Ecuadorian Border Crossing

General advice 

If you can, head to the inland border – it’s safe and easy. Latest information is that Transportes Loja still run direct buses between Loja and Piura. However, each day a large number of tourists head for the main border crossing, on the Panamerican highway from Huaquillas (Ecuador) to Aguas Verdes and Tumbes (Peru). This whole area is poorly organized and filled with con artists and petty thieves, but keep your wits about you and you can get through it with no problem. 

Arriving from Ecuador  If possible, take the one of the regular Transportes Cifa buses direct to Tumbes, from Guayaquil to Machala. They are cheap, comfortable, and cut out all the hassle. Not possible? Really, really impossible? OK, let’s do it the hard way…. If you have luggage you can easily carry, and you are awake at the time, get off the bus at the Migraciones offices a few kilometers before you reach Huaquillas. If you arrived in Ecuador by air, you’ll need to fill out an entry card: it’s OK to jump the queue to ask the duty officer for a copy of the relevant form. If you arrived overland, you can use the card they gave you on entry.

Your Ecuador tourist visa says that it gives you ninety days in the country. This is NOT TRUE. In fact, it gives you three months – so if you arrive in February and stay 90 days, you have in fact overstayed your visa and are liable for a $200-$2,000 fine. Fair? No, but there’s nothing you can do about it. If asked to pay a fee, insist on a receipt.

Do not accept any help for the paperwork from anyone who is not wearing a uniform and displaying an official ID.

Apart from this, the procedure should be straightforward and free. You’ll get your exit stamp, and you’re good to go…

Now, find a taxi to take you into the center of Huaquillas – you’re headed for the Puente Internacional. The fare is $2. If you want to risk your life for a dollar, there are also guys who will take you on the back of a motorbike for $1.  Hang on – what if you slept through the Migraciones stop, or otherwise missed it, or if you have heavy luggage and don’t trust the bus company to keep it in the baggage hold for you? You’ll end up in Huaquillas, right near the border but without an exit stamp.

So, drop a half dollar to an employee of the bus station, a café, a store or whatever to look after your bags, or keep them with you as you take a cab (OK, or a bike…) back the way you came to Migraciones. Follow the advice above to get your passport stamped, and then head back into town. So, one way or another you’re now on foot, with your bags, in Huaquillas. Unlucky for you as it’s not a lovely town, but well done so far.

Now, you’ll find yourself surrounded by very pushy people offering to change money for you at excellent rates, or take you through the border zone to Aguas Verdes, Peruvian Migraciones, or Tumbes. Whatever they say, ignore them. The money is all fake, and the rest are con men of one breed or another. The way to the international bridge is easy, and everyone knows it. Accept directions, but not guides. You’ll find yourself walking over a bridge: the far side of it is

So, now you’re in Peru. You don’t have any Peruvian money, but don’t worry about that for now. Straight ahead are motorbike rickshaws (aka mototaxis, motokars, tuk-tuks, etc). They should charge you one sol (or half a dollar if you have no soles) to take you to Peruvian Migraciones, just a kilometer or two down the road. There, you’ll have another form to fill in, and you’ll get a stamp in your passport. Hang on to the piece of paper you get with your details on, as you’ll need it when you leave Peru. Again, don’t accept any help from anyone. Ask the officers as you leave which side of the building has transport to Tumbes.

If you really have to you can change money here, with the official changers sitting inside the building. However, probably better to wait until you get to Tumbes.  The best way to get to Tumbes is in a taxi on your own, for 10 soles or four dollars. Reputable drivers will accept these prices, the ones trying to charge you more are if anything less trustworthy.  If you take a shared taxi, the price is 2:50 to three soles, or one dollar. A small local bus will cost one and a half soles. Do not take a mototaxi to Tumbes, it’s too far and many of them trying this on are actually criminals.  

The road to Tumbes is straight and easy and about 30km long. If your transport tries to get off the main road before reaching an obvious city, get worried and ask questions.  When you see a huge beer advertising billboard over the road showing a scantily clad woman in a pool of water, and you pass a military base to the right, congratulations, you’re there! 

If heading for Lima, my top pick is the reasonably priced (80 soles) and extremely comfortable Flores Super Dorado Class, leaving at 4pm. Take a first floor seat, it’s well worth the extra 10 soles in this case. For Mancora or
Piura there are buses or old American muscle cars that fill up and go when the seats are all taken: they’re fun, but often ill-maintained.

I recommend the right-hand back seat, as a wheel sometimes come off and being in that seat minimizes your risk if the car veers across the road and get sidesmashed by a truck going the other way.

As for money changing, you can do it on Tumbes’ pleasant main boulevard, with an official changer. Spot them by their yellow waistcoats. You can also get cash at the BCP bank ATMs, on the boulevard near the main plaza.

If (as always happens to me) you get in very early but are taking the 4pm bus, you can wander the streets in the meanwhile. The Las Terrazas restaurant is very pleasant, and the elderly owner always friendly. 

Arriving from Peru 

Here goes.
You get into Tumbes on your choice of transport. First up, make sure you have dollars: get them from a cash machine (BCP near the main square) or an official changer (see above). Changers nearer the border will give you fakes.

Again, if at all possible take Cifa direct from Tumbes to Machala or Guayaquil. Only try the border the hard way if for whatever reason that is not possible for you.

If Cifa is really definitely no good for you, then from Tumbes pick up a taxi to Migraciones, for 10 soles. Shared taxi is 2:50 if you can find a genuine one (many claim to be colectivos, but just wait around for you to get bored and then try to charge 15 soles or more to go “expreso”), local bus is 1:50.

At Migraciones, ignore anyone offering to help you with the paperwork. It’s all easy, they’re used to foreigners, and there are no fees to pay. If you’re lost your tourist card you have to pay something like 10 soles for a new one, and the fine for going over your 90 days is US$1 per day. Although officially this has to be paid at the Banco de la Nacion, I’ve had no problem paying the official in cash at the border. He probably keeps it for himself, mind. 

To get through Migraciones, you have to go first to the police office opposite the immigration desks. Show your passport and tourist card, and the officer will check that you’re not a wanted criminal. Then proceed to the desk and get your exit stamp. Now is a good time to check that it shows the right date, particularly if you’re crossing in the early hours of the morning or if the officer has just come on duty. 

From Migraciones, take a mototaxi or the same taxi that you came in as close to the Puente Internacional as it can legally go. You’ll find yourself at a road block manned by uniformed officials. Do not go to the Aguas Verdes terminal, which is a little sketchy. 

Keeping your hands over your pockets and your eyes on the prize, head straight down the road and cross the international bridge. When you get over it turn right straight away and go up the hill, with people selling produce and cigarettes on both sides. When you see a main road to the right (after about 80m), take it. It has most of the bus companies along it. For Quito, try Panamericana; for Riobamba, Ambato, etc, use Santa. If you’re going to Guayaquil or
Machala, you should be on a direct Cifa bus and not wandering this God-forsaken city.

OK, so, you’ve made it to your chosen bus company, but wait! Under a fairly recent law that will hopefully soon be repealed, the buses are not allowed to stop at Migraciones. Therefore, you have to show them your Ecuadorian entry stamp before you can buy a ticket. So… 

Leaving your bags in the safe room at the bus office if you like, take a taxi to Migraciones for $2 each way. Those on a serious budget can risk it all by riding on the back of someone’s motorbike for $1. At Migraciones, once again accept no help from anyone, and get your passport stamped. Should be no problem.  Then head back into Huaquillas, and wait for your bus. Bear in mind that there is a customs inspection just outside Huaquillas, followed by a police inspection – so when your bus leaves, don’t get too comfortable until you’ve passed them. 

Key points 

 Whichever way you go, keep the following points in mind: 

1: do not change any money except with official changers; this region is knee-deep in high-quality fakes. ATMs are best.

2: Do not wander the border after dark. While borders are open 24 hours, the city of Huaquillas/Aguas Verdes is not safe after nightfall. If you are set to arrive at night, take Cifa or change your travel plans, spend a night e.g. in Tumbes or wherever you’re coming from in Ecuador, and cross in the morning.

3: do not accept any help going through immigration from anyone who is not a uniformed official with ID. Do not accept any help or anything from anyone who approaches you on the street. Find a taxi, rather than letting a taxi find you.

4: do not accept special deals from taxi or mototaxi drivers. Particularly, beware of someone offering to do the next stage of your journey as well as the one you’re on (e.g., if the mototaxi driver taking you from Aguas Verdes to Peruvian immigration offers to take you on to Tumbes).

5: avoid this border or travel direct with Cifa if at all possible. 

4 Responses

  1. Footprint mentions other crossings from Ecuador, to the remote Ayabaca in Piura’s highlands, & a more popular scenic route from Vilcabamba in Ecuador via Zumba, Balsas, San Ignacio to Chachapoyas/Tarapoto & Iquitos in Peru:

  2. […] is a little scary, but we passed through the border in 2002 and had a similar kind of experience. Here’s another good link that gives some more detailed info about Peru Ecuador Border Crossings.Your best bet is to do the […]

  3. September 2008

    When you arrive in Tumbes taxi drivers and others will insist that there is a protest at the border and that CIFA are not able to pass. The driver will insist on driving you to the border instead of to the CIFA terminal. One of the assistants in CIFA also supported the taxi drivers claims and it was not until I was able to ask the bus driver that is was clear they were all lying.

    Message. In any of these border towns, trust no one…..

  4. My husband’s visa has just expired and he’s got to leave the country to start the process of migration status. Please let me know if Migration offices are open on the weekends … which is the schedule that they have, do you know about it?
    THanks a bunch!
    Ken and Miryam

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