In this episode, we discuss how to get to Cuenca Ecuador from the USA, including airports, airlines, ground transportation and airport hotels.
Ecuador has several international and regional airports, but it only has two international airports with flights to and from the USA: Quito and Guayaquil. There are no direct flights from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador.
Cuenca Ecuador Airport
We really like Cuenca’s airport: Mariscal Lamar International Airport. It’s very nice and very clean. It’s also very small so it’s easy to get checked in and through security.
While Cuenca’s airport is called an international airport, there aren’t a lot of international flights out of Cuenca. Nearly all of Cuenca’s flights go to Quito.
When we came on our exploratory trip in 2017, we took a flight from Cuenca to Guayaquil on our way back to the States, but that flight isn’t available anymore. Now, flights from Cuenca to Guayaquil go through Quito so it would take less time to drive over Cajas in a buseta.
There are no gangways at Cuenca’s airport. You’ll have to walk down the stairs to the tarmac and then around the plane to the baggage claim entrance.
Once you enter the door from the tarmac, the baggage claim is right there so don’t miss it. We had some friends come visit and they were the first people off the plane. They walked right by the baggage claim and out through security without their luggage. The security guard was nice and let them go back through with an escort to get their bags. I’m guessing they weren’t the first to do that.
Guayaquil Ecuador Airport
Guayaquil also has a very nice and clean airport: José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport. It’s much larger than Cuenca’s airport, but nothing like Miami or any of the large airports in the States, so it’s very easy to navigate.
Our only complaint about the Guayaquil airport (as of our last visit in the fall of 2018) is that they don’t have any healthy food options, especially for early morning flights back to the States.
It’s mostly deep fried junk food, which is one of the causes of Ecuador’s growing obesity epidemic. Every airport we’ve been too needs healthier food options, but none more so than Guayaquil.
When we moved here from Denver, CO, we flew into Guayaquil and had Edwin drive us to Cuenca. That’s mainly because the flights between Quito and Cuenca have limited cargo space so most planes can’t fit a large dog carrier like the one Daisy was in.
They also often have luggage limitations and we had 4 large suitcases so we were concerned we wouldn’t be able to get them all on the plane. By flying from Miami to Guayaquil for our move, we had fewer things to worry about and a lot more flexibility.
However, Daisy’s profuse nervous panting for 3 and a half hours on the drive over Cajas to Cuenca nearly drove all of us crazy!
Quito Ecuador Airport
We prefer to fly into Quito’s very modern airport: Mariscal Sucre International Airport. It’s the largest airport in Ecuador with a really nice Airport Center.
A lot of people don’t know about the Airport Center when they fly into Quito. As with most things in Ecuador, it’s not well advertised and there aren’t any obvious signs pointing travellers there from the main terminal.
To get to the Airport Center, you need to exit the main terminal building, walk across the street and into the building/parking garage opposite the terminal. There, you’ll find a nice food court with lots of options, some places to shop, a playground for kids and a lounge where you can rent a recliner for a few hours between flights.
Airlines that Fly Direct to Ecuador from the States
We typically fly from Miami to Quito, but we’ve also flown direct from Atlanta to Quito. However, the direct flight from Atlanta is usually a lot more expensive.
Here’s a useful resource for direct flights to/from any city (hint, you may need to use a VPN routing through the states to access it): FlightsFrom.com.
Here are the current airlines that fly direct to Ecuador from the States:
Direct Flights to Quito Ecuador from the States
- American Airlines from Miami
- American Airlines from Dallas (starting December 2019)
- Spirit and JetBlue from Ft. Lauderdale
- Delta from Atlanta
- United from Houston
Direct Flights to Guayaquil Ecuador from the States
You can also fly through Panama, Mexico City, San Salvador, Lima and a few other cities in Central and South America, but that adds a lot of time to your trip. We prefer direct flights from the states to save time and avoid transfers in other countries.
How to Get to Cuenca from Quito and Guayaquil
If you want to fly into Cuenca, it doesn’t make much sense to fly from the States to Guayaquil because there are no direct flights between Guayaquil and Cuenca. You’ll have to fly back north to Quito and then back south to Cuenca. That’s why we fly into Quito most of the time.
Flying from Quito to Cuenca
Flying into Quito from the States cuts about 45 minutes off the flight compared to flying into Guayaquil because it’s much further south than Quito. We also prefer the short 45 minute flight between Quito and Cuenca over the 3.5 hour drive between Guayaquil and Cuenca.
The main downside of flying from Quito to Cuenca is that most flights from the States arrive late in the evening or at night. That means you’ll either need to camp out in the airport for 5 to 10 hours, rent a recliner in the lounge, or go to a hotel. We typically go to a hotel and take a later flight to Cuenca the next day after enjoying some down time.
Driving from Quito to Cuenca
You have several options for driving from Quito to Cuenca, but be prepared for 7 to 10 hours on a curvy mountain 2-lane highway.
Hiring a Private Driver from Quito to Cuenca
Our friend and driver, Edwin, has picked us up several times in Guayaquil and driven us to Cuenca, but he’ll also pick you up in Quito and drive you back to Cuenca. Other private drivers will do the same thing.
Taking a Taxi from Quito to Cuenca
This used to be a foreign concept to us. You can actually get a taxi driver to take you long distances here in Ecuador.
When we went to the Ecuador Coast last fall, we had planned to take the interprovincial bus from Guayaquil. However, the cab driver who was driving us from the Operazuaytur buseta office to the bus terminal told us he would drive us all the way to the coast for $80. The cost was quite a bit more than two bus tickets, but it also shaved about 2 hours off our trip and delivered us right to our hotel.
Some of our subscribers and friends moved to Cuenca earlier this year. The airport taxi driver offered to drive them from Quito to Cuenca for $450, but they negotiated a rate of $200. They said it was the most beautiful drive they’ve ever taken.
Taking a Bus from Quito to Cuenca
We aren’t bus people so we don’t know much about them. We did take an interprovincial bus to Machala for our visas, and we took a CLP bus from Olón to Guayaquil on our way back from the coast, but that’s the extent of our long-distance bus experience.
You can take an interprovincial bus from Quito to Cuenca for around $9. The more comfortable Flota Imbabura bus costs about $12. You can find all the options for taking a bus from Quito to Cuenca on Rome2Rio.com.
Driving from Guayaquil to Cuenca
The drive from Guayaquil to Cuenca takes about 3.5 hours so it’s quite a bit shorter than the drive from Quito. The drive through Cajas is stunning, but the curvy mountain roads are rough on the stomach so be prepared with some dramamine and a waterproof bag.
Hiring a Private Driver from Guayaquil to Cuenca
We covered this in the section above on Hiring a Private Driver from Quito to Cuenca. The info is the same, but the price will be lower.
Taking a Taxi from Guayaquil to Cuenca
Just like in Quito, you can take a taxi from the airport in Guayaquil all the way to Cuenca. We were quoted $80 by a taxi driver on one of our trips back to Cuenca but we opted for the more affordable buseta.
Taking a Buseta from Guayaquil to Cuenca
We’ve taken a buseta (or small bus/large van) between Cuenca and Guayaquil several times with Operazuaytur. It costs $12 per one-way ticket and takes a little over 3 hours.
As of this writing (August 2019), their website is down and they seldom respond to Facebook messages. However, they are still in business and their buses leave every hour on the hour. We usually show up at their terminal about 20 to 30 minutes before the hour and we’ve always been able to get a ticket for the next bus.
Their office/terminal is located about 4 blocks from the Guayaquil airport. If you don’t have a lot of luggage, you could easily walk there. However, like most things in Ecuador, you may have a hard time finding it. They moved locations a year ago, but they haven’t updated their address on Facebook or Google so the map marker is in the wrong place.
The new location is about the same distance from the airport as the old location, it’s just a in different direction. If you don’t know where it is, you might want to pay the $5 minimum cab fare and have someone drive you.
We usually stay overnight in Guayaquil so we always take a cab to the buseta terminal from our hotel.
Taking a Bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca
You can take an interprovincial bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca for around $5 and it’ll take about 4 hours. You can find all the options for taking a bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca on Rome2Rio.com.
Ecuador Airport Hotels
Since most of the flights from the States arrive in Ecuador late in the evening or at night, you might need a place to sleep.
Quito Airport Lounge
The Quito airport does have a lounge in the Airport Center where the food court is located. It’s called Layover Stay and you can rent a recliner for a few hours, kick back and relax or take a nap. We’ve never stayed there so we can’t attest to how comfortable it is.
Quito Airport Hotels
We’ve stayed in three different hotels near the Quito airport.
Wyndham Hotel Quito Airport
I’ve never stayed at the Quito Airport Wyndham Hotel, but Amelia has stayed there twice. It’s right by the airport and they have a shuttle to take you back and forth.
This is by far the most convenient option and a very western hotel, but it’s quite a bit more expensive than the next two options.
San José de Puembo Hotel
Of the three hotels we’ve stayed at by the Quito airport, San José de Puembo is our favorite. It is a beautiful 400 year old hacienda that has been converted into a hotel. The grounds are beautiful and the food is delicious. They’re also very accommodating with our plant-based vegan diet.
The only downside is that it’s the furthest hotel from the airport and takes about 20 minutes to get there. They do have a free shuttle that will pick you up and drop you off, even in the middle of the night.
Our flight was delayed on our trip back from India so we didn’t arrive until 3AM. The shuttle driver was waiting for us with a sign and a big smile. We were very thankful to see him!
Quito Airport Suites Hotel
We also enjoyed our short one night stay at the Quito Airport Suites Hotel. It’s about a 5 minute cab ride from the airport, but takes about 20 minutes to get back due to a lack of turn around spots on the road into the airport.
This is the most affordable of the three hotels. The beds were comfortable and the grounds were beautiful, but they had no vegan food options other than fruit. Even their bread had manteca (lard) in it.
Guayaquil Airport Hotels
We have only stayed in two hotels near the Guayaquil airport, but we’ve had recommendations for a third.
Courtyard by Marriott Guayaquil
We’ve stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Guayaquil several times because Amelia has tons of points with Marriott from her old life as a travelling salesperson. We haven’t paid money to stay there yet. It’s the nicest Courtyard either of us have ever stayed in. Back in the States, it would pass as a full blown Marriott.
It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to get there from the airport and the cab drivers like to take a shortcut that will make you think they’re going to rob you blind and dump you in a dark alley so be prepared for that. We’ve never had a problem, but we’re always a bit concerned for about 3 blocks of the drive.
The cab drivers also don’t know how to pronounce Marriott correctly. You need to pronounce it Mar-ee-oat or they’ll give you a confused look. It’s located near the Mall de San Marino, which has a nice food court with a Noe Sushi and other vegan/healthy options. Plus lots of shopping.
Holiday Inn Guayaquil Airport
We’ve never stayed at the Holiday Inn Guayaquil Airport, but it has been recommended to us by other gringos. It’s walking distance from the airport, making it the most convenient.
Air Suites Hotel Guayaquil Airport
We’ve stayed at Air Suites Hotel Guayaquil Airport several times. It’s the most affordable option and they allow dogs.
The rooms are small but clean and the location is convenient to the airport, but there aren’t many dining options nearby and no one speaks English who works there. They offer a breakfast but it’s not vegan-friendly.
We walked about 8 blocks to Mall del Sol for dinner one evening while it was still light, but we wouldn’t recommend walking there or back after dark. It’s not the best part of town.
We had the clerk help us order a vegan pizza on one visit. The clerk told them “sin queso” at least 5 times, but they still put cheese on it so they had to send another one. It might be challenging for you at this hotel if you don’t speak any Spanish.
Cuenca Lodging Options
Cuenca is a tourist town, both for people who live inside and outside of Ecuador. Therefore, it has an abundance of lodging options.
Hotel Victoria Cuenca
The Hotel Victoria Cuenca is a really nice, high end hotel located in El Centro. It’s more expensive than some of the other options, but the views and atmosphere are amazing.
Some friends came to visit and stayed their. Their room was very plush with a large patio/balcony overlooking the river. They also told us the food was delicious.
Amelia and I are considering staying here for a special date night!
Four Points by Sheraton Cuenca
The Four Points by Sheraton Cuenca is located by Mall del Río, which is quite a long walk from El Centro. You would probably need to take a cab.
We usually recommend that people stay closer to El Centro because that’s where all the action is. However, this hotel is new and very western. If you don’t mind taking a cab, which will only cost about $2.50, then you might appreciate the amenities of this hotel.
We stayed at Apartamentos Otorongo for a week on our exploratory trip, and for almost 2 months after we moved to Cuenca. The great thing about Otorongo is that the rooms have a kitchen so you can prepare your own food.
One of our subscribers asked if the rooms have bathrooms because none of the pictures on their website show one. Yes, each room has a private bathroom. They’re nothing special, but they get the job done.
It’s located along the Tomebamba River and it takes about 10 minutes to walk to El Centro. I call it the “gringo landingzone” so we also made some great gringo friends while we were there.
If you want to make a longer term reservation, it’s best to contact Xavier directly to get the best deal. The booking sites like Expedia charge a 10% booking fee so you’ll get a discount by going direct.
See More: Apartamentos Otorongo Tour
Pepe’s House B&B
Pepe’s House B&B is located in the heart of El Centro, just a few blocks from Parque Calderon. It’s a really nice hostel and the owners are great. They also have an adjoining bar called Pepe’s Place where we hosted one of our Unconventional Social Gatherings.
We’re going to do a full video of Pepe’s so stay tuned for that!
The nice thing about renting a house/condo is that it gives you a really good feel for what it would be like to live here. You can cook your own food, test out the internet and get to know the neighborhood like a local.
If you’re planning a long visit to Cuenca, put your actual dates in the search box on AirBnB. Most hosts give a steep discount for long-term stays. Don’t gauge the cost from the single night rate.
We hope this information about airports, airlines, ground transportation and airport hotels helps you figure out how to get to Cuenca Ecuador. It’s not the easiest place to travel to, but it’s totally worth it (to quote Amelia).
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