. Our plans changed mid-trip and we ended up booking a flight from Quito to Guayaquil instead of taking the bus. It would have been eight hours to drive and was just 50 minutes to fly. I bought the plane tickets one day before our flight and they were $60 each including taxes.


We found it fairly easy to catch taxis in both the large and small cities. They are everywhere in Quito and Guayaquil. Within the city we found fares under $10. If you are going just a few miles expect to pay $2-4. Always ask how much it will cost before accepting the ride, which is “cuánto cuesta”. There are also gypsy cabs, where you can negotiate the fares. These can cost less money, but they can also cost more, so be careful.

In smaller cities like Tena and Papallacta you should be able to get a taxi for $1-3. If you don’t speak Spanish, expect the taxis to quote you a higher price. I was surprised there were so many driving around these smaller towns, but guess it is because most people don’t have cars. Also, the cab drivers don’t expect tips like they do in the US, so don’t feel obligated to fork up any extra cash.

Local Buses:

This is by far the cheapest way to get around. Most local buses are between $0.15-$0.25. If the stop is big enough, you will pay to get on the platform, otherwise, pay the attendant who sits in the front right of the bus, when you get on board.

In Qutio the buses are color coded. Local schedules are not usually posted and colors follow a general path, but tend to veer off it. Look in the front passenger window for the big stops along the way, otherwise, ask the attendant to make sure you have the right bus. There are no assigned seats.

I did not feel unsafe riding the buses, but advise travelers to hold their bags in their lap or turn backpacks around the front if standing.

Regional Buses:

I won’t lie–the bus stations are a bit overwhelming. In the large cities like Quito and Guayaquil there were hundreds of people inside. There are dozens of windows run by individual companies. Look overhead or in the glass for the routes. They generally list the last city and fairly large stops along the way, however, buses often make unscheduled stops for local passengers who ask. Once you are in line be prepared to stand your ground. People don’t like to wait and often cut. I found it difficult to book buses online and the schedules to be unreliable unless you are at the window. For this reason I booked most trips the same day I departed, but once or twice had to wait for a later bus because the earlier one was full. I would recommend buying a ticket at the station the day before you depart. I found most tickets to be $2 per hour you are on the bus.

Bus stops in smaller cities/towns were a bit easier to navigate because there are fewer windows, but the same rules apply.

If the station is big enough there is a slot/track number. This will be the parking spot where you will load the bus. The bus number will also be on the ticket and usually painted on the bottom corner of the front and side of the bus. There is a seat number on the tickets, but sometimes families will sit in seats that don’t belong to them so they can sit together. Try to figure out where their seats are supposed to be and move there.


I love to walk around cities because I think you get a better feel for the city. I felt incredibly safe in all of Ecuador, but was advised not to walk alone at night. There are no shortages of old buildings and cool restaurants to discover while taking the city by foot.


To be clear: I am not advising you hitchhike; I am only sharing our experience. There’s something about being in a foreign country and hopping in a car with strangers. We hitched a few short rides back and forth between beach towns. It appeared as if tourists and locals do this often. None of the drivers accepted any of our money, but we were sure to offer.

We also hitched a ride from the hot springs in Papallacta to Tena, which was about three hours. We had been waiting nearly two hours for a bus that never showed when a man in a fish delivery truck pulled over. Alejandro popped out to get lunch and then offered us a ride to Tena. We again offered to pay him, but he was just pleased to have the company. I don’t speak much Spanish, but my travel mate spoke enough that we were able to chat with him for most of the drive about his family, the weather, and the country. Alejandro ended up being one of the nicest people we met on our trip.


I was surprised how modern the city and its transportation are. Even though there aren’t many tour transportation companies, it was fairly simple and straight forward to book both local and regional travel. Keep in mind it is a small country, which makes it ideal for seeing a lot in a short amount of time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *