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Many people ask me the safest way to travel in Ecuador. First, it depends on what you mean by “safe.” Are you willing to travel at night? On a bus? Do you have the budget you need for renting a car or hiring a taxi?
Safety standards for public transportation are not what most people would expect if you grew up in the modern world. Nor are they greatly enforced. Public accommodations on buses are often crowded and uncomfortable. Consider these factors when choosing your means of transportation.
You’d like to visit several places, and do it cheaply, safely, and efficiently. Buses are a cheap way to get around, and one quick rule of thumb is that you’ll pay about a dollar for each hour of travel. So, for example, a bus from Quito to Esmeraldas is about a 6 hour trip, and the fare should be somewhere in the $6 range. And while buses do travel fast, they often stop frequently, making your trip longer than necessary at times. The one major caveat with buses is that there are several crashes, frequently with fatalities, each year in Ecuador. Night buses are even riskier than day buses, so consider your risk tolerance carefully. Buses are not well regulated for safety and speed limits are usually not enforced in Ecuador. Drivers’ sense of caution may seem to be non-existent. Whenever travelling by bus, keep your belongings at arms’ length-do not allow them to be placed in the storage areas under the bus. If you do, be sure to get off immediately at every stop to make sure they are not stolen. Preferably, keep your belongings with you and in your sight at all times.
Another way to travel, which is a bit more expensive but can result in a more stress-free, comfortable trip, with the opportunity to stop along the way where you’d like, say for a scenic photo, is to hire a cab and driver. You’ll pay anywhere from $60 to $90 a day. On top of that, you need to include meals for the driver, and if you’re taking him overnight, his accommodations. Of course, you don’t have to put him up in an expensive place if that’s where you’re staying. If you’re departing from Quito or Guayaquil, the best way to find a good driver is through your hotel or personal contacts.
Finally, there is car rental. Car rental is not cheap, but affords you the opportunity to go where you please whenever you like. Once outside Quito or Guayaquil, driving is not quite as harrying as in the city. Gas is cheap-currently premium fuel is about $2 a gallon, and regular around $1.40. For even cheaper fuel, rent a diesel if you can. Diesel is $1 a gallon. There are decent maps for Ecuador and the road system is fairly simple. If you speak basic Spanish, you can usually get directions at gas stations or restaurants along your route.
My tips for safe travel here cover the main forms of transportation available for long distances. I’ll discuss travel tips for when you’re in the city and out and about on foot in a later post. Check back soon for more useful information on living and travelling in Ecuador.