Updated: July 7, 2022
The main Ecuador-Peru border crossings have all re-opened after almost two years of being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, similar to everywhere else in the world, the crossing is a more elongated procedure that involves new health security protocols, including making sure you are fully vaccinated (three doses) OR that you have received a negative PCR nasal swab test within 72 hours prior to crossing the border.
The main border crossings are:
1. Aguas Verdes (Huaquillas, Ecuador – Tumbes, Peru) near the coast;
2. La Tina (Macará, Ecuador – Sullana, Peru) through the mountains;
3. La Balsa (Zumba, Ecuador – San Ignacio, Peru) through the jungle.
Other, smaller crossings scatter the mountain passes between Huaquillas and La Balsa.
Bear in mind that all border crossings are operational between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday to Sunday, but may be closed on national holidays. My best advice is simply to never try and travel on a national holiday under any circumstance, but if you must, even government websites might not tell you if border posts are operational, so proceed at your own risk.
When it comes to deciding where to cross from Ecuador to Peru (or vice versa), it’s always been a draw for me: Should I go by way of the coast – or through the Andes?
Over the years, I had always sided with convenience and safety as my criteria, and for that crossed at La Tina (Macará). More recently, my more important criterion has been saving money, as opposed to time. And still, for that, I choose to cross at Macará.
La Tina is the formal name of the border crossing near the town of Macará, Ecuador. It is a hassle-free crossing. All I have to do is go to the immigration office of the country that I’m leaving to get the exit stamp, then walk the 200 meters across the short bridge to the other country’s office and get my entry stamp. But now, I also have to show that I've been vaccinated or recently tested and that I don't have COVID.
Two bus companies have direct international service between Loja, Ecuador, and Piura, Peru, but they have not resumed operations on this route since the pandemic. Keep checking the link as they could be back on the road any time soon (but read on for another way to do it in the meantime).
The buses from Loja stop in Macará for a meal break and to pick up passengers. If I’m on the day bus, I’ll make a run to the plaza in front of the market where the money changers hang out and get some soles (Peruvian currency) before entering Peru. There is also an ATM at the border, though the bus doesn’t stop long enough for people to withdraw funds.
It does take longer to travel this route compared to the coastal route through Aguas Verdes, because it winds through the mountains. However, it is considerably less expensive.
Before there were direct buses between Loja and Sullana, I had to do this trip in stages and transfers. So I decided to try an experiment to see if the old-fashioned way might be more economical. To my surprise, the staged and transfer way turned out to be more expensive and took longer! But here’s how you do it if you want to enjoy shorter stages of travel through the Macara border:
Alternative 1: From the Macará market where the buses going to Macara stop, take a pickup truck to the border ($1; a taxi costs $2). After crossing the border bridge on foot, hop on a mototaxi to the small community of La Tina ($2). From La Tina, board a local bus to Sullana (1.5-2 hours, $6). From Sullana, you can reserve tickets online to anywhere in Peru.
Alternative 2: Another option is to simply have a car come and pick you up on the Peru side of the crossing bridge (La Tina) and drive you the 2 hours to Sullana. Click here to reserve a shuttle to come and pick you up.
Aguas Verdes is the official name of the border between Huaquillas, Ecuador, and Tumbes, Peru. This coastal route is the fastest, most popular, and most convenient to get to Máncora and other North Coast beach towns – but it is also more expensive than going through Loja.
All international bus routes going south into Peru require you to board in Guayaquil. You cannot board any other place. Going north to Ecuador, however, you can board in Tumbes, Mancora, Piura, Chiclayo, Trujillo, or Lima.
For decades, this border crossing was to be avoided. No direct buses operated between the two countries. You would have to take a bus to the border, then a taxi across the sketchy zone between border posts. Anything could happen in that desert: robbery, bad money exchanges … and worse. It didn’t matter if you were locals or foreigners, the stories abound of loss and grief from crime at this crossing. Not really the case anymore.
Today, the Huaquillas border near the Pacific coast is much better! Four Peruvian bus companies offer direct service between Guayaquil and Mancora, in fact, they all go farther if you are wanting to go to other major destinations like Piura, Chiclayo, Trujillo, and Lima.
All the buses stop at the new border post shared by both countries' immigration services. You merely have to step off the bus, enter the office of the one country to get your passport stamped, then the desk of the other country, and board your bus waiting outside the door.
When I decided to go to Chachapoyas, Peru, I took the border crossing directly south of Vilcabamba, Ecuador. This is an adventuresome journey that takes at least two days.
Jaén is the best target destination for overnighting. The bus winds through the orchid-draped cloud forest, but be aware that landslides (especially December-April) can cause delays. It is imperative to set out on the first bus in order to make good on time. You can get advance reservations from Loja as far as Zumba, the last major town that is about 1 hour from the border.
For my shorter-segmented journey, I arrived in Zumba minutes before 12:30 p.m., just in time to catch the day's last ranchera (an old-fashioned, open-sided bus with wooden benches) to La Balsa (1 hour, $3). This is why you need to set out on the first bus departure from Loja, because if you don’t get to Zumba before 12:30 p.m., you will have to stay overnight there in the tiny town in order to catch the next ranchera in the morning.
Immigration at the border crossing was painless, and I joined other travelers in a colectivo taxi to San Ignacio (2 hours, $7). From San Ignacio, you can reserve tickets online to Chiclayo, and from Chiclayo practically to any other place in Peru.
The roads for this route have become increasingly modernized, given it has become more popular with travelers wanting the backroad into Peru to see Kuélap ruins and Gocta waterfalls near Chachapoyas. In Jaén, you can get combis, shared taxis, or buses to Bagua Grande, Chachapoyas, and on to other destinations.
Lorraine Caputo is a travel writer, poet, and translator. She has authored eight guidebooks for South America. Her literary works appear in over 150 journals in Canada, the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa; eighteen anthologies and twelve chapbooks – including the new collection of travel poetry, Caribbean Nights (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014). For the past decade, she has been traveling through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. Follow her travels at www.facebook.com/lorrainecaputo.wanderer.
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