Having flown to Ecuador from Europe and gotten on two DR650’s, we’ve left the capital Quito and headed down the Western slopes of the Andes and along the Pacific Coast hoping to explore the Backroads of Ecuador, a self-guided motorcycle tour leading us around the entire country. It’s now Day 5 of our two-wheeled expedition in Ecuador, and so far, we have been greeted with warm hospitality everywhere we went. Locals seem happy to see travelers returning: from trendy coffee shops in Quito to local fruit and coconut sellers on the roadsides, Ecuadorians were eager to chat with us, ask us where we were from, and add,”bienvenidos” – “welcome”.
After leaving Quito, we crossed the cloud forest on small, winding backroads traveling westward, then rode along the Pacific Coast staying in small seaside towns and exploring local dirt trails. Ecuador is much quieter now: while travel is picking up again, the tourist crowds had not come back yet, and we feel like we’re rediscovering the country the way it was before mass tourism. Most hotels and lodges have few guests, the prices have dropped significantly, and it feels like riding Ecuador right now is the best decision we could have made. But is it responsible and safe?
Ecuador’s Take on COVID-19
Traveling in Ecuador is very different right now compared to last year: unlike most European countries, Ecuador had taken the early lockdowns very seriously and did not relax the restrictions during summer. When Europeans were enjoying crowded bars in Prague and open beaches on the Adriatic Coast in July, Ecuadorians stayed put, and when they finally lifted the lockdown restrictions in the fall, they did not receive a second wave of the COVID-19 like Europeans did. Even now, although people are out and about and most shops, supermarkets, and restaurants are open, Ecuadorians still wear masks everywhere in public (not just public indoor spaces, but out on the street, too), your temperature gets taken before entering a coffee shop or a supermarket, and when you check into a hotel, your luggage, riding boots, and riding gear gets disinfected before you enter the hotel grounds. Taxi and Uber drivers in Quito have plexiglass sheets between the driver’s and the passengers’ seats or are wearing masks and face shields.
All in all, we feel like Ecuador is handling the COVID much better than Europe has with its stop-and-go lockdown policies; we’d taken COVID tests before entering the country and we adhere to local rules and guidelines everywhere we go listening to the locals, staying away from busy places, and wearing masks. We’re social distancing by nature as we spend our days on bikes with full-face helmets, mostly sticking to smaller backroads, and we’re not the types to hang out in bars, museums, or tourist excursions. Speaking of which: local tour operators are offering whale watching tours, boat trips in the Amazon basin, kayaking, surfing, and the like, but they’re spacing people out more, reducing the numbers of people in boats, and taking similar precautions, so if going on local guided jungle hikes or boat trips is your thing, it seems it’s safe to do it here in Ecuador.
Locals vs Travelers
Everywhere we went, we have been received with hospitality, much like pre-pandemic. Ecuadorians love seeing travelers on bikes, and we got to ride a small strip of beach with local motocross guys, swap motorcycling tips with a two-wheeled crew of lifeguards in a small coastal town of San Clemente, and chat with enduro riders in the capital Quito. Most expats from the US and UK we spoke to said Ecuador feels much safer than their home countries right now, and to us, life in Ecuador is definitely feeling much freer, safer, and less frantic than in Europe. Ecuador was one of the first South American countries to open for travelers, albeit with strict entry rules (negative COVID tests), and earn their #safetravels certificate; we hear Colombia and Peru might be opening their land borders with Ecuador soon, so who knows, perhaps we’ll get to ride more of South America in winter.
Travel may not be back to normal yet, but Coronavirus isn’t going anywhere, and if we’re to learn to live and travel with masks, disinfection, and temperature measurements, we will. This is a new world to navigate, and it certainly has its challenges both for the hosts and the visitors, but now that international travel is legal and even encouraged in many places around the world, perhaps it’s time to venture out again, especially if it’s overland – and on a bike.
We still have some 8 days of riding on our Backroads of Ecuador tour, and we’ll be heading into the Andes and the Amazon basin next. How are Ecuador’s more remote regions right now? Stay tuned to find out!