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 Ecuador

PART 2; the realities!

Disclaimer ~ this may sound like a big old whiny and complaining post, but honestly that is not my intention. We had the most wonderful time exploring Ecuador but it is very different riding to what we are used to and so this is merely sharing information so that you are ready to enjoy your experience too 🙂

1. Aggressive drivers;

The Ecuadorian people are very friendly, relaxed and chill. They hang out at the road side, chatting and passing the time of day. Wave greetings as we pass by and are all smiles……until they get behind the wheel of a vehicle ~ any vehicle! It’s like, as they turn the ignition, they are also flipping a brain switch and turn into aggressive, competitive race car drivers!

Out of the city it seems that everyone just wants to be the leader. Bear in mind, we’re on a bike, on an open road and going at a good lick, but everyone wants to pass us. It doesn’t matter if they are driving a car, a truck, a bus or a moped. Whatever it is, they want to be up front. We have been passed by a double decker bus, on a bend. We have watched double overtaking; someone passing the person passing us! The solid center line means nothing, anything goes. Seriously folks, it’s like the Grand Prix out there!
That all said, we never saw an accident and it wasn’t until the very last day of our trip that we saw any evidence that this form of driving doesn’t really work well!

Riding Ecuador
Riding Ecuador
Riding Ecuador

2. Buses;

The bus service here seems to be excellent. Large, modern vehicles that look more like tourist buses are in all the areas. Even high up on the barely passable dirt tracks (see day 1) we have been surprised by a bus careering around the corner! Bus stops seem to be random, but be ready, they don’t stop for long, literally moving away again as the traveler still has one foot in the door!
However, the bus drivers are c-ray-zeeee!. We saw some very ambitious overtaking maneuvers, going at speed, downhill, on blind bends! I’d have been getting off at the next stop and walking the rest of the way!
Iain says that all bus drivers must be retired rally drivers. They really do swing those vehicles around fast and furiously!

3. Motorbikes; with whole families on board!

The main form of transport seems to be motorbike! They are everywhere. All types, makes, models and condition. Everyone’s zipping around on them; young and old. They either speed on by you or putter along at the side of the road. On occasion, I’ve thought you could probably walk faster!
Many have been adapted to carry whatever they need to carry; often way overloaded and definitely not well balanced but needs must!
People will carry everything on their bike; a guy was hugging his gas bottle in front of him and could barely see over the side! Another guy had a better idea and strapped his on the back! A kid went by carrying his ladder and an old lady was barely balancing with about a months worth of groceries! They stack them high and wide, it just seems to work!
A favourite game seems to be; how many people can you get on your bike!

Riding Ecuador
Riding Ecuador
Riding Ecuador
Riding Ecuador

4. Varying road conditions/surfaces;

We soon came to realise that “peligro” is Spanish for; “big heap of stuff in the road” or, “half the road missing”.
The road conditions  we experienced ranged from brand new, excellently smooth, tarmac to highway that was no better than a sheep track! 

The heavy rains and land/mud slides from earlier in the year have left some big issues and many hazardous areas. In some places, there were whole areas of the edge of the road just gone, in others, half the road would be blocked with landslide rubble. The “Peligro” (“danger”) signs, when posted, were literally right on top of the hazard, there was rarely much warning! Occasionally the areas would be cordoned off, but not very often! 

Quite often we’d be happily cruising along on tarmac and the gradient would suddenly change and we were back to dirt road riding!

Pot holes were common – or perhaps better described as pot craters! Iain would often comment that if we had come across them in the dark and not seen them, we definitely would have come off.

It’s all good fun – just be aware!

Ecuador road conditions
Ecuador road conditions
Ecuador road conditions
Ecuador road conditions
We experienced a vast range of riding terrain. We had long lengths of new, smooth tarmac and gently sweeping curves. We rode farm tracks, dirt trails and ancient cobbletone roads. There were rolling hills and steep switchbacks. Quite literally everything you could thnk of.
The routes were exhillerating to ride and the scenery was stunning.
Ecuador road conditions
Ecuador road conditions
Ecuador road conditions
Ecuador road conditions

5. Roadworks with NO direction;

Road works are quite the anomaly. As described above, we have experienced many and varying road surface conditions. It does seem that the main highway system is being updated and new surface being laid in many places.

When we hit roadworks with no warning, it nearly wasn’t a good ending ~ there was no warning; we just suddenly came upon the workers, the torn up roads and the huge repair machines. There was no direction, no-one seemed to have right of way. There was no flag man with the stop/go sign to guide you through.

It was a bit of a free for all. Pick your spot and hope for the best!
You just had to plough on through the workers and stand firm against oncoming traffic. Easier said than done on a bike on poor surfaces!

We did have a wobbly moment when Iain worked hard to keep us upright. I have to say, if we were going to topple at any time, that would have been the best place as it was super muddy and a soft landing. That said, I would have been incredibly pissed off at being so muddy and as Iain said afterwards, he was more concerned at being embarrassed in front of the road workers!

Be aware – not just in road works but anywhere; if tere are no lane markings, it’s a free for all! People will be all over the road……..

6. Animal Hazards;

Road works, Ecuador
Road works, Ecuador
Road works, Ecuador
Road works, Ecuador
Road Hazards, Ecuador
Road Hazards, Ecuador
Dogs, cows, sheep, horse, donkeys and chickens!
They are everywhere!

…and if you get up on the high plains you will have the Vicuña dashing across in front of you too!
The dogs can be the most hazardous. They can eitherjust be laying chilling in the middle of the road and barely raise an eyebrow as you edge by them. Or, you can get the packs that will bark, charge and race after you!
The cows are fun! They randomly wander up the side of the roads; everywhere. Not just in the towns/villages, but up main highways too!
Mostly, they will just lumber on past but we did have a bit of a stand off with one particularly ‘hard’ young bullock! He stared us down for a bit and did a very tentative ‘charge’ but soon moved when he realised we meant business!

We never had much of an ‘incident’ with any of the animals, just had to get used to seeing them alongside, crossing or just sitting in the road.
We frequently passed saddled mules or horses just tied randomly on the verges, in the middle of nowhere with seemingly no-one around?!?
Road Hazards, Ecuador
Road Hazards, Ecuador
Road Hazards, Ecuador
7. Roadside pee stops; for men!

No pics for this section!!
….but seriously, it seems that it is totally acceptable, for the men at least, to just pull over and get out to pee at the side of the ride, or nip round the side of a building, whenever the urge takes them!
This was not just confined to the open road. We were walking in Quito, the capital city, when a guy pulled over, his passenger hopped out, ran to the nearest tree, relieved himself, ran back to the car and off they went again!

8. One way systems; not on the GPS!

The GPS doesn’t care to show one way streets and a couple of times we were guilty of turning down the wrong way and riding against the flow of traffic. Thankfully this it was always in low traffic areas! Here’s the difference; if this happened in the US, or even the UK, we would have been met with blaring horns, gesticulations and general obnoxious derision. Over here, barely anything! Maybe a couple small peeps, but then they peep so much anyway you wouldn’t notice! It was more the pedestrians who bought our attention to the mistake but in a friendly kind of way.

9. People selling their wares; in the middle of the road!

You can literally buy anything as you are driving by!

We first saw girls walking up the middle of the city streets with ice creams or juices.
Then as we got out and about a bit more we came across a guy selling toilet paper, hand wipes and various other sundries!
No need for a grocery stop, you can just pick up what you need as you drive home!
Folks will set up little stalls right in the middle of the road and you can do a drive by stock up 🙂

Quito Ecuador
Quito Ecuador
Quito Ecuador

10. Be realistic when planning;

If you are a seasoned rider, used to spending hours on the road and eating up the miles, think again. We are used to planning routes in North America, where you can do, 300/400m plus in a day quite easily. There were a couple of days in my original route when I had planned longer rides. Thankfully, the guys at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental were quick to put me right on that idea! The varying road conditions make it hard to do these marathon rides. Some short routes can take hours. This is not a bad thing – it means that you are experiencing some thrilling roads/trails and enjoying spectacular scenery. Just be very careful not to over extend yourself and know what to expect on the route. Also, never ride after dark. The road conditions and animal hazards make this extremely dangerous. Aim to be at your stop well before dark dark falls.
As advised in Part 1; Practicalities, I HIGHLY recommend that you book a self guided tour with FBR 😉

So that’s the realities folks! Honestly, the best trip we’ve had but some things to be aware of! Now, if you haven’t yet, take a look at Part1; Practicalities, to help you with how to plan and what to take 😉

Motorcycle touring, Ecuador
Motorcycle touring, Ecuador
Motorcycle touring, Ecuador
Motorcycle touring, Ecuador

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