How to Cross the Las Balza Border from Ecuador to Peru

Las Balza is the corder crossing in the Amazon between Ecuador and Peru

Sounds simple? Yes it is. Simple in theory. Yet there’s a few things to be aware of.

The total journey time from Loja to Jaen, including stops and the border crossing should be 11 hours. That’s brutal. It ended up taking us 14 and a half hours!

Here’s what went down.

Bus stuck in mud
Our bus, stuck in the mud, on a cliff edge

The journey passes through breathtakingly beautiful Andean mountains. Every hairpin bend reveals vast wilderness. Rolling green hills, jagged rock faces, flowing streams, cascading waterfalls and muddy tracks. But that is where the problems lie.

On a sheer cliff face (one of many) our bus got stuck in the mud. I’m not talking about a wheel in the dirt. The bus slipped at an angle and the entire side became buried.

On a sheer cliff face (one of many) our bus got stuck in the mud. I’m not talking about a wheel in the dirt. The bus slipped at an angle and the entire side became buried.

We rapidly exited the bus. If the driver were to put his foot down and speed out of the mud, there was only one direction to go. That was off the side of a cliff!

On most of the road it’s not possible for two vehicles to pass at once. Our ‘breakdown’ lead to a steady build up of traffic in either direction. A lorry stopped behind us and tied ropes to the bus in an attempt to pull it out. The wheels skidded, mud kicked up, a heavy scent of burning filled the air. The bus still didn’t move. Passengers pushed. 

Still nothing!

Eventually, the driver stripped down to his underwear and started digging with a shovel.  We were now getting somewhere.

Bus driver digging bus out of mud
Our hero driver – down to his underwear, shovel in hand

After two hours, the bus was free!

Remember, if you ever face a sticky situation, strip down to your underwear and dive in. Sometimes it’s the only way to resolve a problem!

As we travelled on, nerves were well and truly tested. Looking out the window, sheer vertical drops looked millimetres from the bus wheels.

Arriving at the Las Balza border, the transition from Ecuador was fairly straightforward. First, you get an exit stamp for Ecuador. Then you cross the bridge on foot and enter the Peru office. Here a nurse asks for proof of your vaccination against Yellow Fever. You MUST have this to gain entry. We were also quizzed heavily about a Measles vaccination. In the UK we have this in school and so there’s no evidence of it in our vaccination books.

Las Balza Border Crossing
Get your exit stamp for Ecuador here

A little convincing and the nurse finally signed us off. Next up was a one on one with an office worker (he was casually dressed and didn’t seem like a typical border guard). This was all standard procedure: “How long are you going to travel for in Peru?”, “Have you been to Peru before?” and so on.

The man typed information in to the computer with a single finger and then started longingly at a blue screen whilst everything crashed. Luckily the bus driver was patient and stood around waiting.

Las Balza Border Crossing Shop
Shops at the Las Balza border crossing

There weren’t any money exchange touts at the border, but a small shop had ‘Dollars’ written on a sign. The owner was happy to exchange US dollars (the currency of Ecuador) for Sols (the currency of Peru). The rate was good and the same as that online before we set off that day.

Travelling on from the border crossing, there was still another four hours to Jaen. The light was going dim and another movie played on the bus.

At one point I thought we were stuck again as the bus became stationary in a river. It turns out that they were just washing off the mud from our earlier misadventure.

At 10:30PM we finally reached Jaen. Hours behind schedule we went to the first hotel near the bus station. There was no way we were going to get to Chachapoya that evening (a further four hour bus ride).

Jaen Hotel Peru
Our hotel was surprisingly still standing after the earthquake

The hotel was an incredibly reasonable S25 ($8 USD) for a double room. We couldn’t be happy to lay our heads down after a gruelling day.

Alas, at 2:30AM we awoke to the room shaking. An earthquake was ravaging Peru!

Peru Earthquake Magnitude
A screenshot showing our location at the time of the Peru earthquake

I thought it was probably normal in this region of the country. But after 30 seconds and hearing people running in the streets, we got out of bed and joined them.

Feeling the ground shake and watching the walls move around you is a unique sensation. Reports showed that this was the strongest earthquake of 2019 so far. A whopping EIGHT on the Richter Scale. It started in the Amazon and although we were 400km away, we felt the aftershock in a huge way.

So there you have it. That’s how to cross the overland border from Ecuador to Peru at Las Balsas. I can’t guarantee an earthquake, but you may well get stuck in the mud. Whatever happens, plan your onward travel accordingly and strap yourself in for a very, VERY long day!

Las Balza Border Crossing Bridge
Standard border crossing selfie time

Get the best value accommodation in Ecuador and Peru here:


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