My time in Ecuador this time was short, but it was quite well spent discovering a new city: Cuenca. Charming, full of pretty sights and warm people, Cuenca was an unexpected surprise. Having already visited Ecuador, I was eager to discover Colombia. So eager that I booked yet another overnight bus to the border.
The bus ride from Cuenca to Tulcán was uneventful. No food was provided for the close to 14 hour ride….thank god for the crackers and bread I thought of buying before boarding the bus! However my bottle of water had a hole in it, and my bag got drenched while on the road :s
Whether you’re making the trip from Ecuador to Colombia like I did, or from Colombia to Ecuador, here is some very useful information to guide you in your journey if you decide to cross the border on your own.
The Ecuador – Colombia Border
Getting to the border and crossing it is a quite safe and straightforward process. It is however a bit more crowded than the Peru – Ecuador border, where there is literally almost nobody, especially on the Ecuador side where the process seems to take longer. Allow anytime from 1.5 hrs to 2.5 hrs for all the formalities to be done.
Whether crossing from Ecuador to Colombia or vice-versa, you will need to pass through both of the below cities in both countries:
- Tulcán in Ecuador
- Ipiales in Colombia
Getting to the Ecuador Border
Buses can be taken from many Ecuadorian cities to Tulcán, the last city before the Ecuadorian border. One good company to take is Imbabura, which while it does not provide any food or snacks on board, it does not pick up passengers from the road other than in actual bus stations. This is a plus when considering safety.
From Tulcán to the border there are two choices:
- Walk from the bus station to the center of the city and take a “Colectivo a la frontera” for about $0.50 USD (about 30 minutes).
- Take a taxi from the bus station for $3.50 USD (about 15 minutes).
Getting to the Colombia Border
There are countless bus companies in Colombia with routes to Ipiales, the last city before the Colombian border, and many offer WiFi (which might or might not work). The best and safest companies are Bolivariano and Fronteras, and Transipiales to a somewhat lesser extent (some of their lower-line buses do pick up passengers on the road).
From Ipiales to the border there does not seem to be much of a choice other than to take a taxi (once at the Ipiales bus station I did not see any “colectivos” routing to the border). A trip either way will cost you about 6,000 COP.
Should you have time to spare in Ipiales, take a taxi or a bus from the terminal to the Santuario de las Lajas, located at only 7KM from Ipiales.
The sanctuary was built following what locals say was the apparition of the Virgin Mary to a local indigenous girl. How true this is may be up to debate. What is not up to debate is that this church is the prettiest in all of South America, and possibly in the whole world.
Sitting on a stonebridge on top of a river and surrounded by green mountains, the stunning architecture of Las Lajas sanctuary is sure to leave you in awe on first sight.
Crossing the Border
The border offices are separated by a bridge, which is not guarded. Many have crossed it without stopping at the Ecuadorian immigration office and ended up in Colombia, and have had to go back in order to get their exit stamp.
While “getting stamped” in the Colombian side does not take long, the same cannot be said for the Ecuadorian side where the process sometimes can take twice as long. Queues do not move fast in this office. Depending on the time of the day you arrive, allow 1.5 to 2.5 hours for the whole ordeal to be over.
Crossing the bridge by foot is safe. Note that there have been reports of individuals posing as immigration officers outside of the immigration offices. DO NOT give your passport to anyone asking for it outside of the respective immigration office you’re heading to.
The border hours of operation is from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM from Monday to Sunday.
Currency Exchange Note
The bus station in Ecuador as well as both borders swarm with people offering currency exchange. AVOID THEM if possible, as the rates offered by them are almost criminal (I was offered 50% of the value of Peruvian Soles at the bus station in Ecuador, and 75% of the same rate at the Colombian border).
If possible, you should prevail to have some US dollars (USD) or Colombian Pesos (COP) with you before getting to the border. At least enough to get you to either Tulcán or Ipiales, where you can withdraw some local currency.
Note that although the Ecuador border has an ATM, which from what I’ve heard is not always operational, Colombia does not have any means to withdraw money at the border and you will have to take a taxi to the bus terminal in Ipiales, where there is an ATM.
Crossing the Ecuador – Colombia border is safe and although long, it is quite an straightforward process. What are your border crossing stories?