Editor’s Note: Our Adventure Riding in Ecuador series was kindly sponsored by Court and his team at Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental in Quito. Ecuador Freedom offers Bike and 4×4 Rentals, Self-Guided Tours of Ecuador as well as all-inclusive Guided Tours. Egle will be guiding a Special Woman’s Tour of the Ecuadorian Andes with Ecuador Freedom later this year.
Ecuador and Peru offer some of the most stunning Andean, Amazonian, and coastal routes in South America. While you can always stick to the Pan American Highway, there’s a lot more that Ecuador has to offer – especially if you’re heading south. Taking Ecuador’s capital as a start point, here are some of the best routes from Quito to Peru.
The Pan American Highway
In Ecuador, the Pan American Highway is Troncal de la Sierra, or Route E35. Although it’s probably the most touristy route, it’s a great ride if you’re in a hurry. The road quality is excellent and there are some thrilling twists and turns to enjoy. The Ecuadorian section of the Pan American Highway runs along the spine of the Andes, revealing some tremendous mountain scenery and following parts of the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Expect high altitudes, cooler temperatures, and snow-capped peaks of the volcanoes.
Traveling the Pan American Highway from Quito, be sure to make a detour to Baños de Agua Santa via Route 30. Baños is a gateway into the Ecuadorian Amazon and the surrounding area has some great riding, spectacular scenery, and adventure sports if you’re into zip-lining or rafting.
Heading further South, you’ll reach Cuenca, a beautiful colonial town. Stop there for a couple of days to recharge. This is where you can also get tires or do some bike repairs as there are several decent bike shops in town.
Past Cuenca, you can stay on the Pan American and cross the border into Peru at Macara. Alternatively, you can take Route 59 towards Machala, then hop on Route 25 and cross the border at Tumbes. This is the largest border crossing between Ecuador and Peru, so expect traffic; but generally, the border crossing is fast and efficient. Road quality on the Peruvian side is similar to the Ecuadorian section.
The Amazon Route
If riding through a lush green rainforest and taking jungle tours along the way is your thing, head towards Tena following Route 20 and Route 45. This will take you along the eastern slope of the Andes where the foothills of the mountains merge with the Amazon. Expect more potholes and landslides than on the Pan American. However, this is a less popular route so you’re likely to have the place to yourself.
Stop in Tena or Puerto Misahuali for a couple of days to enjoy the rainforest experience. There are several jungle tours to choose from, as well as some fun stuff like tubing down the Napo river. Make sure to try local ceviche in Tena!
Past Tena, head south towards Puyo, then loop back towards the Pan American Highway via Baños and ride to Riobamba. From here, hop on Route 46 towards Macas to stay on the Amazonian side and enjoy the hot weather and the emerald green rainforest scenery. Then, continue south on Route 45 to Loja and take Route 682 to La Balza. Just before the border, the road will turn into a dirt trail, and the Balza border post itself is very small. Be sure to get your departure stamp here – this is a very small post and sometimes, the officials can be a little forgetful.
Decent quality pavement starts again on the Peruvian side.
The Coastal Route
If you love riding along the Pacific Ocean, take Route 20 from Quito to Santo Domingo, then ride Route 382 until it joins the coastal Route 15. The southern section of it is called “Ruta del Sol”, or the Sun Road, and takes you along tiny fishing villages and sleepy coastal towns.
Along the way, stop in Manta if you’d like to try surfing or simply relax on the beach. Further south, Puerto Lopez is worth checking out, especially if you enjoy whale watching. The local captains get their boats very close to the whales and you can watch them frolick in the water from up close.
Further south still, Montanita is known as the party capital of Ecuador, and Guayquil is a large port city famous for iguanas and delicious seafood. Guayaquil’s weather is very hot and humid, however, so be sure to hydrate well.
Past Guayaquil, Route 25 will take you to the large border crossing at Tumbes. On the Peruvian side, the road skirts right along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, then dips inland towards Piura from where you can continue on the Pan American Highway or ride east crossing the Andes.
For more information about Ecuadorian border crossings and visa information, see this post.
If you prefer to ride off-road, the Andean route is your best bet as there are countless dirt roads trailing off into the mountains. Off-road riding is legal in Ecuador except for the major national parks and reserves, so you have the freedom to ride pretty much wherever you like. Be respectful of the locals and especially the indigenous communities, and do not camp or ride through private lands. If unsure, always ask a local.