What comes to mind when you think of a motorcycle tour in Ecuador? Tropical jungles, glacier-capped Andes Mountains, the beaches of the Pacific? As my friend and partner in petty crime (motorcycling, that is) Jurga and I found out, Ecuador is all of that and much more. Read on to find out about the trouble we got in and out of while riding Ecuador aboard two noble Yamaha XT250’s below!
Women ADV Riders vs Ecuador
As a traveler and freelance tour guide, I’ve been coming to Ecuador for several years now, drawn to this little Andean country like a moth to light because of its awe-inspiring scenery, its people, the unlimited freedom to ride off-road for days without touching the tarmac and, let’s face it, its glorious canelazo (a local sugarcane liquor mixed with spices and cinnamon). This time around, however, I had Jurga coming over to join me; she’s a boat captain, a wakeboarding goddess, and a fearless mototraveler mostly found wandering the dunes of Morocco on her own or crossing Vietnam aboard a small Honda. Jurga doesn’t believe in touristy places or highways, so my task was simple; get us two dirtbikes, and get us off the road.
Landslides and Forgotten Villages
We started our Ecuadorian odyssey in the capital Quito, at the headquarters of Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental. I’ve known Court and Sylvain, founders of Freedom, for a few years now, and we’ve worked and ridden together enough for me to know that these guys run an excellent shop; in addition to being experts on all things Ecuador, bikes, and coffee, Court and Sylvain have a knack of designing boutique tours that focus on the local ways of life and people as much as the motorcycling and the scenery.
They’re also outrageously hilarious, which is a bonus in my book, and Jurga hit it off with them immediately, taking to Sylvain’s French humor and love of dogs. Having saddled up two Yamaha XT250’s and an SWM 650 for my boyfriend Lennart who was to join us for a few days, we left the bustling streets of Quito and headed for the mountains. Coincidentally, the day we left was New Year’s eve, and we filled our pockets with small change to pay improvised tolls to Ecuadorians who celebrate the New Year by dressing up in costumes and erecting makeshift roadblocks: because of COVID, there were very few of those carnival-like celebrations in the streets, but we still got stopped by groups of happily tipsy locals dressed in drag.
Our destination for the day was Quilotoa crater lake, a stunning turquoise blue lagoon tucked away in the high Andes. As soon as we left Quito, it started raining, so we traveled slowly, exploring the cobblestone roads and dirt trails leading us deeper and deeper into the lush green mountain country. Once you leave the city, Ecuador begins to change: green slopes of the mountains are free of any signs of civilization with the occasional highland village or a herd of animals dotting the wilderness; the dirt roads shooting off in all directions lead across high mountain passes, tiny nameless villages, and places off the beaten path that feel so remote and so isolated yet lie just twenty or thirty miles from the capital. The rain soon became sleet, and sleet became hail, but we rolled onwards splashing in the mud, striking silly poses for photos, and laughing our butts off: Ecuador wasn’t’ going to let us off easily, and we were ready for adventure.
We reached Quilotoa in the dark, shivering and freezing, but our hotel welcomed us with fireplaces roaring in each room and dinner already being cooked, and our New Year was quiet – there were no tourists in Quilotoa at all – but magnificent in every way. We dried our gear by the fires, had a celebratory Cuba Libre served in tea mugs which Jurga procured from her bag, and slept like logs wondering what the next day would bring.
For one, it brought sunny weather, but Ecuador wasn’t done testing us just yet. Having left Quilotoa and aiming towards Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain and a sacred site for the indigenous Quichua people, we soon veered off the main routes and hit dirt once more, following a narrow mountain path leading South.
We traversed the Moon-like landscapes of the high plateaus, hit remote mountain regions where the scenery seemed like that of Scotland and Norway, then descended down into the cloud forests on the Western slopes of the Andes reveling in the hot, humid temperatures and fairytale waterfalls cascading down rocks and cliffs. As soon as we hit the warmer weather, we also hit our first landslide: the road was gone, covered completely in fallen rocks, earth, and tree roots.
Landslides or no landslides, we had places to be, and turning back would have meant a detour of more than a hundred miles, so having walked gingerly across, we decided we’d give it a shot. I rode over first, Lennart helping me across a particularly rocky section, Jurga giggling and filming the proceedings; then, we got Lennart’s SWM across, and finally, Jurga rode her XT over the landslide, elegantly as ever. The washout conquered and duly documented, we jumped back on the bikes and rode on, refueling by means of a local man and his elderly mum selling us some gas from canisters, and ended up in Facundo Vela, a tiny village in the mountains so remote it was only accessible by a crumbling dirt track.
It was already dusk when we reached Facundo Vela, and the village was so small and remote it dawned on us hotels may be tricky to find. We guessed right – a local welder working on a door frame in his workshop told us hotels were not really a thing in Facundo Vela, but we could try asking at that green house across the main square – that one on the corner – because the owner sometimes rents out rooms to passing truckers. Unfortunately, the Green House landlord didn’t feel like hosting three muddy gringos that night, and in the end, we were offered two mattresses on a floor in a semi-abandoned building above a local grilled chicken eatery.
Having gratefully accepted the mattresses, we thanked the woman who owned the little restaurant, peeled off our wet gear, and set about finding dinner. The lady of the house cooked up some rice and chicken and poured us each a shot of chaco, local sugarcane moonshine (“to keep Corona away”, she explained; apparently, Facundo Velans liked to disinfect from the inside, using shots of chaco with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, just to be on the safe side). In the morning, we discovered our accommodation also housed half a dozen local families, a few chickens on the rooftop, and a small tribe of enormous cockroaches, but we were grateful for the stay, gulped down some sugary coffee, and hit the trails again.
Motorcycling the Amazon Basin
For the next few days, we wandered about Banos de Agua Santa, a lovely little mountain town known for canyoning, zip-lining, and rafting, lazed around in hammocks, hosted a barbecue party at our charming little getaway in a cabin by the river, and parted ways with Lennart who needed to get back to Quito to catch his flight to Spain.
Left to our own devices, Jurga and I continued East: riding little dirt trails and hanging bridges, we hit the pavement for a day making it to Macas, a town straddling the mighty Upano River at the foot of the active Sangay Volcano. The Sangay National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in Ecuador: its highest pass at Atillo Lakes reveals scenery straight out of the Lord of the Rings movies, and descending down into the Amazon basin, we rode through landscapes conjuring up Jurassic Park in my mind.
Having reached Macas, we promptly located a jungle lodge featuring a swimming pool with close proximity to a bar and set about researching dirt trails on Wikiloc and sampling local beer. As the evening wore on, we got invited to a barbecue by a bunch of holidaying Ecuadorian Air Force pilots and gold prospectors; we couldn’t say no to free food and campfire stories about looking for gold in the Amazon, and the next morning, we headed off into the rainforest.
There is no shortage of little muddy trails crisscrossing the jungle around Macas, and we spent the day frolicking in the mud, crossing creeks, looking for waterfalls, and ending up at people’s houses or, well, nowhere as the trails would disappear at a local’s back yard or a river. We didn’t cover much ground, but we did cover our bikes in mud so completely we seriously contemplated riding them straight into the swimming pool upon our return.
For the remaining days, Jurga and I explored the Eastern slopes of the Andes, tested the little XT’s on high mountain passes, and returned the bikes to Quito soaking wet, grimy, and grinning from ear to ear.
If you’re thinking of doing a motorcycle tour in Ecuador, or if you’d simply like to fly in, rent a bike, and ride around for a bit, whether solo or with friends, here’s what you’ll need:
Bike Rental and Tours
Both Jurga and I cannot recommend Freedom enough – these guys have a fleet of fifty motorcycles, so you’re guaranteed to find one to your liking (they’re also happy to lower a motorcycle for you, if need be). You can go on one of their guided tours, choose a self-guided tour option (you ride on your own, but they pre-book your stays, give you a GPS with pre-programmed routes, and send you off with daily road sheets filled with highlights and places to see and eat along the way), or simply rent a bike and ride off into the sunset on your own.
Practical Information for Touring Ecuador
Ecuador is among the most stable and peaceful countries in South America, so you don’t need to be worrying about safety even if you’re traveling solo. They use US dollar as the official currency, which makes conversion easy; expect to spend around $50-$60 a day for your food, fuel, and accommodation. If you need route information and advice, hit up Freedom or leave a comment here – Jurga and I will happily share our trails!
COVID-19: Ecuador has earned its #SafeTravels certificate and is open to visitors. All you need is a negative PCR test, no older than 10 days, to enter the country. You do not need a visa to travel to Ecuador – you’ll get a free 90-day entry permit upon arrival.
Accommodation: Jurga and I mostly stayed in low-budget, three-star hotels, lodges, and cabins, but if you’re hoping for more upscale hotels and haciendas, Ecuador has some seriously stunning places to stay. Take a look at these gorgeous places where Ecuador Freedom Tours usually stop for the night:
Food: Ecuador has ahmaaaazing cuisine, ranging from vegan/vegetarian options to delicious seafood, fish, and meat dishes. The best part is, there are so many fresh juices and fruits you can seriously boost your immune system while on the road!
Wear and Gear
Here’s a really neat fact about Ecuador: it sits right on the equator, which means there are no seasons…which means, you can ride here year-round. The weather in Quito is always mild and sunny; it can get chilly at high altitude, hot and sunny on the Pacific Coast, and hot and humid in the Amazon rainforest. In terms of riding gear, I rode Ecuador in a Klim Artemis jacket, and pants, Klim Krios Pro Helmet, and Leatt boots and goggles. If you mostly ride off-road, Leatt is the way to go, whereas for 50/50 or paved travels, adventure riding gear will work best.
Questions? Comments? Curiosity? Leave it all in the comments below!