My border crossings were thankfully without drama and so this post is more for informative use rather than jovial entertainment. Although, as ever, feel free to be entertained.
I caught the 21:30 bus from Cali to Ipiales. Do not try to cross the border anywhere else, this is the safest land border crossing between Ecuador and Colombia. It’s twelve hours by bus from Cali and buses leave frequently with various companies. The journey was thankfully safe, smooth and uneventful (many people air concerns about traveling overnight) but by 10am we were safely delivered to our destination.
From Ipiales bus station you need to get yourself a taxi to immigration.
We caught a bus from Otavalo (via Ibarra) to reach the border to return to Colombia, a fairly painless four hours (unless you’re counting the sprain). Quito is six hours and goes direct. Both buses I was on were fairly basic with no WiFi, no air con and frequent stops for food vendors to board and disembark with their wares. On average buses in Ecuador tend to work out a $ an hour, until you reach the coast… but that’s another story!
Las Lajas Detour
If coming from Colombia, you may want to take this detour before passport control. If coming from Ecuador this would be your detour en route to the bus station from the border. Both will be in taxi or collectivo and it isn’t by any means mandatory!
Las Lajas is a beautiful church with surrounding vegetation, nestled in a valley. If you arrive at night and you were hoping to go, don’t give up, it’s worth seeing at dark too as it’s lit up in fairly spunky, changing colours. If you decide to include this extra site, the journey will set you back around 24,000COP per vehicle so filling your car with gringos and others alike is worth doing. Equally, there is a bus aka collectivo that leaves when full for 2,500COP a head one way although you will need to take this back to the bus terminal and then catch a taxi either to/from passport control depending on your direction.
Photo credit to @nomadicneverland
We asked our driver to wait for us for this price. There’s a lot of stairs and walking to do at Las Lajas and chances are you haven’t slept well so leaving our ungainly backpacks behind in his car was a life saver. You can spend as little as twenty minutes to an hour exploring the many levels, angles and inscriptions at this church so pick the agenda that best suits you.
Colombia passport control
Colombia’s side is closely patrolled with a queue of travelers inside the building but cut off at a certain number. This means that the queue resumes at the bottom of the stairs outside, making it seem a tad worse than it is. Both times I came across this passport control, it was fairly quick and painless, taking only around 20-40 minutes maximum. *Canadians and other nationalities who need to pay* are you arriving in Colombia? For the Canadians amongst us, It’s a 190,000COP entry and there’s no cash machines here. They helpfully suggest you return to the Ecuador border, withdraw dollars, exchange them with one of the vendors on the walk back to the Colombian side and then pay in pesos. There is a card machine but it is unreliable and did not work for us so I’d strongly advise you try and come with cash on you to avoid this painful charade! Oh and bring patience. Even a queue of one can take up to an hour if they aren’t in a rush to help you on your way.
In between passport control
Upon exit of either building, you will see a pedestrian bridge floating up from the mess of taxis, colectivos and vendors – it’s a three minute walk and you need your stamps from both sides so don’t go getting in any vehicles yet!
Ecuador passport control – Tulcán
At Ecuador passport control, there is one queue for both exit and entry of the country and each time I was there, it was terribly long. You also cannot take your large bags into the building when it is really busy. Pack sensibly! Hungry? You’re going to have to wait. There’s barely any vendors here with the majority found on the road between the two offices.
As with the Colombian side you will also need to catch a taxi to the bus terminal. We managed to pay this with our remaining 12,000COP. Note that Ecuador buses do not have the toilets on board that we had grown accustomed to!
And that’s it! So to summarize:
Arrive by bus at either Tulcan (Ecuador) or Ipiales (Colombia).
Catch taxi to border control. Consider going via las Lajas if you are coming from Colombia.
Get stamped out of one country.
Walk across the road.
Get stamped into the next.
Catch taxi to bus terminal. Consider going via las Lajas if coming from Ecuador.
Catch bus to destination of choice.
Seconds to make count
Have dollars or pesos on you, especially if you have to pay entry.
Share collectives/taxis with fellow travelers.
Make time for the Las Lajas pit stop and get your driver to wait for you.