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Safety Advice For Ecuador Bus Travel

Updated on August 15, 2012

Ecuador Bus Journeys - only for the adventurous traveler?

Ecuador Bus trips can be a pretty terrifying experience. There is a distinct lack of trains in the country, and with the roads being quite hazardous and hire car prices actually quite steep for a relatively poor country, bus travel remains the main way of traveling around the country. The sad fact remains though that buses do have fatal collisions and come off mountain roads, so bus travel is not without it's problems and worries.

Tips to stay safe during an Ecuador bus journey:

  • Check the weather and don't travel if severe weather is expected
  • Don't rely on buses always arriving on time
  • Don't travel on overnight journeys if you can help it
  • Pay a little extra for the 'Executivo' bus if you can afford it
  • Sit in the back third of the bus, around the two thirds point.
  • Be careful with your possessions
  • Never put anything on the overhead rack
  • Sit where you can look out of the window at the hold where you bags are
  • Don't drink too much liquid
  • Use a money belt and watch your pockets
  • Keep your small bag wrapped around a leg
  • Don't drink too much liquid
  • Bring food and drink with you

An Ecuador bus crashes into a digger at 4000 metres in the Andes. Luckily nobody was hurt this time.

So what are the main problems with Ecuador bus travel?

Firstly there is the fact that it’s almost impossible to avoid Ecuador bus journeys. Ecuador is very mountainous in places, with the Andes mountain range stretching across the country. If you are staying in the capital, Quito, every journey you do by land will involve crossing mountains as Quito is the second highest capital city in the world - at 3000 meters. It's a typical thing to do when visiting Ecuador for any length of time to base yourself in Quito, then visit other places and return to base every few days, so bus journeys are almost impossible to avoid.

The Ecuadorian Bus Drivers drive dangerously.

To be fair, it’s not just the bus drivers who drive dangerously, but just about everyone. However, the bus drivers are renowned for being crazy, even amongst the Ecuadorians. And it seems that driving a bigger and potentially more dangerous vehicle, with passengers, does not seem to make much of a difference. They overtake on dangerous mountain roads – including blind corners. They driveway too fast for the type of road that they are on generally. Even in the nighttime, they drive at scarily high speeds on treacherous roads with sheer drops and poorly maintained roads.

If you can get over the fear, the scenery is awe inspiring

The mountain roads are poorly maintained

Over 4000 meters up in the Andes the road maintenance is even worse than the standard bad condition the roads are in across the country. It’s not unusual to be woken up in the night by the bus groaning, creaking and bouncing over piles of rocks, mud and holes in the ground. The weather is Ecuador can be fierce, so torrential rain, mudslides, landslides, and active volcanoes all contribute to some seriously damaged roads. It's not unusual if you are traveling at the wrong and in the wrong place for the Ecuador bus to be cut off from it’s destination.

Being blocked by other crashes

It’s not unusual for crashes to occur, as it is in any country really. So be prepared for crashes ahead of you on the road to block your route for some time. As with the above point, it’s a good idea to factor in some extra time to your journey. Do not rely on a 10 hour bus journey getting you to the airport with only 10 minutes to spare. Most journey are absolutely fine, just a bit scary, but it’s still a good idea to factor in extra time.

This particular crash took just an hour to clear. The wait can be much longer though.

Uncomfortable travel.

The Ecuadorians are generally quite short in stature, and the buses often seem to have been designed to this specification. If you a taller person, don’t expect much leg room on the buses – even the ones that claim to be more comfortable. They also have a habit of playing violent films extremely loudly. On one night bus journey I went on, it was only switched off at 1am. During the day, you can expect films on full blast throughout the whole journey. Don’t expect working toilets with running water as a given. Several journeys I went on involved no toilet facilities. And usually the toilet is reserved only for women. If you beg, they may stop for a man to get off and relieve himself.

How many stops on long Ecuador bus journeys? None!

Even on very long journeys of 10 hours plus, buses do not tend to stop to let you off for a break. So bring food and drink with you if you don’t want to buy it from the locals who often get on and off in passing towns to try to sell you their produce. It also may be wise not to drink too much liquid before going on a long journey in case you can't use the toilet.

Ecuadorians are very friendly generally, so if there is a road problem, everyone in the traffic jam will get out to see if they can help.

Risk of theft on an Ecuador bus

Unfortunately, Ecuador still has a very high level of theft and crime against tourists, despite some improvements in recent years. Tourists are generally seen as easy targets, especially backpackers. Some Ecuador buses have introduced methods of giving tickets for any luggage going into the hold, and the drivers are quite observant. But it’s still a good idea to sit in a seat overlooking the hold so you can keep an eye out when the bus stops. It’s a good idea to take any valuables with you inside the bus. Even then though, you need to be careful. Do not ever put anything on the overhead racks. Not a thing. I have seen even a jumper disappear form a virtually empty bus. It seems thieves will cleverly pretend to casually run their hands down the side rail as they walk off the bus, but actually pinch objects with their fingers and drag them all the way to a place where they can remove them without you seeing. So make sure you have a smaller bag, and keep a strap wrapped around your leg as thieves will reach under your seat to steal loose bags. Again, keep money and identification in a money belt around the waist.

They do say it's a case of 'when' not 'if' you will encounter an attempted or actual theft if you spend any time in Ecuador. So be aware at all times of your possessions.

Ecuador Poll

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What are the good points to traveling by Ecuador bus?

Well, it can be quite good fun on an Ecuador bus journey. You meet other travelers, as there is always a mix of locals and travelers. It’s a great way to see Ecuador ’s stunningly beautiful scenery. If you like whirling around hair-pin bends overlooking sheer drops, then you’ll be in for a treat. It’s a very cheap way to travel long distances. That’s about it!

The view to the side of where this crash occurred - typical of the stunning Andes scenery that makes the bus journeys worth it

Be careful as you go

So by all means use the Ecuador buses – most journeys are without incident. But be warned, when incidents occur, they can be very bad. I've heard it said by the locals that many, many buses come off mountainsides, incurring large numbers of fatalities over the years. You are taking a risk traveling by bus in Ecuador, but then again, it is an unusual travel destination, so the bus journeys truly mirror the lust for adventure that brings most people to Ecuador. And many countries have an equally bad record when it comes to Bus travel, so it is not unusual to Ecuador.

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    • JenPaxton profile image

      Jen Paxton 4 years ago from Missouri

      Luckily when I was there, no crashes, but it was still a bit harrowing. Glad you survived! Voted up :)

    • Ethan Green profile image
      Author

      Ethan Green 4 years ago from England

      Thanks for the vote Jen. Glad you survived too! Harrowing is definitely a good word to describe the bus journeys...

      Ethan

    • dksuttle profile image

      Donna Suttle 4 years ago from Ecuador, New Mexico, South Carolina

      Nice honest article. We live in San Clemente and love our life here. Ecuador is an adventure in itself.

    • Ethan Green profile image
      Author

      Ethan Green 4 years ago from England

      Thanks dksuttle. Ah, it truly is an adventure. Enjoy!

      Ethan

    • Beth Bennett profile image

      Beth Bennett 2 years ago from Vancouver, British Columbia

      We didn't find that the travel on buses was bad at all. In fact, it was very comfortable, but we did get robbed in Quitumbe right in the terminal so be cautious of the guys who sit at the back of the bus and pretend they work for the bus lines, showing you where to put your luggage. We ended up getting everything recovered, thanks to the awesome police and terminal security, but it cost us a day of travel.

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