Tag Archives: border crossing

It’s a long, long way back to Quito

I was sitting on a Cruz del Sur bus in the downstairs VIP area feeling a little bit pukish after eating my dessert, a fluffy, overly sweet slice of chocolate roll. And I also felt pretty zombiefied. This was day three of a week’s worth of travel back up to Quito, Ecuador and onwards to New Zealand via Houston and Los Angeles.

I had left Arequipa, right in the south of Peru, Monday mid-afternoon, waved off by the lovely, smiling Cristina. Initially intending to set off for Lima much later at night, a surprise travel buddy turned up in the form of a friend who needed to get to Lima for onward travel to Argentina. This first fifteen hour leg was therefore more fun and social than anticipated: seats at the front (upstairs, economy) meant extra space to spread out so we put our feet up, we chatted, we laughed and we watched Peru pass by, great, chunky sand dune landscapes and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean as the sun set.

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Driving through the desert a few hours after leaving Lima

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Sand and sea: dusk by the Pacific Ocean

The following day, Tuesday, started early with an ejection from the bus at just gone 6:00AM. Lima felt pleasant and fresh, the sun not yet melted the morning mist. Sitting for a while to await a more appropriate arrival time at my great aunts house, I watched a constant stream of buses turn up at the terminal, sleepy passengers getting off and waiting for their luggage in a bit of a daze.

After a great night’s rest, I was ready for the biggie: twenty-eight hours from Lima, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador. For S/.30 extra, I’d treated myself to an upgrade, my first time downstairs in VIP. Additional comfort and attention and food and space were part of the deal (although I would argue that the front of the Cruz del Sur upstairs had as much if not more leg room than my downstairs VIP front seat). And a seat by myself, no sleepy stranger nodding off and slobbering on my shoulder. Space to sit and think and write. To be by myself, no, to be with myself. Needed.

It didn’t feel like long before the breakfast wake-up blasted out over the tannoy, preceded by soothing classical music and booming deep voices belonging to two noisy Peruvian guys who I’d been trying to block out with ear plugs. Clearly, I’d slept a bit, my eyes unable to stay open despite an attempted mental override (I had wanted to finish the film). It had almost felt drug induced, such a strong, all-consuming tiredness that has made a fair few appearances during my time in South America. No point trying to fight it.

Finally, by nearly 2:30PM we had cleared all border controls at Tumbes. Compared to the night-time crossing at Macara, the daytime Tumbes crossing was an extended, hot process involving hours of queuing in 35°C heat, once for the exit stamps for Peru and a short bus ride later again for the entry to Ecuador. A further four and a half hours along, back into the greenery and banana plantations of Ecuador and a setting sun, and we arrived into Guayaquil, a city which seemed to have a surprisingly low-level of light pollution.

And the last stretch to Quito? Well, I was back in Ecuador, back to upright seats and lack of air flow. Out came the fan, off came my shoes and I snuggled down for another night on a bus. The young guy next to me plugged into his MP3 and didn’t utter a word and we both nodded off, unavoidably resting into each other. The only disturbance? A sudden sleep sing from the guy next to me; a repeated phrase, clean, tuneful and haunting. Three times he repeated the phrase, and then nothing but shut-eye and an eventual arrival eight hours later into Quitumbe, Quito just before 6:00AM. Home.

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Bussing about Peru

Imagine a bus with loads of leg room, a comfy reclining seat, hot meals, regular drinks and smartly dressed hosts and hostesses… no, don’t imagine being on an airplane, imagine a double decker sleeper bus, perfect for long distance travel across Peru.

The procedures before you board a bus in Peru are not unlike those at airports. You check in your main luggage, and then show your ticket and passport (and in some cases provide a finger print) before going through a security scan. You also often need to pay a departure tax, although it’s usually only a couple of soles. In case its of any use to anybody out there, the main bus companies that I travelled with are as follows:

Itsa

I travelled with Itsa from Piura to Trujillo which cost S/.35 (£8.37) for a semi-cama (reclining seat) upstairs. Having come from Ecuador, S/.35 felt like a fortune, but the quality of the bus was amazing – plenty of leg room, comfortable, and well-ventilated with good service. It took six hours. Food included a snack and juice after we set off and a hot meal an hour before we arrived.

Movil Tours

An overnight trip from Trujillo to Huaraz cost S/.45 (£10.76) for semi-cama, upstairs. The bus felt considerably more cramped than Itsa. For an 8 hour ride, there could have been more food or drinks available – there was only a snack and drink at the start (although to be fair, it was some very tasty olive bread).

Cial

A good bus with plenty of leg room and comfy seats costing S/.40 (£9.57) for a semi-cama, upstairs for a journey from Huaraz to Lima, an 8 hour overnight trip. The bus was really empty which meant I could spread out. By all accounts, it should have been a relaxing, restful journey… had they not turned the air con off and the heating on. I slowly cooked into an uncomfortable, grumpy mess.

My second trip with Cial was from Nasca to Cuzco, a 15 hour overnight journey costing S/.80 (£19.13) for a semi-cama seat. A bit of an older bus with broken lights and looking a bit tired overall, but the fact that the window opened kept me a bit happy. And it was cheaper than Cruz del Sur who were charging S/.108 for the same route, albeit with full recliners. Food on the Cial bus was minimal and a bit rubbish: a sorry looking sandwich at 9:30am and some wafers, no drink. What’s that about?

Cruz del Sur

Cruz del Sur is often cited as the best bus company in Peru for safety, security, punctuality and comfort, but the journey from Lima to Paracas felt like one expensive trip costing S/.55 (£13.15) for a 3 ½ hour journey. Seats were surprisingly cramped but the food – a full almuerzo delivered shortly after departure (rice, chicken, a slice of spinach and egg quiche, rice pudding and a drink) was tasty and hot. Working Wi-Fi on board was a plus and despite being a short, daytime route, the chairs were still recliners in case you wanted to snooze. If leaving from Lima, check which terminal the bus goes from as there are a few Cruz del Sur terminals in the city (most, including international, leave from Javier Prado). Three buses leave for Paracas per day, although they go on to Nasca. I wanted to be in Pisco so had to travel to Paracas and then get a taxi to Pisco for S/.8 (£1.92).

The second trip I took on Cruz del Sur was from Arequipa to Lima and it cost me S/.43 (£10.28), a half price fare thanks to my onward international ticket to Ecuador. I sat up front in economy upstairs. It was a comfortable journey with tasty food, although the vegetarian option was a little overdone on the amount of tofu based sausage.

My final trip with Cruz del Sur was a biggie: 28 hours of international travel from Lima, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador. For an extra S/.30 I travelled VIP consisting of a small cabin downstairs with comfier seats, more leg room, seats that recline to 160° and attentive service. For the distance, it was worth the extra. No problems with air conditioning or comfort. It was great. Even better was that I had a seat by myself, no neighbour. Overall this journey wasn’t cheap at S/.243 (S/.216 for economy) (£58.12 or £51.66) but it stopped at the borders and waited whilst the necessary visa stamps were awarded. The international service between Peru and Ecuador only runs on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

PerúBus

I caught this basic bus with upright seats on the Pan American roadside from Pisco to Ica. It cost S/.4  (£0.96) for an hour and a half journey. To get there you need to take a collectivo from Pisco to the Pan American highway, which should cost in the region of S/.1.50 per person. Buses run really regularly to both Lima and Ica. It was a basic bus with movies but not much else. Fine for the distance travelled. I wanted to go on to Huacachina, but as the bus terminates in Ica it was necessary to get a taxi to Huacachina which cost S/.6 (£1.43).

Soyuz

Another standard, basic bus for shorter routes, I travelled with Soyuz from Ica to Nasca. The trip took 2 ½ hours and cost S/.11 (£2.63). Nearly got ripped off when buying my tickets – check your change! No security or comfy seats like the main, long distance buses.

Flores

I travelled with Flores for a night time journey from Cusco to Arequipa, that should have taken 9 hours but an hour delay at the start to let on people at different town stops increased it to a 10 hour trip. The ticket cost S/.40 (£9.57) and there was no real security – we just had to dump our bags into the bus luggage section. The police did however come on board to carry out the usual videoing. The bonus of this trip was that it was cooler than previous journeys but there was very little leg room and I’m sure that the guy in front of me will have had my knees in his back for the journey duration. The lady snoring, on the other hand, could have happened on any bus, but my goodness, it was annoying! Food was a cold meal of rice and chicken followed by some runny, dodgy jelly for dessert and some hot, very sweet tea. There were no options with the food and drinks; you got what you were given. It wasn’t terrible, just not great either. The Cusco to Arequipa route is covered by a couple of companies including Cruz del Sur, each running a couple of buses per night.

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Waking up in Peru: night border crossing from Ecuador to Peru

Dawn broke and the immediate comparisons with Ecuador were the colour palette and landscape: where southern Ecuador had been about lush hills and mountains covered in rich, green vegetation, the scenery on the approach to Piura was yellow and brown dominant, and flat into the far distance, a sandy, dusty scrubland occupied by some spindly bushes and trees. Rubbish evenly littered the place, introducing a splash of colour to the otherwise neutral setting. The sun rose quickly, highlighting a bright blue sky strewn with a splattering of cirrus clouds.

I rubbed my eyes. It had been another long night but the surprising comforts of the Loja International bus had enabled me to grab some dozy snatches of sleep on the trip from Loja, Ecuador to Piura, Peru.

At daybreak the roads were dominated by hoards of moto taxis (think tuktuks) – red, yellow, blue and white – whizzing along and darting in and out of traffic. By 7:00am they were matched in numbers by cars and collectivos (minibus taxis/buses). There were people everywhere, crossing roads and catching lifts and rushing about to get to work and school. The city was alive with voices and traffic and movement.

The bus had left Loja at 11:00pm, making what felt like a continuous downhill journey, the brakes grinding and the vehicle lurching for the first few hours. At 03:30am we reached the Ecuador-Peru border at Macará. Everyone had to disembark and queue for an exit stamp (it was also necessary to hand back over the immigration card from when one entered Ecuador, although those who had lost it or never received it simply had to fill out another one then and there).

Walking across the unlit bridge of what was effectively no-man’s land, Peruvian immigration were waiting to check you into Peru – another passport stamp for a 90 day tourist visa, another Andean immigration slip. I passed up on changing some dollars from a short, old guy offering ‘soles, soles…’, but it’s good to know there is that option (instead I took a taxi to a dodgy little street in Piura where I was given a crap exchange rate, but at least the money was legit and it was enough to get me out of the place). A few hours later I arrived into the early morning energy of Piura.

So here I was, in Peru with it’s dry heat and what already felt like busy, crazy chaos. I had a few Nuevo Sol and a bus ticket onwards to Trujillo. I felt ready for some new adventures and places and people. I was curious and a little apprehensive, having been told all sorts of stories about this country. Please be a safe place, Peru.

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