Taking the bus in Ecuador in 2018 is relatively easy to do and quite safe.
Buses tend to be clean, well air-conditioned and the majority have bathrooms on-board.
In most cases tickets can be purchased on the day you intend to travel in bus terminals and busing it in Ecuador is highly cost-effective.
Something to note: it is a thing that they play movies on buses here constantly, no matter if it is day or night. This can get very loud and as they are offered solely in Spanish, many gringos can’t enjoy them. Have noise-cancelling headphones at the ready.
As with all buses, never put your bag under your seat or in the storage above, especially on night buses. Keep your bag within view at all times. Also be aware that the majority of bus companies do not offer comprehensive timetables on their websites and you have to just show up at the bus station. However, thankfully buses in Ecuador are very frequent and reliable.
Here is a comprehensive breakdown of various bus routes in Ecuador starting in Lima, Peru and finishing in Colombia (though the journey can be done both ways!). Including Guayaquil,Montañita, Cuenca, Baños de Agua Santa, Quito right through to Cali, Colombia.
Lima/ Mancora to Guayaquil
If you have travelled at all in Bolivia or Peru, you will know Cruz del Sur.
Though slightly more expensive than other bus companies, there is no comparison to this service in terms of comfort and I believe it is is well worth the price for what you get.
Especially when you consider that it takes 30 hours to get from Lima to Guayaquil direct.
With Cruz del Sur, this costs around $100 USD for the total journey.
If you would like to break up this journey, you can stop in the surf town of Mancora for a few days and then travel only 8 more hours to Guayaquil. The initial journey costs $40 USD and the second half costs $41 so actually works out cheaper to break up the distance.
Leaving Lima at 1.30pm, you will spend the rest of the day and that night on the bus arriving in Mancora around 10am. If you choose to remain on the bus, you will get to Guayaquil that evening around 6 (note that this does not include the border crossing into Ecuador which could take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours).
Guayaquil to Montañita
If you choose to visit the bustling surf town of Montañita on Ecuador’s sunny coastline (highly recommended) buses run every hour or so during the day midweek and every 30 minutes on weekends. You can find my full guide to Montañita here.
Buses operate roughly from early morning to around 6pm in the evening (later on weekends). The bus company is CLP and though there is a ticket office on the ground floor of Guayaquil’s massive Terminal Terrestre, to get a ticket to Montañita, you need to head up to the office on the top floor.
At the back right-hand corner you will find the ticket booth. Tickets cost around $6 USD one-way.
Coming back from Montañita, the CLP office is located on the main road in the town centre. Just ask in your hotel or hostel for directions. Again tickets can be purchased on the day and buses run often. Feel free to run down here and check the timetable during your stay as it is visibly displayed.
This journey takes around 3-4 hours.
Guayaquil to Cuenca
I took an early bus from Montañita arriving in Guayaquil around midday. From here I got a bus directly to Cuenca very easily as they run frequently.
Make sure to get a window seat for this journey as the scenes are stunning.
Cuenca to Baños de Agua Santa
For many years there was no direct bus from Cuenca to Baños. Now the company Transportes del Amazonas runs the service a few times a day. I took the 8.45am service (I believe there is one also at 11pm) and the route takes around eight or nine hours.
Buses are basic but cost-effective. The price is about $10 USD.
Baños to Quito
The bus terminal in Baños is very central and buses depart for Quito every 30 minutes or so. I opted for the bus company Transportes Baños which cost me around $5 USD.
There was no bathroom on the bus and a lot of stops which is unfortunately par for the course on this route.
They do stop for 30 minutes for food so avail of the break and an actual bathroom. This journey takes around 8-10 hours.
When you arrive in Quito, the bus terminal is located miles outside of the city centre. Be prepared to take public transport or pay up to $20 USD for a taxi.
Quito to Cali, Colombia
This is a long journey with a number of stops so I recommend doing it in a group. You will also hear talk of delays up to 14 hours at the Colombia border which can happen. However we were lucky and did it in ten minutes.
This journey is the cheapest option by far which will have you across the border and in Cali in around 24 hours (depending on delays at border) and for less than $30 USD total.
I would highly recommend aiming to be at the border on a weekday and in the middle of the night. We departed Quito on a bus to Tulcan around 9pm and the journey took five hours. You can easily buy a ticket upon arrival at the bus station and it will cost less than $5 USD.
Upon arrival in Tulcan, take one of the many waiting taxis (at all times of the day) to the border (around $1.50 person).
Cross the border and pray you are not delayed for hours.
Once in Colombia, take a taxi into the town of Ipiales to the bus terminal. Most taxis here still accept USD and don’t may more than $4.
At the terminal, you will have many options for buses even at 3am in the morning which was the time we arrived.
You can take one of smaller mini-vans for about $12 USD (these are not very comfortable and have no bathrooms).
We went for the bus company Transipiales S.A, which cost us $14 USD each but we had reclinable chairs, a bathroom, air-con and a 30 minutes stop for breakfast. This journey takes around 12 hours.
For a wonderful itinerary for Ecuador, check out this great backpacking Ecuador guide.