Complete Guide to Ecuador Travel & Relocation (GringosAbroad)

So You Want To Drive in Ecuador?

Its a noble idea. Avoid taking taxis and buses and buy your own vehicle. If you had a vehicle back home – why not buy a car here too?

The price of gas is super low (USD$1.48/gallon) and it isn’t that hard to buy a vehicle here. Of course, many expats swear off driving after they arrive. Usually for one of two reasons:

Why Many Expats Don’t Want to Drive in Ecuador

  1. They are tired of car ownership: both maintenance hassles and costs have taken a toll and they want to be free of it.
  2. They see how different the driving is here. And it scares the life out of them.

When we first arrived, in July of 2009, I was convinced that I would never drive here. The style of driving was hard to get used to – and what if I had an accident!

First of all, my lack of Spanish scared me. And we had read that the Ecuadorian law system was based on the Napoleonic Code – which meant (I read) that parties involved could be held by police until guilt was determined (I still don’t know if this is true or not). The thought of handling a foreign law system in a foreign language scared me.

A good Ecuadorian friend of ours, who grew up in Guayaquil and has lived in Manta, Quito and now in Cuenca told me that he can handle the fast driving on the coast – he just drives slowly and doesn’t have any problems. He finds Cuenca the worst because many people simply ignore traffic signs and rules. He is scared of the driving here, but not in the other places in the country. So while Cuenca might be one of the best places in Latin America to learn Spanish, it could be one of the worst places to learn how to drive.

It’s obvious, but I’m going to state it to avoid offending the less discerning reader: the comments I make, and that I’m quoting aren’t meant to suggest that everyone is a good or a bad driver in a specific area. The fact is, though, that a general trend can be noted. So much, in fact, that we can anticipate what a driver will do in a given situation.

So Just What is the Driving Like in Ecuador?

If you only drive in the city, you are missing out on a key feature of driving here in Ecuador. Jump on the PanAmerican Highway south to Machala. As you descend the Andes, you’ll likely see a number of close calls. Defensive driving will keep you safe every time you drive this highway.

Common Close-Calls in Driving

First of all: Who am I to comment on driving in Ecuador? Well, I’ve driven in Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Miami and Venezuela and have been driving for 18+ years. I’ve had my Ecuadorian drivers license for more than a year – and I’ve driven close to 20,000 kilometers in that time. So I’m no expert, but I’ve seen my share of the road.

Close-Call #1: Bus Racing

This seldom happens (although we still see it once in a while) in Cuenca, but when you get out of the city limits the bus fares increase from $0.25 to a few dollars. It seems that a combination of machismo and potential profits drives the buses (and their drivers) to take inane risks. This includes creating a passing lane where there is a solid double line. On a blind curve. Ascending the Andes. In the fog. We’ve seen two buses from competing bus lines speed by numerous waiting passengers as they both attempt to prove who is the better driver.

Close-Call #2: Triple Passing

Creating passing lanes is one thing. This could even be justified in some cases (slow moving vehicles or other obstacles). But sometimes the buses and dump trucks like to mix things up and pass three wide. Three wide?! (See a photo of a created passing lane traveling from the coast into Cuenca. Notice the blind curve to the right, and the solid double line on the road. Remember, this is a highway.) Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the triple wide passing. I think the fear of the situation makes us forget about making a photo memory of it.

Here’s how Three Wide Passing works: There is the original vehicle driving in the single available lane. The second vehicle doesn’t feel its traveling fast enough so he pulls out to pass. The third vehicle agrees with the second and decides to pass the original vehicle – and the second one – at the same time. This happens frequently on the PanAmerican Highway – or as its commonly known: Via a Machala. When it happens in front of you, there is first disbelief and then fear. It is the worst when this hurricane of metal is raging towards you. Of course, not just buses and dump trucks will pass three wide – it’s just scarier when they do it. Vehicles of every size (even motorcycles and half ton trucks with a back full of people) will attempt it.

dual-dumptrucks-ecuador-driving

Close-Call #3: Red Lights

So here’s how it goes. You’ll find yourself waiting at a light, with a lot of cars in front of you. The light turns green and the traffic starts moving. Yellow, still moving. Red, still moving. Sometimes 3 or 4 cars will go through the red light. While the majority of drivers stop at red lights – you have to be aware that some don’t. So even having a green light doesn’t mean you can automatically go.

Is It Really More Dangerous in Ecuador?

I know that I’m opening up a can of worms with this post. And I’m sure there are much worse places as well. This post isn’t meant to identify Cuenca (or Ecuador) as a horrible and unsafe place. But it is good to know about the differences in driving.

UPDATE (March 5, 2013): We’ve been driving for more than two years and have gotten more comfortable with the way of driving here. Knowing the differences are important in adapting and learning how to stay safe.

An article by

Bryan is a journalist, photographer, expat and dad. He writes for Gringos Abroad (Ecuador travel & living) and Blogger Abroad (run an online business abroad). He also enjoys living in Southern Ecuador (South America) with his wife and daughter. Connect with Bryan on LinkedIn. Work with Bryan & Dena

More about: Ecuador Travel, Living in Ecuador

{ 81 comments… add one }

  • Andrew van Ees August 10, 2014, 7:26 pm

    Watch the movie THE ART OF TRAVEL, covers the Darien Gap, then wikipedia it, fun info.

    Reply
  • Dennis Friedman February 28, 2014, 2:54 pm

    I’ve read the discussion of driving in Ecuador in general and Cuenca in particular, but I have a very specific question: How about the drive from Quito to Cuenca. I understand it’s an 8-10 hour ride. About how much of that is on harrowing mountain roads where I’m likely to experience heart palpitations caused by other drivers? Thanks very much.

    Reply
  • owen February 21, 2014, 9:57 pm

    hi ,,, we want to sell our car in Guayaquil… where is the best place to ? and if this isnt good … what about internet sites , car yards , scrap heAPS etc etc

    Reply
  • Paul Buckles February 17, 2014, 9:30 pm

    Kevin W;

    I’ve driven in Germany, France, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, including Cape Town. I’d pass on renting the car, unless you’re just going from the airport to Banos via the south roads and avoiding Quito altogether. Roads around Quito are not marked well and you really need to know where you can go vis-a-vis making left hand turns and so forth. Having the car could be a real frustration IF you are looking to spend time in Quito/Guayaquil and I’ve understood that traffic and parking are major issues in Cuenca. Taxis are cheap and, following a few guidelines, are quite hassle free. The intercity buses I’ve been on have been clean and the service reliable. It’s always the one or two bus stories which stand out, but daily there are literally hundreds of intercity buses on the move around Ecuador.

    Reply
  • Kevin W February 17, 2014, 5:19 pm

    Hey, great comments here and thanks everyone. I’ve driven in New York, everywhere in Ireland, Montreal (my motto was that if you could drive there, you could drive anywhere), Costa Rica, Morocco. I was going to take a bus down from Quito to Banos when I arrive in September but am now wondering if I should rent a car instead. The comments about the bus drivers was worrisome and I experienced some of that previously in the Sahara on narrow mountainous roads, no guardrails, passing on curves and speeds that could be injurious to your health!

    Reply
  • Craig October 30, 2013, 10:55 am

    Am cracking up at these descriptions of driving in Ecuador. I’m a gringo living in Florida. I went to visit my Ecuadorian girlfriend for the first time in September. She lives in Guayaquil. FIRST thing I noticed in GQ was that lanes are irrelevant. Everyone just looks for open space and drives in that space. Second, honking of horns is very common. But just as a polite warning, like “I’m here, watch out”. As opposed to here in the USA where a horn is usually followed by the middle finger.

    Then, driving through the Andes to Cuenca—wow. While the traffic was much less, the bravery (or stupidity? LOL) of the drivers was amazing. We’d be on a two-loan road, that would wind 180 degress with zero sigh-visibility, and a bus or another car would pass. That was nuts! Then, driving back from Cuenca, I was worried sick about the brakes, b/c 75% of the drive is descending from 14,000 feet to sea level.

    However, after I got back to the USA, I had a real appreciation for drivers in GQ. I even drove in GQ my last day there. I think drivers are BETTER there, b/c they are all focused on driving only. And when everyone from every possible direction imaginable is cutting you off, or merging into your space (not lane), it seems you’re more alert every single second of the day.

    Reply
  • Marcus West October 14, 2013, 10:01 am

    You have never driven until you have driven in The Republic of Georgia ……………….

    Reply
  • Gena October 4, 2013, 9:04 pm

    Is it possible to drive from USA to Ecuador?

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines October 14, 2013, 8:14 am

      I think so. Some families bike through Central and South America on bicycles. Others on motorcycles. I don’t know how safe it would be, but I think it is possible.

      Reply
      • Paul Buckles October 27, 2013, 9:56 pm

        The word here in Quito is that the Colombians have yet to complete a 20 miles stretch of road just south of the Panamanian border. So the link from Central America to South America is broken.

        Reply
        • Bryan Haines October 28, 2013, 12:35 pm

          Thanks for the update Paul. I guess the bikers who travel north to south must be taking a flight or boat to Columbia.

          Bryan

          Reply
  • Hector Vega September 25, 2013, 9:45 pm

    I sorry But Ecuadorian Don’t Know how to Drive, Its all about getting in front to get no wear, They Use There Horns for everything other then a warning,, They will run you over so they can get in front, Now the Question is the front of what , who Knows I Drove a 18 wheelers Semi truck , With Double and Triple for and Across the state of New York , 10 and 12 Speeds These people have 3 and 4 speed Bikes and do not Know how to use them or Change Gears,, So please br very carful driving in Ecuador as its Not safe

    Reply
  • Laura February 25, 2013, 8:30 am

    OK. So far, I am LOVING Ecuador. We haven’t been here long and have only experienced the traffic in Quito and Cuenca. Are those fairly representative of the traffic or is it worse in the country? Honestly, from everything that has been said, I was expecting the kind of driving I managed to survive in Egypt: NO one acknowledges lanes. A three lane street has five cars abreast with two more trying to weasel in, pedestrians walking across, etc., etc. What I’ve seen so far is not too far off from California driving! LOL Are Quito and Cuenca fairly representative or is it worse in other areas? You definitely must be a defensive driver here!!

    Reply
  • Tom Warden December 29, 2012, 11:28 am

    I have read that there is some domestic car production in Ecuador. Is this true, and if so, does that mean there are reasonably inexpensive vehicles for sale?

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines December 30, 2012, 6:24 am

      I haven’t heard of cars being produced in Ecuador. And I haven’t seen any inexpensive vehicles either… :)

      Reply
      • leah February 24, 2013, 3:39 pm

        So how do people get around safely?

        Reply
        • Bryan Haines February 24, 2013, 6:43 pm

          People buy cars, even though they are expensive. Because of the high price, older cars are generally very well maintained.

          Reply
    • Stewart December 31, 2012, 2:16 pm

      Hello Tom,
      We moved here (Quito – Cumbaya) over a year ago, and I haven’t seen any truely “domestic” cars built from scratch in Ecuador. There are a lot of Chevrolets partially assembled in Ecuador.

      You will find imported cars here from all over including China, France, Russia, etc.

      Here’s an article you may find interesting. See the link http://www.garyascott.com/2009/08/03/6216.html, but I don’t agree (our experience) that the insurance is less. We also found car registration to be more than in USA. Gas certainly is cheap though.

      Best regards,
      Stewart

      Reply
    • Linda December 31, 2012, 5:37 pm

      Many years ago (Before 1970) they did produce a car here. It was called the “Andino.” I occasionally will see one that’s been re-worked a bit.

      Reply
  • Linda December 17, 2012, 2:40 pm

    I’ve been driving here for over 25 years and not without my share of harrowing experiences! However, I feel it’s scariest when you are in a new place and don’t know where to go or are familiar with the practices of that community. Every area/city has it’s flow and once you get used to it, it’s not that bad. I’m very comfortable in my regular routes. But when I get outside of Guayaquil (where I live) then it scares me somewhat! I think the key is to drive DEFENSIVELY at all times. Believe it or not, it used to be worse. The current government has really cracked down on bad drivers and those that break the law (run lights, etc.). I’ve noticed a big change (for the better) in the past couple of years. Being in an accident can be really bad, even if it isn’t your fault. My friend who was stopped at a red light waiting was hit by taxi running said red light. The taxi driver ran away immediately. My friend (a very compassionate fellow) got out to check on the taxi’s fare, a woman who sustained a broken arm in the accident. My friend was arrested and thrown in jail, because someone has to go to jail! When my friend asked the police what he should have done they just told him to do what the taxi driver did! I think that is beginning to change though that kind of change is slow to take place. I am thankful to have a car as the buses here are very unsafe (am talking G’quil here). There is no completely safe place anywhere in the world. Just be careful and drive DEFENSIVELY.

    Reply
  • Stewart November 28, 2012, 1:32 pm

    Hey Brian,
    I finally got my Ecuadorian driver´s license a few days ago!
    Years before I vowed never to drive in Ecuador, but here now
    after a year and more of driving in Quito, Cumbaya and other
    places I DON´T regret it. I´ve only seen the single passing
    situation though.
    Drive safe!

    Reply
  • andra carter November 15, 2012, 4:34 pm

    this is HILARIOUS! my husband and i live up north in otavalo and everything you’ve said is true. we have had a car and licences for over a year and i still have that nagging feeling every single time we get in the car, that one day i’m going to be in an ecuadorian jail for stopping at a red light and getting rear-ended by someone else who didn’t think i would stop, and yet somehow it was my fault and i can’t talk my way out of it. all that aside, it is worth it (to us) to have the freedom of having a car, to go where we want, when we want. but it’s something that takes some getting used to when you come back from a visit home (to USA). AND it takes some getting used to when we go back home to visit, to drive ‘normally’ again.

    Reply
  • Laura October 31, 2012, 10:04 pm

    VERY fascinating! It’s been years since I’ve been to South America. More recently Egypt (got on one of the last flights out the day the airport closed for their rioting in Jan., 2010) and the driving in Cairo was the absolute worst I had ever seen. Far worse than Mexico City. Anyone in Ecaudor ever been to Egypt? How would you compare and contrast the driving skills there with that in Ecuador?

    Reply
  • B. Danielsen October 10, 2012, 11:19 pm

    Hey
    I’m considering buying a car in Chile and drive to Ecuador, Quito more precisely, and wonder if I will be needing anything extra upon entering Ecuador with the car and, as well, the possibilities of selling my car once in Quito. I have a norwegian driver’s license, but reckon that won’t be a problem if an american license works for 30 days.
    Sincere regards.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines October 11, 2012, 7:02 am

      I don’t know the laws for entering Ecuador with a car. I have never seen a car with foreign plates. Not even from Columbia or Peru. You should speak with a lawyer to confirm the car entry. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with your drivers license as you’ll be coming in on a tourist visa.

      Reply
      • Jakob October 11, 2012, 8:08 am

        I have actually met people in Manabi this year driving cars with Swiss and German license plates. They were on a tour of South America and had shipped their cars from Europe. It is not a problem as long as you come in as a tourist and leave as a tourist.

        If you try to sell your used car in Ecuador while on a tourist visa you are committing an illegal act (unless you maybe pay your customs duties). Importing used cars with the purpose of selling is subject to customs duties, high enough that nobody engages in that type of activity. This is to protect the local market. This is part of the reason why used cars are relatively expensive in Ecuador.

        Reply
        • Jakob October 11, 2012, 8:18 am

          I had a quick look at the Ecuadorian Customs web page ):

          Ingreso de vehiculos


          Vehículos privados o alquilados con fines turísticos:
          Vehículos privados o alquilados con fines turísticos: presentar la Libreta de Paso de Aduana (o documento equivalente), y la Declaración Juramentada de Turista Propietario del Vehículo (DJT) contenida en el formulario otorgado por la Aduana del Ecuador, mediante la cual el vehículo que ingresa constituye prenda especial y preferente a favor de la Aduana del Ecuador. La permanencia del vehículo de uso privado de turista será igual al tiempo máximo otorgado al turista, según registro migratorio.
          (art 224 Reglamento al Libro V del COPCI)

          So it clearly states that your vehicle will be permitted to stay in the country as long as you are permitted to stay as a tourist, but not longer.

          Reply
          • Bryan Haines October 11, 2012, 8:22 am

            Thanks for sharing this Jakob – very helpful!

            Bryan

          • B. Danielsen October 14, 2012, 9:12 pm

            Thanks for the comments. They are more than helpful. It looks like I might have to reconsider the plans or maybe try to sell it in Colombia or Peru, since I’ll be leaving Ecuador with plane.
            Again thanks a lot.

  • roger mantony October 8, 2012, 7:09 pm

    Last month I drove over 2000 km in one week while visiting Ecuador for 3 weeks, At the airport in Quito you had to notice every scrap and dent on the rental car and best to take pictures just in case. The small cars did not have much power and that was an aggravation on the highway but the bigger aggravation for me was there were no cars with automatic transmission, and I had not driven a manual for about 15 years. But off I went, and as soon as I got out of the city of Quito I started to relax a little. That was okay till stopped at a police checkpoint and I couldn’t find the right date on my passport so they wanted to keep my drivers license from Texas. Finally found the right date and then kept license and passport together on proper page in front shirt pocket ready for inspection.
    As long as I was in the countryside I would let the wild drivers pass me, and try to stay just with the traffic until going up hills where you had to pass slow trucks, and then get over yourself cause your car did not have much zip either unless turbocharged. While I maintained constant situational awareness, ( pilot speak) I seemed to survive until getting lost in the cities. My worst experience was entering Cuenca at night for my first time with a GPS that was woefully inadequate and trying to find a hotel. After asking several people someone finally led me downtown and then I was in luck on Lago street. But I was sure happy to get out of that car after driving all day from Quito. For the rest of the trip I only tried to drive in daylight, and with the exception of a road being closed due to the volcano on the route from RioBamba to Banos didn’t have to many problems. My week included to Vilcabama, Zomara, and then down to Puyo on the way back to Quito. In the early 80’s I had driven to Banos and the road to Puyo was very different then. More traffic now, but much better roads, and still improving.
    I did more cussing of the other drivers than even in Mexico, and I am not normally a man of foul language, but it takes awhile to figure them out. After my week of driving I rode a bus back to Banos for 3 dollars. That was sure a lot easier, although by then, I knew the roads better and was begining to enjoy more. Next time think I will fly from Quito to Cuenca, and then take more leisurely drives.
    Yours truly,
    Survived without a dent or ticket

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines October 9, 2012, 5:42 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience Roger. Sounds like you had a good trip!

      Bryan

      Reply
    • Jakob October 9, 2012, 11:30 am

      Sounds like fun. To make it extra fun next time I suggest:

      1. Take a drive up to the foot of the Chimborazo in a Chevrolet Forsa. The air will be so thin that you will pray your engine never dies. If it does it will take you 15 minutes and some luck for the ignition to catch on again. If it doesn’t… well, mine did, so I did not finish my thought of how to survive in high altitutes without food or water.

      2. Play “dodge the cattle” at night between Santo Domingo de los Colorados and Esmeraldas.

      3. When you have a fender bender don’t report back to the rental agency. Find a local guy with the skills to smoothen out and repaint your bumper for $60 (half a day job). Mine matched and mixed the paint colour to blend with the rest of the car with his naked eye. Perfect job! The rental agency did not even notice I had been in an accident.

      4. Drive down the mountains to the coast on a January 31st. Local custom has it that you will hit a man made road block (usually a few rocks on the road) every 5 minutes that the locals will open for you after you give them some “centavitos”. Fun the first 3 times, nuisance the next 7 times, and you out throwing those rocks after them the last 10 times (or when you run out of money).

      5. Take your economy car up a steep gravel road high in the Andes mountains and watch the temperature needle go to red (rolling backwards does cool it down eventually).

      6. Find a cop who will read your Canadian driver’s license upside down and ask him if you are ok driving with it in Ecuador. Don’t be surprised if he says “no” (he’s wrong).

      These are the things that happened when I took my 2000 kilometer drive across Ecuador, but because I am a slow learner I went on the road again and ended up in jail in Atacames for a day after a motorcycle wrecked my car and the driver was transported to hospital.

      Other than that the trips were spectacular.

      Reply
      • Linda February 25, 2013, 8:02 am

        Ha ha ha!! This made me laugh because it’s all too true! You did forget to mention that the man made road blocks on Dec. 31 are manned by children dressed as the devil or men dressed as old women! And that on Jan. 1 you have to dodge the people who pass out drunk in the middle of the road. We also had a policeman take my husband’s license, “read it” upside down,” and then return it saying that it was all in order! I have learned to close my eyes and listen to soft tranquil music on my ipod when we are making a long trip on unfamiliar roads. Oh, and pray!

        Reply
  • Court Rand September 4, 2012, 9:17 am

    I have been riding motorcycles, driving and giving guided motorcycle tours in Ecuador for over three years.

    I would say that you have to like driving and be involved in it to like driving in Ecuador. You can’t be on your cell phone, eating a cheeseburger and put the car in “D”, set the cruise control and go. Driving here is being aware of what is going on around and most Ecuadorians are keenly aware of what is around them. It may look scary but I trust the drivers here more than in the USA or Canada. I live in Quito and I don’t see lots of broken plastic and glass at intersections like I saw when I lived in New York or Boston.

    Just like everywhere else in the world, there is the written law and there is the unwritten law, or courtesies. For example at an intersection with a red light and with cars coming from the opposite of the intersection who want to turn left, the courteous thing to do in Ecuador is allow them to turn left in front of you before you proceed on the green light. The turning vehicles will expect you to provide this courtesy and will turn left immediately as the light turns green or even on the red light. You should always hesitate before proceeding on a green light. Make sure no one wants to turn in front of you before you go.

    Getting your motorcycle license in Ecuador is very easy – there is no required school and just an easy written exam to pass and $46 gets you the license. There is really no better way to see this country – and a motorcycle lets you get to places you would have a hard time getting to with a car…

    Reply
    • Norm Stangl March 23, 2014, 1:05 pm

      Hi Court,

      I agree with your comment regarding traffic guidelines . Some of the things that Bryan mentioned such as three to four people running a red light are common everyday occurrences even in Toronto now.

      My wife and I would be interested in purchasing scooters if we decide to reside in Ecuador. What are the prices and availability like there.? Can you find availability of maxi scooters of 4-500 cc’s? We don’t have our Spanish language chops. Are the tests available in English? We’re studying Spanish now but I don’t know how successful our language skills will be initially.

      Cheers
      Norm

      Reply
  • Jakob August 31, 2012, 9:34 pm

    I am surprised nobody has posted it, yet, but traffic law has just changed. It has become even stricter and enforcement is supposed to be super strict as well.
    Now, if you are only 1 kilometer/h over speed limit you are supposed to get a ticket. If you are 10 km/h over or more (that’s about 6 mph) you go to jail for 3 days.
    One of the first cases that made the news was a Liberpesa bus between Guayaquil and Salinas that was going 110 km/h in a 90 km/h zone. Police put the driver in jail and the company had to pick the bus up from police custody. I wonder how thrilled the passengers were.
    I have to say that Guayaquil seems like a different country when looking at the traffic now. Suddenly, you don’t see anybody passing anybody and everybody is sticking to their lanes. Fascinating.
    Anybody noticed a change in Cuenca?

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines September 1, 2012, 1:41 pm

      Thanks for mentioning this Jakob. It’s on my list, but I haven’t covered it yet. I noticed that during the first few days, it was almost like driving in Canada. It has regressed somewhat, but things are much better than before. Just yesterday, there were two serious accidents – both involving buses. A city bus smashed into a large truck and an inter-provincial bus rolled off the road injuring 19 people. Hopefully the police will continue enforcement – slowly it should change things and make the roads safer for everyone.

      Reply
  • Kevin Carlson August 18, 2012, 2:02 pm

    Just the process of getting the matricula (vehicle registration)renewed is enough to make a person want to give up driving.

    Reply
  • Jack Parker August 7, 2012, 10:50 pm

    My wife and I are coming to Ecuador, initially Cuenca, in late October and we are curious if it is necessary to obtain an Ecuadorian driver’s license or if a license from the US is valid, as it is in other countries?

    Frankly, we do not plan to drive, or even own a vehicle, but rely on public transportation but would like to be informed.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Jakob August 8, 2012, 2:15 pm

      You can drive on your US driver’s license for up to 30 days after arrival. After that go to the Comision de Transito and they’ll tell you what to do to obtain a license.

      Reply
      • Jack Parker August 9, 2012, 10:37 am

        Thanks for the reply, Jakob!

        Reply
      • Terry Andrews May 5, 2013, 9:43 pm

        So helpful reading about the driving in Ecuador. By my understanding we can rent a car with our US lisence for up to 30 days. Now after reading all the scarey reports do we want to? We want to cover a lot of ground and see all we can see in the 3 weeks we are there. Would hate to sit in jail waiting for a court date or have to empty our pocket change to criminal police or lawyers because they want to take advantage of the gringos. The bus travels sound even scarier. Are car rentals cost comparable to US cost?

        Reply
  • Judiel May 15, 2012, 4:09 pm

    Wow Jakob I think nobody would explain that so tactfully and knowledgeable… As Hispanic sometime I struggle answering such of questions mostly for the delicate subject. Thank you for you participation in this blog.
    Judiel

    Reply
  • Ecuador vacation May 14, 2012, 9:13 pm

    I totally agree with you but being honest this things with driving are something like very applicable for maybe every south american or Latin american country. In my experience trying to drive in Colombia and Venezuela is so chaotic and risky!

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines May 15, 2012, 10:20 am

      You right – Ecuador isn’t any different than many other countries. Although I found Venezuela to be better than here. The comparison is from a Gringo perspective – the driving differs from most of Canada and the United States, which is what we are trying to help prepare people for.

      Thanks Carlos!

      Reply
      • Norm Stangl March 23, 2014, 1:18 pm

        Hi Bryan,

        As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the running of red lights involving three to four cars is an everyday experience even in Toronto these days. We just moved back to Toronto about a year ago after six years in California and noticed a marked change toward bad driving habits in this fair city.

        I’ve also observed people stopping in the middle of the road for no apparent reason and in other cases being overly cautious which can be dangerous too. Worse, reading and or testing while driving.

        Norm

        Reply
  • Lili May 9, 2012, 5:13 am

    Bryan, My family and I are planning to move next year. We have two small children (1 & 3 years old) do you recommend driving our own car or rely on taxis?

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines May 9, 2012, 7:30 am

      Well, we relied on public transport (buses, taxis and vans with drivers) for a year and a half. But we really like the independence of having our own vehicle. Also, our daughter was older so she easily got on/off the buses and in/out of the taxis. We feel safer with our own car but the majority of expats here, including young families, use public transport.

      Reply
      • Lili May 15, 2012, 8:29 pm

        Thanks for your advice :)

        Reply
    • Allison May 17, 2012, 2:35 pm

      Hi Lili. My family is planning on moving to Ecuador next year also, and we also have 2 young kids (8 months & 3). We have been struggling with the transportation decision also. There just seems to be something nice about having your own “space” in your car. Having the kids things there. Them taking naps if needed. etc. But the driving scares the crap out of me! Where are you moving to?

      Reply
      • Lili May 17, 2012, 3:30 pm

        Hi Allison, I totally agree with you, besides we need car seats, in public transportation there are none!
        We are not sure where we will settle, maybe Cuenca or one of the Valles in Quito. I’m an Ecuadorian native but have lived in USA since 12 :) Traveling with two small children is a challenge and we have many concerns regarding safety, vaccines, education etc :)

        Reply
  • Patrick May 2, 2012, 8:37 pm

    I have been driving in Ecuador for almost two years. It requires a heightened state of alertness, which for me has worked well to keep me safe. Anticipating the behaviour of the other drivers is essential. Expect the unexpected.You can count on being passed at any time, on the right or left, curve or not. I have seen the bus races, both as a passenger and as a driver. I feel safer in my own vehicle than in a bus or taxi.

    Reply
  • peter May 2, 2012, 6:13 pm

    Recently in the Cumbaya/Tumbaco area, just outside of Quito, a bus struck a bicyclist and killed her. The bus driver immediately vacated the scene. I reckon, headed for the hills and the relatively anonymity he might find there.

    My wife and I don’t drive but in the year and a half we’ve been in Tumbaco, we’ve been advised repeatedly that if we are driving and in a serious accident, our best strategy is to vacate the scene immediately. This advice always followed by a recounting of the days, weeks, and sometimes months, they or someone they knew had spent in jail merely waiting for a court date with no possibility of bail or release beforehand.

    The lack of regard for the safety of others on the road in Ecuador is strange, given that I can validate all of Brian’s observations above about Ecuadorian drivers, having witnessed them myself (and as a passenger having actually participated in a bus race on a two lane road where potential passengers on the roadside were bypassed in favor of “friendly” competition).

    It’s astounding the risks drivers here just going to the store will take. And it’s a curious paradox that so many would drive so incautiously given the draconian consequences should they miscalculate their luck and driving prowess.

    All this being said, according to available figures, albeit out of date by 4 years, Ecuador has a slightly lower fatality rate on the road than the U.S. and one of the lowest in South America. So, the moral is that driving in Ecuador, in spite of the fear factor, is, or at least was relatively safe, unless you happen to be the one of the surviving drivers in a serious accident. Then the going gets tough and your life can change in a heartbeat.

    Reply
  • Judiel Gonzalez May 2, 2012, 7:18 am

    Hi Brian:

    I’m interesting in know about buying a vehicle in Ecuador, and or the cost of sending one to that country (taxes, fee, complications).

    Thank you for your outstanding website.

    Judiel

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines May 2, 2012, 10:52 am

      Hello Judiel, you might be interested in this post How to Get a Car and Drivers License in Ecuador – The Guide. You aren’t allowed to import a used vehicle, unless it is a new car. I don’t know the specifics, you should probably speak with a lawyer here about that.

      Reply
      • Jakob May 2, 2012, 9:53 pm

        There is actually one case where you are allowed to bring in a used vehicle. If you own it and you are bringing it in as part of your moving to Ecuador.

        Reply
        • Bryan Haines May 2, 2012, 10:17 pm

          Thanks for clarifying this Jakob.

          Bryan

          Reply
        • A&M May 3, 2012, 12:05 pm

          Jakob, Can you please tell me where I can find this information about importing our own used vehicle when we move to Ecuador? What taxes and fees are accessed? Thank you.

          Reply
          • Jakob May 6, 2012, 11:11 am

            My wife is Ingeniera en Comercio Exterior, so she studied customs law (ley aduanera) at the University of Guayaquil. That’s one of my sources. Another source is a leaflet from the Consulate of Ecuador in Toronto, Canada, sent to our Canadian address, trying to convince us to permanently return to Ecuador (there is a government initiative trying to persuade Ecuadorian immigrants across the globe to permanently return to Ecuador). In the leaflet there were the things listed that we would be granted. One of those things was a private vehicle we already owned in Canada that we could bring with us to Ecuador. I do not have details about the required paperwork and fees. The consulate would know I guess.

            From my experience moving between countries I can confirm that in many countries there are special customs provisions for permanently moving your household to another country. Items that are part of your household at that time are not taxed in many places. Does not hurt to ask your local consulate.

            Greetings from Guayaquil.

  • RD Russell May 2, 2012, 6:55 am

    Brian, We’ve been in Ecuador 3 times and onece to Cuanca, yes the drivers especally in the mountains take too many risk. About the same as El Salvador,Puerto Rico and Jamaica where we’ve spent some time also, however I’m currently in Congo Africa teaching a truck driving course to locals. This is the scariest place I have ever drove. The conditions of the vehichles in combo with the total disregard for human life is hard to believe.
    The driving in Cuanca is not enough to keep us away though, after a return to the States in July we plan on returing to Cuanca in the fall to set up a permanent move. We love Cuanca better than anywere we have been. Thanks for providing the great info! We look foward to your blogs in Africa….

    Reply
  • Lional Todd May 2, 2012, 6:05 am

    I agree, I think the idea of driving here is frightening. What is amazing though is why anyone would want to. My wife and I live in Cuenca and find that for the most part walking serves our travel needs around town. When faced with longer distances or heavy or bulky items, taxis are both plentiful and cheap. And for really long distances there are many other choices than owning a car and all are very inexpensive and convenient.

    Finally, the cost of purchasing a car (much more costly than in the states or Canada) plus the cost of parking when using it and the inconvenience of having to find parking makes it a poor choice anyway. Certainly, owning a car here would be very hard to justify unless you have decided to live well outside of a city and have a frequent need to travel into the city. Even then, parking is difficult and somewhat expensive. Plus this circumstance begs the question, why did you move so far out to begin with.

    Reply
    • Jakob May 2, 2012, 10:38 am

      Lional… I will give you a reason. Many locals say that when you apply for a job at a certain white collar level and well remunerated you have a much harder time getting it if you do not arrive in your private car. For some reason many recruiters have that idea that if you are a successful professional you have a car. In Ecuador not everybody can afford a car, so it is much more of a status symbol than in North America where it is an item of basic necessity.

      Reply
  • Ralph Sabean May 2, 2012, 5:48 am

    I like your site as always but for the longest time I’ve been wondering why someone couldn’t drive to Ecuador. It would certainly be quite and adventure and possibly two weeks long if indeed you could get through all the different countries and would your passport work for all the many Latin American Countries, I think it’s what they call the central American Countries and Mexico possibly. I don’t know why though. They aren’t Latin and they aren’t American so why Latin American. Do all these countries use the American Dollar. Why? How difficult would it be? Hmmm I wonder.

    Reply
    • Jakob May 2, 2012, 10:31 am

      Ralph… You could get through with your passport just fine, but one of the reasons why driving is not possible to South America is the Darien gap. This is the only gap in the Panamericana where there is no road connection between Panama and Colombia. You have to either cross the sheer jungle in a 4×4 or take your car on a ferry. One reason why the Darien gap exists is decade long guerrilla activity in the area making all development dangerous. Over a decade ago two of my countrymen were shot in the Darien gap trying to cross the jungle there. I have heard it has gotten a lot safer now due to the Colombian government’s efforts to contain guerrilla activity, but I am not sure how safe it would be.

      You should not tell a person from Latin America that they are not American. You will end up in an argument. America is a continent and not a country and many of my Latin American friends consider themselves American. They resent the US use of the term “American” as a synonym of US citizen. That’s why the widely used Spanish term for US citizen is “Estado Unidense”.

      The term Latin America is rooted in the fact that it was colonized by two colonial powers (Spain and Portugal and to some extent France) whose languages are largely derived from latin. The Iberian Peninsula was part of the Roman Empire for a very long time which produced some of the languages spoken there now. This is a catch all term for colonial powers who emerged from the former territory of the Roman Empire to contrast the colonial powers of United Kingdom and Germany which were never fully integrated into the former and hence their languages did not contain the elements necessary to classify them as “latin”.

      Reply
      • Jakob May 2, 2012, 10:33 am

        Also, the US dollar is only used in Panama and Ecuador. In all other countries you would have to exchange for local currency.

        Reply
  • Jakob May 2, 2012, 5:42 am

    Bryan… Before I start I would like to say that I have driven in Turkey (where I learned triple passing), Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Mexico (Mexico City and Veracruz), Venezuela, Panama, USA, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Ecuador and the only place where I have ever had an accident (twice) has been Ecuador. Ecuador has also been the only place where I have ever had to help on the curbside once trying to pull people out of an overturned bus.

    I basically said this in a different post, but since you now write that “…we had read that the Ecuadorian law system was based on the Napoleonic Code – which meant (I read) that parties involved could be held by police until guilt was determined (I still don’t know if this is true or not)…” I absolutely confirm this since it happened to me. I was rammed by a drunk motorcyclist with no driver’s license close to Atacames and was held at the Atacames jail for a day and a half until a judge saw the two parties and settled the matter. I had to pay $1000 in “legal” fees in total of which $200 were the fee for the lawyer I hired to do the paperwork and $800 were essentially a bribe to have it processed fast, so that I would not have to sit in jail over New Year’s (the other guy was found at fault). When I was leaving, the policeman who had prepared the accident report in my favour actually also asked me for money as well. I pretty much told him where to go. I made some new friends while behind bars, a sicario (paid assassin) from Colombia, a guy who stole laptops from tourists, and my favourite the guy who would only steal personal belongings of the policemen and managed to do so even in jail (my only entertainment that day). In spite of the impressive biography of my new friends I left with the conviction that the criminals inside were better humans than the police guarding them. If you do not have anyone on the outside who takes care of all organizational matters (in my case my wife) you can sit in for two weeks before they process you in Atacames (There was a professional driver there who made the mistake to be poor and far away from home. His boss had to come from Quito to get him out.) and your chances to eat every day are slim (unless of course, the sicario likes you).

    When my lawyer explained the “fee” structure to me my only comment was that for their own safety they should not charge more than my friend here, the sicario. In big cities it is better since there is a Transit Commission (Comision de Transito) which is a separate entity to take care of only traffic matters. There is no Transit Commission out in the province, you will be taken in by the Policia Nacional who process traffic matters as well as criminal matters and they pretty much don’t differentiate between the two in terms of treatment. Did I mention that I was not allowed to call my embassy which is against international law? At least 5 local people told me to leave the accident scene before the police arrived and run, but I told them I would like to act according to the law. Did not work out very well.

    I try to see it on the bright side. You know your wife loves you when she spends a night sleeping on the concrete floor in front of your cell just to hold your hand through the bars. The police did not manage to drag her away (visitors are not allowed overnight) and they tried, so they gave up on her and just left her. Our marriage has actually improved since then.

    You also know that a friend is a friend if they immediately personally come all the way from Manabi just to bring you $300 because the local ATM machine did not cough up more than $500 (daily limit).

    I do not know how I would have handled this without those people helping me. I actually felt safer in Atacames after that since I knew all police officers by first name (the patrols would actually stop on the street to greet me) and many thieves as well (give them food and they will protect you).

    Reply
    • Jakob May 2, 2012, 6:00 am

      I would like to add that a minor accident with damage less than $400 and no one hurt will not result in police custody as the friendly officer who put me behind bars explained. That was in 2010, so the “personal free amount” might have changed.

      Reply
    • Doug May 16, 2012, 12:18 am

      Wonderful information, Jakob. Your contributions are always enlightening.
      Thanks, from future residents.

      Reply
  • DriverAbroad May 2, 2012, 4:30 am

    Great article! My website covers driving in every country of the world so if you could add any hints or tips on ecuador via the comments page that would be great . I can add a link to your site too.

    Matthew

    Reply
  • Glen Phibbs May 1, 2012, 11:20 pm

    Good job Bryan/Dena. I’ve been driving 60 yrs,US(all states and major cities)Canada,Quebec,Montreal,Toronto, all without an accident,but at age 75 I’m a little quesy about the risks that you’re defining in Ecuador.Taxi/Bus services don’t sound too safe either. Maybe I can find a trusted compadre to drive while I sight-see from the back seat !! Glen Phibbs/Oklahoma US

    Reply
  • Al Wiley May 1, 2012, 8:10 pm

    In our first visit to Ecuador in Oct 2010 we rented a car in Guayaquil drove to Salinas, Montanita, over the Cajas to Cuenca, up to the Inca ruins,and many more places in and around Cuenca. When we left Cuenca we drove to Guayaquil via Machala and the awful gravel mountin road detour in place at the time.

    The worst experience was getting lost in Guayaquil and those awful speed bumps which are indescrimently placed and not well marked. Overall we enjoyed the 650km we put on our rental car and will be buying a car and driving when we return in late June with our container as permanent residents.

    Al

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines May 1, 2012, 8:26 pm

      Hi Al, you covered a lot of ground on your trip. Glad to hear that you are coming back and plan to be driving.

      Knowing what to expect is half of the challenge.

      All the best on your plans.

      Bryan

      Reply
    • Doug May 2, 2012, 2:55 am

      Hi Al, We are planning a move there in the next few years, after a visit next fall. Can you tell me more about using container for transporting your stuff. We thought this would be a good alternative.

      Reply
  • Joseph May 1, 2012, 7:28 pm

    I enjoy living in Ecuador, but not for the driving. I have lived in Ecuador for 3 years now, first on the coast and now in Quito. Still don’t drive. A good Ecuadorian driver is about as common as a good Ecuadorian plumber. Both operate on the “cheaper and faster is better” principle, and both ignore the laws of physics. Here, the value of human life is very low, and respect for other people simply does not exist. For instance, leaving the scene of the accident is normal behavior. The blue hearts and crosses on the side of the roads are everywhere. From a price perspective, taking taxis everyday is much cheaper than the cost of buying and operating a vehicle (not even including accidents and theft or vandalism of your vehicle). In Quito, there are driving day restrictions that force you to use public transportation. Are there times I would like to have my own car or truck? Absolutely, Yes. So far, I am surviving without.

    Reply
  • Christina May 1, 2012, 6:32 pm

    Great entry. I live in ecuador for 10 years now and it is true what you say. However I do drive, in a solid car, and I feel safer than in a bus. At least I use car seats for the kids and seat belts, that DOES make a change. Oh, and driving in Naples, Italy is worse….

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines May 1, 2012, 6:37 pm

      Thanks Christina, I agree with you. We feel safer in our truck than on public transit – especially when traveling outside of the city. I’ll have to visit Naples – it should help me appreciate Ecuador even more.

      Despite the risks, we still drive everyday. It isn’t so dangerous that it affects our life – it often is more the shock of what people do than the actual risk…

      Reply
      • Mamoud May 1, 2012, 11:04 pm

        I agree with you, Brian, I did drive in Quito, it was hard for me because people did not respect the green lights. You did write: The light turns green and the traffic starts moving. Yellow, still moving. Red, still moving,…… and people too. For me, driving in Ecuador was very difficult and I was so scared…..

        Reply
  • Anita May 1, 2012, 6:24 pm

    I think you are right about Ecuador being a very dangerous and unsafe place to drive. I have driven in California and Miami and felt safe. Here I still can’t make my mind to drive. I am glad my husband has learned to “drive the system”.

    Reply
  • Jason May 1, 2012, 6:14 pm

    In my brief visit to Ecuador the driving reminded me very much of Brooklyn, NY. (not a comment on safe vs unsafe, just that the driving styles and attitudes seemed similar)

    Reply

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We are a Canadian family of 3 living in Ecuador since 2009. We blog about life and travel in Ecuador. If this is your first visit, start here. Interested to work with us? Read more about Bryan & Dena

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