“Expect them to ask for $200 at the border.” An American expat in Cuenca looked me right in the eye, face steady and serious. “Then, just pretend you’re scared and say you only have $20.”
Crossing borders has always been a source of panic for me. After 5 times visiting Canada, I knew I had a face to make the US border patrol ask: “Where are you really from?” In a car of 3 other Americans, I’m the one they pitch the follow-up questions to. Where were you born? Why did you visit Canada? Did you leave anything behind?
I guess my US passport isn’t proof enough that I may cross into the US. I sit there with my window down, passport opened to my picture page, and my best “I’m not illegal” smile. Suffice to say, after traveling to over 25 countries, I dread crossing borders overland. Dread it!
So when my 90-day visa was up in Ecuador, my blood pressure boiled over like it was pumping shrapnel through my veins. After hard negotiations with Neil who wanted to stay in-country until the final hour, he appeased me with taking the overnight bus into Peru just 2 days shy of our expiration dates.
From Vilcabamba, we took a US$15 taxi from Hosteria Izhcayluma into Loja. It’s normally a 45-minute drive but with Sunday traffic it took over an hour. The driver dropped us off at the terminal. We bought our tickets for the 1pm bus and waited. Loja International company is the only service provider into Peru. Tickets are US$10 each and the ride is 9 hours long including border crossing logistics. They leave three times from Loja at 7am, 1pm, and 11pm.
We stowed our bags, tucked in for the long ride, and watched as the sun went down over Ecuador for the last time. At Macara, the bridge was dark and little houses illuminated the way from one country to another.
Much to my surprise, the crossing went smoothly and we arrived in Piura, Peru by 10pm.
What to Expect at the Border Crossing Between Ecuador and Peru
When the bus pulled to the bridge, all passengers disembarked with passports, leaving luggage on board. At Macara, a small house with immigration officials has a desk opened 24-hours a day and an illuminated signs thanks you for coming to Ecuador.
The immigration official asked for our immigration card. We had none. And the first pangs of “we’re going to be arrested!” coursed through my head. But the uniformed man just glanced at our stamps and handed us two scraps of paper to fill out. Three minutes later, we were walking across the bridge into Peru, where our bus idled on the other side.
The next house was the Peruvian immigration office. A small house to the right and up a few stairs, the office has procedures that are quick. He looks at your papers, asks how many days you will visit, and clears you for 30 or 90 days. With a quiet “Bienvenido”, he passed back your papers with your immigration card folded inside your passport. Note: First chance you get, staple the embarkation cards into your passport so that you don’t lose it.
After you’re stamped at the border, you have two more things to do.
1. Cross the street to a second house. I have no idea what it is or what the function serves. But the official signed the stamp and handed back our passports. Then we were officially cleared to enter Peru.
2. A pair of dodgy men were sitting in front of these two houses. They are money exchangers. When you reach Piura, you’ll need a taxi to your hotel, which should cost about 3 Peruvian Soles. From the money changer, get US$20 worth but make sure the bills are clean and not worn in. When we reached Piura, our cab driver refused one of our bills because it was in poor condition. When in doubt, ask for 1,2, and 5 Soles coins. So be wary of old and possibly counterfeit money in Peru.
In Vilcabamba, Hosteria Izhcayluma maintains the best and most up-to-date information about border crossings. While we took the coastal crossing to Piura, they also recommend the more rustic and scenic route that puts you in the middle of the Amazon, at the beautiful colonial town of Chachapoyas—a little visited Peruvian gem that is called the Eyebrow of the Amazon and is the gateway to the pre-Incan ruins at Kuelap. We elected to take the less adventurous route and avoided changing buses-trucks several times.
So while the border crossing from Loja, Ecuador into Piura, Peru was long, we had no problems with bribes or cranky immigration officers. Just remember to bring snacks, sodas, and official papers. Anyone else taken this border crossing? Or another?