Expat Life

You’re ready to go hiking … but how do you get to the trail head?

Beautiful hiking adventures await you near Cuenca, but how do you get there?

Editor’s note: This is the fifth of an eight-part series by writer / photographer Brian Buckner about hiking in the Cuenca area. To read the earlier installments, see the links at the bottom of the article.

By Brian Buckner

Transportation, as identified here, refers to the manner in which you get to the point where you’ll begin your hike and return home afterward. Unless you are beginning an urban hike just outside your front door, you’ll need a means of transportation.

Public Transit

For hikes beginning on the outskirts of Cuenca, the city’s public transit system — those smokey blue and red buses you see tooling all over town — can get you to places you wouldn’t imagine. But how do you find out where they go? Probably the simplest way is to ask the folks at the bus stop; most of them have been riding city buses for years and know the routes they ride by heart. Another way to learn, used by many expats, is to hop on any bus, ride it to the end of the line, then return; do this enough (and take notes, of course) and you’ll become an expert on the city bus system.

You can find route maps on the internet but keep in the mind that they are often out-of-date. Two places to look are www.cuenca.gov.ec (City of Cuenca official website) and cuencabussherpa.com.

You can’t miss the blue city buses.

Special internet apps can also be useful for locating bus routes. With the introduction of transit apps for smartphones, it’s easy to see and plan your city bus routes, even with multiple line changes. I use Moovit which works well in Cuenca.  It is free so download it into your smart phone and step into 21st century international bus riding.

Then, there’s what I call the “Green Bus.”  It usually originates from centers of commerce like Feria Libre and it is painted green, logically enough. It will go to places in the country, sometimes very far away and on roads of questionable integrity. If you need to ride from the market to ChauCha a town in the mountains and far west of Cuenca in a remote area, this will be your vehicle of choice. If you see it approaching on a country road, just flag down the driver and he’ll stop. The green buses run an hourly schedule, more or less. This bus might cost a quarter or a couple of bucks, depending on where and how far you are riding. All the buses offer easy to use and cheap transportation.

Mixtos

A “mixto” at a Cuenca market.

You can spend a little more money once you are in the country to get up roads you don’t want to have to hike. This is when you hire a mixto. Most are double-cab Toyota or Chevy pick-ups painted white with a broad green stripe. They will have black lettering telling you the area they work in. By law, the drivers won’t let you and your buds ride in the bed, not on paved roads around town anyway, so you’ll need to ride in the back seat. About four can fit inside, not including the driver. Negotiate the price based on where you want him to take you and your friends. In my experience, you should consider five bucks a little high for the four of you to go several miles on a dirt road. There are plenty of mixtos in rural areas so ask the next driver if you don’t like the price the first on quotes you.

Taxis

City taxis are everywhere.

If you simply have to have it all to yourself, then you can hire a taxi. Get ready to unlimber those purse strings though, it’ll be costly to have your own chauffeur and vehicle for the mountains or simply the dirt roads. Settle on a price before you begin your trip. Have a printed copy of your map on hand for him to examine and quote from. The more you can show him about where he will be taking that cab, his money-making machine, the more likely he will be to even accept your fare. Most of these guys charge a hefty premium when their cab leaves concrete or asphalt. But, if you want an ice bucket filled with some bubbly on the way to start your hike, this choice should serve you well. And, there won’t be any wet sneezes on the back of your neck like you might experience when riding the bus.

Terminal Terrestre

Terminal Terrestre is a bus terminal in Cuenca that offers what is known as inter-provincial (long distance) bus service across Ecuador. You catch a bus  there to other smaller towns like Giron and Biblian and then explore those areas before starting your hike from the town edges. You can also catch a bus to Quito, Esmeraldes or Loja at Terminal Terrestre. Anywhere around Ecuador you need to go, you’ll find a bus to go there from the “Terminal.” Again, it’s cheap and easy transportation.

Private Vans

Private vans and small buses can hold 8 to 35 people and are a good choice when you are with a group that needs to travel together to a far away place to do your hike. Hire one to travel from Cuenca to Naranjal, on the coast, one morning and then to return in the late afternoon. Go see and hike the Seven Cascades, you’ll have fun!

Your Own Vehicle

A new Toyota Hilux.

Your own private vehicle can be great but owning one is a more costly than the above mentioned options. If you like to head out on your own, whenever you want, wherever you want, you can’t beat it. Edie and I didn’t start with a nice new truck when we first moved here, and, we still use the bus most of the time.

We chose a 2015 four-wheel-drive Toyota Hilux and then sent it to a shop to have it specifically outfitted for our South American travels. It now has all types of special lights, custom fabricated bumpers, suspension lift, aggressive tires, skid plates, winch, etc. There are remote and private areas we go in the Andes and often, we ford rivers in our truck. Use good judgement at all times and always respect private property rights.

Previous posts in Brian’s hiking series:
Urban hiking
Rural hiking
Hiking the Cajas
The people you meet

 

Brian Buckner

Brian Buckner
After a successful career in manufacturing, Brian Buckner sold his commercial window fabrication plant and now makes his home with his wife, Edie, in Cuenca. He is a photojournalist and writer currently producing photo essays and stories of life in Ecuador. He and his... Read More
  • M. Shahbaz Khan

    Thanks Brian. This is useful information; I wish I had it when I first got here 4 years ago.

    • Brian Buckner

      Thanks Shahbaz for your continued support in this hiking series. You’re posts have added additional and meaningful flesh to the bones of the hiking series!

  • TerryDarc

    Can recommend the Terminal Terrestre buses mentioned in the story for longer distance. There is a website (espanol) that gives the name of the line, the time of departure/arrival as well as the class of bus (fancy to chicken). Really cheap, pretty fast but you gotta watch your stuff.

    Recommend the trip to Vilcabamba and/or Zamora to dip into hiking in Podocarpus. Bus takes probably 6 hours and you change in Loja for Zamora. Nice stay outside Zamora, near the park in Copalinga – see Tripadvisor. Beautiful spot.

    • Brian Buckner

      Hi Terry and thanks for stopping by with your useful comments. See you on the trails you mention!

  • MountainHombre

    A great app for buses is “Cuenca Bus Map” available for free on Google Play Store. If you have an IPhone, check their apps for availability.

    • Brian Buckner

      Hi Mountain and thanks for stopping by with your most useful responses to my series. See you on the trails!