Getting Around in Quito: Some Tips for Public Transportation

Madison Kelly
March 11, 2020

Recently, a group of professors and advisors in study abroad departments from various universities in the United States came to visit Quito. They were here to see what our program is really like, so they can advise students better in the future, and they were able to sit in on classes, take a tour, and eat dinner with some of us at our homes here. The dinner went really well, but as I flagged down a taxi to take the three women visiting my host family back to their hotel, one of them remarked, “Wow, getting around this city seems impossible.”

The idea of transportation is one that often worries students before coming abroad. It’s hard enough for me to get around my small city in the United States without getting lost - I had no idea how I was going to manage in a new country. But now that I’ve been here for two months, I can honestly say that I’ve found getting around in Quito to be way easier (and more fun) than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. So, future students, professors, and study abroad advisors, here are my tips for all the main ways of getting around Quito, Ecuador:


I walk absolutely everywhere I can. The weather here has stayed pretty constantly in the 60’s, and it’s sunny and beautiful. My host family’s apartment is about a 30 minute walk from the IES Abroad Center, where I take classes Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Safety-wise, all of the streets I walk on are pretty busy, and it’s always good to be aware of where you are and what you’re carrying. That said, I haven’t felt more unsafe here than I would in any city in the United States.

It is important to note that walking is harder here - Quito is at an altitude of 9,350 feet, and the first few weeks, I felt it. Now that we’ve all adjusted, it’s much easier than it was when we first got here, and walking to and from classes has become one of my favorite parts of the day.


At the beginning of the semester, we were told all of the markers of a legal taxi. There are plenty of illegal taxis around here, and they will see your gringo-ness and immediately charge way more than they should. I’ve never felt unsafe in a taxi, and there’s always been plenty of taxis available for me to take, but it is important to look out for the illegal taxis, if only to save your wallet.

I’ve only had one bad experience in a taxi. A few weeks ago we went on a field trip for my Andean Popular Arts class, and in order to get there, we split into three groups to take separate taxis. The other two groups arrived in the Historic Center of Quito way earlier than our group, and they were charged less than five dollars for the trip (it takes about 30 minutes, depending on traffic - taxis here are much much cheaper than in the US!). We arrived, and our driver asked for 15 dollars. Two of my friends left the taxi to find our professor, leaving me and one other girl to argue with the taxi driver, explaining that he was overcharging us and that our friends had traveled the same distance for less than a third of the price he was asking. He wouldn’t budge, and we only had the five dollars we were given for the trip. It took our art professor getting into the taxi and threatening to call the police before he backed down.

During no part of the experience did we feel unsafe, but it’s important to know about how much a trip should cost in order to avoid getting scammed. Ask upfront about how much the trip will cost. Ask professors or the IES Abroad staff what to expect in terms of a price range - they’ve been so helpful so far and your wallet will thank you later! And once you’ve been in Quito for a little bit, you’ll get a sense of how much you should be paying for a taxi.


Just like taxis, Uber here is way cheaper than in the United States. I’ve only taken Ubers when I need to, once it gets dark and walking long distances down mostly empty roads isn’t really an option. I’ve had quite a few Ubers that have cost less than two dollars - two dollars would barely get you a few feet in the States. After being spoiled like this, my first US Uber, once the semester is over, is going to seem absolutely absurd.


This might sound crazy, but… I love the buses here. They are infinitely better than any bus I’ve taken anywhere else. While there are plenty that are quite similar in the US, the one I take on Mondays and Wednesdays to get to the local university is fantastic. They have nice cushioned seats that recline, curtains on the windows… I’ve been on a few with signs that display the time and how fast the bus is going - and it’s way faster than any bus in the US. Sometimes there’s entertainment, people coming on to sing or rap, or sell a wide variety of goods, from mangos to necklaces to ice cream to headphones. And all of this for only 25 cents!


Last but not least… the Ecovia. During orientation, they told us a joke: How many people can fit on the Ecovia? Answer: Fifteen more.

It’s true. The Ecovia is another public bus system, that runs in a separate lane in the middle of the road. Just like the buses, it costs a quarter, but unlike the other buses, it can be really cramped and uncomfortable. Just when you think that no one else could possibly fit, about five more people squeeze in and everyone finds themselves wedged between three other people and the wall. It’s not my preferred mode of transportation, but it will get you where you need to go!
So, if you’re worried about getting around in Quito, don’t be. It only takes a few days to figure out, and soon, like me, you’ll be hoping that public transportation in the US was as easy and cheap as it is here!

Madison Kelly

<p>My name is Madi Kelly, and I am a junior at the University of Vermont. I am studying Linguistics and Spanish, with a minor in Deaf Studies. I am hoping to be an ESL teacher, and I have taught abroad in Ukraine and South Africa so far, but I have never been to South America, and I can’t wait to see Ecuador!</p>

2020 Spring
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