Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes

Getting to the Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes – Aguas Verdes Border

My time in Ecuador was up, so I made my way to the northern Peruvian Frontier town of Tumbes. That involved taking an overnight bus from Guayaquil to the Aguas Verdes border with Peru. Unfortunately, the checkpoint was closed when we arrived around midnight. The bus company had not mentioned this until we got to the border. The bus driver also seemed to be surprised, so maybe it wasn’t normal. With no other options, We waited in the bus and tried to sleep a bit. I groggily arose from slumber at 3am to join a crazy long line that had developed while I was snoozing. Awesome.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Crazy Line at the Aguas Verdes Border Between Ecuador and Peru
Crazy Line at the Border

The line started moving slowly around 3:30am. Although it seemed like much longer, it probably only took 30 minutes get to the entrance to the immigration area. Luckily the room was small, so once I’d made it to that point, there wasn’t much of a wait. The interesting thing about this border was that both the exit from Ecuador and the entry to Peru were processed at adjacent counters, which made things pretty quick.

Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes

I was running against the clock by this point, as I’d been more captivated by Ecuador than expected. This meant I didn’t have time to travel overland all the way to Cuzco as I’d originally planned. So I’d found myself a last minute flight to Cuzco out of the tiny northwestern Peruvian city of Tumbes, just over the border from Ecuador. Never heard of it?

Neither had I. Until I booked a flight from there. I’d actually chosen to fly from there because it was the closest Peruvian city to my location. It was also much cheaper to fly to Cuzco from within Peru than it was from Ecuador. It turns out that the city has quite a long history. It’s a pre-Incan settlement named for the native tribe of the area, the Tumpis.

With a population hovering around 100,000, it’s fairly small as far as cities go. That made it more surprising when the people from the bus company insisted that the place was dangerous. They tried very hard to convince me that I shouldn’t walk around by myself. I couldn’t see anything about this town that indicated someone was going to jump out of nowhere and mug me, as people had suggested. Still, as I normally do, I kept my wits about me and had no problems.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour. Dog on a Beach K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour. Swampy Island

Tuk Tuks and Tours

I didn’t get far on my walk before a worried Tuk Tuk driver insisted that I ride with him. He was still insistent even after I told him that I wasn’t going to give him any money. He decided to drive me around the town and take me on a mangrove tour to an island with a crocodile park, for free. I, of course, asked him a thousand questions about life in Peru and came to the conclusion, after he offered to pay for my flight to Cuzco, that Tuk Tuk drivers make the big bucks.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour in a Little Blue Boat K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour. Crocodile Park

Rax, the Tuk Tuk driver had to get some maintenance done on his vehicle, so he dropped it off at the Tuk Tuk repair place. He didn’t know how long it would be before it was ready to drive again, so he said that he wanted to organise a lift to the airport for me. I declined as I’d reached my limit for sitting down by that point. The airport was only 5km away, which is a comfortable walking distance for me.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Tuk Tuk Workshop.

Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes – Unexpected ‘Danger’

Little did I know, that this walk was the start of a whole new adventure. As happens in many places, I had taxis and Tuk Tuks stopping to offer me rides, which I politely declined. After a short while, I came across a roadside stall. It was run by a sweet older man, selling all kinds of homemade Peruvian treats and refreshments. He was the first person I’d met in the town who hadn’t told me it was dangerous. He was actually quite interested in how I’d ended up there.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes Sculpture/Building in Central Tumbes, Peru
Building on the walk to the airport in Tumbes

When I told him I was walking to the airport, he said it was 10km away, which was weird, because my map was saying it was only 3. He suggested that I should get a taxi, but after I informed him that I wanted to walk a little more, he wished me luck and I went on my way.

Police Escort

About 2 minutes later, I was stopped by 2 people who were sitting in a stationary car in a bylane of the main road. They did their best to assure me that they were the good guys and they weren’t going to hurt me. Not that any thoughts like that had even crossed my mind. It turned out that they were off duty police officers. They showed me their police IDs so that I would know they were genuine. By that point, I was getting the idea that locals think there are a lot of dishonest people in their city.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Monument
Monument on the walk to the airport in Tumbes

When I told them my plan to walk to the airport, they said it was 10km away, just as the man at the stall had said. I was still puzzled by that, as my map had never steered me wrong before. Maybe Peruvians have no concept of distance? They insisted that they would drive me. They simply weren’t taking no for an answer. So what choice did I have? Less than 2 minutes later, we were at a gate that serves as the entrance point to the airport compound. Yes, the airport is in a compound.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Tiny Airport
The tiny Tumbes Airport

We arrived at the airport building shortly after and it was tiny and empty. The car park was empty except for a security guard walking around with a gun. A gun? I wasn’t sure whether to feel safe or scared. He asked to see my flight confirmation then told me that I needed to quickly go inside because it was dangerous outside. I was again perplexed. I still couldn’t see anything remotely dangerous about the place. There wasn’t even anyone else around.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. The Only Cafe in the Airport
The only cafe in the tiny Tumbes Airport

Tiny Airport

There were only 2 shops inside and they were both closed when I got there. The place was almost completely empty except for some cleaning staff. It was then that I found out that the airport only has 2 flights in and out each day. It’s then closed for several hours in between. I had gotten there a tad early because I wasn’t expecting a lift, but it wasn’t long before the cafe reopened and I was able to grab some food. Unfortunately there was no WiFi. The flight was only short and I was sure there would be WiFi available on y stopover in Lima.

All in all, Tumbes proved to be a lot more interesting than one would think. It seemed like a nice quiet town and everyone was super nice and friendly. There also seemed to be a perception around town that it was unsafe. But it didn’t feel unsafe. It felt like people in the town were overreacting or being overcautious. or perhaps they had a different idea of danger to me. Either way, the fact that those locals were willing to help keep a stranger safe, makes it a safe place. It’d be worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Check out the continuing adventures in southern Peru in my next post :o)

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30 Replies to “Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes”

    1. I went to Ecuador for a month many years ago now and absolutely loved it. I would love to go back to South America and have another adventure. Although I don’t like the sound of all the pushy male drivers …!!

      1. I loved Ecuador too! I’m definitely going back one day!

        I’ve found Latin Americans to be a lot more forward and insistent than people in other places, but never to an annoying degree.

  1. It always amazes me how you seem to run into kind people everywhere, and it’s so weird that everyone thinks their city is dangerous! I’m enjoying your posts on a Saturday afternoon.

    1. I guess I must look approachable, but also stoic enough to not be taken advantage of. I do seem to be very lucky with my interactions with people in every country I go to. I think it has to do with the attitude I have when I’m travelling.

      I just kinda march into places like I should be there and expect that some awesome adventure is on the horizon. Even when bad stuff happens, I just deal with it and move back on to awesome adventures.

    1. I know right! This is exactly why I don’t make plans when travelling. That way I have time for these little surprise packages that I find along the way.

  2. It looks like an interesting thing to do, although the police driving you somewhere is weird and should be avoided in all South America just in case. Happily, it all looks like a good experience after all,

    1. It’s not uncommon for police to offer help to tourists in many different countries, so it didn’t seem strange to me. I would never have accepted if anything seemed off.

  3. You really seek out remote areas! So fascinating. I kept thinking how can such an unsafe town have so many caring locals? Glad you had a good time. 🙂

    1. That’s what happens when you get yourself to a continent then decide to do parts of it overland!

      I kept thinking the same thing! I’ve been in ‘unsafe’ places and this place didn’t feel like those!

  4. wow, how crazy that everyone in the town of Tumbes was worried for your safety. I know that it can often feel like a hustle when you hear it form taxi/tuk tuk drivers as they tend to only want a fare. But when you hear it from several other people, I would probably start to get a little anxious. Did anyone ever reveal why the felt that it was so dangerous like a gang, or a drug cartel, or something? Totally bizarre but I am glad you had a little adventure!

    1. Totally crazy! It was a bit unnerving that everyone was so insistent, when I could see no outward indications that things weren’t safe. It honestly just looked and felt like a sleepy little town. They never did divulge what was so unsafe about it.

      I can’t be sure, but there might’ve been some local gang-run taxi scams targeting tourists. That could’ve been why everyone was so worried. I didn’t see anything like that, nor I was only there for 2 days and I don’t take taxis, haha.

  5. Great photos! What a trip! It did seem odd that safety was such a dominant concern yet you did not encounter anything but kind and helpful people? Looks like a beautiful location to visit, thanks for sharing.

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