Renting a Car in Ecuador: What You Should Know

Are you one of the intrepid souls who wish to rent a car here in Ecuador? If so, then here’s some up-to-date information about car rentals, provided by a client of ours who returned his car yesterday. Note: this information is from October of 2016 so if you are reading this 2 years (or even 2 months!) from now, some of the facts may well have changed.

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So let’s get started. Many people who are planning their visit to Coastal Ecuador like the idea of renting a car during their visit so they can explore the country at their leisure. Makes sense, right?

First things first.

Driving a vehicle in Ecuador is, no kidding, an adventure in and of itself, and is not for the faint of heart, especially if you have only have driving experience in places where there is good signage and most people abide by traffic laws. Tom often warns newbies of the “virtual 3rd lane” that is common on double lane roads.

City traffic can be grueling and stressful

City traffic can be grueling and stressful

Here, you can expect to get lost at least once (even with GPS), be cut off and honked at regularly in the cities, get passed by Kamikaze drivers on blind, hairpin curves, dodge dogs wandering (or even sleeping) out in the roads, motorcycles with no headlights, and the list goes on. We’ve definitely heard our share of stories from clients who say they’ll be hiring a driver next time!

Also, note that if you don’t know how to drive a stick shift, unfortunately you’re out of luck. Virtually all cars here have manual transmissions.

 

If You’re Still Game, Then Where to Begin?

First, be aware that you are allowed to drive in Ecuador using your foreign driver’s license the first 30 days you are in the country. After that, technically you are required to apply for an Ecuadorian license (good fodder for a future blog). The Avis website says an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required in addition to a valid license from your country of residence. From our client’s experience, no one ever mentioned the IDP. And from our experience, having an International Driver’s Permit was never particularly helpful as the local police who stopped us at routine checkpoints on a couple of occasions were never impressed by the little paper booklet as it does not look “official” enough.

 

Where to Rent Your Vehicle From?

To save you time and unwanted headaches/stress, our usual recommendation is to fly into Quito and then take a 30 minute domestic flight into Manta. And then from Manta, rent the car to explore the coast. (Again, more specifics on a variety of topics related to planning your visit can be found in our “Know Before You Go” guide. Sign up HERE to get your free copy.)

We generally do NOT recommend renting a vehicle from Quito. Although the drive out of the Andes Mountains is gorgeous, it also pretty harrowing for most newcomers and can vary between 6 to 12 hours (depending on if or how often/ badly you get lost!!).

Andean rainforests are part of the beauty of driving out of the mountains to the coast.

Andean rainforests and waterfalls are part of the beautiful scenery of driving out of the mountains down to the coast.

Your other option is to fly into Guayaquil. You could rent a car from there but signage isn’t great and it’s common for people to get lost or become very stressed attempting to get out of the city. From Guayaquil you can take a bus to Manta (~$5, 4 hours), a shuttle (~$25, 3.5 hours), or hire a private driver (~$100, 3.5 hours). There are NO flights between Guayaquil and Manta.

 

How to Find a Secure and Reliable Car Rental?

How to go about finding and reserving a rental? The EASIEST and MOST SECURE way is to just type in Manta, Ecuador or Manta’s airport code (MEC) into an online site like Kayak.com or Orbitz.com. Currently, the only option that comes up for any online site that I have tried thus far is Avis. Budget used to come up for Manta but their office has closed.

Screenshot of a search using Expedia.com

Screenshot of a search using Expedia.com

Daily rates though an established, international car rental agency may be higher than a local company but there are countless tales of poorly operating vehicles, getting charged up the nose for *previously* incurred damages, poor customer service, and unexplained charges that show up a month or so after the fact. You’ll have a far better chance for a positive experience and have more power to rebuke any unwarranted charges with an established and reputable company.

 

Summary of important details from our client’s recent AVIS rental car experience (He’s rented out of Manta twice now over the last 3 months):

  • Avis’ cars are now available AT the Manta airport. In the past, you had to hire a taxi to take you into Manta proper to pick up your rental. So this is a very nice improvement.
  • Note: The Avis rental office is apparently ONLY open around flight schedules (online the hours are listed as 6:30am to 8:30pm but they close in between flight times).
  • The economy car is very small but functional for most people unless they are very large or have an excess of luggage. My husband is about 6’2″ and he fit ok.
Example of an Economy vehicle

Our client’s Economy vehicle that he rented from Avis in Manta

  • Low clearance on the economy vehicles obviously means to WATCH OUT and TAKE IT EASY over those speed bumps and potholes!
  • The economy car comes to about $18 per day with taxes and fees. There is also generally a mileage allowance of 100 km (60 miles) for each day you rent. If you go over, you will be charged another $0.20 per km (which adds up!). In some cases, you might be able to find a deal with unlimited mileage but it is not common.
  • A $5,000 authorization is held on your credit card to cover costs of any damages, driving violations, etc. This authorization is kept on the card for 1 month following the end of your rental in case you are caught speeding by speed-detecting cameras.
Speed limits in Ecuador

Speed limits in Ecuador. “Urbana” = urban areas, “Perimetral”=major roads on outer parts of cities, “Rectas en Carretera” Highway, straight sections, “Curvas en Carretera” = Highway, around curves.

  •  If you opt into paying for insurance (a wise idea) then you can purchase it for $11/day at the time of making your reservation; however, this is NOT REFUNDABLE if paid for in advance. Alternatively, you can purchase your insurance at the time of pick up for $35/day. A BIG difference so if you are confident about your dates it is worth doing.
  • Be aware that although online you may be able to select add-ons such as car seats and GPS, these options are actually not available. For our client, such was the case for the GPS he was assured he would have (after speaking with an agent in the Quito office). Once in Manta, he was told they hadn’t had vehicles equipped with GPS for at least a year.
Interior view of Scott's rental car

Interior view of rental car

  • Bring your own smartphone with GPS. Check with your carrier for roaming fees and/or download the navigation areas you will be needing in advance to be able to navigate offline:

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Good luck out there! We’ll look forward to seeing you here on the beach soon!

*Update (Oct 31, 2016): Here are some more great car rental tips from another friend and client who has rented on several occasions. Here’s what he had to add:

  • We always use a different city drop-off.  We either pick up in Manta and drop off in Guayaquil, or vice versa.  It depends on the plans for travelling the coast.  AVIS charges $60 for the alternate city drop-off.
  • For collision damage waiver (DDW) insurance, I added it to my credit card.  Any reservation I make, and pay for with that card, has CDW coverage.  It is a lot less expensive.  The only drawback, I am told, is that you will have to pay for damages up front, and be reimbursed by the credit card insurance.
  • Photo radar is rampant in Ecuador!  The government has a website that you can check to see if you got any tickets. To do so, go to www.ant.gob.ec and then click on Consulta de Citaciones (menu on far left), then drop the top box down for Placa (“license plate”) and enter your plate number on the lower box. You also have the option to select Pasaporte (your passport number).

An Easy Way to Travel from Guayaquil

When flying to Ecuador from another country you have two airport options: Fly into either Quito (airport code UIO) or Guayaquil (GYE).

To get to the central coast where we are located, we normally recommend flying into Quito and then taking a short (25-30 min) domestic flight to Manta (MEC).  Unfortunately, there are no domestic flights between Guayaquil and Manta so Quito is your only option if you want to fly.

However, over the years, we’ve had a number of friends and clients have trouble with the altitude of Quito which sits at 9,350 ft or 2800 m above sea level; one client even required brief hospitalization. So, if you think you might be susceptible to altitude sickness, your best bet if possible is to fly to Guayaquil.

If you do arrive to Guayaquil and want a safe, reliable, and inexpensive means of traveling to the central coast there is an express van service called the “Manta Express” that runs between  Manta (and Portoviejo) and Guayaquil.

One of the Manta Express vans (photo from www.mantaexpress.com)

 

Here are the Manta Express “need to knows”:

  • The service offers multiple trips each way daily, beginning as early as 5am and ending at 7:30pm.
  • The trip takes between 3 – 3.5 hours.
  • The cost is $10 per person or $8 each if you are aged 65+ with Ecuadorian residency.
  • Reservations at least 1 day ahead are generally necessary. Note: the folks at Manta Express only speak Spanish. The bilingual representative at the information booth at the Guayaquil airport can assist you in making your reservation. Another option is to use Google translate to send them your translated reservation details via their contact form on their website.
  • The van is  air-conditioned.
  • The van seats ten people comfortably. Leg room for the taller guys may be a little tight. Luggage is strapped to the top of the van and covered with a tarp.
  • The van typically makes one brief stop where passengers can use the restroom and grab a snack.

The vans have AC and are comfortable. Photo from www.mantaexpress.com

 

Here are the Manta Express office locations and phone numbers as dialed within Ecuador (visit this post for more details about calling Ecuador from abroad):

Guayaquil:

  • Blvd 9 de Octubre and Del Ejercito (Avenida 4) (near the Hotel Oro Verde of Guayaquil).
  • Landline: (04)2532027,  Cell phone: 0996333061  or  0994200289

 

Manta:

  • Malecón y Calle 19 at the Central Comercial Plaza Jocay (just past the museum)
  • Landline: (05)261-1016 / 261-0567, FAX: 261-1763,,  Cell: 0999025094 or 0985147384 or  0991563000

 

Portoviejo:

  • Pedro Gual y Garcia Moreno (Hotel Cabrera).
  • Landline: (05)2656621 Cell: 0993852655

 

The service also offers transfers to and from the Guayaquil airport. In many cases, they would take you to your final destination in Manta or Portoviejo if it’s not far from their office location.

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