Riding in Ecuador; tips, advice & route reviews

At the end of August, 2017, we finally set off on our long planned and anticipated Ecuadorian adventure.
Planning began way back in January when we first contacted the good folks at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental ~ take a look at these “Planning Posts”; 1, 2, 3 & 4 for a better insight as to how we got this epic trip together!

Ecuador is a wonderful country to explore a bike. The roads are excellent fun to ride and you will experience the full range of road surfaces; from long sweeping, easy tarmac curves to steep, tight dirt or cobblestone tracks that will test your riding skills.

You will need to be prepared for many and various manmade and animal road hazards as well as many stops to take in the spectacular scenery.

The following is a quick list of tips, advice and things to expect to help you make your Ecuador adventure awesome 😉

Riding in Ecuador
Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental

PART 1 ~ the practicalities!

1. Choose a dependable rental company;

Now, unless you are an incedibly hardened & intrepid rider and journey down to Ecuador on your own bike, you will be needing to rent a bike for your trip. The absolute best, numero uno, place to do this, is from the folks at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental.
They have everything you need to make this the best ride ever and are there to help you every step of the way; either with guided tours, self guided tours or rental only options.
We chose to travel with our own personal protective gear; boots, jackets, helmets, gloves etc. but all these items, in top brands and good condition, are available from FBR and included in the rental price.
Their rental bike options range from the retro looking SWM Gran Milan 440, through the varying BMW models, to the Enduro KTM 690R or Husqvarna 701, with many other models in betweenWhatever your riding style or adventure option, you will find that all the bikes, GPS equipment and luggage options are up to date and in tip top, reliable condition.
Additionally, they will supply you with an emergency tool kit, first aid kit and a pre-paid cell phone for access to support, 24/7.

2. Do NOT try to do this alone;

Seriously! If you read Part 3, “Route Planning” you will see that I thought that I was Ms Smarty Pants, who knew exactly where she wanted to go and could quite happily plan an amazing route for this trip.
Ha! Let me tell you this, if we had stuck to that plan, we would still be there; LOST. Somewhere in the back of beyond, never to be seen again!
No matter how good you are at map reading, planning and organising trips……please take my sage advice and don’t try to do it alone!
I am eternally grateful that we popped in to visit the guys at FBR during our “acclimatising day” in Quito. Those guys have the patience of saints! Not only did we start by changing our plans and bringing the whole trip forward by one day but when I presented Court with my “well planned” route and agenda, he wasn’t shy in informing me that it simply wasn’t going to work! Thus followed a good couple of hours, reviewing, replanning and generally saving our trip! We walked away with a pre-programmed GPS and a realistically doable 13 day ride plan, that would take us on some fabulous roads and enable us to take in all the must see/do attractions along the way.
Thank the Lord for that man’s patience. I believe that this quite literally saved not only our entire trip but quite possibly our marriage too! Without this redo we really would have struggled. I may have been cool with the first couple of hours on the first day but after that, we would have spent so long stopping, turning round, rejigging the GPS and generally arguing about it all, that I may very well have ended up walking home!
So, in short, don’t try to do it alone! Choose either a guided tour, or if you prefer more independance and flexibility, take a self guided tour.
The tours can always be cobbled together to allow you to see and do all you want to experience 🙂

 

3. Plan ahead for Optimal Health;

During your time exploring all there is to see in Ecuador, you will reach some super high elevations. For starters, the City of Quito sits at an altitude of 9,350′ (2,850m). Some of our routes took us up to altitudes in excess of 14,000′ (4,267m).
If you come from or are used to being in altitudes like this then all well and good, but we live in Florida and are lucky if we hit 345′ (105m) on any given day! The last thing we wanted was to experience the  light headedness, headaches and nausea that can come with altitude sickness.
With this in mind, we took seriously the advice from FBR to have at least one rest day in Quito to acclimatise after arriving, before we set off on the ride. In addition, just to be sure, we took a quick trip to our GP and picked up a prescription for Diamox, an altitude sickness prevention pill.
Whether these precautions truly helped or not, we never felt any ill effects of altitude so it was worth popping a couple pills for a few days!

Mount Chimborazo
While at the docs, I also asked for a prescription for a broad spectrum antibiotic in anticipation of upset stomachs. This proved to be one of the best parts of planning I did. Despite being super careful with what we ate and where we got our water from, I still had an attack of the “squits” and having the antibiotic ready certainly saved me from a most uncomfortable few days – I was able to knock it on the head almost straight away and only had a couple of hours discomfort!

4. Pack Light!

Part 4 of the Planning Blog, looked at packing light. I wasn’t joking!
You see those 2 panniers and the topbox; they held EVERYTHING that we would need over the 13 days of riding. Including the emergency tool kit, spare inner tubes, my laptop and the numerous plugs and leads for charging electrical items.
We also had to remember that the temps would range from bloody cold to bloody hot!
Even though I was quite proud of how well we had pared everything down, in retrospect, there were still some things we could have done without.

 

What worked;

The t- shirts & long sleeved tops that we invested in, Under Armor for him and Calia for me ~ we chose to take shirts made with moisture wicking technology to pull moisture away from the skin and boost evaporation time helping you stay dry, cool and comfortable, also, the antimicrobial technology inhibits odor-causing bacteria ie – stops you stinking!!
Both these brands worked well. We didn’t smell and when washed they dried quickly overnight.

The undies; we got the  ExOfficio, “Give-n-Go” boxers & briefs. Two pairs for him and three for me. I really was quite stressed about this but quite honestly, I could have made do with just two pairs. Both styles were lightweight and comfortable, washed easily and dried overnight without losing their shape or elasticity. Pretty expensive, but I had bought them in a sale. These are actually a very good investment 🙂
We also got Merino wool socks….these did and didn’t work. They really did their job well in the wearability department. We wore them for days in a row before washing and they did great. Even after a few days wear, they didn’t stand up on their own or walk their way to the wash. The only issue with them was that they didn’t dry overnight, you definitely need at least two pairs each. We both had two pairs of “boot socks” and Iain had two pairs of wearing out socks.
The Pants; Both of us got convertible pants ~ at REI we found his and hers PrAna convertible pants on sale; Zion for him and Halle for me. Again, on the pricier side but a good investment. Both pairs were of good quality, fitted well, were comfortable etc etc….all we could wish for. Being convertible they were versatile and good for both hot and cold weather. We didn’t wash on the go so I can’t speak for how easy that was or how quickly they dried.
The Shoes; much to the amazement of my family and friends, I actually made do with just TWO pairs of shoes! I am a self confessed “shoe-a-holic”!

My Teva Capri sandals were awesome! Incredibily versatile and comfortable, I would pop them in the top box for easy access whenever we got off and my toes needed air! They are lightweight and supportive enough for hiking and for climbing up and down a million steps…………
They are also stylish enough to be worn out with a dress in the evenings if you want to feel dressier than just biker gear 😉
Likewise, the Taos ‘Star’ sneakers were a great choice for colder weather wear. Comfortable and supportive, I never had any foot/shin problems with either pair of shoes despite a whole lot of hiking/stair climbing!
Toiletries; The Lush shampoo bar I got was amazing! It lathered up real quick, washed my hair well and smelled fab. Top tip; wash your hair in the evening. This allows the bar to dry out overnight so it can be packed easily again in the morning!
One travel size toothpaste lasted us both for the full two weeks – just!
We like each other enough to share a toothbrush – may be gross to some but it saved a little space!
Use a bar of soap instead of shower gel ~ lasts longer and is lighter. Again, shower at night so it has a chance to dry out 😉

 


What we could have done better;

Lush Travel Bars
Clothing; Even though we thought we had really pared it down, we still took too many! We both took extra tops for wearing out in the evening. Neither of us needed them. Iain just wore a clean top that he would then wear to ride the next day and I couldn’t wear mine as none of the accomodations had irons! I could have gotten away with just two long sleeved tops instead of four and three instead of four t-shirts.
I had taken two dresses for casual/evening; I did wear both but really could have gotten away with one.
Jeans; I didn’t need them, that is all!
Jacket liners; in all seriousness, although it did get cold on occasion, we could have dealt with that with just layering up – we really didn’t need the jacket liners and they take up quite a bit of space.
Toiletries; Unlike the shampoo bar, I didn’t get along with the Lush conditioner bar 🙁 It may be I just chose the wrong one but my hair needs a lot of conditioning and this just didn’t cut the mustard.
Chargers; Good grief, we took way too many chargers! In future I can cut them down to my laptop charger and then two USB leads which will charge the phones and iPad via the laptop.
Top tip; Ecuador uses the same plugs as us so no need to take an adaptor 😉
 

The Best thing we did; was to invest in these amazing “Travelwise Packing Cube System” from Amazon.

These made life SO MUCH easier!
We were able to organsie things to his/hers, shirts, undies etc etc.
They were lightwieght and durable and packed in to the saddlebags incredibly easily.
At just $22.95, they were a great investment!

 

5. Cash is King!

Next best thing we did; was to take note of peoples advice on cash.
Many places were cash only. It was easy for us being used to using US Dollars and that (strangely) being the currency in Ecuador. However, DO take small bills. Even a $20 was too big in many places!

6. Learn the Lingo; at least the basics!

The silliest thing we did was not to learn Spanish; at least the very basics. As noted in this blog post, this mistake became very clear to us at the airport departure gate before we had even left the US! In the bigger hotels and restaurants you will find staff that can converse but when you are really experiencing the country, in the smaller towns, stores and eating places, speaking some Spanish is a necessity. We got by, just, but I really do wish I had made more of an effort to learn prior to the trip.

So now that’s the practicalities dealt with. Head on over to Part 2; The Realities to learn more about what to expect when you get out and about on the roads to help you better enjoy the rides 🙂

Banos Ecuador
Pinas, Ecuador
Mindo, Ecuador

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