One of the most economic and interesting ways to explore Ecuador is to use buses and coaches to travel between or within the towns and cities of the country. However, it can be a challenge to plan your trip in advance as, like most countries in South America, there tend to be many different bus companies operating these services. Most towns will have bus services linking them to the major cities of Guayaquil and Quito; navigating routes away from the traditional tourist trail can require a little patience and flexibility regarding time and directness -- or lack thereof -- of your route.
Different Classes of Bus Services
The buses in Ecuador vary in terms of comfort and facilities, with the longer inter-city routes typically served by the best coaches. These are generally referred to as either ejecutivo or autobus de lujo and are often equipped with toilets and air conditioning. The standard buses tend to have cheaper tickets, but they are usually slower with more stops and 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 smaller, informal bus services that 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 those who speak some Spanish should be able to find the routes 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 and the "Terminal Carcelen" serving routes to Carchi and Imbabura north of the city. 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."
There are no direct bus services that take people across the border to Colombia, but there are bus stations on both sides of the border.
For those traveling to Peru, services are offered by CIFA and Transportes Loja, where you will disembark on the Ecuador side of the border, go through the border crossing on foot, then rejoin the bus on the other side.
If you are planning to take a slower route through the more remote areas of Ecuador, or are otherwise heading off the normal tourist trail, there are plenty of small, local buses available, but most people will need to speak some Spanish in order to discover the routes and navigate them correctly. Routes between smaller towns may have standard buses on the route; however, villages and rural areas might be served only by minibusses, 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 they have the benefit of being cheap. Those heading up into the Andes will also encounter Chiva Buses, 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 attractions. In Quito, there are three bus routes known as El Trole, Metrobus, and Ecovia. They 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. It has two routes running from north to south and east to west across the city.