September 9, 2006

Ecuador–Peru Border
Máncora, Peru

I've passed through over two dozen countries (and counting), but the Huaquillas border crossing between Ecuador and Peru is by far the most hazardous I've experienced.

Llama wool

My Ecuadorian bus (loaded with lama wool) deposited me outside the immigration office, 5km south of Huaquillas. I waited patiently as the border official sat on my passport for 10 minutes as he processed the locals behind me.

Ecuador and Peru have created what I'm calling a "4km kill zone" between immigration offices.

A dangerous, shady town lurks on the Pan-American Highway between these checkpoints, where the fleecing or mugging of tourists has become commonplace. Novice travelers are hit especially hard. I received an e-mail from my friend Lucy, who ventured into Peru before me. Unfortunately I didn't get it until after I crossed, but her warnings were most accurate:

Hey, good luck for the border crossing into Peru, there is a major scam going on there. They will try and get you to change a lot of money at the border saying there isn't any banks in Máncora and to get the exit stamp you need to show $300 Soles its a load of crap… and then they want to put you in a cab to drive you in the middle of nowhere and rob you. So just get into a cab away from the hustle and bustle and be suspicious of people trying to be too helpful, they are all connected. Good luck!

After a "friendly" Peruvian guy waited around with me for the duration it took to stamp me out of Ecuador, he casually offered me an exchange rate at less than 60% of what I should have gotten. The border was 2km away; I was forced to take a taxi. A driver tried to overcharge me, but I knew the rate beforehand (US$1).

What I didn't know was that the immigration office for Peru was 2km from the border (something I didn't believe at first), and that my cab driver wouldn't be crossing over. He deposited me at the frontier in a mass of shady money changers with fixed calculators who tried to either charge me a horrible or false rate, pass counterfeit bills off to me (a real problem in Peru), or convince me that I had to show a wad of Peruvian cash to the immigration official to be allowed entry into the country (which I conveniently didn't have)—bastards.

I was really on edge. I hadn't talked with any other travelers about the border ahead of time, but knew from my surroundings that I was in an exceptionally hostile environment.

The streets were busy, chaotic. Now in Peru, I couldn't see a taxi anywhere. A man approached me claiming to be a taxi driver, and pointed to his car below us (we were standing on a short bridge that straddled the border). We agreed on a price after a negotiating (another US$1), and I cautiously followed him to his car (unmarked as a cab except for a sticker on the windshield). His "license" hung from the rear view mirror.

He opened both doors on the passenger side of the car, expecting me to ride shotgun and put my backpack in the backseat—yeah, right. It went between my legs, up front, with me.

After some time in the car we took a turn down a gravel side street. We had been doing some friendly chatting (he was kindly pushing me to hire him for the 40-minute ride to the next town), when I asked him rather sternly where we were going. The immigration office, he assured me. We showed up not longer after.

A 90-day stamp in my passport for Peru, no proof of cash or onward ticket was necessary.

Next came a collectivo (shared mini-bus) to Tumbes for US$0.50, followed by another (ugh, 21 people in a vehicle meant for 12 for over two hours) to Máncora for US$1.50. A rough start to Peru.

I hear there are some 1st class bus lines that will take you through the border without having to deal with the kill zone—I would strong recommend such a thing if the opportunity exists.



September 12th, 2006

Jeez Money! Friendly Delta Force reminder to keep yourself alive.

How else am I going to meet up with you again?!?



March 16th, 2010

In 1967 I crossed from Peru into Ecuador with three American Peace Corps volunteers I had met on the train from Buenos Aires to La Paz. A taxi ride was involved then too. Only two of us had obtained their permission papers in Lima. The others needed papers which were not available at the border, though we'd been told in Lima that it didn't matter where you got them. Somehow all four of us crossed the border anyway, expecting to get a boat to Guayaquil before the authorities realized what we'd done. The boat, as it turned out, wasn't running that day and we had to stay put just inside Ecuador overnight. I took a photo of a monument to the "friendship of the Ecuadoran and Peruvian peoples" and the police almost took my camera. After a sleepless night wondering when we would get arrested we took a bus with wooden benches for seats all the way to Guayaquil. Didn't hang around for the boat. Ah, those were the days… Sounds even scarier now.



October 4th, 2010

Yep that's what happens at the frontier. I was met in the bus station going to Ecuador by a guy who was my "new best friend" and offered us a ride to the bank to get a check for the border guards because they are corrupt and steal cash. I refused, he insisted that he was the "go to" guy to taxi us safely to the border because the company buslines will abandon you and continue on to Guayquil while youre in immigrations getting stamped out. I refused again, but accepted a ride into Tumbes from the bus station.

In a motor taxi one guy drove the other sat behind us with our bags. I wrapped my hand around the strap so he couldn't take off with it. I caught him trying to reach into it several times. 6 soles for a 1 sole taxi ride later we were in Tumbes. At the border we learned that everything he told us was wrong, nothing was true. Coming back into Peru at night we had an armed security guard on the bus. Once in Peru, a taxi driver in the bus station wanted to take us to a cheap hostel. I asked to see his ID and DNI card and held my phone in my hand to call his information to a friend. He refused but insisted we take his taxi. We got the taxi of the driver standing next to him who was cooperative. In the hostel I jammed the chair against the door and slept with one eye open. Its all just part of the adventure. You just have to be aware and ready for anything that could happen. Trust your gut.


Craig |

October 4th, 2010

I strongly suggest travelers avoid that border crossing at all costs and read up on the best alternative, explained here: Lima, Peru to Vilcabamba, Ecuador via Piura and Loja


Inside Peru

October 10th, 2010

Fortunately, all that can be avoided. It is always a good idea to check out info ahead of time so that things like this are avoided. My wife and I have crossed at this border 4 times in the last 8 months with absolutely no problems…except for the usual time it takes to get passports stamped and perhaps a short time at the customs checkpoint. Also, asking nicely at the border, we have visas for six months rather than the usual 3 months. As stated above, this is by taking a luxury bus (about $20 USD per person) from Guayaquil to Mancora. Of course, you could also catch it closer to the border like Machala, and get off close to the border in Tumbes if you wanted. These buses cross in the wee hours of the morning and there are few people around. For more information on border crossings for Peru, check out some of the good Peru websites.

The United States


June 13th, 2011

My wife, an Ecuadorian, and I, white American, have been through this border, too, and it is no joke. You will get this feeling of "on edge" and, for me, it felt as if all eyes were on me. After using an unlicensed cab to get us from the bus stop to immigration office to across the border, we felt like the unlicensed cab was up to something. His partner and him were very aggressive in trying to convince us in using there services to get to Tumbes. Finally, we ditched them for the packed mini-bus, which felt more safe. Happy traveling!

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