Ecuador – Travel Tips

Etiquette

Ecuadorians are generally laid-back and take the quirks of foreigners in stride, but there are a few niceties worth noting.

  • Greetings Greeting those you pass on the street with a ‘Buenos días’(or ‘buenas tardes’ or ‘buenas noches,’ as the time of day warrants) is considered a basic courtesy. The same goes for beginning any conversation with a greeting and some small talk before getting down to business.
  • Dining When passing other diners, Ecuadorians will wish them ‘Buen provecho’ (bon appetit) – also offered around the table to dining companions, of course.
  • Queueing In business establishments, queuing is expected, but in more far-flung locales, taxi lines, bus stations and markets can be more of a (generally courteous) free-for-all.

Getting Around

Air

With the exception of flying to the Galápagos Islands, internal flights are generally fairly cheap, rarely exceeding $125 for a one-way ticket. All mainland flights are under an hour and often provide you with incredible views over the Andes.

Flights to most destinations originate in Quito or Guayaquil only.

Bicycle

Cycling in the Andes is strenuous, not only because of hill climbs but because of the altitudes. Road rules are few, and there are not many bike lanes around the country. But, after major investments in infrastructure, the roads are in good shape in Ecuador, and many larger cities have signed ciclovias (bike paths), some of which are closed to vehicle traffic on Sundays, notably in Quito.

Bike shops are scarce outside of Quito, and those that do exist usually have a very limited selection of parts. Bring all important spare parts and tools from home. The country’s best mountain-bike tour operators are in Quito and Riobamba.

Bus

Buses are the primary means of transport for most Ecuadorians, guaranteed to go just about anywhere. They can be exciting, cramped, comfy, smelly, fun, scary, sociable and grueling, depending on your state of mind, where you’re going and who’s driving.

There have also been some tragic bus accidents in recent years. Most buses lack seat belts, but if you’re on one that has them, do use them.

Most major cities have a main terminal terrestre (bus terminal), although some towns have a host of private terminals – and you’ll have to go to the right one to catch the bus going where you need to go. Most stations are within walking distance or a short cab ride of the town’s center. Smaller towns are occasionally served by passing buses, in which case you have to walk from the highway into town, usually only a short walk since only the smallest towns lack terminals.

Car & Motorcycle

Driving a car or motorcycle in Ecuador presents its challenges, with potholes, blind turns, and insanely fast bus and truck drivers. The good news is that infrastructure has dramatically improved, with new roads and bridges, and better road signage, making road travel much smoother. Speed bumps (‘sleeping policemen’ to Ecuadorians) are sometimes painted, but often, invisible.

Driver’s License

You are required to have a driver’s license from your home country and a passport whenever you’re driving. The international driver’s license can also come in handy when renting a car (though it’s not officially required).

Train

Much to the delight of train enthusiasts, Ecuador’s rail system has finally been restored. Unfortunately, it’s not useful for travel, as the routes are used for day trips designed exclusively for tourists. The trains run along short routes, typically on weekends, sometimes with return service by bus. The most famous line is the dramatic descent from Alausí along La Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose), a spectacular section of train track that was one of the world’s greatest feats of railroad engineering. The second is the weekend train excursion between Quito and the Area Nacional de Recreación El Boliche, near Cotopaxi.