One of the most economic and interesting ways of exploring Ecuador is by using buses and coaches to travel between the towns and cities of the country, while the two largest cities also have their own bus networks for getting around. However, like most countries in South America there tend to be many different bus companies operating these services, and without one official directory of all the routes it can be a challenge to plan your trip in advance.
While most towns will have bus services linking them and the major cities of Guayaquil and Quito, navigating routes away from the traditional tourist trail can require a little patience and flexibility in terms of the route and the time a journey may take.
The Different Classes Of Bus Services
The buses in Ecuador can vary in terms of the comfort and the facilities that are available on board, with the longer inter-city routes generally served by the best coaches. These are generally referred to as either ejecutivo or autobus de lujo, and are usually equipped with facilities like a toilet and air conditioning. The standard buses tend to be cheaper in terms of the cost of the ticket, but are usually slower with more stops, and these will also allow people to stand in the aisles during the journey. For those traveling into the more rural and remote parts of the country, there are also smaller, informal bus services which will make use of any vehicles available.
Long Distance Bus Routes
There are plenty of bus companies that offer long distance bus routes throughout Ecuador, and for those who do speak some Spanish then they should be able to find the routes that they want fairly easily. Most towns and cities will have one main bus terminal that is known as the 'Terminal Terrestre,' while in Quito there is the 'Terminal Quitumbe' for most routes heading south of the city, while the 'Terminal Carcelen' in the north of the city serves routes to Carchi and Imbabura.
In Quito and some other cities in Ecuador, the larger bus companies such as TransEsmereldas and Flota Imbabura operate their own bus stations apart from the main 'Terminal Terrestre.' One useful tool for those looking to plan their route is this website, which covers schedules for many companies operating in Ecuador.
While there are no direct bus services that take people across the border to Colombia, there are bus stations on both sides of the border. For those traveling to Peru, there are services offered by CIFA and Transportes Loja, where you will disembark the bus on the Ecuador side of the border, go through the border crossing on foot, and then rejoin the bus on the other side.
Local Buses In Ecuador
If you are planning to take a slower route through some of the more remote areas of Ecuador, or are heading off the normal tourist trail, there are plenty of smaller local buses available, but most people will need to speak some Spanish in order to find out the routes and navigate them correctly. While routes between smaller towns may have standard buses on the route, villages and rural areas can be served by minibuses, trucks, and pickups that have been converted with wooden benches to carry passengers.
These won't be the safest methods of transport, but at least have the benefit of being a cheap way to get around. Those heading up into the Andes will also encounter Chiva Buses, which are old style American school buses with a roof rack.
City Bus Networks In Quito And Guayaquil
Both Quito and Guayaquil have their own city wide bus systems, that offer cheap and easy ways to explore the attractions of each city. In Quito, there are three bus routes known as El Trole, Metrobus and Ecovia, but can be conveniently identified by the bus stop colors of Green, Blue, and Red respectively, with the Ecovia red route serving the historic district of the city. In Guayaquil, the bus system is known as the Metrovia and has two routes running from north to south and east to west across the city.