Learn how to go from Tena to Quito and which are the best stops along the way. Tena is an Amazonian city located only 3.5 hours driving from Ecuador’s capital, Quito. It is considered a gateway, or portal, into the deeper Amazon and is a good destination for those of you that don’t have enough time left on the itinerary to travel deeper into the Ecuadorian rainforest. Access to Tena from Quito is getting easier by the day as more travelers visit this picturesque little city.
Where is Tena?
From Tena to Quito the landscape changes dramatically. It’s one reason this route is absolutely worthwhile and a much more scenic option compared to other routes into Quito. Tena is located on the eastern side of the Ecuadorian Andes.
If you’re looking at Ecuador on a map, you’ll notice the Andes mountain range cutting through the country. West of the Andes you’ll find the cloud forest, the tropical coastal forest and then the coast itself.
On the East side of the Andes, you’ll also find the cloud forest, which levels out to become the Amazon rainforest. Tena is located right here, close enough to the Andes to receive the cool, páramo humidity, and low enough in altitude to feel dense and deliciously tropical.
How far is this city from Quito?
The distance from Tena to Quito is 191 kilometers (119 miles) and it takes about 3.5 to 4 hours driving to get there (depending on how risky your driver is). I’ve been in a car that did the trip in 3 hours, but I wouldn’t recommend it as the road regularly is foggy, wet, has landslides, potholes, as well as sections of the road that are unfinished.
The road from Tena to Quito winds up to Baeza, then Papallacta (where there are some incredible thermal baths – worth a stop!) and then through Pifo, Tumbaco, and Cumbayá into the city of Quito.
Best ways to go from Tena to Quito and must-sees along the way
In terms of routes, there is one clear route going from Tena to Quito and it follows the highway E45 from Tena to Baeza, then along E20 until Pifo. From there you have a few routes to choose from to get into the city, depending on where you’re staying in town.
In terms of modes of transportation, you also have a few options: bus, private taxi, or the Wanderbus.
Buses depart Tena’s bus terminal throughout the night and day.
A few bus cooperatives that will get you from Tena to Quito are Cooperativa de Transportes Amazonas, Cooperativa de Transportes Flota Pelileo, Cooperativa de Transportes Expreso Baños, Cooperativa de Transportes Baños.
Check out this website for bus schedules, but keep in mind this information might be outdated. The safest approach is to get to the bus terminal the day before and ask, or the morning of but an hour earlier than your expected departure time.
Another common mode of transport is by taxi or minivan. Ideally, you could share the taxi with other travelers, and if you’re going in a minivan, the company itself usually takes care of filling the vehicle. The cost should range from $20-30 per person from Tena to Quito. You can find the contact to a private taxi or van by asking your hostel or a trustworthy taxi driver.
If you can’t find a private driver or taxi, consider taking an Uber, which will cost you about $80. Split between 4 that’s $20 (not too shabby!).
Finally, you can hop on the Wanderbus with the Quito-Baños-Quito pass as it stops through Tena. On this pass, you’ll also get a chance to hop off at Santa Rita to visit a cacao farm and then Papallacta, where you can bathe in natural thermal baths.
Things to see along the way from Tena to Quito
From Tena to Quito you’ll pass through a few spots worth visiting.
As you drive through this town just past Tena, you might not think much of it, but it is quickly becoming a destination for expats and conservationists. Many are buying the properties around this area that were once used as pastures, and reforesting them to encourage and protect the areas flora and fauna.
In the area of Archidona, you can visit two caves, one is the Jumandi Caves (Cavernas de Jumandy) and the other is the Chikillu Elefante caves. Chikillu Elefante is actually a ceremonial space, said to be used for ayahuasca ceremonies by the Kichwa. To get to these caves you walk past a number of petroglyphs, petrified rocks, medicinal plants, and native tree species.
Zoológico El Arca
After Archidona, as you’re entering the town of Cotundo, you’ll see a sign on the road to Zoológico el Arca. Don’t let the word zoo fool you, this is actually a rescue center and a wonderful opportunity to support a good cause while also observing many of the wild, and endemic, animals. The entrance fee is $4 per person.
Want other options in and around Tena? Click here for more things to do in Tena.
Baeza and Papallacta
Farther along the way from Tena to Quito, you’ll pass a town called Baeza. Though it might not look like it, this little town is an international destination for professional kayakers. The rivers in the area create runs from Class III on up to Class V. So, if you’re a kayaker, stop here.
If you prefer stiller waters, continue along the road to the town of Papallacta, which literally means potato town in Kichwa. Papallacta is famous nationally for its fresh trout and thermal baths. Since it’s only 45 minutes from Quito, nationals regularly make the trip out here, especially on the weekends, to lounge in the baths available at various venues. The water is believed to be therapeutic and you can also dip into an ice-cold bath that is filled by the adjacent river. I highly recommend the hot-cold-hot experience. In fact, why not just end on cold?
Due to popular demand, the Wanderbus now has a route from Tena to Quito, which actually begins in Baños, then goes through Tena, Santa Rita, Papallacta and back to Quito. This is a great option for those of you planning to visit the Amazon or the area around Tena.
The Wanderbus is a safer and more convenient alternative to regular bus travel because of its pick up and drop off locations and because it makes Ecuador’s top destinations much more accessible, while minimizing security risks that are common when traveling through Ecuador on regular buses.
Finally, it’s a great way to meet like-minded travelers and get insider tips from our onboard bilingual guides.
Buy the Quito-Baños-Quito pass and make sure you review our pick up times and locations. After you’ve explored the area around Tena, simply hop on the Wanderbus and continue on your trip!