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 Continue reading