Buses in Ecuador
In certain towns, especially in rural areas where there are many dirt roads, pickup trucks act as taxis. If you need to get to a national park, a climbers’ refuge or a trailhead from a town, often the best way to do so is by hiring a pickup, which is usually as easy as asking around.
Local buses are usually slow and crowded, but they are also very cheap. You can get around most towns for $0.25. Local buses often travel to nearby villages, and riding along is a good, inexpensive way to see the area.
Outside of Quito, the concept of a fixed bus stop is pretty much nonexistent. Buses stop (or at least come to a slow roll) when people flag them down. When you want to get off a local bus, yell ‘¡Baja!, ’ which means ‘Down!’ (as in ‘the passenger is getting down’). Another favorite way of getting the driver to stop is by yelling ‘¡Gracias!’ (‘Thank you!’), which is unmistakably polite.
Ecuadorian taxis come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they are all yellow. Most taxis have a lit ‘taxi’ sign on top or a ‘taxi’ sticker on the windshield.
Always ask the fare beforehand, or you may be overcharged. Meters are rarely seen, except in Quito and Guayaquil. A long ride in either of these cities should rarely go over $5 (unless traveling to Quito's bus terminals, which are quite distant from the center). The minimum fare nearly everywhere is $1, and you’ll be required to pay $1 in Quito even if the meter only says $0.80. On weekends and at night, fares are always about 25% to 50% higher.
You can hire a taxi for a day for about $40 to $60. Hiring a taxi for a few days is comparable to renting a car, except that you don’t have to drive. But you will have to pay for the driver’s food and room. Some tour companies in Quito rent 4WD vehicles with experienced drivers.
In less urban areas, you’re also likely to see ecotaxis (a three-wheeled bicycle with a small covered carriage in back that fits two people) as well as taxis ecológicos (motorcycle taxis with a two-seater carriage in back).
Hitchhiking is never entirely safe in any country, and we don’t recommend it. Travelers who decide to hitchhike should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. People who do choose to hitchhike will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go.
Hitching is not very practical in Ecuador for three reasons: there are few private cars, public transportation is relatively cheap and trucks are used as public transportation in remote areas, so trying to hitch a free ride on one is the same as trying to hitch a free ride on a bus. Many drivers of any vehicle will pick you up, but will also expect payment, usually minimal.
Truck (Ranchera & Chiva)
In remote areas, trucks often double as buses. Sometimes these are large, flatbed trucks with a tin roof, open wooden sides and uncomfortable wooden-plank seats. These curious-looking ‘buses’ are called rancheras or chivas, and are seen on the coast and in the Oriente.
In the remote parts of the highlands, camionetas (ordinary trucks or pickups) are used to carry passengers; you just climb in the back. If the weather is good, you get fabulous views and the refreshing sensation of Andean wind in your face. If the weather is bad, you hunker down beneath a tarpaulin with the other passengers.