Vilcabamba, Ecuador to Chachapoyas, Peru
The most scenic way to travel from Ecuador to Peru is without doubt the eastern route from Vilcabamba to Chachapoyas, which passes through the Podocarpus National Park and crosses the border at La Balsa.
Until March 2003 it was still only possible to cross this border by boat over the Canchis River. The small local boats were also called “Balsas”, hence the name La Balsa.
On March 8, 2003 both, the presidents from Ecuador and Peru where present when a new international bridge between the two countries was opened.
Now, 15 years later, the first direct bus crosses this bridge from Ecuador into Peru and back. Although this direct bus takes away a bit of charm and adventure from traveling along the less traveled roads, it does make this pretty route more accessible and helps to spread tourism over more different destinations.
Until July 2018 it took travelers about 2 days to travel from picturesque Vilcabamba to Colonial Chachapoyas and along the way the following stops and bus changes had to be made:
Vilcabamba – Zumba (5/6 hours by bus, including companies such as: Nambija, Cariamanga, Sur Oriente and Transporters Loja)
Zumba – La Balsa (1h30 min). This route had to be done in a so called Ranchera (open truck with wooden seats), that departs from Zumba to the border only 3 times a day, the first at 8:00 am. Or you could take a taxi ride for about 25,- US$
La Balsa – San Ignazio (1h) in a collective taxi (Collectivo). These Collectivos depart only when full, usually with 4 people.
San Ignazio – taxi to next departure point for Collectivos to Jaen and then 2/3 hours in other Collectivo to Jaen.
Jaen – Bagua Grande (1h in Collectivo)
Bagua Grande – Chachapoyas (3h in Collectivo), or with a stop in Pedro Ruiz (1h30 min.).
Last year Transporters Sur Oriente Bus started already with their direct bus from Loja to La Balsa, departing at 5:00 am from Loja and arriving around 13:30 h at the border.
But since August 2018 Nambija Bus (Cooperativa de Transporte Internacional Nambija, phone number in Ecuador (07) 231-5177), even goes a step further by traveling directly into Peru and all the way to Jaen.
The itinerary of this bus company is as followed:
Departure from Yantzaza at 3:45 am, arrival in Jaen around 17:30 h. Ticket price from Yantzaza to Jaen, is 26 US$ p.p. and from Vilcabamba to Jaen is about 22 US$. You can buy these tickets at the bus terminal in Loja and Hosteria Izhcayluma in Vilcabamba.
Along the way Nambija bus will make official stops in: Zamora, Loja (around 7:00 am), Vilcabamba (around 8:00 am and then having breakfast for 20 min.), Hosteria Izhcayluma (around 8:25 am), Zumba (around 13:30 h), La Balsa (around 14:15 h), San Ignazio, around 15:15 h and arrival in Jaen around 17:30 h.
After arrival in Jaen you will have to take a (motor) taxi to the departure point for the Collectivos to Chachapoyas. This cost about 8 US$ for 3 hours.
Arrival in Chachapoyas after a long, but beautiful trip, around 21:00 h! Good places to stay overnight in Chachapoyas include: Hostal Chachapoyas Backpackers en Hotel Xalca.
Travelers who want to travel from Chachapoyas to Vilcabamba can follow this route the other way around, keeping in mind that the bus from Nambija departs Jaen at 13:00 h. The address of their office in Jaen is: Terminal Terrestre binacional, calle Alfonso Aranda Vidal nº 137 sector Pueblo Libre (La Colina). Phone: +51927159571
The bus that departs at 13:00 h from Jaen will arrive around 22:30 h in Vilcabamba, price around 22 US$. Recommendable place to stay in Vilcabamba is: www.izhcayluma.com
It is likely that Nambija is going to open an extra service, but hours are not confirmed yet. It is also not unlikely that other bus companies are going to follow the example from Nambija, which will be even better for tourism.
Important La Balsa border information:
At the moment of writing this article, the immigration offices from La Balsa, both in Ecuador and Peru are not yet connected to the national immigration networks. Because of this all immigration and migration information has to be send manual to the nearest immigration office that has a national connection. Unfortunately both offices seem to work a bit sloppy and it is still not uncommon that information gets lost…
Consequences can be that when you want to leave either country, your entrance information doesn’t show up at the migration and you will have to proof that you have entered the country legally. There isn’t much we can do to have the immigration services work correctly, but we can at least check that we receive a clear stamp with date in our passport and maybe even make a picture of the border crossing.
Tip: USD from Ecuador can be used all over Peru as long as they are in good condition, but Soles from Peru are not very easy to exchange within Ecuador.