After almost two months spent in Ecuador, it was the highest time to head north and experience new things. We loved Ecuador and did not really want to leave, but almost every traveler we met (ok, except for the teenage German boy, who travelled the world, but kept eating in KFC – we still love you Max and miss the time spent with you, though!) told us that Colombia was even better.
After we checked the huge Saturday market, we returned to hostel Flying Donkey just to pack our staff and ask the friendliest manager ever Paul for the best place to catch a bus to the border. It turned out that the best is to go to the Panamerican highway, the exact place where bus dropped us on arrival (go to Panamericana, turn left, go up the road, pass a gas station and you’ll see a bus stop).
Otavalo to Tulcan
This time it took us a bit longer – about 30 minutes to catch the right bus as it was Saturday afternoon and there were many people returning from the market. Finally at about 12.30 we managed to get last two seat s on a very crumpy bus to the Ecuadorian border town Tulcan. The ride took 4.5 hours, we descended to a hot valley and climbed up the mountains again, the views along the way were spectacular. And my head slowly started aching.
There should be 2 options how to get to the border from Tulcan bus station – either get a colectivo or a taxi. As we did not find any colectivo, we took a taxi, which was not that expensive and was way faster.
Crossing the Border
Crossing the border is pretty easy, but might be a little confusing. First you need to get an emigration stamp at the ecuadorian side. Then you walk across a bridge, pass waiting taxi’s and colectivos and go get an immigration stamp on the colombian side. Don’t forget about the stamps, without them you could have problems when leaving Colombia or returning to Ecuador! Nobody tells you where to go, you must think about it yourself. This is what I love about South America – no one will ever hold your hand and lead your way, you must use your own head and it teaches us spoiled Europeans self-sufficiency.
After getting both stamps in our passports we returned back to a place where the colectivos were waiting, flicked off about 20 guys screaming “cambio, cambio” and hopped (together with 2 other locals) into a car heading to the bus terminal in Ipiales, which is a border town on the Colombian side. It was getting late, it was raining and my head was aching more and more. I was sorry that we did not have a time to visit the spectacular cathedral in Ipiales. Try to get to the town at least 2 hours earlier and check it out!
There is an ATM at the bus station, so we took out some money. Without knowing the currency and how much everything costs, it was quite difficult to decide how much to withdraw. We ended up with 200.000 pesos, which seemed a lot but… Only lasted for one day!
In ten minutes we were sitting on a minibus heading to Pasto. Even though I read that the busses were more expensive in Colombia, I was still shocked by the cost we paid for two hours ride. It got dark shortly after we left Ipiales and my headache grew into a migraine. We usually book a place to stay in advance on Booking.com, but this time we did not know how much time the border crossing will take and in which place we end up overnight, so we had to go search for beds after our arrival to Pasto.
It was dark, raining, I was feeling really sick, so we headed to the closest building near the bus terminal with a “hotel” sign. It looked ok from the outside, but when we opened the front door we saw a guy at the “reception” with a scarf wrapped all over his face, so only eyes were visible. WTF??? Even when talking with us he would not take the scarf off. It felt a bit scary, but I felt even more tired and sick. After checking the room, which was very basic but super cheap (private room with ensuite bathroom) we decided to give it a try and try if we survive the first night in Colombia. We locked ourselves inside the room, put our heavy backpacks in front of the door, took out our sleeping bags and went directly to the bed, without any dinner or without any will to explore the surroundings.
First day in Colombia felt weird. And a bit dangerous. But fortunately I know myself, I know that I should not trust my first impressions and I always have to judge in the morning!
- Bus Otavalo – Tulcan 4,5 USD per person
- Taxi Tulcan terminal to the border – 3 USD
- Colectivo border to Ipiales bus terminal – 1 USD per person
- Bus Ipiales – Pasto 7000 COP per person
- “hotel” in Pasto 20.000 COP