Haquillas, Ecuador to Tumbes, Perú: A Confusing Crossing

I was under the asinine assumption that the border crossing from Huaquillas to Tumbes would be ridiculously smooth like the one from Colombia into Ecuador that I’d crossed five weeks prior.  That super easy crossing conditioned me to think that my next land pass over would be equally as easy.  Oh how wrong I was.

After a six-hour bus ride from the Andean city of Loja to the lowlands of coastal Huaquillas, I retrieved my red backpack from the bus’ conductor and asked him where the border was.  He pointed in one direction and told me to walk straight. After slightly less than a crowded kilometer away, I came to what appeared to be a border crossing between the two countries.

Two taxi drivers were vying for my business.

$20 señor.”

I gasped in shock, thinking:  WTF! I was so proud of myself for taking a $.25 bus to the Loja Bus Terminal from outside of my standard $13 hotel room that had most amenities including a nice work station setup.  I was happy that the six-hour bus ride to the border town cost only $6.  I was gaining momentum in the frugality that would enable me to travel longer.  But now, $20! For what?

My mood turned sour.

“¿$20 dolares para que?  ¿En serio?  ¿Que dices señor? No entiendo nada.  ¿Eres loco?”

I semi-snapped at the man in Spanish: Twenty dollars for what?  Are you serious?  What are you trying to say?  I don’t understand?  Are you nuts?

He went on to explain that the office for Ecuador exit stamps was four kilometers away in the opposite direction.

I thought:  Why didn’t the conductor tell me that.  Is he so jaded from his job that he won’t give basic information to a clueless foreigner?   But why is the office so far away?  There’s no logic to this.  Still, $20, no way.  I explained to the taxi driver  that I’d walk.

I power walked almost a kilometer back to where the bus dropped me. I stopped in a police station where about 10 uniformed guys seemed to be merrily hanging out and laughing away the lazy, tropical breeze.  They politely informed me that the exit office was three km in the opposite direction of the actual border.

I explained to them that I was perplexed by the system in place.

I assumed that bewildered tourists like me must come across this confusion daily:  OK, so Mr. $20 wasn’t lying about the taxi passages that travelers must endure.  But his price was outrageous. Granted, accepting his aid would have made the whole thing a little bit easier.

I flagged down a taxi.


He dropped me at the Ecuador exit office.  I had to fill out a very small form with basic information.  Because there were only three people in front of me, the whole process took about five minutes.  I had my exit stamp and proceeded to a taxi driver who was in place to take the next traveler(s) to the border.


I ended up back at the original pedestrian border walkway where I’d been instructed that I’d need to take a cab to get my Ecuador exit stamp.  The honest taxi driver dropped me there.  He explained that I should pay $.25 to take a moto taxi to Peruvian immigration which was about three more kilometers away.  I decided to power walk as I figured it’d be great to get some exercise.

I was among many other Semana Santa drifters.

These border patrol ladies informed me that they were standing on the official line that separates Ecuador from Perú.  I calmly walked past while they informed me that immigration was still quite a way’s away.  I thought: What’s a far walk to some may be a short walk to me.  And now I’m really enjoying this stroll as I wield my camera around like a typical tourist.

While power walking past two Peruvian police officers and greeting them politely, they stopped me and told me to put my camera away.  My initial thought was that it was an official border crossing; thus, photos weren’t allowed.  But I quickly realized that they were worried that someone might try to steal my camera.

They informed me that the area I was about to enter was sort of a no man’s land that’s wide open for muggings.  They explained that there are bandits who carry knives and even guns.  I thought:  Are these guys for real?  People keep telling me that things are dangerous but as usual I’ve noticed nothing of the sort.

I said to the overprotective officials that I’m from the United States where parts of many cities can be extremely sketchy.  I went on to explain that things don’t seem dangerous down here.  They informed me that I’m in Perú now and that Perú is more dangerous than Ecuador or Colombia as there is a plethora of poverty in this land.

They called a moto taxi and ordered me to take it and shell out a dollar.  They were convinced that as a foreign tourist I was a sure target for ladrones.

Gazing out from the back of the moto taxi I saw a lot of ordinary people.  They were engaging in a commute of some sort. Some were heading into Ecuador.  Others were innocently hawking while everyone seemed to be non maliciously engaging in daily life.  I kept my bags close as instructed and as usual I didn’t see any suspicious, gangster-looking types.

A couple of kilometers later and finally I was at the Peruvian immigration office.  I thought: I could have just walked across the border and not been stamped out or stamped in.  How odd.

I walked in on one side of the small edifice. There were only two people in front of me in line.  I was given two forms of basic information to fill out.  A minute passed and I was given a 90-day Perú stamp.

After inquiring with the customs agent, I was told that I’d need to exit on the opposite side from where I entered.  I walked out and was offered a ride to the center of Tumbes for 50 Soles or $18.83.

I told the taxi man that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

A woman instructed me that the cheapest way to get downtown was to wave down a colectivo or van.  Minutes later I was in a crammed vehicle and on my way to find transportation to Máncora on Perú’s north pacific coast.   The half hour journey cost about $.85.

After being dropped off I inquired with some locals about how to find my transportation.  Soon thereafter I was in a van bound for the coastal resort town. During the journey I was treated to a northern Peruvian pacific sunset.

While gazing at this natural marvel, I  thought:  I’m glad I stuck to my guns and only shelled out a few bucks to cross that confusing border.  I continued to ponder:  How could I have foolishly assumed that the crossing would be as traveler friendly as the one I crossed five weeks prior?

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Have you ever heard of a system so illogical or crossed a border so confusing?  Feel free to leave a comment below.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Al on April 16, 2012 at 21:26

    Everything is a learning experience, right? If it gets complicated, you just add a notch to your travel wisdom-meter and pass on the experience to fellow travelers… plus, it´s fun to read 🙂


  2. I loved reading this post, but I must admit it makes me a little scared about our future travels in Central and South America, considering I don’t speak Spanish!!! I mean, you seem to speak it quite fluently and still run into problems…Eek! I can definitely see myself getting very confused, frustrated and ripped off in a situation like that! Oh well, it’s all part of it I guess, and gives me more resolve to learn some Spanish before I try to cross borders 🙂 Great post.


    • SARAH: Thanks a million! I’m sure that non Spanish speakers cross that border everyday. I’ll bet that if I had a guidebook and/or had tried to research what that particular crossing was like then I would have expected it. The problem was that the whole strange ordeal took me by surprise. Please don’t be scared about your future travels in Latin America. Some people speak English and enjoy it, and if you’re making an effort to speak Spanish then you’ll be fine.


  3. Posted by Elizabet on April 9, 2012 at 21:44

    Hola Mike. Me alegra que estes en Peru, pero siempre ten mucho cuidado. Siempre ve a todos lados y disfruta del clima y la rica comida en Mancora. Take care.


    • ElIZABET: Thanks! So far no issues, just super nice Peruanos. They seem to take a liking to foreigners in this, your land. I should be careful that I don’t step into the wrong barrio somewhere as I could be a gringo target there. At the moment I’m in Chiclayo, seems very safe. The plan is to hit Trujillo next. I’m told that there I’ll need to be much more cuidado than here. I was in a huge crowded market today where I didn’t come across even one ladron but this again is Chicayo, a super safe city. As for the climate, the afternoons are a little bit hot. I guess Lima is much nicer temperature wise. I’m noticing a difference in the cuisine from Ecuador and Colombia. The food culture’s a step up in Perú. I’ve just had street ceviche for 2.50 soles(less than a buck) for lunch the last two days. I don’t know if it gets any better than that. 🙂


  4. Sounds rough, my temper tends to be the same way when I feel I am being screwed just because I am a Gringo. ¨Estas loco´´ All of those screwed up situations tend to be the ones that you will remember most. Keep a keep moving on. Great work on your blog.


    • LUCAS: Thanks! I was glad that I didn’t fall for these semi scams. I still try to understand that these guys need to make money and it just isn’t easy for them. Someone explained to me that the reason that particular border crossing is so strange is because there’s a lot of drug smuggling going through. Thus there are cops stationed in many many areas that traveler’s must pass. Still, my guess is that a drug smuggler could just walk through without getting stamped. At least I could have.


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