Bus travel in Ecuador is the most common form of transportation, both within and between cities. It’s also the most affordable travel option in Ecuador.
In this article, we’ll share the various types of buses to choose from, as well as travel time and costs. We’ll also share information about two of the bus terminals in Ecuador, and cover some of the safety concerns riders may have.
Types of Buses in Ecuador
There are several different types of buses in Ecuador that range in cost based on distance traveled, number of stops, rider capacity and other amenities.
Public City Buses in Ecuador
All of the major cities and even some more populated rural areas have public bus systems that are very affordable. Expect to pay 25 to 50 cents (Ecuador is on the US Dollar) for short rides inside cities, or between small towns that are near to each other.
Interprovincial Buses in Ecuador
For longer distance trips between cities, interprovincial buses are your most affordable option. However, these buses stop, A LOT!
In addition to stopping at bus stations in cities and towns, they also stop to let passengers on and off at country bus stops or even personal driveways. If you’re walking down the road in the middle of nowhere, you can flag a bus down and they’ll stop to pick you up. That means interprovincial buses take longer than all the other transportation options in Ecuador.
You can expect to pay roughly $1 per hour of travel so a trip from Guayaquil to Salinas will cost about $3 per ticket.
Average Interprovincial Bus Travel Times in Ecuador:
- Quito to Guayaquil – 8 hours
- Quito to Manta – 8 hours
- Quito to Cuenca – 9 hours
- Guayaquil to Salinas – 3 hours
- Guayaquil to Manta – 4 hours
- Guayaquil to Cuenca – 4 hours
- Guayaquil to Loja – 8 hours
Interprovincial Express Buses in Ecuador
If you prefer not to stop every 10 feet to pick up random passengers on the road, you may prefer an interprovincial express bus such as the COOP Libertad Peninsular (CLP) Bus that runs between Guayaquil and Montañita/Olón, as well as Guayaquil and Salinas.
This is the tiny bus station in Olón Ecuador where the CLP bus to Guayaquil leaves. It also stops in Montañita, which is only about 10 minutes from Olón on the way to Guayaquil. The cost was $7 per person one-way before the pandemic, which is about double the cost of the regular interprovincial buses.
The bus was large and very nice. It had a smooth ride and comfortable seats.
There are several express bus companies that operate throughout Ecuador similar to this one. And some are luxury overnight buses with sleeper seats!
Busetas and Vans
Operazuaytur: Cuenca – Guayaquil
Operazuaytur runs between Guayaquil and Cuenca and takes between 3 and 4 hours depending on the driver and traffic. Prior to the pandemic, the busetas left every hour from 3AM to 10PM and the tickets were $12 each.
Elite Tours: Cuenca – Loja
Elite Tours in Loja has full size minivans that are similar to the red one in this photo, which seat about 7 passengers. On our last trip from Loja to Cuenca in July 2019, the tickets were $12 each.
There are several other buseta companies that operate between the major cities in Ecuador and most have similar prices per ticket.
Hop-on/Hop-off Buses in Ecuador
Each of these companies offer a variety of different route options that stop in popular places and allow you to spend additional time in each location.
The main Ecuador Loop with Wanderbus takes a minimum of 11 days and costs $479/ticket (as of March 2021). However, they have shorter routes based out of Quito that range in price from $89 to $369 per ticket.
Ecuador Hop has a round trip experience from Quito to Montañita that goes through Cuenca and Guayaquil for $199 per ticket, as well as several other route options.
We’ve heard great things about both of these companies and the best part is that if you really like one of the stops, you can stay longer to fully enjoy it.
Ecuador Bus Terminals
Since Ecuador runs on bus transportation, the bus terminals in Ecuador tend to be large and very busy. Terminals in the larger cities like Quito and Guayaquil are also very nice with a variety of shops and restaurants similar to an airport in the US.
Guayaquil Bus Terminal
This is the Terminal Terrestre de Guayaquil (the Guayaquil Bus Terminal), which is located just north of the airport.
As the crow flies, it would be about a 5 minute walk from the bus terminal to the airport terminal. However, it would probably take about 20 minutes to walk several blocks out of the way across busy intersections, so cab drivers make a lot of money charging $5 to drive people the relatively short distance between the airport and the bus terminal.
We were VERY impressed with the Guayaquil bus terminal! It was basically a giant shopping mall packed with people coming and going. The restrooms were big, super clean and energy efficient.
As usual, the men’s restroom was very quick (pre-pandemic). It had lots of urinals so I was in and out of there in under 3 minutes. The women’s restroom was a different story. Amelia said it was packed and chaotic, so she opted to wait until we got to the Operazuaytur buseta terminal a short cab ride away.
The taxis are located just outside the north entrance/exit on the main floor of the Guayaquil bus terminal. Our diver saw that I was filming and gave us a pose, making his fellow drivers behind him laugh.
Cuenca Bus Terminal
One of the few times I’ve taken a public bus in Ecuador was out of Terminal Terrestre de Cuenca near the Cuenca airport. From there, we took two buses to get to the base of Cojitambo where some friends went rock climbing.
I was surprised to learn that it costs 10 cents to enter the area where the buses are located. This was in addition to the cost of the bus ticket, which was $2 total for the two bus rides from Cuenca to Azogues and Azogues to the base of Cojitambo.
Bus Safety in Ecuador
Bus accidents do happen in Ecuador. They are typically caused by driver error combined with winding mountain roads and demanding bus schedules.
Several bus accidents have occured since we have lived in Ecuador, and several people were killed in each one. Most bus accidents occur at night so it’s much safer, although more crowded, to travel during the day.
There have also been a few bus robberies since we have lived in Ecuador. For this type of attack, several criminals purchase tickets as normal passengers, while one of their accomplices waits along some isolated stretch of road.
When the bus comes along, the accomplice waves it down like any normal passenger and when the bus stops to pick him up, he pulls out a knife or gun or other weapon. That’s when the whole gang springs into action and demands everyone hand over their phones, wallets, purses and bags. Then they escape into the jungle never to be seen again.
These types of incidents may seem scary, but the most likely negative event you will face on a bus in Ecuador is petty theft or pickpocketing. In fact, we were pickpocketed on a 5 minute bus ride between Olón and Montañita and lost an old iPhone.
In crowded buses, keep your belongs securely in your hands or arms. Don’t accept help from anyone if they offer to put your bag in the overhead bin. In fact, hold onto your bag the entire time. Don’t put it in the bin or on the floor in front of you. We know several people who had their bag cut open and the contents removed while they thought it was safely secured between their feet.
Should You Take a Bus in Ecuador?
We have taken several different types of buses in Ecuador with just the one pickpocketing experience. The buses are typically clean, safe and affordable, but they are a slow form of transportation and often not very comfortable.
Overcrowding is also a downside, especially with the city and interprovincial buses. During the pandemic, this increases your risk of contracting covid or any other illness that your fellow passengers are likely to share.
For these reasons, we usually opt to hire a private driver to increase our comfort level and reduce our risk of theft and exposure to contagious illnesses. However, private drivers are far more expensive, costing $10 to $15 per hour, which typically includes the round trip time. That means a 2.5 hour trip from Olón to Manta, or Olón to Guayaquil, costs about $80.
If you’re on a tight budget and time is less important to you, buses are an affordable option, abundant and popular in Ecuador. Most Ecuadorians and expats take the bus often or at least occasionally without incidents. If you pay attention to your surroundings and travel during the day, you’ll minimize your risks and likely have a positive experience.
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