This is a guide for those backpackers looking to cross the border between Ecuador and Peru at the La Tina border crossing. If you're heading to Peru from Cuenca and want to know the quickest way to reach either Piura, Chiclayo, Trujillo or Huanchaco, then this is for you.
If you're trying to make it from Ecuador straight to the Peruvian beach town of Mancora, then the Aguas Verdes border crossing further north makes more sense.
This border travel day was one of our longest and our first experience of crossing a South American border at night. Aside from a few frustrations with transport and waiting around for hours in a bus station, it was relatively straight forward.
#1 cuenca to loja
There are two bus companies running to Loja from Cuenca with very limited daily departures. As this route requires taking a night bus from Loja, then you need to catch a bus in Cuenca in the morning.
To reach the station, grab some breakfast at your hostel and take a quick taxi ride from the centre of Cuenca ($1.75/£1) to Terminal Terrestre.
We weren't able to find reliable departure schedules on the internet or by asking at our hostel, so decided to just turn up. We were lucky to arrive twenty minutes before a bus departed at 10.30 a.m. as the next one to Loja did not leave until 4 p.m; that would be too late for our onward connections. So, be aware that earlier is better as there are not too many buses running this route. Travel time to Loja is 6 hours, tickets cost $7.5/£5 per person.
It's worth saying, that there are also three buses running from Cuenca to Piura, Peru. They leave at night, with the first at 19.30 and the last at 23.00. We chose not to take these because it appeared that you have to change buses at some point along the journey and we'd heard quite a few negative experiences. If you do end up taking that route, please let us know about the experience and prices in the comments so we can update this post for future travellers. (*Update August 2016 - a reader let us know about her positive experience of this route, including companies and prices. Scroll down to the comments underneath the article to find out more information).
Also, if you really don't fancy crossing the border at night, then an idea may be to spend an evening in or near Loja and do the border crossing in the morning.
cost: $9.25 USD / £6 GBP per person | time: 6 - 7 hours
#2 loja to the border
Loja's bus station is pretty basic. On the bottom floor you'll find the ticket booths and there are a couple of cafe-restaurants on the second floor.
We arrived at around 5 p.m. and were expecting to have to kill some time in the bus station. On-line research had to told us that there were two departures to Peru with the recommended bus company, Loja International. However, when we arrived, we found out that their 9.30 p.m. departure to Piura, Peru had been scrapped permanently (let us know in the comments if this changes!), and our only option with them was at 11 p.m.
There are a couple of other companies doing this run but, given Loja International was the Lonely Planet's recommendation, that we were crossing a border at night and the prices were all similar, we went with Loja ($14/£9 pp, 7.5 hours to Piura) for peace of mind. Unfortunately, they didn't really deliver a great experience.
We had dinner and a few drinks in the 24-hour restaurant upstairs who seemed happy to let us hang out there whilst waiting for the bus.
Leaving on time, the bus was one of the most basic public night buses we had travelled on in South America. That wasn't too much of a problem in comparison to the driver playing loud music until 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning, making it impossible to sleep. However, the more worrying element was that the bus kept on stopping to pick up people from the side of the road; this is standard practice during the day but very rare on night buses. Aside from reasonable safety concerns, this also meant the lights going on all through the night, doors constantly being opened and, for everyone, sleep was impossible.
In short, it was an awful bus ride for way too much money given the poor quality of the bus.
cost: $14 / £9 per person | time: 4 hours to the border
#3 crossing the border
We arrived at the border at around 3 a.m.
It was pitch dark. Everyone has to shuffle out to sort out the paperwork but you can thankfully leave your big bags in the locker under the bus. Of course, make sure you bring your small carry-on bag with you.
You'll find a small cabin on the left hand side. There, present your passport and any other documentation, and get your exit stamp. There is no exit charge from Ecuador.
A couple of minutes walk ahead, over a bridge, you'll see the Peruvian immigration office on the right hand side.
They'll present you with some paperwork to fill in and request your passport. The standard entry to Peru for UK citizens and most travellers is 90 days; the guard may ask you how long you're staying but just ask for the full 90 days regardless.
We were not required to show any proof of onward departure and there are no entry fees for Peru.
Once you're done, the same bus will pick you up outside this office to bring you to Piura, Peru. From the border, it will take 3-4 hours travel.
Overall, if you remove the fact that it was in the middle of the night, this border crossing was simple and we had no problems.
cost: $0 / £0 per person | time: 3-4 hours to Piura
#4 onward travel from piura to chiclayo
We arrived in Piura at 6.30 a.m., short of sleep and hungry. If, like us, you want to go straight on to Trujillo or Huanchaco, then your next stop will be the city of Chiclayo (268 kms away).
Peru has a bewildering bus network whereby there are often dozens of terminals scattered around a city, organised by bus company, rather than one central station. If you travel on the Loja International bus, then the station you require for onward travel south is about 10-15 minutes walk away. Given we were so sleepy, we can't really recall the route we took, but it involved asking a number of locals along the way. There is also the option of taking a tuk-tuk or a taxi, which you won't have trouble finding.
Whichever method you take, you need to ask for the bus stations on Avenida Sanchez Cerro. If this just results in blank looks, ask for the buses 'para Chiclayo'.
On Avenida Sanchez Cerro, a busy road bisecting Piura, you'll easily spot the large depots of several bus companies. For the route to Chiclayo, look out for the following: Linea, Cruz del Sur and Transportes Chiclayo.
We opted for LInea (18 soles/$6/£3.5, 4 hours) who had departures every 15-20 minutes on very comfortable buses. You are also able to pay cash in USD.
If you want some breakfast before your departure, there are a few cheap places on Avenida Cerro offering basic Peruvian fare, with fried fish being the most common option.
cost: 18s./$6/£4 USD per person | time: 4 hours
#5 chiclayo to trujillo
In Chiclayo, it's a short walk to another bus station. Most of them are clustered around Avenida Bolognesi but, again, if you're not sure how to get there just ask some locals to point you in the right direction.
We took a bus to Trujillo with Emtrafesa for 17s/$5.5/£3.5 each. We weren't able to pay with USD here but, thankfully, there was a big supermarket opposite with an ATM. Usually we change some money at the borders we cross but, as we had been crossing at night, this just wasn't possible.
The contrast between this bus and the night bus from Ecuador was marked; double decker, comfy seats, TV screens. It was exactly what we needed to catch up on a few hours sleep. However, try not to sleep all the way through this journey as you'll miss out on some impressive scenery as you make your way through the desert to Trujillo.
cost: 17s./$5.5/£3.6 per person | time: 4 hours
#6 trujillo to huanchaco
Spending a few days in the north of Peru is well worth it, particularly during summer. There's great surfing (including the longest left-hander in the world), well-preserved ruins and lots of ceviche to gorge on.
Although it's possible to stay in Trujillo, we weren't too impressed with the town. Our recommendation would be to instead make the 15-20 minute journey to the beach town of Huanchaco. Cheaper accommodation, beach and surf, transport connections to all the ruins - it's a great base from which to explore the area.
To get there, exit the bus station in Trujillo and turn right. The collectivos pass every few minutes on a busy road a couple of minutes walk from the bus station and everyone should know the spot, so just ask the nearest local to point you in the right direction for 'los collectivos para Huanchaco'.
There are a couple of different companies running the route but the ones that stand out will be the yellow mini-vans who will have a guy hanging on shouting out 'Huanchaco' - just wave them down and hop on.
cost: 1.5s./$0.5/£0.3 per person | time: 30 minutes
1 - Cuenca to Loja | $7.5/£5 | 6 hours
2 - Loja to Piura | $14/£9 | 8 hours
3 - Piura to Chiclayo | 18s./$6/£4 | 4 hours
4 - Chiclayo to Trujillo | 17s./$5.5/£3.6 | 4 hours
5 - Trujillo to Huanchaco | 1.5s./$0.5/£0.3 | 30 minutes
total costs: $33.5/£21.9 | total time: 22.5 hours