Cuenca's terminal terrestre (bus terminal or bus station) is the hub for trips to Quito and points north, Guayaquil and points north, Loja and points south, and El Oriente (the Amazon) to the east.
If you're traveling on a budget, you'll probably end up taking at least one bus trip between Quito and Cuenca, or Cuenca and Guayaquil (and perhaps on to the coast). All the interprovincial buses run out of the terminal terrestre.
Trips to and from Quito are about 10 hours. Some people use that time to catch an hour or two of sleep on the night bus (they probably won't catch more than just a few). Others prefer to view some of the amazing landscape along the Quito route, so they take the day bus.
Whichever you prefer, there's at least one bus running from the terminal terrestre to Quito, or getting into the terminal. Be sure to get on a bus that says Express, or the trip could be even longer.
The trip to Guayaquil is about 4-5 hours, depending on whether you're on the express or the milk run. The time will also depend on whether there's road construction, and how much of it there is, between Cuenca and Guayaquil.
Ecuadorian road construction usually shuts down one lane for 5-10 miles, so you could have a couple of very long waits before your direction starts moving again.
If you need to get to an area just outside of Cuenca, such as Gualaceo, Chordeleg (check out the silver jewelry), or Baños (the one on the southern edge of Cuenca), the terminal terrestre has buses for most nearby towns departing every 30 minutes or so.
If you're starting from the terminal, buy your ticket inside for the next bus going in your direction. You'll also need a dime (10 cents) for the turnstile to get out to your bus.
If you're starting at the other end, you may have to buy your ticket from the conductor.
Most of these short trips are less than $1.00 from the station.
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I just want to thank you both soooo much for creating this web site. I am originally from Cuenca but moved to New York 11 years ago and have not being back since. My husband and I are planning on visiting Cuenca over the Summer and this web site has helped me a lot.
When I came to the US we still had the "sucre," the bus ride cost 1,000 sucres and a pack of trident gum would cost 3,000 sucres. I am very nervous to go back, but thanks to your web site I now know what to expect.
My husband is American and Captivating Cuenca has taught him a lot about what my great city has to offer, things that I had forgotten about myself! :)
Thank You both so much! I cannot wait to visit Cuenca!!