When I entered Ecuador in October 2018 I planned to travel through the country until my 90-day visa ran out. You see, Ecuador does not have the same policy as some neighboring South American countries that allow a visa reset upon departure and re-entry of the country. Unless I wanted to pay to extend my visa another 90 days I would have to wait a full year to re-enter Ecuador. So I was granted 90 days, like most other visitors, and that was that.
The 90 days flew by at times, while at other times they seemed to stretch on for years. As I approached day 70 or so, I realized I would need to formulate a plan. I slowly started making my way south through Ecuador, leaving Cotopaxi province for first Baños and then Cuenca. This involved some of my longest bus rides as of date, with the bus between Baños and Cuenca clocking in at seven hours long.
Upon arriving in Cuenca I began talking to fellow travellers and my hostel owners in earnest about how to best cross into Perú. I had already decided I wanted to cross at the Huaquillas crossing, as I had read some not-so-great things about border crossings in general, and this seemed to be the safest bet. I would have loved to leisurely made my way through Riobamba, Vilcabamba, and Loja, but I after spending five nights in Cuenca I was already at my 86th day. Time to ska-doodle out of the country!
I had read that there were three companies that crossed from Cuenca to Perú: Pullman Sucre, Azuay International, and Super Semeria. While everything I had heard pointed me toward Azuay, when I visited the office to purchase my ticket I felt like I was more of a hassle than a valued customer. In their defense the office was quite busy, but it left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I then visited Pullman Sucre, where I learned that while they were the only company that ran day buses, the buses only ran the Cuenca to Perú route on Fridays and Saturdays. With the clock ticking on my visa I didn’t have the luxury of waiting. Super Semeria’s ticket agent was engaged enough and answered all of my questions…
- Yes, they did run the Cuenca to Perú route every day
- Only at 9:30pm
- Yes, all the buses have bathrooms (most important question)
- No, I wouldn’t have to switch buses at the border
so I decided to purchase a ticket with them. Next came the more difficult question; now that I had decided to cross into Perú, what would be my final destination for this overnight trip? I had my pick of Máncora, Piura, or Chiclayo, all cities in northern Perú.
I didn’t know much about any of these options, and in all honesty was simply hoping to skip ahead to southern Perú. I ultimately chose Chiclayo because I knew Máncora to be a beach town (I wasn’t really feeling the beach) and knew nothing about Piura. Plus, Chiclayo is located the furthest south and would thus put me closest to my ultimate destination.
The Cuenca to Chiclayo trip was forecasted to last 12 hours and cost me $23, and it held pretty true to that schedule. I arrived for my 9:30pm bus around 8:45pm to be safer than sorry. While waiting for the bus to arrive, I tried to make friendly conversation with the other travelers, as I was traveling alone and feared the bus would accidentally leave me at the border and no one would notice (I swear this was a rational fear). When the bus arrived I was instructed that I needed to place my 40L backpack under the seating compartment, which I had never been told I had to do in all of my other Ecuadorian bus trips. Once again fearful of my backpack, which only contained my whole backpacker life, getting lost or stolen thanks to internet blogs, I asked the gentlemen working for Super Semeria whether it would be safe and whether it would be better in the passenger compartment up with me. They sighed in an exasperated manner and explained that the upper compartment was for passengers, not backpacks. Well, then.
I was also a bit concerned (can you tell I was super relaxed about this trip?) since it sounded to me as if all the other non-native South Americans were headed to Máncora or Piura. Did they know something I didn’t about Chiclayo?
Once we got settled on the bus I felt better. The bus was clean, new, and the seats reclined further than most typical bus seats – these were semi-camas.
The bus attendant was quite attentive, handing out Oreos and juices to everyone and reciting the wifi (Wifi!! Hallelujah!!) password several times, in both Spanish and English. The bus hung around the station until about 9:45 while I said silent prayers that the seat next to me would remain empty. At 9:45pm we pushed off with one empty seat – the one next to me! Perfect, because now I could curl up into a little ball on the two seats and fall asleep.
The bus attendant asked if we wanted to watch a movie, but as most people voted no the lights were turned out and I set about trying to snooze.
I later awoke to see light streaming in behind my eye mask. Was it daytime already? The whole 12 hours couldn’t have passed already, could it?
I took off my eye mask and realized my mistake. It was about 1:00 am and I had forgotten about the whole, you know, border crossing thing. The light I noticed was actually the bus’s interior light as it sat parked waiting to be called through the border.
All of us disembarked from the bus to wait to get our passports stamped. The border crossing process took about an hour and a half for a bus of about 40 people. I was luckily one of the first ones off the bus and thus one of the first to complete the process. It involved waiting in a line to be called to the Ecuadorian side of things where we received an exit stamp, and then getting in an adjacent line to wait to be called to the Peruvian side of things to get an entry stamp. The Ecuadorian and Peruvian desks were in the same building and, in fact, all mixed together, so it was a very convenient, albeit a tad bit confusing, process.
When I was called to the Peruvian desk I was given 90 days in Perú (I asked nicely for more but was politely turned down.) After receiving my Peruvian stamp I was free to leave the building and walk about 50m to Perú, where the bus was waiting for us.
While I expected a line on the ground or some sort of fence (*ahem*), there didn’t seem to be any sort of official border between Ecuador and Perú. On the walk over I saw people laying on mattresses and relief-company tents set up to offer services for the Venezuelans waiting to cross into Perú.
After all of the bus passengers completed the border crossing process, we all reboarded the bus. After ensuring we had everyone on board we then set off again.
I awoke a few times and when we as we stopped at Máncora around 5:00am to let others off, but since my disembarkment would be at the bus trip’s terminus I always fell back asleep. Around 7:00am I woke up for the day, suprisingly rested as we were driving through the Peruvian desert. Later that morning we received a breakfast of juice and a warm roll with cheese, which was a nice treat. We eventually arrived at my stop of Chiclayo (which didn’t have much going for it, sorry Chiclayo) around 10:00am incident-free. All in all not a bad first night bus & border crossing experience!