Intercity buses go almost everywhere in Ecuador. Many cities have a central bus station, called the Terminal Terrestre, where you can buy tickets for the different bus routes that serve the city. Long-distance buses generally cost between $1 and $2 an hour, depending on the distance and type of service; groups can negotiate discounts. Buses run frequently on the main roads.
Reservations or advance bookings are not usually necessary, except during peak periods such as public holidays. Bus toilets, if available, are normally reserved for women. However, men are allowed to ask for the bus to stop so they can relieve themselves. The bus journeys themselves are often very beautiful, with views of the mountains in the clouds. These changes in altitude cause the same problems with ear pressure that occur on air travel.
The bus driver will stop en route to allow other passengers to board. Many buses arrive at their destination with passengers standing in the aisle. There are some first class buses, called “Ejecutivo”, which cost a little more than ordinary buses. They are generally more comfortable and safer.
It is possible to rent a car in major cities such as Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, where car rental agencies are usually located outside airports. Ecuadorian roads are always well maintained in the cities, but poorly maintained in the countryside.
However, there are few laws for drivers in Ecuador and they are rarely (if ever) enforced. If you choose to drive, you take your life into your own hands. If you only drive in cities like Guayaquil or Quito, it may be a little safer, but driving in the countryside would be crazy.
In addition, Ecuadorian roads are rarely maintained (especially along the coast). Potholes are common and it is very likely that one or two tyres will burst if you hit one.
Taxis are widely available. Taxis are usually yellow with the taxi licence number prominently displayed. Taxis in Quito are metered (fares under $1 are rounded up to the minimum fare of $1). Agree a fare before you get in, or ask the driver to use the meter (which is often cheaper than a negotiated fare); short journeys usually cost no more than $1 or $2, and for longer journeys you should usually pay no more than $10 an hour, or more. In the evening, fares are often twice as high. As in any country in Latin America (or the world), you should not get into a taxi without a licence. It’s a good way to get hijacked.
Domestic flights to major cities on the continent cost between US$50 and US$100 one way, and there are sometimes special return flights at about the same price. Flights between the larger cities are operated by jets, while some of the smaller cities are served by propeller planes. The national airlines in Ecuador are Lan Ecuador, Tame, AviancaEcuador (formerly Aerogal and VIP) and Saereo. Most airlines in Ecuador offer excellent service and relatively new aircraft. You can buy domestic tickets from agents or directly from the airlines – some sell tickets online and you can buy them at the airport or at ticket offices for those that don’t.
Hitchhiking is possible in Ecuador. Many people drive pick-up trucks in which you can simply throw your backpack in when they take you away.
On roads with little bus traffic, trucks may pick up passengers or hitchhikers who ride either in the back or in the cab. In some cases the driver charges the usual bus fare, in other cases he simply takes a passenger for the company and refuses to pay the fare.