Wanderbus Owner and Founder Nico Ponce brings logistical and sales smarts to Ecuador’s tourism game through Wanderbus, Ecuador’s first hop-on, hop-off bus. In this short interview, Nico gives us a glimpse into the hows and whys behind Wanderbus, as well as a few insider tips about travel in Ecuador.
A bit of background
Only a few years back, Nico wouldn’t have imagined himself leading one of Ecuador’s most popular transport services. With a background in industrial engineering, numbers and analysis were his strengths, not customer service.
But after traveling the world as a backpacker on a budget, he returned to his home country to realize there was major room for innovation in Ecuador’s tourism industry and its available transport services.
He quickly adapted his know-how to build and scale up Wanderbus, a startup with huge potential that is facilitating travel around Ecuador and enabling travelers to enjoy this marvelous country to the full.
Yes, that’s Nico, under the Diablo Huma Ecaudorian knitwear…
What problem does Wanderbus solve in Ecuador?
Ecuador is an incredible country to explore, with stunning natural resources. Over the past few years, the government has invested a lot of money in promoting it as a global destination. Yet, when it comes to connectivity, security and access to nature and protected areas, it is severely lacking.
By using an innovative model that is flexible, transparent, and offers excellent prices and service, Wanderbus is addressing this gap, getting backpackers and travelers of all demographics safely and conveniently to the best locations country-wide.
Also, the creators of Wanderbus, myself included, belong to the same target group we’re trying to reach. Because of that, I know what they’re looking for, what they like and don’t like. It makes me enjoy the work more because I’m interacting with like-minded people and can easily develop a personal connection.
How would you describe Ecuador’s public transportation system in three words?
Chaotic. Cheap. Dangerous.
Let’s start with dangerous. Unfortunately, there are frequent cases of robbery aboard public buses. Also, many buses don’t have the required permits and licenses to operate and accidents occur frequently.
Cheap. Yes, it is EXTREMELY cheap to travel through Ecuador by bus, but the transportation system here is geared to locals who are traveling to and from major cities for work. Cheap transport to national parks is basically nonexistent! For instance, you need to take FOUR buses to get from Quito to Quilotoa or Cotopaxi.
Chaotic. When you’re traveling by public transport, you simply have to accept the reality: schedules aren’t followed and you never really know when the next bus is going to arrive/depart. You can’t buy tickets or find information online and usually have to make your way to the (hectic and disorientating) bus terminal in person to figure out your next steps.
Like I said, when it comes to public transport in Ecuador, there’s a lot of room for improvement.
What’s your favorite destination in Ecuador (not counting the Galápagos Islands)?
Ozogoche is one of my new favorite places to visit. It’s a remote community where the locals are warm and welcoming. It’s surrounded by incredible landscapes of farmland and wild mountains.
El Altar and the Ilinizas are two other spectacular mountain destinations to visit in Ecuador, along with Mindo and Baños, which are sub-tropical.
I have to say, that’s definitely been one of the perks to starting Wanderbus: I’ve had the chance to discover some incredible places in my home country, as well as the markets, ancestral traditions, and more. Sometimes work doesn’t feel like work at all.
What are some risks you’ve taken for the sake of adventure?
I’ve made a lot of poor decisions in my day… One time in Patagonia we decided to hitchhike due to bad weather. Somewhere along the way we realized that we shouldn’t have and it was irresponsible.
Other questionable decisions include rafting during a full moon and jumping off a plane. And in Cuba, I ended up in a local meeting that could’ve turned out pretty sketchy.
In the end, nothing bad has ever happened to me, but I probably should’ve taken more precautions. That’s life though…you have to enjoy your freedom and go with your gut. As much as I like to plan, I also love spontaneity when I travel.
Many people are concerned about safety in Ecuador, what should they know?
There’s been a lot of negative press about Ecuador and the media is always highlighting insecurity. There have been a few cases in particular that have really damaged our image.
Ecuador really is a safe country and you can still trust the people here, but when you’re traveling anywhere, it’s important to take certain precautions and be careful. By being more careful and choosing safer services (like Wanderbus), you’ll have a more comfortable and peaceful travel experience. It’s definitely worth taking certain measures to enjoy your trip all the more.
If you could travel with anyone in the world, who would you travel with?
When you travel with someone, you both have to be pretty compatible. I think one person I’d love to travel with is my 98 year-old grandfather; that would be really special.
Ultimately, I enjoy traveling with people who know me and who I’m close with. At the same time, I think solo travel has become so popular because you can still enjoy the company of other travelers without having to deal with tension and conflict along the road.
What’s a word/phrase and song all visitors to Ecuador should know?
If you’re planning to part in Montañita, you’ll need to know the word chuchaqui, which is a word derived from Quichua that means hangover. “Hoy ando con chuchaqui…”
As for the song, I really enjoy Cumbia del Olvido by Nicola Cruz. Nicola Cruz is an Ecuadorian DJ who has gained international fame because of his beats, which fuse electronic music with Andean folkloric sounds and rhythms.
Where do you like to go out in Quito?
The neighborhood of La Floresta has a cool vibe, and while there aren’t a ton of places to see theater, I like to go to those when possible.
Which Wanderbus pass do you recommend most?
The full loop, or Wander Pass, is really our best product. It gives travelers a full picture of Ecuador, with plenty of options for discovery and surprise (whether with us or in the days you’re not on the bus!), especially if you hadn’t initially planned on visiting some of the included destinations. Ultimately, that’s what travel is all about: discovery.
And finally, let’s end with the most important question of them all: