I’d heard a lot of horror stories when it came to crossing the border from Peru into Ecuador. Aguas Verdes, the coastal crossing on the Panamerican highway, once had a reputation for being the worst border crossing in South America. A lot of work has been done to clean things up and it appeared safe. My only advice is cross the border in the daytime! I can’t stress this enough if you enjoy sleep and want to keep your sanity!
Aguas Verdes Border Crossing
My Peru Lonely Planet Guide (a few years old now) advises to take an international bus as taxi and minivan scams do occur and tourists have been left up to hundreds of dollars out of pocket. Cruz del Sur, Civa and Cifa all offer international services to Guayaquil (there are possibly some other companies. We walked to the bus station and booked the first bus out of Máncora as we weren’t too impressed with the place (see my post about it here). We took an 11:30am bus with Cifa (an Ecuadorian company) which included a colectivo ride to Tumbes (one hour) to meet the bus (total cost around 50 soles). After one more hour we reached the border and entered a modern, almost deserted building to be stamped out of Peru. 1o minutes down the road the experience (and building) was more or less identical entering Ecuador. We returned to Peru via the same border crossing, and this time we took an overnight bus. Not only did we arrive at the disgusting time of 3:30am but we had to wait 4 hours at the border crossing as everyone seems to think it saves time to travel overnight. Trust me, It doesn’t!
Arriving in Ecuador
It took around two hours to reach Guayaquil, the second largest city in Ecuador and the country’s largest port. Guayaquil is a good transport hub for southern Ecuador with its shopping mall style bus terminal and the airport located next to it. My first impression of Ecuador was how clean and modern it is compared with Peru. Much less rubbish, and also better roads. The friendliness of the Ecuadorian people was immediately apparent. At the bus terminal a man shook our hand and thanked us for visiting Ecuador. Locals stopped to help us figure out which bus to take to the city and how to use the transport cards. Lots of people walked up to us and greeted us on the street, without any other intent except genuine interest and cordialness.
Many travellers use Guayaquil as a springboard for other destinations, as we did to reach Puerto Lopez. After Puerto Lopez we returned to Guayaquil and spent two nights and one day. Being the beginning of Carnival weekend, we arrived to long lines at the ticket counters. Accommodation also skyrockets on the coast and the mountains as everyone flees the big cities, so it made sense to stop for a couple of days.
Guayaquil is a big modern city, and if you’re new to South America you might find other destinations more interesting. For us, after 5+ months on the continent, Malecón 2000 was just the place to wander, as it felt a little more like home. The 2.5 km boardwalk fronting the river Guayas has monuments, museums, cafes, food venders, fountains, recreation areas, a cinema, cultural centre and botanical gardens. They even have their own version of the London Eye, “La Perla” – the largest Ferris Wheel in South America. There are local handicraft markets, families enjoying ice creams and couples strolling hand-in-hand. We even found iguanas roaming around! The area is safe to walk at night and there’s security everywhere (they close the gates at 11pm).
At the northern end of the Malecón 2000 is Las Peñas, a colourful town on a hilltop with a blue and white lighthouse providing the focal point. It was an extremely sweaty climb up up the jumble of stairs to reach the top, which affords wonderful views all over Guayaquil. There are a couple of museums, including an outdoor museum showcasing nautical relics and monument tributing captains of the sea. The quaint little church Iglesia del Cerro Santa Ana stands opposite lighthouse, which you can climb for free. There are cafes and bars providing a lively atmosphere at night. Local families were beating the heat with blow-up pools on the street and having water fights as per Carnival tradition.
Guayaquil has some colonial relics too, such as Parque Historico and Parque Seminario and the area around Avineda 9 de Octubre.
Getting around Guayaquil
Guayaquil’s Terminal Terreste, where the vast majority of buses arrive is about 10km from the city centre. Guayaquil has a modern metro bus system that is very easy to navigate. From the intercity bus station take the overhead footbridge to the terminal across the road. Buy a transport card from the machine ($2) and load money on it (30c per trip). You only need one card for multiple people (tap on multiple times). We made the mistake of buying one each, but it was still way cheaper than a taxi ride! The bus platform closest to the terminal entrance (red line) takes you through the La Bahia district, containing Malecon 2000 and the majority of the city’s accomodation.