BORDER CROSSINGS -
BALSAS - A very quiet border. Staff were friendly but extremely slow as the last time a foreign vehicle entered this border was 7 months before us. We experienced no food controls at this border, our vehicle was not checked and we were given a 3 month visa for us and a 3 month import for the truck which we were told was STRICTLY not extendable. There is no insurance sold at this tiny border and luckily the staff did not ask to see proof of any. The road from this border to Vilcabamba is in the process of being concreted - you should read our diary page for details - enough to say this is a route we would not recommend if it rains until works are completed (? by early 2012).
RUMICHACA - Polite but unfriendly. We asked how many photocopies they wanted and when we returned with them they suddenly ‘remembered’ another one they needed. No vehicle checks or problems.
Polite and friendly. No issues with harassment or corruption. They have only asked to see our vehicle document. Seat belts are compulsory.
Sold at the main border crossings. We tried to source ours in Loja, our first big city, but they would not sell it to us. In Cuenca we found a company that sold us insurance but we could only get either a one month or one year policy. One month cost $19 and one year cost $80 - we bought the one year policy as it saved us the hassle of having to find a new insurance broker every month. Lots of insurance offices near the sports stadium in Cuenca on Avenida del Estadio. We used QBE seguros colonial at number 1-58.
DRIVING STANDARDS -
Much improved after Peru but still not very good. Fuel tanker trucks are particularly crazy and drivers here still like to overtake on mountain corners but horns are only used if some-one has been very bad.
A SERIOUS WARNING -
As we said earlier - you cannot officially extend your vehicle import papers. We have heard some horror stories about vehicles in Ecuador - one couple shipped their vehicle to Ecuador but were not at the port waiting to promptly collect it, they never got their vehicle back.
Some-one else was very ill and had a doctors letter to say they were unfit to drive - the aduana officers said that they would have to hire a driver to get their vehicle out of the country within it’s time limit!
Another couple, due to mechanical problems, overstayed their import papers by 7 hours - they were fined several thousand dollars!!!!
We are only passing on these stories as a word of caution - Ecuador is not a country where you should attempt to ‘push’ the rules for your vehicle. If you have mechanical problems you should immediately report this to your nearest aduana office and get them to put a ‘hold’ on your import days until your parts arrive - this can be done.
We felt happy to bushcamp everywhere except the large cities. Guayaquil, Quito, Esmeraldas and San Lorenzo have bad reputations for crime so although you may see some very nice places to bushcamp for the night it may not be a good idea. In these cities we looked for a secure car park or hostal.
Very cheap and readily found. All the garages charge the same price - $1.037 per american gallon but we suspect that some of the garages water down their fuel and the quality is not very good.
MECHANICS AND VEHICLE NEWS -
Ecuador has been the best country in South America for getting work done on our vehicle. Every town has a huge selection of parts, mechanics, body workers, seat repairers etc etc. And the prices are very cheap too! In Quito we used Star Motors but we would strongly recommend you go elsewhere to get work done (see our diary page). In Quito there is Autec Motors (they are the official Mercedes garage) and there is another huge ‘one stop’ workshop where you can get everything done, seats, painting, mechanics, parts etc - this is where all the overlanding trucks go to get work done - they say this is the best work in South America.
Both garages can be found on the main road (Av Prensa) leading north out of Quito past the airport.
Truck stop workshop is on the left hand side near Base Area military zone - S00.13084 W78.49240
Autec is further north on this route - S00.107667 W78.479028
Other workshops and mechanical places GPS points....
East of Guayquil near La Troncal for superb exhaust work visit here - S2.42352 W79.34473
Santo Domingo - For a superb truck wash (they hand wash your axles!) and full greasing visit - S0.26111 W79.20281 - $20 also on this street you can find seat repair shops and driving lights stores. Turn left at the big roundabout onto this next street to find tyres, windscreens, parts and much, much more S0.25938 W79.18238
Ambato - is full of coach work shops and auto part shops. We used Carrocerias Cuenca and although we would not recommend them, they do have one excellent metal worker who is a perfectionist and takes pride in his work - a very rare quality in South America. If you want a metal work job done and can stay to watch that this man does it, then we would recommend you ask for Iban (he is the oldest metal worker there). And the owner will let overlanders stay there while work is being done. S
Tena - Grijalva - a recommended mechanic used to diesel motors. S01.00591 W77.80938
Macas - A excellent genuine MB parts shop. S02.30758 W78.12040
The president has vowed to improve the road standards of the country.The contract to do this has been awarded to his brother’s construction company who are busily laying concrete roads in several areas. Coastal and mountain routes are mostly good with only some rough potholed areas. The Amazonian areas are also mainly asphalt - Quito - Baeza - Coca, Baeza - Tena - Puyo, Puyo - Macas - Mendez - Santiago are ALL asphalt. The road from Macas to Riobamba is being constructed and is a mix of good asphalt to terrible deep rough rock with deep water crossings - but there are bridges being built and a digger was able to create a path through the deep rock sections for us. It was a very beautiful route to drive.
There are toll booths on the major roads but they are cheap - $0.25 - $2.00. Total cost was $20.
Readily found in all the big towns - Supermaxi and Super Tia are the most popular ones. Large Malls can also be found in the big cities. Everywhere else you find what you need in the small local shops.
INDIGENOUS TRIBES -
You should be careful about where you go. Many villages do not welcome visitors and violence has been known. Gold panning in the rivers is illegal because of the use of mercury and it may not be safe to spend the night near a community that is doing this - they will suspect you of telling the government or trying to steal their gold. Taking photographs of indigenous people in the Amazon area is usually not acceptable unless you are with a guide. ALWAYS ask permission to spend a night near or in a village and make sure everyone knows you are there only as a tourist in transit or to see wild jungle animals. Do not expect to find beaded, bare breasted tribes people - all the indigenous we have found wear t-shirts, jeans and wellington boots. The truly indigenous tribes are deeply hidden in the jungle far from roads or civilisation. The best place to glimpse some tribal colour is in Macas where you may see a rare painted face and beads on top of a t-shirt.
Contact Jorge for excellent information on indigenous villages or to book a tour in the Macas area -
Jorgeav27@hotmail.com He is a really nice guy who will not try to sell you anything you don’t want.
Some of the places we stayed and other useful information......
A very quiet area near the central park with free toilets - S04.26401 W79.22258
Izhcayluma hostel - $8 for wifi, electric, hot shower, use of pool. Parking not good. S04.27898 W79.22326
SUPERMAXI Loja - S4.01216 W79.20290
Cuenca - Yanuncay homestead - Humberto and his wife are friendly and full of useful information at this well located site. We recommend that you negotiate the price! Wifi, electric + hot showers S02.90581 W79.02810
Gas bottle refill can be found at Austrogas, north of Cuenca - friendly and very cheap. S2.84080 W78.89413
Ingapirca - street parking by the site - no problems. S02.54081 W78.87249
Guayaquil - We found no parking in the city but there is a place to camp at Cerro Blanco, a natural park half an hour or so west of the city. $4 per person toilets and cold showers plus very shaded. S2.18642 W80.01754
SUPERMAXI Guayaquil - S2.09647 W79.93608
Salinas - Nice in low season, hell in holiday season. Good beach, very built up but there is a dead end street near the north end where you can be quiet and have beach views IF the parking boy will let you. No GPS point.
Olon - A quiet place on the beach - no problems. S01.79654 W80.76007
Islamar - Lovely place overlooking beaches and a island. Swiss owned and very friendly. $6 camping with cold outdoor showers and electric. S01.60003 W80.85331
Puerto Lopez - Park anywhere along the beach north of the village near S01.54986 W80.81347
SUPERMAXI Manta - S0.94369 W80.73383
Montecristi - A museum area on the hill. Not sure if you can spend the night or not. S1.05500 W80.66404
There is now a free bridge linking Bahia de Caraquez to San Vincente!!
Canoa - A big disappointment for us. Overdeveloped, no good bushcamping and noisy. If you really want to visit then you should look at the beach area 3 km’s south of the village - there are some hostels there.
Santo Domingo truck points - See notes above for details.
ENTERING QUITO -
The city has a traffic control system that works on your vehicle number. The restricted hours operate from 0700 - 0930 and 1600 - 1930 Monday to Friday. On Monday vehicle numbers ending in 1 and 2 are not allowed to enter the city during these hours, on Tuesday numbers 3 and 4, on Wednesday 5 and 6, Thursday 7 and 8, and Friday 9 and 0. The police enforce these laws and you will be fined a LOT of money. So be warned.
There are TWO main roads to enter the city from the south - You can follow the signs for Av Maldonaldo which will take you right through the chaotic historical centre and then onto La Mariscal OR the easier but longer way is to follow the Av Simon Bolivar signs .This route takes you on the excellent city bypass, avoiding all traffic until you enter at the northern end of the city on Av Granados, from there follow signs for Av Diciembre then Av Colon. Very Easy. From the north follow Av Prensa to Av Agosto to Av Colon - also very easy.
Where to stay in Quito - We know no-one will like our choice because of the 4am buses and noise but across the road is a quieter secure parking area that charges $6 per night with water supply. S00.20013 W78.48692 Open Monday to Friday for access and will stay open for you at weekends once you are there. It is on Diego de Almagro (between Santa Mana and La Pinta on the right hand side) which is off Av Cristobal Colon and it is superbly placed for wifi, restaurants, laundry and there is a Supermaxi supermarket on La Nina.
(Other parqueador (secure parking areas) can be found on Rio de Janerio which is off Av 10 de Agosto near Parque El Ejido and on nearby Jorge Washington.)
For people with no toilets or showers - we saw this hostel with good parking and they may allow overlanders - it’s called Hostel Esmeralda and it is on Av 6 de Diciembre, just down from Diego Almagro between Wilson and J Carrion. A 10 minute walk from the parking area we mention above.
Make sure not to miss the excellent museum - Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana!
Visit the wonderful Peter May, a German expat who sells all things solar. His shop is VERY hard to find and he works in the Amazon a lot so you should call him first - 084989688 or email firstname.lastname@example.org His shop is close to the International clinic on Av America on a dead end street called Hernando de la Cruz that can be reached from Av Atahualpa.
There is a excelllent small electrical store just off the large roundabout for Diciembre/Guayasamin/Almagro in Quito - not sure of the street name, it could be Alfaro or the smaller Belgica but you should turn right off Diciembre before completing the roundabout to join Almagro. Hope this helps a little.
There are also Kywi DIY stores throughout the city. One is on Av Agosto near Av Colon and another is on Av Diciembre near the turn for Av Granados. You can find sikaflex, inverters and lots more in these stores.
Good garages and workshops in Quito - See our notes above.
Amazon area information.......
Jamanco Termas - Near Papallacta. A great place by a small river. Quiet and free. S00.37481 W78.17085
San Isidro - Small roadside areas to park in rainforest area. Great for bird spotting. S00.59619 W77.88809
Archidona - A great place by a swimming river. Noisy weekends. S00.90463 W77.80848
Misahualli - Nowhere good to stay but the plaza area will do. Sadly the area by the river is closed off to traffic.
Tena - A quiet dead-end street by the river near Tortuga cafe S01.99335 W77.81500
Puerto Napo - By the river - ok for one night. S01.04346 W77.79414
Rio Napo 1 - Great place by the river to spend the day. Move for night time. S01.03655 W77.59172
La Punta - Quiet area to watch the river boats drop people off. S01.05735 W77.56428
Los Rios - End of the road until the bridge is completed, then you can drive all the way to Coca! Thursday morning market at this point brings in a lot of jungle villagers. S00.91046 W77.32925
Atlantis - Austrian/Ecuadorian owned. $5 per night to camp with use of pool, electric and poolside showers. Nice couple. S01.09328 W77.55756
Laguna Azul - Great. This road, which is not suitable for trucks bigger than ours, takes you to a waterfall/river area with lovely natural swimming pools. Unfortunately the final bridge that takes you to a excellent parking area is VERY weak (it wobbles with cars!!). There is space to park just before it on the roadside or you can ask to park on a large grass area in a 5 hut ‘village’ nearby. S01.07377 W77.95412
Rio Napo 2 - Excellent place to park by a river. Hidden from the road and quiet. S01.19714 W77.87742
Puyo - We saw this German hostel Turingia in town and it has huge gates with no height restrictions - we’re sure they must accept overlander trucks! S01.48616 W78.00175
Health Care - We used the hospital in Shell near Puyo - it will cost you $6 to see a USA doctor - bargain!
Pomona is a river side community south of Puyo that may be worth visiting - we missed the sign and ended up staying by the large bridge on Rio Pastaza for the night. Quiet. No problems. S01.92151 W77.82530
Macas - We spent the night on the hill by the giant Madonna - well worth visiting to see the stunning collection of moths and other strange insects that spend the day sleeping on the Madonna! Very quiet at night. S02.29881 W78.13973
Another option is Las Tolitas with it’s animals, nature trails and swimming pool area with toilets and showers. Parking is only suitable for smaller overlanders meantime but a larger area should be ready by 2012. $10 per night. S02.23475 W78.14040
The road to Riobamba from Macas goes up to the lovely lake area of Atillo but there are few options for overnight parking by these lakes. We carried onto Punin and parked on the very quiet plaza area where bare foot elderly ladies walk by with their heavy loads of crops. S01.76592 W78.65631
Banos - NOT our scene at all - full of tourists and noisy quad bikes. You can park overnight by La Piscina de la Virgen Termas or you can leave town and drive south to Rio Verde. In Rio Verde you can easily find a quiet free place to park by the river BUT we would highly recommend staying at -
Pequeno Paraiso - A hostel run by a Oz/Brasil couple. Hot showers, electric and lovely grounds $6 a night. Wifi extra. The entrance is tricky - it is 5 tunnels south of Banos and there are two gates - one has a height restriction of 2.75 metres, the other green gate has no height barrier. Email them to let them know what day you are coming and the gate will be left open for you to drive straight in. Highly recommended. S01.40216 W78.28794
Tena, Puyo, Macas and Banos all have large supermarkets.
Ambato - There is a family park with gardens, a lagoon, play and sports areas etc that also has a camping. We did not visit this but it is a good option if you want to visit Ambato. Just look for the HUGE green and red flag on the hill - it’s called Parque de la Familia and is on the Ambato/Quisapincha road. A VERY approximate guess at the general geographical direction on map source is - S01.26756 W78.65796
Other useful places - SUPERMAXI can be found in the mall plaza S01.26580 W78.62738 and a huge DIY Kywi store can be found at S01.26890 W78.62905 Park here for the mall as there is no parking at the Mall plaza.
Gas bottle refill can be found at S01.33275 W78.63593 on the south side of town. Very helpful staff but not as cheap as Cuenca. Also ask them for directions to their filling station near Ibarra.
Panamericana - A great little fuel station with less road noise and free hot showers. S00.99181 W78.59666
Quilotoa Lagoon - The car park for the lake. Quiet but cold. S00.86709 W78.91612
Cotopaxi information -
We entered the park from the south gate which is north of Lasso - the road from there to the Refugio Jose Rivas turnoff is corrugated. From this turnoff to the north gate is very bad - high ground clearance is needed and trucks our size or larger may incur some damage. We would not recommend this exit point. Camping in the park is only allowed in one place although no-one came to check where we were - there are toilets and fire pits at the official camping area.
Mindo is a popular place to stay but we found no pleasant areas to bushcamp. There are dozens of rain forest and eco lodges on this road leading to the coast and we’re sure most would accept campers for a price.
Puerto Quito - A perfect quiet place by the river. N00.12161 W79.25946
TIA Supermarket Esmeraldas - N00.93264 W79.67213
Beaches south of Esmeraldas -
Sua - No good beach parking areas.
Same - Has no beach access for overlanders. All the beach front land is private. There are two hostels as you leave that have good sea views and may allow camping - N00.84219 W79.93041
Tonchigue - Has shore front parking which is okay. N00.82848 W79.94864
Mompiche - Squeezed onto the side of the beach road. But it looked like the property behind us was building a restaurant/ camping area. N00.50781 W80.02204 We investigated the track leading south toward a large 5 star hotel - lots of dead-ends leading to the river or one to the sea - N00.50556 W80.02978
From Esmeraldas north to San Lorenzo -
Camarones to Rio Verde has lots of sand tracks leading down toward the sea. Some may be good but this area is poor and caution would be advisable.
Las Penas - Excellent! Okay, there’s no palms trees but this little town has a relaxed feel to it, there’s good beach parking, lots of restaurants, friendly people and you can spend the day watching the fishermen working. N01.09742 W79.16243
Rincon hostel - We saw this place in Las Penas if you don’t want to bushcamp. Huge parking area with a pool. You need to ask if they accept overlanders. N01.09411 W79.16676
Ibarra - Graham’s place. Email first and then phone on arrival as Graham is not always there and his place is hard to find. He has 110 and 220v electric, use of a bathroom and kitchen with seats and fridge. A really great guy who enjoys company and appreciates homemade meals instead of his usual bachelor takeaways! Phone - 09-4494883 and email email@example.com
SUPERMAXI Ibarra - N0.34645 W78.13546
Lago Cuicocha - A quiet place to stay overnight with lake views. N0.29267 W78.35727
Get all your fuel in Ibarra because San Gabriel garages sometimes only sell $5 of fuel to non local people!
BUDGET NEWS - £18 a day : 88 days and 4,614km’s
Fuel costs - Sold by the gallon - 3.54 litres per gallon. Costs $1.037
As usual - truck maintenance and health care costs are not included in our daily budget.