As my time in Ecuador grew to a close I vacillated over the best way to make the border crossing into Peru. Although it was possible to take a bus directly south from Cuenca to Peru, the trip would have required an eight to ten-hours bus ride to Zumba, changing to a Chiva (open sided bus) for the ride to the border town of La Balsa, a stop at the immigration offices to get stamped out of Ecuador, and finally a 2.5 hour ride in a colectivo (local pick-up truck with bench seats) to the town of San Ignacio. At that point I would still be on the eastern side of Peru, far from my intended destination on the coast; that route simply did not make sense for me.
Instead I opted to do something I almost never do: I retraced my steps to Guayaquil, where my Ecuadorian journey had begun nearly two months earlier, in order to make the border crossing between Huaquillas, Ecuador and Tumbes, Peru. However, this much faster and more convenient route would also have its challenges; I had read repeated warnings about thugs and scam artists who prey on tourists who try to do the crossing on their own, such as this couple who got held up for $114 dollars by their “guides,” who threatened to leave them stranded midway into the journey. As a solo female traveler, I wasn’t willing to take that risk.
Fortunately, I had met Karina Gonzales, a lovely young schoolteacher from Lima, during my earlier visit to Guayaquil. We became instant friends and upon returning to Peru she sent me a suggested itinerary of the best places to visit in her country, as well as contact information for Maikol, the guide she uses to cross the border whenever she comes to Ecuador.
Maikol was wonderful! He met me in the Ecuadorian border town of Huaquillas and arranged for a taxi to take us to the Immigration office, where I got stamped out of Ecuador. Strangely, the Immigration office is three kilometers (1.8 miles) away from the border, so once I had been stamped out, he hailed a second taxi to carry us to the International Peace Bridge, which marks the border between Ecuador and Peru. We walked across the long bridge, weaving in and out of the heavy pedestrian traffic and fending off vendors hawking from booths that lined both sides of the long bridge. There was no doubt in my mind that pickpocket attempts and opportunistic crimes are common in this environment and I was doubly glad to have Maikol at my side.
At the end of the bridge I gratefully climbed into his car and we drove three kilometers to the Immigration office in Zarumilla, where I was stamped into Peru and got my 90-day visa on arrival. Again, I said a silent thanks for Maikol. Had I made the crossing alone, I would have been at the mercy of whomever I could find to drive me to Peruvian Immigration. With all the formalities completed. I hopped back into his car for the 27 kilometer (16 mile) trip to Tumbes.
As we drove south, Maikol explained how a government irrigation project had transformed the coastal plain from a giant sandbox into an agricultural Garden of Eden where fields of white and green asparagus stretched as far as the eye could see. Upon arriving in Tumbes, he helped me find an ATM where I could get Peruvian Soles, gave me a brief walking tour around the pretty central plaza, and then dropped me at the street corner where vans leave every 20 minutes for Máncora, my ultimate destination. For all this, he charged a mere $12.
No only did Maikol provide me with door-to-door service for a very reasonable price, he saved me money in the process. Transport is available between Huaquillas and Tumbes, and to the immigration offices on both sides of the border, but taxis, porters and even border guards will try to take advantage of you. For instance, the taxis Maikol hailed each charged $2, yet foreigners who are not accompanied by a guide are often charged up to $5. To arrange for Maikol’s services, phone him at 972-817564 (country code 51). Tell him that Barbara, the travel writer sent you.
Step-by-step instructions for crossing the border from Huaquillas, Ecuador to Tumbes, Peru, beginning in Cuenca:
- From Cuenca, take an SUV to Guayaquil with the company EcuaVan. The three hour trip costs $15 per person and takes you through stunning Cajas National Park. The company is located in the Astodillo building (edificio Astodillo) on Avenues Ordóñez Lazo and Guyacan (Avenida Ordóñez Lazo y Guayacan). Telephone: (07) 2887211 or 2846463; Cell: 080 086 197.
- Stay overnight in Guayaquil. I highly recommend Manso Boutique Hostal, which is well-located on the Malecon, in a safe neighborhood. Private rooms with shared baths are $36 per night; private rooms with ensuite baths begin at $57 per night, and four bed dorms are available for $9.50 per night. Priced do not include 22% tax and service charges, but do include a great breakfast. Manso also serves lunch and dinner in their restaurant, and the food is quite good. Book through their website (only available on the Spanish version) or call (04) 252-6644 (country code 593).
- After checking in to your accommodations for the night, walk to Transfrosur, the company that provides transport from Guayaquil to Huaquillas. Their offices are located at 616 Calle Chile, between 10 de Agosto and Sucre. If staying at Manso, the office is just four blocks away, half a block from the “Iguana Park.” Make a reservation for the following morning. Vans leave every hour, beginning early in the morning, through mid-afternoon. The cost is $13.50 per person and the trip takes four hours. Phone: 042-326387 or 042-530945 (country code 593). Once you’ve made your reservation, call Maikol with your departure time and make sure you ask him to meet you at the Transfrosur office in Huaquillas.
- Upon arrival, allow Maikol to arrange for a taxi to the Ecuadorian Immigration office to get stamped out of Ecuador. Taxi should cost $2. Make sure the immigration official has stamped your passport before leaving the office.
- Maikol will arrange for a second taxi to take you to the International Peace Bridge at the border with Peru. Taxi should cost $2.
- Walk across the bridge to Maikol’s car, he will drive you to Peru Immigration and walk you through the process of obtaining your visa on arrival. No fees should be involved.
- Maikol will drive you to Tumbes. Total cost for his services: $12.
- If you are continuing on to Máncora, the van ride will be an additional two hours.