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Once were Gondwanan

Cuenca, Ecuador to Lima, Peru

ECUADOR | Tuesday, 20 December 2011 | Views [10772] | Comments [4]

In 2008 when I travelled from Ecuador to Peru, I took the easy way – I flew. This time I decided to go by bus. Much cheaper, but time consuming and not always convenient, but I hadn’t seen the countryside south of Cuenca so I thought it would be a worthwhile trip.

Bus travel in South America ranges from the cheap, quick and crowded town buses, to local buses where someone is always selling something – food, drinks, CDs, jewellery – to the long distance buses that can be quite luxurious and of course are more expensive. My trip from Cuenca to Loja, Ecuador, and then on to Piura in Peru involved the local and long distance buses.

From Cuenca to Loja took eight hours, and it was comfortable enough, with dramatic scenery. The only entertainment was an opportunity to buy some fruit and crisps, but I was hoping for something more substantial since I hadn’t eaten. Some little boxes of chicken & chips like I had seen on the bus to Ingapirca would have been good, but nothing like that was on offer.

The bus had a toilet on board, but using it involved getting the keys from the driver and hoping for the best in the dark (BYO toilet paper of course)going around lots of tight bends. Better than nothing, I suppose.

I couldn’t get a bus straight through to Piura that day, which was OK, I was ready for a break. A taxi driver took me to a hotel in the city (Hotel France: $18.50, but actually I paid $20 because they didn’t have change, a common situation away from the big cities) but the room was quite good, ensuite, tv, phone, etc. The hotel was across the street from a big market so I had a look around there. That’s about all I saw of Loja, it seems a nice enough place but nothing very exciting as far as I know.

I left Loja for Piura the next day on the 7.00 a.m. bus, another eight hour stint. The trip began with a young guy who got on the bus and spent a good 20 minutes explaining the many reasons why we should buy some of his lovely jewellery, sourced from all over Ecuador. He was a very good speaker, confident, clear, didn’t stammer once, all of those things, but I don’t think that was enough in the end; I didn’t see him make a single sale. At the end of his spiel, after collecting his samples from the passengers, he just hopped off the bus, presumably on to his next captive audience.

This bus also had a toilet, also locked, but the keys were not available. Passengers had to use the toilets in the bus company offices where we stopped. At the first stop it was 10 cents for some toilet paper (I don’t think BYO was encouraged) and no flushing water, there was a big barrel full of water and a scoop to wash some water down the toilet. This isn’t unusual, but it was the first time on this trip that I had come across a toilet like this. At least I didn’t have to battle driving at 90 kms an hour going around bends in a tiny cubicle.

When we reached the border, we waited for what seemed ages at Macarà, on Ecuadorian side of the border, apparently for paperwork for the bus. I couldn’t work out what the humming noise were (my ears?) and then I realised that all of the vehicles, cars and motorbikes, were electric. It was so quiet and peaceful compared to what the noise level would have otherwise been, it was a real pleasure, aside from the boring wait. Macarà has quite an attractive plaza, not enough shade though. It was quite hot in the town; I knew I was out of the mountains.

The border crossing was easy; the staff didn’t even check bags. I crossed the border by walking across a short bridge over the Rio Macarà. On the Peruvian side the staff were also friendly. In the first office (shed) where immigration cards are filled in, one wall was decorated with some naked calendar girls. I then had to cross the road to get my passport stamp in a second shed. Apparently both steps could not be done by one person, or even in one office. The officer did offer to change money for me, but I already had some.

I hadn’t realised Piura is not actually the town at the border; Piura is 139km further on. At least we were on the move, though.

When we finally pulled into the Terminal Terrestre, everyone got off. It looked a bit scungier than I expected; Piura is a big modern city. I got off with my day pack, said thanks, but the driver ignored me. The conductor helped another guy with his bag from under the bus & went inside. When I went to get my own bag, the driver in the bus beeped his horn & indicated to wait for the other guy. When the other guy came back, I went to the locker where my bag was, he said it was secure & shut the locker. By now I was wondering what was going on. Touts had already asked me where I was going, and I had been the subject of such obvious staring by the approx. 40/50 people in the waiting area that I wished I had a camera. They were all sitting on seats set in arrangements, so they were evenly spaced as all the seats were full. To a person, every head turned towards me at the same time, it was like I was witnessing (or unwittingly participating in) a flash mob. I was surprised that if this is a popular border crossing, I would stand out so much. Anyway, the driver & conductor finally realised that I thought we were in Piura, when in fact we were somewhere else ( I missed that detail) and that Piura was another 20 minutes (in fact closer to 40) away. I was so appreciative of the fact that the driver and conductor steered me in the right direction and didn’t abandon me at some unknown bus station that I decided to overlook the fact that the driver had been smoking, despite the fact that there was a “Gracias por no fumar” sign in the bus.

I arrived in Piura with no further drama, got a bus leaving for Lima leaving in 2 and a half hours, and filled in my time at the internet café.

Piura is amazingly busy; there are motorbike taxis with a cab on the back everywhere, and a huge market in the street with most of the bus companies.

From Piura to Lima is a 14 hour trip, and I was doing it overnight, so I wanted to be as comfortable as I could. The full cama seats were sold out, but the semi-camas are fine – they recline to 160 degrees, rather the 180 of the full camas, and I had a single seat, so there was no one next to me. There was food and drink service (included) and entertainment in the way of DVDs in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. In my ongoing quest for a decent toilet on board, I was pleased to see that the toilet was clean, did not require keys from the driver, and had a light so it was a bit more practical. I did at one stage think I was stuck in there, but I managed to get out without needing rescuing.

The bus arrived into Lima about two hours late, but it was a very civilised way to travel, and I felt well-rested and ready to revisit Lima.

Tags: border crossing, ecuador, on the road, peru, south america, travel




He!He! I enjoyed this one Sal.

  Janice Margaret Tonkin Jan 3, 2012 8:55 PM


Excellent writing Sally. Quite an ordeal. I am enjoying your travels - a month late - but fun none the less. I'm rooting for you to get a clean, free of charge, flushing toilet!

  Rachel Fitz Jan 29, 2012 10:32 PM


The bus ride from Cuenca to Loja is only 3 hours! I stopped reading after you said it took you 8 hours!!

  Mary May 12, 2015 6:33 AM


in February 23rd we would like to travel by bus from Cuenca via Loja/Macara to Piura/Trujillo and we would appreciate any advice abut the bordercrossing (shortest possible time) and the best Buscompany attending this route.
Thank you in advance for a good solution

  Karl Feb 6, 2016 6:33 PM

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