Driving Yourself In Ecuador
Mount Chimborazo... on the road near Guaranda
I recently enjoyed a 14 day, 1200 mile tour of Ecuador in a Hertz rental car. I was able to make all my arrangements via the Hertz Website and the car was ready and the price as quoted (actually $50 per week less) The daily insurance costs were added on to the quoted price, which I expected.
My choice was a 5 speed Chevrolet Aveo, which was adequate for 4 passengers and luggage. The price worked out to $350(USD) and 1050 kilometers per week, which proved to be just enough for the 2 week rental. So how did we make out.....
Driving in any foreign country especially if the language is unfamiliar can be stressful and rather frightening. Directional signs are often missing or hard to see. So expect to take a few wrong turns, but friendly Ecuadorians are happy to point out the right way to go. When there are signs, they are of course in Spanish but the shapes and colors are what we find in the USA.
I was also taking a leap of faith that my small, low to the ground sedan would be able to navigate all the routes we would travel. Only 10 years ago, many roads in Ecuador were still gravel and paved roads were often a mine field of crater-like pot holes. But much to my surprise the roads are now quite good, except for the few areas under construction.
My biggest pet peeve are the speed bumps placed in almost every town. The issue here is not that I wanted to speed through these areas. It's just that we nearly broke our necks a few times when I failed to see the signs for a few of these. The other problem was that when crossing these "small mountains" we bottomed out a few times, but incurred no damage to the car.
Over all, the roads were very well designed with pavement lines, good signage and guard rails on the majority of the routes we took.
Driving at night is not recommended in Ecuador, as fog is quite common, along with an occasional cow or horse on the road...hard to see at night! There have been some reports of criminal activity, such as hold ups, so this would be another reason avoid lonely stretches of road at night. But this is not something I worried much about...only about as much as getting stuck by lightening. This was because, based on info from locals, I was assured that this is a rare occurrence.
The final issue is that Ecuadorians drive like there is going to be no tomorrow or like God has their destiny mapped out, so they might as well go for the gusto and drive like maniacs. This must be part of that inherent "macho" thing so prevalent in Latin America. Diving at break neck speeds is common but since the roads are mostly very curvy and mountainous the top speed is much slower than going work on the interstate system in the US.
Double yellow lines seem to have no meaning, as many will attempt to pass an 18 wheeler on a blind mountain curve. But they are also aware that most roads are at least 3 car widths wide so as long as someone moves over they will make it alive. I just learned to drive with higher sense of cautiousness and at the end of 2 weeks really felt very comfortable with the local's driving habits.
One good thing about Ecuadorians is that there is a whole lot more tolerance for a slower, scared driver than say New York City where all kinds of fist waving and finger gestures would occur. So taking it easy if lost or confused was not intimidating at all.
So although a bit more stressful than taking a bus it was definitely worth it. Gas as of Dec-8-2011 was $1.45 per gallon for regular unleaded, so it was only $14.00 for a fill up. Diesel fuel was only $1.00! And the freedom to stop and take a photo or go off the beaten path to explore a bit was worth every bit of the extra suspense of driving the Andes and Amazon basin of Ecuador in my own vehicle!