Ecuador Road Trip
What you should know...

Taking an Ecuador road trip can be exciting, stressful, tiring, and fun! We've made several long trips around Ecuador and have learned a few things about making the trip a success.

Cuenca EcuadorThe narrow, one way streets of downtown Cuenca

Plan Ahead

Before leaving on your trip try to plan the best you can. It might not be easy, since you never know what you might come across. For example, your guide book or map may give you an approximate distance between two places, but getting lost, searching for food and other unexpected things may make the trip much longer than you thought. 

I suggest having two destinations per day planned. If you reach the first with plenty of time to spare, head on to the second. If not, stay at the first destination because there may be little or few options between the two if you are forced to stop.

Also plan out hotel options ahead of time. Again having a few options in mind is a good idea. Hotels can often fill up, especially on the weekends or during holidays.

Do You Know the Difference?

Motel - Hotel - Hostal - Hosteria ??? How to choose?

Motel: Not the place for families. These are by-the-hour places frequented by lovers or prostitutes. Some called "auto motels" come with garages that close behind cars pulling in so that passersby can't see who is up to no good.

Hotel: Tend to be large buildings with tons of rooms. To me most hotels are sterile, boring and overpriced. That's not ALWAYS true, but kind of typical.

Hostal: The word hostal evokes different ideas, but often people think cheap and simple. Though often true, hostal really has to do with the number of rooms a lodging option has...making a hostal just a small hotel. You can find tons of great hostals in Ecuador.

Posadas: Similar to a hostal. Tend to cost a bit more, but still has the same personality of a hostal without the party atmosphere that accompanies some hostals.

Hosterias: These are usually large complexes with gardens, swimming pools, spas and other amenities. Some have cute little cabins instead of rows of rooms. Prices tend to be the highest of all lodging options, but you can find some great deals as you travel.

Getting Lost

When driving yourself on an Ecuador road trip the likelihood of getting lost is pretty high. This is mostly due to bad signage along the road. This lack of signs is getting better all the time, but it's almost inevitable that you will come to a point where you just don't know where to go.

What to do? Ask! Ask as many people as you can. My dad likes to "take a survey." We've found that you often get completely different directions, so the more people you ask the more likely you'll be heading in the right direction.

People will smile politely...and you KNOW they are thinking, "Crazy Gringos!" But it's better to be on the right road than driving in circles for hours.

In the Car

While in the car you will want a few things:

  • Snacks. Sometimes finding a place to eat can be challenging. Unless you been to the area before, finding a good place quickly can be hard. So having some snacks on hand can keep you going until you find somewhere to eat.
  • Toilet paper and soap. Although decent bathrooms are more and more common (almost all gas stations have public bathrooms), not all are fully stocked. Keep tp and soap in the car just in case.
  • Maps - plural. If possible, get a map for all the large cities you will be traveling through, especially Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil. Guide books -like Lonely Planet- have pretty good small maps of city centers which are usually sufficient in small towns and cities. But for driving in the big cities you will want detailed maps  of the entire area (if possible showing the direction of the one way streets). I-Tur offices, located throughout Ecuador, should be able to get you a map or at least point you to a place that has one.
  • Your camera. You are going to see some amazing scenery as you drive. Keep your camera close by and enjoy the ride!
Tungurahua EcuadorDriving from Baños to Riobamba

Keep Your Eyes on the Road

The condition of roads in Ecuador is getting better all the time. But you need to stay alert at all times!

Here are a few things you might see as you are driving.

  • Fog. As you go up and down in elevation, you will probably have to go through fog at some point. We were recently driving between Riobamba and Alausi. The fog was so thick that we couldn't see anything but the road directly in front of us. Drive carefully! People will still try to pass you and some don't turn their headlights on. 
Alausi, EcuadorFog descending on Alausi, Ecuador
  • Animals. Whether driving in fog or on curvy roads watch for animals at any moment. We've seen cows, horses, dogs, chickens, possums, snakes, etc right in the middle of the road.
  • Pot Holes, Speed Bumps and Settling Pavement. Drive carefully. The road may be beautiful for miles, but that can change in an instant. We've hit the ceiling more than once. :)

Parking During Your Ecuador Road Trip

When parking your car, make sure to not leave valuables in plain sight. When stopping for the night, unload the car completely. Don't leave anything in the car overnight.

When looking for hotels ask about their parking options. Some places will have their own parking (least common), a lot they share with other business, or will be able to recommend a public lot where you can leave your car. Unless the hotel has parking, expect to pay to park.

When you park in a new city ask people about the parking laws. We learned this the hard way. In Cuenca, there were no signs posted about how long we could park, so my dad left the car on the street overnight. The next morning there was a parking ticket stuck on the car, because starting at 8 am you have to pay to park by the hour. 

Driving in Quito

One special consideration for driving in Quito is "pico y placa." This is a law designed to lessen traffic during peak hours.

Basically you can't drive in Quito from 7 am to 9:30 am and from 4 pm to 7:30 pm depending on the day of the week and the last number on your license plate.

You can't drive on the following day if you plates end in:

1 or 2: Monday

3 or 4: Tuesday

5 or 6: Wednesday

7 or 8: Thursday

9 or 0: Friday

No restrictions on weekends

Fines are high for violating "pico y placa." For more info on this law click here.

What Do You Say?

Have you taken an Ecuador road trip? What did you think? Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.

I love driving around Ecuador and getting to know the country better! I can't wait for our next Ecuador road trip!

For more help planning your road trip...

I wrote a book about different things to keep in mind while traveling in Ecuador. It includes maps of popular road trip routes and a list of foods to try along the way. Check it out here.

You may also enjoy these pages...

› Ecuador Road Trip

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