How to use public transportation to visit tourist sights in Quito
Since I am completely committed to sustainable modes of public transit as opposed to taxis or cars, I was delighted to find that most, if not all, principal sights of tourist importance in Quito can be accessed by public transport. For a mere $0.25, one can navigate a vast network of efficient public transit system to get to different parts of Quito. It might seem slow, crowded and chaotic, but what’s the point of travelling if one doesn’t mingle with the common man and experience all that?
Part 1: Getting oriented
The city of Quito is uniquely shaped due to its location between two mountain ranges. The city is long and narrow – 35km North to South and only 7km East to West – with the main tourist attractions and business district located more or less centrally.
Tip: Since I am such a geek, I’ll attempt to relate Quito’s transportation system to a diagram of magnetic flux as shown in the adjoining picture. Feeder bus lines connect to three main transit lines.
Main public transportation lines
There are three main mass transit lines that run in a north-south direction, shuffling a massive volume of commuters from outer districts to the central parts of the city. These are electric powered rapid transit buses with dedicated lanes and stations, almost like how a subway or light rail system would operate. Cars or other vehicles are not allowed in these lanes.
The fare for each trip is 25 cents and you can transfer for free at certain stations. City buses zip through neighbourhoods, picking up and dropping passengers off at major transfer points on these lines.
The lines can get crowded, which automatically results in people being aggressive, but compared to, say, Mumbai, it’s a breeze to travel here. There are standard advisories about pickpocketing but nothing to be paranoid about.
Tip: No matter how much you research or prepare, there are chances of unexpected changes in routes or stops or general confusion when you arrive at a bus station. No worries, Quiteños are very helpful, just ask!
Part 2: Checking out tourist attractions in Quito
Tourist sights in Quito can be grouped into two major buckets: old city and the modern city.
Colonial charms of old Quito
Most of colonial Quito, with its neatly preserved, UNESCO world heritage awarded old churches, can be conveniently explored on foot. The Trole-bus runs through the heart of the old town, making stops at 4 stations – Hermano Miguel, Teatro Sucre, Plaza Grande and Santo Domingo – if you are coming from the north. The Plaza Grande station is merely a block away from Quito’s historic central plaza. Get off here and dive right into the old quarter.
The Ecovia line, coming from north, terminates at La Martin station on the eastern edge of old Quito.
La Mariscal in newer Quito
Two worlds meet at the Hermano Miguel intersection; colonial architecture switches to huge glass and concrete buildings, signalling the beginning of Quito’s modern business district. Key attractions here include lush parks for people-watching (El Ejido, Alameda and Carolina), lavish museums (Guayasamin, Chapel of Man, House of culture, and Banco Central) and ofcourse the nightlife and touristic core of La Mariscal, also known as the Gringo-land. Being Latin America, there are always neat churches and chapels sprinkled around.
Coming from the old town, La Alameda, Ejido, Mariscal, Santa Clara and Colon stations on Trole-bus line serve this neighborhood. The Ecovia line passes right through this area, stopping at Casa de la Cultura, Galo Plaza, Manuel Cañizares and Baca Ortiz stations.
Tip: If you want to feel as if you are travelling through time, from 16th century to 20th century, I recommend walking from the old city to the new city, which was one of the most enjoyable things I did in Ecuador.
Part 3: Connections to the world outside
Quito is well connected to the rest of the country, and even to neighbouring countries, predominantly by a bus network. Quito has two long-distance bus terminals – the north terminal and the south terminal. Both terminals are connected to public transportation lines to form a very integrated network.
Airport: Old and New
Quito’s current airport is located in the middle of the city, and about 8km north of La Mariscal district. Once you exit the airport, you’ll be on Avenue Amazonas – to your left is south (where most attractions are) and to your right is north (nothing touristically important there). Flag down any bus going south, it will lead you to La Y, a terminal for Metrobus (blue) and Trolebus (green) lines. There are other ways to get into the city but going to La Y is the easiest and fastest. Once in La Y, you can transfer to the old town or the new town through the Trole-bus line – see the section above – all for a mere 25 cents.
North bus terminal: For travelling to places north of Quito
Terminal Carcelén (Terminal Terrestre Norte) is used by buses that go to northern parts of Ecuador such as Otavalo, Ibarra and all the way to Colombia. Regardless, it is integrated with a city bus terminal with direct buses to La Y (Trole bus / green line terminal), Rio Coca (Ecovia / red line terminal) or La Ofelia (Metrobus / blue line terminal). You can literally get to anywhere in central Quito from this inter-state bus station.
South bus terminal: For traveling to places south of Quito
Terminal Quitumbe is the southern gateway and buses going to various cities south of Quito (e.g. Latacunga, Baños, Cuenca, Guayaquil, etc.) depart from here. The terminal is integrated with the Trole-bus station, so getting there is straightforward. Travel all the way south on the Trole bus line (green line) to reach this inter-state bus terminal.
Tip: If you are reading an old source, it might refer you to Terminal Terrestre Cumandá for inter-province and inter-city buses. This terminal is now closed and has been replaced by two terminals described above. Cumanda bus terminal is being converted to a bigass shopping mall.
Rail lines are being revived in Ecuador but there are mammoth construction challenges due to a hilly terrain. There is a railbus that runs from Quito to Latacunga through the picturesque Cotopaxi national park with stunning views of the volcano, but it’s not a train in the traditional sense. This tourist train is actually a modified bus that runs on a rail track. The Chimbacalle station on Trole-bus line is right next to the railway terminal Terminal de Ferricarriles.
- – -
So that was an overview of various public transportation options available in Quito. Several cities all over the world are constructing a BRTS (Bus rapid transit system) for mass transport rather than building more roads for cars. I find it encouraging.
If you have comments or corrections, please let me know!