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Louisa Bike Touring at the Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador

Ecuador

Last updated: December 2023

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Key Facts Cycling

  • 55 days in the country, from 15/07/22 to 11/09/22

  • 1,601 km / 995 mi cycled

  • 34 cycling days

  • Overnight stays: 

    • Wildcamping: 20

    • Other free camping (villages, etc.): 7

    • Paid campsites: 0

    • Hosts: 13 

    • Paid accommodation: 15

    • Other (bus, ferries, etc.): 0

  • The Route: General Farfán - Nueva Loja - Lumbaqui - Coca - Papallacta - Cumbaya (Quito) - Ambato - Chimborazo Volcano - Riobamba - Guamote - Alausí - El Tambo - Cuenca - Loja - Vilcabamba - Zumba - La Balsa

  • Our Cycling Highlights: Chimborazo Volcano & Road 682: Loja to La Balsa

Louisa & Tobi's Bike Route through Ecuador

Key Facts Country

  • Official name: Republic of Ecuador (República del Ecuador)

  • Ecuador means equator in Spanish

  • Population (2023 est.): 17,483,000 

  • Capital: Quitó 

  • Official language: Spanish

  • Official intercultural languages: Quichua & Shuar

  • Currency: US Dollar (USD)

  • Area: 283,561 km² / 109,484 mi²

  • Bordering countries: Colombia & Peru

  • Dialing code: +593

  • Right-hand traffic

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Chimborazo Volcano

Louisa & Tobi cycling at the Chimborazo Volcano in Ecuador
Louisa & Tobi cycled to the Top of the Chimborazo Road
  • Ecuador’s highest summit (6,310 meters / 20,565 ft)

  • Because it located so close to the equator, the Chimborazo is the world’s highest mountain when measured from Earth’s center 

  • Thereby it’s also the closest point to the sun on the planet

  • We cycled up to the Refugio Hermanos Carrel at the Chimborazo (4,800 m.a.s.l. / 15,750 ft)

  • The route we took towards the volcano was really cool (check out our map to see exactly where we cycled), but also challenging (rocky & steep in places)

  • Along the Via al Chimborazo several hostels are located but everything we encountered was closed

  • We camped at 4,100 m.a.s.l. / 13,450 ft before cycling up the remaining 7-8 km / 4-5 mi to the refuge the next day

  • Starting at around 4,500 m.a.s.l. / 14,760 ft we began to really feel the altitude

  • As we hadn't been at high altitude for more than 2-3 days, we weren't acclimatized properly

  • Both of us couldn't cycle the last kilometer anymore so we had to push the remaining bit to the refuge

  • At the start of the road to the refuge you have to pay an entrance fee for the National Park Reserva de Produccion Faunistica Chimborazo

  • If you are planning to sleep either at the Carrel Refuge or the Edward Whymper Refuge (5,000 m.a.s.l. / 16,400 ft), you also have to pay for this at the entrance already (30 USD pp in Aug. 2022)

  • You can camp for free at the Base Camp (registration at the entrance is mandatory though), but the campsite is located on a very open spot, with no wind protection whatsoever

  • It was pretty windy and we both had mild symptoms of altitude sickness, so we decided to still cycle back down on the same day

  • Wild camping is not allowed in the park

Road 682: From Loja to La Balsa

Louisa cycling the road 682 in the south of Ecuador
Wild camping & bike touring in the south of Ecuador
  • From Loja you have several options of how to continue further south towards Peru

  • We decided to go with the 682 via Zumba to the border crossing La Balsa

  • The 682 is only partially paved

  • Where it’s not paved, it can be quite bumpy and (if it has been raining) also slippery

  • In some parts we compared it to the Colombian Death Road as it was winding through the dense rainforest

  • The road gets more remote the further south you get

  • We really enjoyed cycling the 682, but wild camping was quite hard due to the steep slopes of the mountains and fenced areas

  • We had to camp right next to the road a few times

  • Luckily there was little traffic on the road though

Camping & Accommodation

  • Except for the part in the south along the 682, we found wild camping in Ecuador quite nice & easy

  • Where we couldn't find wild camping spots, we asked in villages, at small churches, etc. if we could camp somewhere and it was always possible

  • One time we even slept in the school/kindergarten building of a tiny village in the Amazon basin

  • You can find accommodation in many towns, the cheapest rooms started at around 10-15 USD

Infrastructure

  • We experienced Ecuador to have a rather good infrastructure

  • Many roads we cycled were paved 

  • Unpaved roads often proved to be pretty bad though 

  • We had one bad experience concerning road infrastructure: 

    • The road E45 from the Amazon basin to Quitó was hit by a landslide in 2021 

    • This landslide destroyed ~100 m of the road between San Rafael & Manuel Galindo (location: 0°07'42.7"S 77°36'35.4"W)

    • No possibility to cross with any sort of vehicle

    • There weren't any signs indicating this road closure beforehand, meaning we had to backtrack and do a detour of around 400 km / 250 mi

    • Not even Google Maps knew about this road closure

    • The last kilometers before reaching the destroyed part, some people even told us it would be possible to get across with a bicycle (which it definitely wasn't)

    • The road might still be closed, but we can’t say for sure

    • Better go with the E20 from Nueva Loja

  • The tap water is generally not potable in Ecuador, but some places (e.g. Cuenca) have drinkable tap water

  • It's best to ask the locals if the water is safe to drink 

  • We always carry chlorine tablets to disinfect water if necessary

Spare Part Availability

  • As road cycling is quite popular in Ecuador, it wasn't too hard to find basic spare parts 

  • In Cumbayá (outskirts of Quitó ) we were able to buy new grips & pedals and had our bottom brackets exchanged

  • In Quitó you can also find many bike shops (we didn't go there though as we were staying in Cumbayá)

  • In many towns we encountered at least one basic bike shop

  • We only needed some brake pads and spokes, so we can't really say what exactly those shops were selling otherwise, but they were cramped with all kinds of parts

  • In Loja we went to a high-end bike store which had many Shimano and SRAM Parts (we only needed new lubricant though)

Sim Card & Internet

  • Main network providers:

    • Claro

    • Movistar

    • CNT

  • We had a Claro sim card which we bought in a small store in Nueva Loja

  • In urban areas we had good reception

  • But in the rural, remote areas often there was bad signal or none at all

  • Concerning nationwide coverage, Claro is still supposed to be the best option to go with

Climate & Weather

  • As Ecuador is located right at the equator, the duration of daylight (~12h) doesn’t really change throughout the year, with the sun rising and setting around 6 o’clock

  • Three different climate zones, which are largely determined by altitude: 

    • Pacific coastal area: Tropical climate with a severe rainy season (December - May)

    • Andean highlands: Temperate climate (Dry season: June to September, rainy season: October - May)

    • Amazon basin on the eastern side: Hot & humid with rainfall almost all year round (February - November)

  • We cycled through Ecuador from July to September and experienced little rain, in the Amazon basin as well as the highlands

  • If heavy rain occurs, the risk of landslides rises, so pick your route carefully

Border Crossings

  • Colombia to Ecuador (July 2022): 

    • Border Crossing General Farfán 

    • The ‘checkout’ from Colombia was just a quick stamp

    • To reach the Ecuadorian border office, we had to cross the bridge over the San Miguel river 

    • It was pretty empty on both sides, so it would have been a fast process, but after a power outage we had to wait two hours at the Ecuadorian border office for the power to come back

  • Ecuador to Peru (September 2022):

    • Border Crossing La Balsa

    • Could have been fast, but we had to wait two hours for the Ecuadorian immigration officer to arrive by bus

    • The process on the Peruvian side was quick and easy

  • Tourists from over 150 countries can enter Ecuador for a stay up to 90 days visa-free

  • With our German Passports we were granted a 90-day stay upon arrival

  • No costs 

  • Our Covid-19 vaccination was checked

Safety

  • Generally we felt safe throughout the whole country

  • When wild camping, we tried to avoid being seen though

  • We asked at churches & villages for a place to sleep on several occasions and had many nice encounters with the locals

  • The drivers were mostly considerate and the roads we cycled not too full

  • Luckily we didn’t have many problems with dogs

  • Emergency numbers: 

    • General emergency number: 911

    • Police: 101

    • Ambulance: 131

    • Fire department (Bomberos): 102

Cash & Expenses

  • Ecuador was more expensive than Colombia or Peru (especially accommodation), but still rather affordable 

  • Exchange rate Dec. 2023: 1 EUR = 1,09 USD

  • Ecuador introduced the US Dollar back in March 2000

  • In most places outside of bigger towns or cities you can't pay with card 

  • So make sure to always carry enough cash with you, incl. sufficient small change

  • ATMs are called Cajero Automático in Spanish

Tourism

  • Ecuador has a lot to offer for tourists, from great cycling and hiking trails in the mountains to beach life along the coast and on the islands

  • The biggest attraction of the country are the Galápagos islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific ocean located roughly 1000 km / 600 mi off Ecuador’s coast

    • The islands are considered one of the world’s best locations to view wildlife

    • We went there for a week, beginning of August 2022

    • We had lots of very close encounters with the wildlife, on land as well as in the ocean, e.g. marine iguanas, seals, turtles, hammerhead sharks, giant tortoises, several species of birds, etc. 

    • While the wildlife definitely was incredible and very unique, we had mixed feelings about our experience there because the islands are so commercialized and also quite expensive

    • Good to know if you want to visit Galápagos :

      • There are two airports, one on the island of Seymor, next to Ayora, and the other one on San Cristóbal - best don't fly in and out of the same airport so you can save yourself a ferry ride and have more time to explore all the islands

      • There is a certain procedure when flying to Galápagos

        • You have to pay a first of two fees here for entering Galápagos (the second follows upon arrival), it's payable by card

        • Look for the signs at the airport in Quitó or Guayaquil and follow the instructions 

      • On arrival at the airport, you have to pay the second fee (100 USD per foreigner) to enter the National Park of the islands, it’s only payable in cash (there are ATMs at the airport, but best bring the cash with you)

      • The ‘ferries’ (very uncomfortable speedboats, prepare for seasickness) running between the islands have to be booked at least one or two days in advance

      • There are hundreds of tour operators with whom you can book all kinds of tours, but they only take cash

      • Very few places on the islands actually accept credit card, so make sure to always carry enough cash with you (there are ATMs on the islands though)

    • In our opinion, visiting Galápagos is only really worth it if you go snorkeling or diving at least once as most of the (marine) wildlife can only be seen under water

    • We went snorkeling at Kicker Rock near San Cristóbal and it was incredible, we swam with seals and turtles and saw a school of hammerhead sharks only a few meters underneath us

    • We also did a taxi tour on the main island Ayora

      • First we went to the lava tunnels, which are really impressive

      • Second stop was the El Chato Ranch - Giant Tortoise Reserve, where you can see the famous Galápagos Giant Tortoises

  • Cotopaxi Volcano & National Park

    • Ecuador boasts dozens of volcanos, with the Cotopaxi being one of the most famous ones (along with Chimborazo and a few others)

    • The second highest summit (5,897 m / 19,347 ft) and one of the most active volcanoes (87 eruptions since 1534) in the country

    • We wanted to cycle into the Cotopaxi National Park via the El Boliche Protection Area, but unfortunately that wasn't possible (at least we were told at the entrance of El Boliche)

    • So we just ended up cycling along instead of through the Park

    • You can go hiking in the national park and even climb the volcano

    • As we only cycled past Cotopaxi National Park though, we can’t speak from experience

  • Cuenca is a really nice city

  • Along the coast you can find lots of nice beaches, but we didn’t go there as we decided to stay in the mountains

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