For travelers going to and from Ecuador and Peru, the most popular border-crossing by far would be the one at Piura. Backpackers in Ecuador will typically be wanting to go to Mancora to start their Peruvian adventures. Likewise, backpackers in Peru will be heading through Piura to reach places like Guayaquil, Cuenca, or Montañita.
That was my original plan. I was in Cuenca and wanted to go to Mancora immediately afterwards. Instead, I met up with my friend who had a car and we drove down to Vilcabamba. While our journey together ended in Vilcabamba, my journey with another adventurous spirit was just beginning. Dave was a 62-year old from Florida who was driving a converted Austrian Army vehicle down to Peru. He had a seat open so Dave, Sarah from Sydney, and I decided to make the journey together from Vilcabamba to Chachapoyas.
We got an early morning start, leaving our hostel in Vilcabamba at about 5:15. The winding mountain roads, landslides, and road blockages made the 150 kilometer journey to the border last nearly 5 hours. Traveling with a very unique vehicle and two motorcycles on the back, a lot of hoops had to be jumped for our border crossing. This means that your experience will be exponentially easier than ours but we’ll be able to cover all bases through this post.
If we can get this bad boy through the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border without any problems, we can get you through the border without any problems.
The border crossing at La Balsa is the most desolate border crossing I have ever come across. An Argentinian mother and daughter were the only two other people we saw during our two hour ordeal at the Ecuador and Peruvian border. Because of this, I would recommend stocking up on what you need at the larger towns right before you reach the border. In Ecuador, this would be Zumba and in Peru, it would be San Ignacio.
The desolateness of the border town of La Balsa can both be a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing because you will breeze through the border if you are traveling pretty minimally. If you’re on a bus, you basically just have to fill out a few forms and you’re good to go.
However, it can be a bad thing since the border patrol agents might not be familiar with certain things. Particularly, converted Austrian Army communications vehicles with two motorcycles strapped to the back. Getting humans across was as easy as it got. With the three vehicles, the border agent initially said it would take about one and a half to two hours before we could leave. It took less than thirty minutes and we moseyed on over to the Peruvian border.
The Peruvian border took a bit longer. For us humans, it was pretty simple. We were asked about vaccinations but we were not forced to have them. I had my yellow fever vaccine and told them I had my measles vaccine but did not have proof of it with me. They let Sarah and I through no problem and just told Dave that he should get a yellow fever vaccine if he was planning to visit the jungle in Chachapoyas.
The car and motorcycles were a different story. They were very thorough, which I guess is a good thing. You have to register your vehicles through customs and they check a lot of your paperwork. According to Dave, despite them being more thorough, they gave him less trouble than the border crossings of Ecuador and Colombia.
The border town is the smallest and most desolate border towns I’ve ever crossed into. There is a shop on each side for snacks and other small things you might need. There is a restaurant as well where you can get a sizable lunch for about 7 soles or $2.50. Until you reach San Ignacio, there is not much at all in the way of civilization as you drive through Peru. However, the scenery is beautiful as you drive through mountainous forests, rivers, and local scenes. Our Austrian Army comms vehicle obviously caught a lot of curious and befuddled glances as we drove through rural Ecuador and Peru.
All things considered, the border crossing was one of the quickest I have experienced. However, the journey from Vilcabamba to Chachapoyas or vice versa can be a brutal one. After a long day of traveling that started at 5 AM, we ended up spending the night a few hours short of our final destination of Chachapoyas in a local city called Jaen in Peru. It was beautiful and it was cheap and made for a good break in between the longer journey from Vilcabamba to Chachapoyas.