According to the guidebooks, the border crossing from Ecuador to Peru at Aguas Verdes is known to be the worst ones in Latin America. As Lonely Planet puts it: “Shady practices at the border crossing between Ecuador and Peru at Aguas Verdes have earned it the dubious titles of the worst border crossing in South America.” There are records of two travel writers trying to run away from the border to escape the scam and danger there.
The reality of crossing the border at Aguas Verdes
Crossing the border from Ecuador to Peru at Aguas Verdes is not as chaotic as Lonely Planet mentioned. Many backpackers who travel between Ecuador and Peru through that border by bus live to tell the tale, and me, as a solo traveler crossing the border from Ecuador to Peru at night, found the process simple and straightforward.
Getting to the border
There are several borders to cross from Ecuador to Peru and I choose to cross at the Aguas Verdes from Cuenca at night. I took the bus, Super Semeria, which leaves from Cuenca Terminal Terrestre at 10pm. I paid $18 for seven hours travel to Mancora, a beautiful town on the northern coast of Peru. The entire bus journey is smooth and the bus stopped only once – at the border.
It is recommended to purchase your tickets in advance. I went to the Super Semeria office at 10 am the same day of departure and got a seat in one of the back rows. The bus had a few empty seats left. You can try your luck by showing up at the station before departure but it is not promised that you will get the tickets. You will need to bring your passport with you to get the ticket and remember to set aside $0.1 for the platform fee.
Leaving Cuenca, Ecuador
We were informed to arrive at the terminal at 9:30 pm. I met two Canadians at the hostel who were traveling through the same route with me that night so we decided to head to the terminal together. We arrived at the terminal at 9:15 pm and met three British travelers taking the same bus bound for Mancora as well.
The bus left shortly after 10 pm. As we traveled out of Cuenca, I felt the sometimes bumpy roads and saw dim lights with minimum vehicles in sight. We occasionally came across villages and saw the oncoming traffic, but mostly we were on our own traveling through the country roads through the darkness. The bus started playing movies with characters shouting, yelling, and fighting, but I soon drifted off to sleep.
Around 2 am, we arrived at the border and were asked to get off the bus. We were given our Peruvian immigration form to fill out and were instructed on where to go first to get our Ecuador exit stamp.
Exiting Ecuador and Entering Peru
Originally, the immigration building of Ecuador and Peru were across the street from each other at the border, where chaos and scamming frequently occurred. Nowadays, both the Ecuador and Peru immigration are in the same building, so the process is simple and does not involve any danger. The bus waited for us outside the building. I completed the immigration form and then entered the building.
The immigration officer at the Ecuador side found the entry stamp on my passport. She did not seem surprised. She promptly stamped me out of Ecuador and returned the passport to me. Getting out of a country is always easy, as long as you entered legally and did not overstay.
A few steps to the right was the Peruvian immigration. We Chinese need visas to visit every South American country, except Ecuador. However, if we have a Canadian PR card, we are exempted from a tourist visa to Peru. When I handed in my passport together with my Canadian PR card, the middle-aged woman at the Peruvian immigration desk was confused. She looked at my Canadian PR card as if I handed her a rock from Mars. She then put my card aside and flipped through my passport pages like she was looking for something. There was a lot of typing on the computer and wondering from her wide-opened eyes.
China? Chinese passport holders rarely travel to South America for vacation and even rarer crossing the border between Ecuador and Peru like this. I was not surprised that she did not know what to do with me. She looked at my passport for five minutes while three British travelers behind me were impatiently waiting their turn. I determined not to say a word, in case she started asking questions. Eventually, she decided to stamp me in for 90 days and gave me back my passport and my Canadian PR card. We did not have any verbal communication at all.
It appeared that my turn took the longest. All the passengers behind me came out of the building shortly after I walked out of immigration. The entire process from exiting Ecuador to entering Peru took us thirty minutes.
As the bus drove away from the border and onto Peru, I looked out the window and saw the oceans along the highway with dimmed light. A British traveler who sat in front of me talked with me for a bit about our travel plans and figured why it took me so long to cross the border. It was then I decided to temporarily skip the hassle of dealing with the corrupted Bolivian immigration and travel straight from Peru to Chile instead.
Arriving in Mancora
At 4:50 am, we have arrived in Mancora. There was no bus station, so the bus dropped us off on the street outside the city center where we were bombarded by tuk-tuks. None of us had Peruvian sols and it was still early in the morning, so the tuk-tuks got the opportunity of overcharging us with US dollars for taking us to our hostels. We tried haggling but were not successful. Plus, in that hour, we were very sleepy and all we wanted was to get to our hostels.
The road to my hostel was windy through sandy pathways and seaside. It was very bumpy but the owner of the hostel welcomed me and allowed me to check in at 5:30 am. After I settled in, I looked outside with the sky lighting up over the blue ocean and the gentle breeze heading my way. This was my first sight of Peru and I had been missed the ocean for weeks. All around was silence and peace, with the wind coming through, the sun trying to rise above the beach, and the sound of waves lapping at the shore.
Tips for land crossing from Ecuador to Peru
There are travelers concerning about their safety crossing the border from Ecuador to Peru at Aguas Verdes at night, but I, as a solo female traveler, find crossing this border at night is surprisingly easy. Although the Peruvian officer took a long to stamp me in, she did not ask me anything or give me hard time. The border was empty at 2 am and the queue was short, so the whole process was finished within 30-40 minutes, instead of waiting for hours at the border line-up during the day.
Change your US dollars to Peruvian sols in Quito and Guayaquil. It will be impossible to find change in other Ecuadorian cities and there is no change guy at the border at 2 am. I survived by reaching the hostels without any Sols on me, but it would be better to have Sols before you enter Peru for rides and hostel check-ins.
If you are coming to Ecuador from Peru, be sure to get rid of Peruvian sols before entering Ecuador. Otherwise, you will have a difficult time changing sol to dollars. Banks in Guayaquil only accept US dollars and Euros for currency exchange. I am not sure about Quito.
Make sure to go with a good bus company to cross this border (check the online reviews) to be safe. Super Semeria, Azuay, and Cruz Del Sur are three highly recommended bus companies to travel between Ecuador and Peru. They are not cheap but are definitely worth every penny.
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