UPDATE 04/11/2016: Thanks to Leany melly who let me know in the comments below that there is now a bus that takes you from Baños to Cuenca without requiring a bus change! Here’s the info from the original comment:
“It leaves at 8:45am from the bus terminal in banos (not sure on return journey- sorry). Its with the company transportes de amazonas. I think it cost abOut $15USD pp. we went In the morning and were able to buy tickets for that same day from their office in the bus terminal. It stopped along the way (as they all do) but we didnt have to change bus at all since it took us to Cuenca bus terminal.”
Now, on to the original post:
Before I arrived in Baños, I Googled the phrase “bus from Baños to Cuenca” numerous times. I found a few blogs that went through the process, but I’m a constant worrier and still didn’t feel too sure of the process. I’m always a little nervous about getting the right bus when there’s a bit of a language barrier, although it’s easier here than it was in Korea.
Heading to Cuenca from Baños is a popular next step for travelers. So, I’ll lay out my experience here—in the hopes that it might ease someone else’s mind.
(All prices are in USD—the currency used in Ecuador.)
Cost: $10 per person
Length (distance): 320 km
Length (hours): 8 hours (+1 hour of waiting for the next bus in Riobamba)
Our departure time from Baños: 6:50 am
Our arrival time in Cuenca: 3:50 pm
Bus companies we took: Sangay from Baños to Riobamba, Patria from Riobamba to Cuenca.
Catching the bus in Baños
Catching a bus from Baños is easy enough. The first step is to catch a bus to Riobamba, as there are no direct buses to Cuenca.
At the bus station, we headed directly to the Riobamba sign. The previous night, we’d dropped by to check out the departure times to Cuenca: 7:15 am, 9 am, and 11 am. I suppose these are the times you want to catch a bus from Baños in order to make an easy transfer in Riobamba.
But, we were early. We arrived to the bus station at 6:40 am and were shuffled onto a bus that left for Riobamba within 10 minutes of our arrival at the terminal. As we departed Baños, with the early-morning sun and sleepy city beginning to rise, we caught glimpses of Tungurahua draped against the blue sky, dark ash plumes spewing from its peak.
Soon, a man came round to collect our fares. Almost a two-hour ride = $2 per person.
Transferring in Riobamba
Arrival in Riobamba was hectic, as I’d expected. It’s a confusing thing when you need to find the bathrooms but you’re in a city with direct buses to a city also called Bathrooms (Baños). We nodded to a man yelling “Cuenca!” and he dragged us to a booth to buy tickets. A higher price for a longer ride at $8 per person.
The company we purchased our tickets from was called Patria, the first booth to the right when you enter the terminal with a large “Cuenca” sign displayed on the window. Our bus was number 46, and would be parked in the very last spot for buses—the farthest from the door.
As we’d left early, we also arrived early, at around 8:40 am. However, our bus wasn’t due to leave until 9:30 am. So, we found the bathrooms and waited on the benches. We took turns running across the street to get juice and snacks. At 9:15, we took our last bathroom break and went to find our bus. Lucky we did, because our bus actually left at 9:25. No time for stragglers (even the on-time ones).
Surviving the ride
This ride is tough. There are too many stops to count, and lengthy ones at that, although just one is an actual bathroom break. There is a bathroom on the bus, but I don’t know that anyone is brave enough for that.
The actual bathroom break came at about 12:25 pm in Chunchi. It’s 10 cents to use to bathroom there and the bus stops for about 10 minutes. There are also a few shops around, which is handy because you won’t be getting a lunch break.
Despite there being no actual stops for food, there are vendors who hop on and off from time to time. We got a container of fresh fruit for $1. There was also a man selling actual meals of seco de pollo. Of course, there are plenty of plantain chips going around.
Tips for the ride:
- Sip your water
- Bring snacks or buy something more substantial than bread
- Pack your daypack (the one you plan to bring onboard, not stowed beneath) light—it will probably be on your lap the whole time
- Have a good audiobook ready for the ride (I listened to No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs—a good listen if you are into the outdoors/climbing/mountaineering)
- Wear comfortable clothes. Don’t dress too warmly, but bring a large scarf or something to cover yourself with if someone has their window open.
- Enjoy the scenery. As much as it is a long haul, you are passing through some pretty gorgeous countryside.
Catching a taxi
No one told me that one of the hardest parts would be actually getting a taxi from the terminal in Cuenca. At the time of writing, there is construction going on in the area. That means it’s a lot tougher for taxis to come and go, meaning the ones you do see are usually dropping people off. Also, there’s no lineup for taxis—it’s always the most aggressive person who wins, even if you’ve been trying for half an hour and they just arrived.
Leave the most obvious spot, turn right towards the bathrooms and keep going to where the buses pull in. Here, you should be able to hail a taxi with little difficulty. Of course, you may get lucky or not face this problem at all. In which case, be grateful that you’ve been saved the grief.
I’ve read of a few different experiences for this journey. One included a stop for a buffet lunch, one had multiple bathroom stops, one had just a stop in Riobamba without bus switching (I have no idea what company this was). There’s no guarantee that your ride will go like this one, but there are a few takeaways.
First, it doesn’t really matter when you get to the terminal, as long as you get there early (at least 15 minutes to 20 minutes before the listed times for Cuenca—7:15, 9, 11). You don’t have to buy tickets in advance, just show up (though, perhaps this is untrue in the busiest seasons—you can always drop by and ask the day before). Be prepared for a long ride with plenty of stops and slow driving through the mountains—why else would it take 8 hours to go 320 km?