January 30, 2013

What to Expect When Taking Tour National Bus in Ecuador: Cuenca to Quito

The transportation system in Ecuador is quite efficient and organized.  You have to experience taking a tour/national bus at least once to see what its like. There are many short 1 and 2 hour bus trips one can take to get a feel for bus travel. This article is about taking the bus from Cuenca to Quito but it applies to any destination in Ecuador.

From Terminal Terrestre in Cuenca you grab one of the two bus lines that run from Cuenca to Quito. There are guys in the terminal yelling out different cities in Ecuador. Listen for them to call out “Quito” and they’ll show you where you can buy your ticket(s). It’s around $10 per person to travel to Quito by bus. The trip is about 9 to 10 hours...very long.

Update 2016: The price is almost $12 dollars now, still a good fare. 

Your tickets will show your assigned seat numbers. If you buy your ticket early enough, you can even ask for preferred seats on the bus, such as front row, window, etc. Your ticket will also have the number of the bus that you will need to get on. You will need to know this because once you go to the platform where all the buses are you’ll see about 25 buses all lined up waiting to load passengers for their destinations.

Update March 2016: We tried to buy are tickets from Cuenca to Quito in advance (the night before) and they do not do it anymore, unfortunately. They now say, "Just show up and buy your ticket(s). 

You will notice that in front of the buses there will be poles with a round sign that shows numbers (not the city names) to each destination city in Ecuador. However, we always ask where the bus is going, before getting on the bus just to make sure it is actually going to the city we want to go to…you never know…this is Ecuador and things can be miss communicated and misinterpreted easily here. On the front bumper of some buses it says a certain city but doesn’t even go to that city…so you can’t go by that either.

Hang on to your ticket because you will have to show it/give it to the bus attendant later on in your travels.

From Cuenca the bus goes directly to Quito. During the trip the bus stops in Azogues to pick up passengers and also at about two more small pit stops for bathroom breaks…maybe…it depends on the driver.

Update March 2016: Our sons just took a bus from Cuenca to Quito and they said the bus did not even stop for a bathroom break for the whole trip!!  Good thing they didn't drink any water, the toilet on the bus can be disgusting! Just giving you a heads up. 
 
If it is close to almuerzo hour the bus driver may get off and go eat lunch. This may take about 15 to 20 minutes and if you get off the bus during this time, stay aware of the bus at all times or they will take off without you.  One of the travelers on the bus to Quito almost missed the bus at one of the few stopping points the driver stops at. He had to scream and run after the bus! It was a close call.

Comfort

*The buses are fairly comfortable. We’ve taken the bus to the beaches several times and to Quito twice now and know pretty much what to expect. If there is anything to complain about it would be the lack of leg room; for tall people it can be uncomfortable.  Some of the buses have more leg room then others. The problem is you never know which buses those are. 

The seats do recline but on some of the buses if the person in front of you is reclined you might not have leg room for yourself like on one of our bus trips from Guayquil to Cuenca.
Bus from Guayquil to Cuenca - Tight fit
There is a restroom on the bus for urinating only.  You may or may not have to ask for the key.  Try the door first, if it's locked get the key from the attendant. On the restroom door it may say in Spanish “for ladies only” but they will allow men to use the restroom too...not sure why the sign is there but this is Ecuador. FYI: We’ve heard horror stories of people going number two in the restrooms and it was a dreadful trip for them.  We have not experienced this ourselves and we’ve taken a lot of tour buses throughout Ecuador...so hopfully you won't have to experience it either.

The bus plays Hollywood movies in Spanish (Seldom with English subtitles) for the whole trip. You might be able to hear it, or you might not, depends on how good the bus speaker system is. Sit back and enjoy the ride.It's a long trip to Quito.

If you are going to the beaches rather than Quito you'll notice that the closer you get to Guayaquil the warmer it will get and they turn the AC on and it can get a bit chilly on the bus; you might want to bring a light sweater.

Safety

We recommend NEVER place your backpack or other carry-on luggage on the top compartments of the bus or they may get stolen. We do put our food bag up there, however. We always put our backpacks next to our feet, but you still need to be careful and keep an eye on it. We’ve heard that you can get your pack stolen from the seat behind you. They simply grab for it from under your seat.

Suitcases and bigger luggage always goes under the bus. Before you get on the bus the man will give you a ticket with a number and will strap the number on your luggage. When you get off hand the man your number and he’ll give you your suitcase.

Arriving in Quito the bus takes you to the south-end terminal terrestre. Outside of the bus station there are numerous taxis waiting to pick up a fair.  Grab a cab and tell the driver where you need to go and you’re all set.

Depending on the taxi driver it will cost anywhere between $8 and $15.  Going to Colonial Quito it may cost around $8 or so. If you’re going to La Mariscal district it will cost you about $10 or so and if you are going to Quicentro, which is very northern part of Quito it can cost up to $15.  Quito is a very big city and it can take over an hour to get to La Mariscal if there is heavy traffic. 

March 2016 update: Our sons just took a taxi from this terminal to old town Quito for $8 so the price has not changed!! Don't let them gringo you! LOL...seriously. Paying higher taxi fares is what pushes fares up too fast! 

For the adventurous and budget traveler (If you’re going to La Mariscal) you can grab a trolley bus for .25 cents to Ejido Park and then grab a taxi from the park to your hostel or hotel for about $1.50.  If you’re going to be staying somewhere in Quicentro, take the trolley to Carolina Park and then take a taxi to your hotel. Taking the trolley is much cheaper and far more adventurous than grabbing a cab. Not recommended at night, especially for solo travelers.

Do’s and Don’ts for Bus Travel in Ecuador

1) Don’t drink too many liquids on the morning you leave
2) Don’t put valuables in the above compartments
3) Don’t leave your things unattended ever
4) Do bring snacks for those longer bus rides (more than 4 hours)
5) Do bring magazine, crosswords, books, etc for longer bus trips
6) Do bring your carry-ons with you if getting off the bus at pit stops. Don't leave your things on the bus or you will not see them again!
7) Don’t leave your things unattended ever (did we say that already? LOL)
9) Do bring your own toilet paper
10) Bring reading material, music (mp3), etc for longer bus trips

11) NEVER take the national bus at night or if the trip is going to be during the night. That means take the 6am bus if going to Quito and if going the Cuenca-Guayaquil route, take bus no later than 3:00pm. There have been a rash of violent robberies in Ecuador buses, been going on for years but it seems to be getting more prevalent.
   
Traveling by bus is not for everyone. few people get motion sickness (the further back you are seated the more dizzy you will get) and on the way to Quito there are many turns and bends. Traveling to Quito is a long 9 hour ride and for certain people it may prove to be a difficult and uncomfortable ride. 

Traveling to Salinas is a bit shorter bus ride, about 5 to 6 hours from Cuenca. You can travel by bus, van or plane from Cuenca to most major cities throughout Ecuador.  Stay tuned for our up and coming post on how to get special airfares on flights throughout Ecuador.

8 comments:

  1. I have taken the bus from Cuenca and have to say that this is a very well written and accurate article. I wish I had read it before traveling!!!

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  2. Thanks for this article - was thinking about catching a bus up to Quito, but now not so sure as it would be to get to the airport there. I assume the scenery would be pretty good too, but not sure I am up for another long windy trip just yet - getting to Cuenca is enough :)

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    1. You are welcome. Sometimes you can get some great flight deals from Cuenca to Quito.

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  3. We could a bus from Quito to Cuenca and the brakes weren't working properly so we had to wait two to three hours. It was a night bus so we left Quito at 10pm and arrived at about 10am. It was a long trip! We flew back. The bus is cheap and leaves you more central than flying into the airport in Quito so it can be worth catching the bus.

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  4. I'm used to the long-distance buses in Peru but I don't know what to expect in Ecuador. Do the seats recline on this bus? What about windows - do they open? Do they have different 'classes' you can choose from? On the long routes, do you get fed?

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    1. Yes, the seats recline. Yes, the windows open. different classes? All the buses companies are pretty much the same. We've taken the executive and there is no noticeable difference except for price. Have you ever gone to a $3.50 or $4 "executive" almuerzo in Cuenca? Not much difference, just the price. Don't know what you mean do you get fed? The bus makes some short stops and Ecuadorians board the bus with deep fried foods, like plantains, potatoes and corn cakes. The bus driver stops for almuerzo for himself and at that time you can get off the bus and get something to eat. But be careful, the driver does not wait for people who are late getting on the bus.

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