After completing a month-long orientation for new volunteers in September, I’ve now moved into a few months that will include visiting volunteers all throughout the country. I recently traveled to Puyo, on the edge of the Amazon, and yesterday I returned to Quito from Machala, which is lies on the south coast, near the Ecuador-Peru border. That trip to Machala was a very quick one, and I traveled by bus, so I ended up spending about 25 hours on buses and about 36 hours in Machala. All of that bus time gave me plenty of time to consider what it’s like to travel by bus in Ecuador over long-distances, and I’ve come up with a few essential tips to make that experience as enjoyable as possible:
1. Keep your bags safe: It’s always unnerving to let a piece of luggage out of your sight, but on more reputable bus lines, a uniformed employee will put your bag in one of the luggage compartments and put a numbered sticker on your bag. You’ll then use a ticket stub to get your bag back at the end of your trip. With this system, I’ve always felt that my luggage is secure.
A chauffeur loading luggage onto the bus
An example luggage tag that bus companies put on bags
2. Try to get a seat in the front row: Sometimes when you buy your ticket, you’re given a choice of where to sit. And sometimes you just sit wherever you want when you get on. If possible, try to sit in the front row. Some people say that the front rows can be a bit more dangerous in the event of an accident, but they have the added advantage of a little bit extra legroom and no seats in front of you. And you never know how far back the seats in front of you will recline.
Watch your knees! Bus seats usually recline a lot more than what you find on an airplane
3. Keep yourself occupied: Having just completed two 13 hour bus trips in just a few days, I can tell you that sitting on a bus can get really boring. Fortunately, I grew up going on family road trips and taught myself just sleep through long rides in a car. However, when I can’t sleep I like to have a book or something else with me to pass the time. Just know that long-distance buses in Ecuador will play movies – which will likely be action flicks played at a very loud volume. And more than likely the DVD will be skipping and/or there will be issues with the sound or image. So, I also like to bring a fully charged iPod to drown out the crappy movies that might be playing.
4. Bring a snack and dehydrate yourself: On most trips that are six hours or more, your bus will stop just once for food, to stretch your legs, and to go to the bathroom. And that stop won’t be at a state-of-the-art rest area that offers your choice of fast food. Instead, it’ll likely be at a little mom and pop restaurant with just a few menu options. And you’ll likely get hungry before and after your stop at that little roadside restaurant, so it’s a good idea to bring some chips or something else to snack on. There will also likely be a bathroom on the bus – but there is no guarantee that it will be functioning. Even if it is, it will definitely be locked and you’ll have to bug the chauffeur to open it for you. Better to just not drink anything before or during the trip.
5. Wear some comfortable shoes: Because you won’t have much chance to walk around and stretch your legs, it’s almost guaranteed your feet will swell up – so wear some comfortable shoes and loosen the laces!
I try to keep my feet comfortable while traveling with my favorite running shoes
Now, those tips may seem to portray long-distance bus travel as a pretty unenjoyable experience, and, well, I guess it is. But the time actually passes pretty quickly. And at an average price of about $1 per hour, you really can’t beat the cost. Sure, you can fly between major cities. But why pay $45 to fly from Quito to Guayaquil, for example, when a bus ticket is just $10??
And the best way to pass the time on a long-distance bus trip? Travel with a friend. So, if you want to keep me company during my long bus rides, come visit Quito!!