Peru Ecuador Border Crossing: San Ignacio to Zumba

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Peru Ecuador Border Crossing, Bridge at La Balsa (Tony Dunnell)

Of the three paved Peru-Ecuador border crossings, the San Ignacio to Zumba route is the furthest inland. If you are heading to Ecuador from towns such as Tarapoto, Moyobamba or Chachapoyas (or vice versa), the San Ignacio-Zumba crossing is a good option.

The route is scenic, it’s all quite rustic and the crossing itself is generally a simple process. The major downside is the pace of it all – the roads aren’t great, and you’ll need to do a few short hops that will probably involve a combination of buses, taxis, trucks and various other transport options.

San Ignacio to Zumba, Peru Ecuador Border Crossing

From Chachapoyas, Tarapoto or Moyobamba, for example, you’ll first need to head (by bus) to the town of Jaén further north. Depending on the availability of buses (and the schedule), you might need to go to Pedro Ruiz first before taking a second bus to Jaén (a change at Bagua Grande is also a possibility).

From Jaén, combis (minibuses) and colectivo taxis take passengers to San Ignacio (about 2 to 2½ hours). There are a handful of hotels in San Ignacio if you want (or need) to stay overnight, but nothing special. You’re not actually at the border yet; from San Ignacio you need to take another combi or colectivo along a bumpy road to the border crossing at La Balsa (1½ to 2 hours). You’ll eventually pass over the brow of a hill and see the La Balsa border crossing below you; it’s immediately evident that this is not a particularly sophisticated operation.

La Balsa – Peru Ecuador Border Formalities

La Balsa sits on one side of the Río Blanco, connected to Ecuador via a bridge (a raft once ferried passengers across, hence the name La Balsa). There’s a school tucked away at the side of the river, where screaming kids play football before scurrying inside when lessons begin. Beyond the school you’ll see the international bridge and a series of cabins where you will find the immigration officers.

The border formalities shouldn’t pose any problems, as long as all your papers are in order. The border officials sometimes disappear (lunch? football match? telenovela?), but if you hang around then someone will turn up eventually. Once you get the official stuff done, stroll across the bridge to Ecuador.

The Ecuadorian immigration offices are on the other side of the bridge. Get your stamp and then start looking for a ranchera (also known as a chiva), an antiquated, open-sided truck/bus thing with buttock-breaking wooden benches for the passengers. It’s about 10 km from the border point to Zumba, but the trip up the steep and winding road can take about an hour.

Zumba is an interesting place to take a stroll while waiting for the next bus out, or perhaps even stay the night if you need to recover (or if you’ve missed the last bus out). If not, head for the fairly basic bus terminal and look for the next ride to Loja. This part of the trip should take about 3 hours. Loja is a lively city and a fun place to stay; alternatively, head to the nearby village of Vilcabamba and the stunning surrounding countryside of the “Valley of Longevity.” And that’s it, basically – you have arrived in Ecuador.

Warning: Ecuador Peru Border Hop for Tourist Visa Extensions

If you are going to cross the Peru-Ecuador border with the intention of re-entering Peru for a tourist visa extension, the San Ignacio-Zumba crossing may not be a good idea. When I last did this (I have a resident visa now), I had serious problems. Having entered Ecuador, I was told that I couldn’t spend more than 180 days in Peru each year on a tourist visa; therefore, I could not cross back into Peru.

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School kids playing football at the Peru-Ecuador border between San Ignacio and Zumba

I did a loop to the Macará crossing further to the west: again, rejected. I managed to talk my way across the Macará-La Tina border eventually, but it looked pretty bleak at one point (in the end I was given a one month Peru tourist visa so I could re-enter the country).

There’s a lot of luck involved in these situations, but I’d definitely recommend crossing over into Chile (Tacna to Arica and back) for visa extensions if possible. I did the Chile hop shortly after the Ecuador nightmare – I crossed over, politely asked for a six month tourist visa, and was promptly given the full six months with no problems whatsoever.

Why the difference? I’m not sure, to be honest. Bear in mind that this is a personal experience from about a year ago, so always try to find the latest info before doing a Peru border hop.

  8 comments for “Peru Ecuador Border Crossing: San Ignacio to Zumba

  1. mohit
    December 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    hello,
    my tourist visa is expired and i need to do some contract signing here in Lima,so i was thinking to leave the country and get tourist visa renewed.
    Can you please guide me from which point should i leave Peru and the details of documents needed for visa extension.I was planning to leave the country by road and return the same day.Please mention what will trip and extension procedure cost me.

    Please try to reply as early as possible.
    Thanks alot

  2. December 17, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Hi,

    From my experience, the Tacna (Peru) / Arica (Chile) border is the best option. You will have to pay a fine of 1 dollar for each day that you stayed in Peru after your tourist visa expired. After paying the fine you’ll exit Peru into Chile and get your Chilean stamp. Reverse the process and come back into Peru. I used to stay one night in Chile, but I don’t think you’ll have any problems coming back on the same day.

    Officially you won’t be getting an extension as such – you’ll just be starting again on a fresh tourist visa. Be sure to ask for the maximum 183 days when re-entering Peru (if you need that long). The only documents you need are your passport and your Tarjeta Andina (the little piece of paper you should have been given when entering Peru). The only other cost will be transport and accommodation (if you stay in Chile for a night). You can find more info here:

    http://www.expatperu.com/etourist.php

    Hope that helps a little.

  3. Rachel
    February 22, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Hi – I crossed this border (Ecuador to Peru) in 2007 and I had a problem when I tried to go back to Ecuador in 2011 via the coastal border crossing. I had a new passport (no stamps and the Ecuadorian computer system had no record of my leaving the country in 2007 so they said I had to pay $200 fine for overstaying in Ecuador in order to go back in). I refused to pay the fine, and the officials would not budge either despite my having had a child with an Australian passport in the mean time!).

    So, my point is that because this border crossing is a little out of the way, I don’t think they are the most efficient and effective at their job. I believe they were fishing for a “tip” as most officials are open to bribery.

    • February 23, 2012 at 8:42 am

      Ouch, $200! I’m not surprised you refused to pay. The smaller border crossing points are incredibly easy when things go smoothly, but a nightmare when the officials decide to be difficult. And fishing for “tips” does seem to be a favourite hobby…

  4. Rachel
    February 22, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Oh, and some immigation officials will ask you for the Yellow Fever vaccination card (vacuna de fiebre amarilla).

  5. Daniels
    September 7, 2012 at 3:19 am

    Hi Tony,
    We will be coming to Tarapoto in about a month and hope to meet for a beer or two.
    I allready have a question on the visa.
    We will be staying for 198 days, so 15 days to long.
    How about having a residential visa? We are thinking of doing this trip every year.
    Can we meet on skype?
    Werner, Ve and kids

    • October 25, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Sorry about the late reply — I’ve been in the UK for a couple of months. If you’re planning on doing a 198 trip each year, then the easiest way is to just pay the US$1 per day fine for your overstay when you exit Peru. It’s a simple process, and much easier than applying for a resident visa.

  6. Christin
    January 13, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Hey!
    Just a quick question: If you leave and re-enter Peru for going to Ecuador within the 180-day period, is it going to be a problem you think? I ll go home within the 180 days, leave Peru already after about 25 days, reenter about 7 days later. Thanks for your opinion!

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