Updated May 29th, 2017.
Concerning the border crossing between Peru and Ecuador the Lonely Planet writes… “Shady practices at the border crossing between Ecuador and Peru at Aquas Verdes have earned it the dubious tiles of the worst border crossing in South America.” As experienced backpackers we couldn’t help but read the little grey box with slightly accelerated heart rates and palms covered in perspiration. We started asking around for more information about the journey and we’re given two options: a night bus that does not require you to disembark at immigration (with Azuay) and a day bus that requires changing at the border town.
This may sound crazy but we are big fans of day buses. We know night buses save you time and money on a night’s accommodation, but we prefer to treat it as an excuse for a lazy day. Think about it when do you really get to sit around all day as a backpacker and not feel guilty about it, watch a movie, read a book, and oh yeah look at the incredible changing vista outside your bus window! South America is a pretty amazing continent and landscapes change as frequently as the climate. Plus day time travel just makes you feel a whole lot safer, knowing what’s going on around you may not actually protect you, but it can help ease a nervous travelers mind.
So, for many a reason we chose to travel by day from Cuenca, Ecuador to Mancora, Peru and here’s how the journey went…
We bought two tickets one day before our bus was scheduled, from the Pullman-CIFA station at Cuenca Terminal de buses, that was to leave at 7:15 am (other departure times are 2pm and 9:30pm). The bus station is only about five minutes outside of the city center, but afternoon traffic can make the journey much longer. Plan to go early in the morning or later in the afternoon so this doesn’t become an all day affair. We also met other travelers who simply showed up and got on the bus, if your not too worried about when you leave you can always take the gamble.
Look for this CIFA international sign to buy your ticket
Catching the Bus:
We arrived thirty minutes prior to departure time, and quickly realized that much lead way was unnecessary. Plan to show up no more than fifteen minutes early, if you already have a ticket.
CIFA- Cuenca to the border:
The bus journey was an estimated three hours long but actually ended up taking five hours. We traveled down the Andes, leaving the mountains behind for a much warmer coastal climate. Travelers quickly peeled off sweaters as our bus drove through banana plantations and finally through the dusty town of Machala before reaching the border.
As Ecuador changes to Peru so too do banana plantations transition to desert.
Waiting for the next bus:
The CIFA bus pulled right up to the next station where we would catch the Pullman bus to take us across the border. At this point some travelers got a bit nervous and confused, it felt as though we were left to our own devices. Turn’s out all we needed to do was to wait, the company was in fact taking care of us and sure enough twenty minutes later we were ushered onto the next bus.
After about ten minutes on the bus we were instructed to get off for immigration. Would we be stamped out of Ecuador correctly and then into Peru? Once again, everything was taken care of, no need to worry. We waited in line for approximately an hour and a half before we reached the front of the line. At the front we were given our exit stamps and then right afterwards our entry stamps. Easy as pie.
On to Mancora:
Mancora is approximately two hours from the border. The landscape quickly changed a signal that we were in new lands. Incredible sand dunes took shape, the desert coast of Peru. We dozed in and out of sleep and before we knew it a friendly attendant was tapping us on the shoulder letting us know that this was our stop.
Welcome to Mancora, Peru, now that wasn’t so bad!
We made it, as did our luggage, and our successfully stamped passports. The whole affair took about nine hours, but cost us a lot more worry than was necessary. After the extreme warnings from the Lonely Planet we had prepared for treacherous lands, shady transactions, and a reason to distrust those helping us through the journey.
What did we find? As in the rest of our experiences in South America, a whole lot of helpful people, an organized journey, and a smooth transition from one incredible country to the next.
So, to sum it all up we can’t guarantee that everything will be fine when you hop from Ecuador to Peru, but we also can’t guarantee that everything will be fine while you’re brushing your teeth tonight- you never know if you might poke a cheek. What we can tell you is that everything should be fine, we had no problems, and we can’t see why you would either. Safe travels and enjoy the next country of your backpacking adventures!