Transport in Ecuador


What airport?

Quito and Guayaquil airports handle international flights. Guayaquil airport is nicer and cheaper to fly out of.

1. Guayaquil

The José Joaquin de Olmedo airport is located in the north of Guayaquil. There is one runway and terminal so it is easy to negotiate a short walk to immigration and pass straight into the baggage hall. The terminal is brand new and looks very smart and light (so it’s a shame they didn’t leave a bit more room for immigration). You have to show your baggage barcode (given to you on check-in) for each piece of luggage you pick up.

You also have to pass your bags through an X-ray machine (everyone) before you are officially free. This takes time, especially considering the average haul that an Ecuadorian family returns from abroad with. You have to pay $2 for a trolley though the money does go to a charitable foundation.

You emerge into an attractive, spacious arrivals area. You pass a big screen which shows images of Guayaquil. The location is terrible – the only people who see it are the Guayaquileños waiting anxiously for their loved ones to arrive. There are also several shops, a bar-restaurant, a post, phone and car hire offices. If you need to take another flight domestic departures is upstairs.

Note: If your bags have been lost or damaged, collar a member of the airline staff in the baggage hall. They don’t tend to show much interest but they will need to fill in a form and give you a number to call. You will be expected to return and pick up a delayed bag when it arrives – no delivery service for Ecuadorians.

When you leave the airport terminal you will be hit by the heat and maybe the crickets in the wet season. Taxis jostle for space with the hotel buses – try to hail one, it’s a free for all. You can continue walking straight across the car park to the main road where you can also catch a taxi more cheaply or a bus. It should cost $4 to the centre. You can always negotiate. The bus station is literally just down the road. Don’t pay more than $2 (the minimum) to get there.

NOTE When you leave the country via Guayaquil you must pay a tax of $28.27, even if you’re less than 2 years old and travelling on a lap. There is a booth in the international departures area and you get a receipt which you must show to pass through the emigration.

2. Quito

The Mariscal Sucre airport is located in the north of Quito. It has a small runway and the landing is spectacular, giving you a sense of the surrounding mountains and valleys and a view of the surrounding mountains and valleys and a chance to see the centre of the city. The airport is small and just like in Guayaquil it’s easy to negotiate immigration and the baggage hall. You have to show your baggage barcode (given to you on check-in) for each piece of luggage you pick up.

If you’re not being picked up you can get a taxi, either from the rank outside the building, or if they’re changing more than about $6, cross the road and pick up a yellow taxi. It’s possible to get the trolley bus; there is a stop if you continue walking to the next road, but it is often crowded and not worth the hassle.

When you depart, you must show your passport and flight / e-ticket to enter the check-in area. The post office is outside this area so if you want to send a last minute postcard, do it before you check-in. There is a phone office, a bar-restaurant and a few other shops inside international departures. The area is a bit small and has no baby-changing facilities or disabled toilet. Hopefully things will improve at the new airport, currently under construction.

NOTE When you leave the country via Quito you must pay a tax of $40.80 which is obviously all going to fund the new airport. There is a booth in the international departures area and you get a receipt which you must show to pass through the emigration.

What airline, what route?

Click here to find out what airlines fly in and out of Guayaquil and Quito.

From personal and related experiences I can say the following:
The interior of Iberia planes feel a bit neglected but that’s nothing to how the staff will make you fell if you give them any trouble. They are also notorious for mislaying luggage and once managed to lose our pushchair permanently, then failed to pay the full cost of the replacement, since when I haven’t flown with them.

American Airlines staff are erratic – they can be very helpful but then it seems like a wire goes loose. On a flight from Guayaquil to Miami we had a choice of meat (carne) or chicken (pollo) for lunch. My wife asked for pollo. She literally just said one word. The attendant serving us asked me, “What is she saying?” as if we were in the presence of a lunatic and then replied to her, “No hablo español” in her best English accent. But an hour later she was plying my son with copious bags of pretzels and saying how adorable he was.

If you’re not from the United States going through US immigration is a harrowing experience where you feel like you’re one wrong answer away from being sent to Guantanamo. In my experience most US citizens are naturally friendly so I can only imagine the immigration staff are trained to despise you. Therefore it’s bound to be a bad idea for your future visa status to file a complaint. But here’s a few comments I’ve had to swallow:

“Ecuador! Why you wanna go there?”
“ Are you telling me you’re not capable of controlling your child” (when explaining to an official why I was letting my 18 month old son toddle around a bit after 2 hours sitting in the crowded ‘undesirables’ room).

“Why did you visit Pakistan? / Where did you go? / How long were you there? / Did you know anyone there? / Don’t you know those guys are all an evil bunch of motherF~#!”$£&s? (ok the last one I mindread).

Maybe it’s my fault for going through Miami three times, but if you do a price check for flights from Guayaquil to London, and consider my boycott of Iberia you’ll see why it took me so long to learn my lesson.

I once flew New York – San José – Guayaquil with Taca and everything was good on that flight and I’ve never had any complaints doing the Atlantic leg of the trip with British Airways.


There are several border crossings with Peru and one with Colombia which you can cross by bus, car or motorcycle.

For those with a vehicle, I’ve crossed into Peru from Huaquillas with an Ecuadorian registered car and it’s a smooth process. If it’s smooth there it should be a breeze anywhere else. Remember that fuel is much cheaper in Ecuador than in Peru or Colombia. However all the gas stations in and close to Huaquillas are manned by soldiers and the amount of fuel you can buy is rationed. The soldiers knock off at 4pm and the gas stations close so if you are going to be passing through later than that you had better fill up near Machala.
Read more about shipping a vehicle or crossing the border with a vehicle.

To / From Peru
There are three main border crossings along the frontier with Peru.

1. Huaquillas – Aguas Verdes

My advice regarding this border crossing by bus is:

1 Avoid it if possible

2 If you have to use it take an international bus

This crossing is on the coastal Panamericana route. It’s hot and chaotic. The frontier itself is a narrow bridge over the Rio Zarumilla. You can cross it in an international bus, in a moto taxi, or walking if you want the experience. During the day it’s lined with stalls and is full of people and police. The latter may check your passport. Some of the former will undoubtedly hassle you. On the Peruvian side, Aguas Verdes is an ugly collection of buildings with very little going for it. Peruvian immigration is 3km along at Zarumilla and is open 24 hours. On the Ecuadorian side Huaquillas is a busy, commercial town. The main street is one big market during the day – go round it, not down it. Ecuadorian immigration is 5km away, on the road to Machala, also open 24 hours, ugly but fairly efficient in my experience. You have to take a taxi or coach here. A coach travelling north won’t necessarily wait so you’ll have to then wait for another one.

On the Peruvian side the nearest town is Tumbes, 27km away. You can get there by colectivo (shared taxi) or combi (van). It might be better to get a moto taxi from the bridge to immigration and then be able to relax and weigh up the best option to Tumbes.

Basically if you’re not on a bus which takes you into the neighbouring country this crossing is bad news. Don’t just take my word for it – read this article.

The following bus companies operate services across the border:
Rutas de América
Cruz del Sur

There have been some problems with robberies on CIFA buses. This apparently happened when the buses stopped to pick up passengers along the way. Therefore it’s best to take a direct (directo) service and check this before you buy your ticket. There are also numerous semi-direct ones between Tumbes and Machala but it’s probably best to stay clear.
Taking a bus across the border works out more expensive but (as long as all your documents are in order) saves you a lot of hassle.

Lots of people either side of the border are keen to change soles and dollars. They’ll probably try and cheat you on the rate or the notes so change the minimum. If you’re going to Peru you can get more money from banks in Peru (there are ATM’s in Tumbes, Mancora and Piura). There are banks in Huaquillas but neither they nor anyone else in Ecuador are interested in soles so try to get rid of them somehow before leaving town.

2. Mácara – La Tina
This inland route connects with Loja in Ecuador and Piura in Peru. Buses run between the two cities and it’s a safe journey which you can make in the day or night.

Alternatively from Ecuador you can travel to Mácara, a small town with a few hotels. The border is 2.5km south and again involves crossing a bridge, this time over the Río Mácara. You can get a taxi or truck to the frontier. The immigration offices are at either end of the short bridge and both are open 24 hours. I’ve never found anyone who has had anything but a smooth passage at this border and that’s why I’m recommending it over Huaquillas.
La Tina only has a few houses. Taxis or pick-ups take you to a park where you can find a colectivo or combi to Sullana or Piura.

The following bus companies operate services across the border:
Union Cariamanga Internacional
Cooperativa Loja

3. Zumba – La Balsa – Namballe
This small border crossing is due south from Loja, on a road that passes Vilcabamba and Zumba. After Zumba it is a poor dirt road to La Balsa which is just a few houses both sides of the international bridge over the Río Chardis. You have to take a ranchera heading south from Zumba.

Pick-ups will take you from La Balsa to San Ignacio (2hrs). This route is an interesting way to get to the Chachapoyas region of Peru (to do so take a minivan to Jaén, a bigger city, then onto Chachapoyas).

You’ll have to ask around in any town along the way to change money. Try and cross the border with a bit of what you need.

There are night buses from Loja but then you would miss all the scenery and an experience most travellers don’t go for.

To / From Colombia

Tulcan – Ipiales
Ormeno buses do run from Quito directly to major cities in Colombia, but its far cheaper to travel to Tulcán and then get a local bus ( or a taxi as it’s only 7km) to the Humichaca border, a bridge over the Carchi river. You’ll need to change a bit of money to get a colectivo the 13km to the first Colombian town, Ipiales, where you’ll find the bus terminal refreshingly well organised and coaches clean and modern. Plus there’s an ATM so don’t waste too much time negotiating at the border. From there you can take a bus to any major city in Colombia.



To / From Peru

Coca – Nuevo Rocafuerte – Pantoja - Iquitos
A few boats and canoes leave Coca every week travelling down the Rio Napo to Nuevo Rocafuerte. The journey takes about 12 hours. When you arrive there is a hotel and an Ecuadorian immigration office.

From Nuevo Rocafuerte you have to hire a boat to get to the Peruvian immigration office which is in Pantoja, two hours away. No hotels, home stay necessary. From there you need to wait for a boat to leave for Iquitos (schedule unreliable). It’s tough and unpredictable but I met a retired guy who’d done this trip and loved it (although he was exploring some Buddhist ruins near Islamabad when I spoke to him, so not exactly your average pipe and slippers grandpa).

To / From Colombia

San Lorenzo – Tumaco

It is possible to cross to Colombia from the north west corner of Ecuador. The border is the Río Mataje. Companies do the journey between San Lorenzo and Tumaco in Colombia, combining boat and some land transport. However, it’s a dangerous area. In Ecuador you visit the Capitanía del Puerto to get your passport stamped. You could ask them about security but odds on they’ll advise you not to go.

On a Cruise
A few cruise ships stop in Manta although I haven’t found one which you can actually join there. So if you’re adverse to flying or love being on the ocean, your best option is a freighter. Check out the following sites for options.



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