Ecuador-Peru Border Crossing at Zumba/San Ignacio/La Balsa

Of all the border crossings to enter Peru from Ecuador, this is probably the least traveled route. It is also the longest and quite tricky and requires a good deal of patience. Plus point though is that it is very scenic, no one fleeced us and it was like an adventure.
Highlights:
  • (all costs are for two people)
  • Overnight bus from Vilcabamba to Zumba in 6 hours – $13
  • Collectivo or taxi to La Balsa (border village) $18
  • Cross the border to Peru
  • Take a collectivo to San Ignacio 28 soles
  • Take a moto taxi in San Ignacio to the terminal for a mini bus to Jaen
  • Mini bus to Jaen costs 24 soles
  • Stay at Hotel Jaen – 40 soles for a private room with bathroom
  • Next day morning – collective to Bagua Grande – 12 soles
  • Another collective to Chachapoyas – 42 soles
  • Pack plenty of snacks. There is no food in any of the stops along the way, especially vegetarian. I recommend bread, cookies and the likes.
Vilcabamba to La Balsa, Ecuador
This border crossing was the nearest to Vilcabamba and its valley of longevity. After a really relaxing meal of locally produced Tofu at Vilcabamba, we walked to the bus stop to board our 10.30 PM overnight bus to Zumba. The trip ended up taking over 10 hours instead of the usual 6 hours because there was a road block due to landslide along the way. Since the bus couldn’t go anywhere and no one would clear the remote mountain road in the middle of the night, the driver turned off the engine and went to sleep! There were only a handful of people in the bus.
Waiting for the road block to be cleared:

Because of this delay, we reached Zumba at 8 AM and missed an earlier collective that goes to the border, La Balsa. We were tired and hungry when we got off. Finally we brokered a deal with the taxi driver to take us to a place for breakfast and then on to the border. The bus terminal at Zumba was so spanking new that restrooms were not yet open to the public. There was one restaurant, but they didn’t have any usual breakfast items. But they did have a tourist booth, where we were handed tourist maps and ostensibly made to sign the tourist register.

The new terminal at Zumba:
Enroute from Zumba to La Balsa:
The taxi driver took us to a spotless little restaurant with an equally clean bathroom, where we got a chance to freshen up and eat. Zumba is very scenic and so untouched. The taxi ride to the border was fun and roads weren’t great, but the driver chatted with us the entire way and played his favorite music from a little pen drive. We passed a checkpoint where a cop checked out our passports and then we arrived at ‘La Balsa’. La Balsa is a street with a few shops and the immigration building. Just beyond is a bridge that goes to the Peruvian side. There are a few exchange shops, a couple of stalls to buy snacks. The immigration building is like a small store and was locked when we walked up to it. Yes, locked! After a few minutes, a guy with full army gear slowly walked up to us and gave us a cheerful grin. He said hello and proceeded to open the locked door to the office. He stamped us out and we were on our way in less than a minute. When we walked to the border-bridge, it was quite empty with no tourist in sight.
Immigration officer fully decked out in army gear:
Spotted: in the Peruvian immigration police checkpoint – Taj Mahal on the calendar
Onwards to the Peruvian Side and Jaen
The Peruvian side seemed even more relaxed. A group of people were standing and chatting. We blithely walked up to them and asked for the way to the immigration office. One guy seperated from the group and nodded his head towards a small building. We then noticed the text on his jacket “migracion”. He stamped us in and sent us to the police booth across the street about 100 meters away. This immigration guy even helped us get a cab to San Ignacio.
I had to hold this cute Peruvian baby in the collectivo while the mom sorted out her things. She just got in, placed the baby on my lap with a smile and started settling herself and then took the baby back.
Collectivo to Jaen:
  • After two collectivo rides, we finally reached Jaen. Be careful about prices you pay everywhere. Make sure you agree on a price before hand.
  • In Jaen, try Hotel Jaen or Hotel Cesar on the main road close to the bus stand. Bargain for hotel rooms.
  • Jaen has a chifa where we got vegetarian food. We also noticed a vegetarian restaurant, but it was closed.
  • After dinner, we walked to the plaza de armas in Jaen. It is very pleasantly crowded and fun to people watch.
Jaen to Chachapoyas, Peru
We needed a break from the non stop monotony of collectivos. The night stay at Jaen did the trick. After breakfast at a coffee shop in the morning, we took a collectivo from near the bus stand to Bagua Grande (6 soles per person, ~ 3 hrs). Bagua Grande was hot and dusty with nothing to eat. We found a collectivo to Chachapoyas, but had to wait for it to fill up before we could leave. 21 soles per person, ~ 2 hours. Pack food and drinks in Jaen.
Finally in Chachapoyas:

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