Banos – Cuenca – Machala – Mancora By Bus

June 12, 2011

This is a slight departure from our normal blog posts to give some information back to the internet. We had been trying to find out how to get from Banos down to Peru and were not finding heaps of info, apart from loads of horror stories about the Peru/Ecuador border crossing.

Having now done the trip, we wanted to share our experience. Our starting point was the lovely little mountain town of Banos in Ecuador. We jumped on a bus and headed down to Cuenca. The town of Banos is small enough that you could just stroll down to the bus terminal the day before to check times and get yourself a ticket. On the day you leave, make sure you let the attendant from the bus company you’re travelling with know you are there – most of the buses are “through” buses and don’t actually pull into the terminal, they stop on the street outside and the attendant will need to let you know which bus is yours.

We left Banos around 9:30AM and got into Cuenca around sunset. We stayed in a little spot by the old town right on the river, pretty cheap. Generally we try stay in each “stop” for at least 2 nights to have a full day there, and thats exactly what we did. We just wondered around the town, had some amazing ice cream from the ice cream shop on the one corner of the main square and hit a couple of museums. Our guidebook said the admission for the Museo del Banco Central “Pumapungo” would be $3, but it was free when we went there. And yes, they still have the displays of shrunken heads!

From Cuenca we started to get a bit stuck of where to head to next, and trying to find info on the internet was not helping as it just returned back article after article of the border crossing into Peru being a major headache. In the end, we decided to leave real early to give ourselves heaps of time. The next morning we were up at 4:00AM, out the hostel and at the bus terminal by 4:45AM (at that time of morning there is no traffic so our $2.50 taxi only took 5 minutes) and wondering around looking for companies going to various destinations along our way. There was a 5:15AM bus (can’t remember the name of the company, think it was something “co-operativo”) to Machala, which we knew we’d be able to easily find buses to the border from so we jumped on that. Like the trip from Banos to Cuenca, there was amazing scenery along the way, dotted by the odd snow capped mountain peak. Make sure you nab a window seat!

We got to Machala around 10ish in the morning, but to our dismay there is no main bus terminal in Machala, the buses all go to their own company depot, and the company we were using didn’t go further south. We jumped in a taxi to the CIFA office a couple blocks away (think it was only $1) and saw they had buses every 20 minutes for Huaquillas, the border town, and then roughly hourly buses to destinations over the border. We saw there was an 11:00AM bus to Mancora via Tumbes, so we got tickets for that service ($9 per person, seemed like a lot but in hindsight worth every cent!) and then tucked into some early lunch at one of the restaurants at the bus depot.

At 11:00 our bus turned up and we jumped on and off to the border we headed. Now if you’ve done any research about the border crossing at Huaquillas, you’ll know the immigration offices for passport control are not anywhere near the actual border. In Ecuador they are 3KM away from the actual border, and in Peru they’re 2KM distant. This means buses often drop you off, you do your formalities and then catch the next service coming past by the same company. Then at the actual border you catch a taxi across and then find another bus heading to where you want to go. Sometime you have to take your bags with you at immigration, sometimes the bus takes them to the station at the actual border.

However, for us, the CIFA bus dropped off everyone who needed to go through passport control but kept our bags and headed off to the border to drop off people only going to Huaquillas. It was weird watching the bus drive away with our bags, but sure enough about 20 minutes later (just long enough for everybody to finish up with the immigration office) it trundled back up the road and we all hopped back on. At Huaquillas it took a detour around part of town (the market is hectic and encroaches on the main road – to drive along there looked like it would have taken hours and so the detour via a dirt road through a field is a good thing) and then next thing we knew it we were in Peru. The bus took us straight to the Peru immigration office where this time it stopped and waited for us, then we shot through to Tumbes. After a brief stop there, we continued on to Mancora and got there around 3PM. A long day, but the border crossing was one of the least painful we’ve done – so we definitely recommend taking one of the “through” services rather than trying to wing it yourself, if those horror stories are to be believed!

On a final note, the Ecuadorian border crossings are irritating in that they don’t use ink and a rubber stamp – they have a little printer attached to their computer which prints out the “stamp”. The printout is not small, and so as not to cover other stamps or something like that, the entry and exit stamps were each printed on a new blank page! If you don’t want to hit any hassles make sure you have plenty empty pages in your passport when you go to Ecuador, and be aware that if you’re running out of blank pages those last precious few are probably going to be used up..

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. eca_22  |  December 6, 2011 at 1:11 am

    hi! im planning on going to Cuenca from Tumbes sometime this month and I am not quite sure which is the best alternative. After what you have seen, what do you think is the best choice? Do you think taking the Tumbes – Guayaquil route, and hopping off in Machala to take another bus to Cuenca is safe enough? I am a female travelling by myself so I am really trying to avoid the creepy border everyone talks about. Any adivse would be veeery appreciated. Thanks!!

    • 2. dylan  |  December 6, 2011 at 9:43 am

      Um, its been a while since we did that border crossing so things may have changed. At the very least, I would advise that if you’re travelling on your own make sure you do your travelling in that area during the day time and get onto one of the bus companies which does a cross-border service. That border looked like a night mare if you had to get off one bus, make your way over and then find another bus on the other side.

  • 3. Kathy  |  May 17, 2012 at 1:56 am

    Thank you so much for clarifying a very confusing border crossing! CIFA it is!

  • 4. Petr  |  September 15, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Hi,thank you very much for the info. We are on the same way – now in Cuenca and heading to Mancora. Your article was very useful for us.


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