Pasto – Ipiales – Rumichaca – STAMPS – Tulcan – Otavalo
I started the journey across the border in Pasto. It’s 2.5 hours from the Colombia-Ecuador line and a good stopover so you can start the border crossing in the morning to avoid any nighttime transport. I was with a girl I met at the bus station in Popayan the day before, 31-year-old Suhee from South Korea, who was on the same track, so we tag teamed the adventure.
We took a taxi from our hostel to the Pasto bus station and were instantly bombarded by bus companies wanting our business. “Ipiales” “Ipiales ocho mil” “Ipiales” “Ipiales siete mil” SOLD! I’m a sucker for cheap prices nowadays, despite air conditioning or the number of stops along the way. We loaded our bags and jumped into the minivan—waiting 20 minutes past the 10-minute estimated time of departure before the van filled up with passengers. It was a short trip through the last of Colombian countryside before we arrived in Ipiales.
A huge tourist attraction for Colombians and foreigners alike, and a common stopover for anyone crossing the border, is the Sancturario de Las Lajas. When first planning the two-week trip to Colombia, I dreamed of seeing this cathedral built in the ravine of two mountains. From the photos, it was eerily similar to a church I saw in Rondo, Spain during high school. But it was never on our to-do list due to its extremely southern location. Now, I was on my way.
Thanks to other blogs, I knew the general procedure. We would leave our bags at the Ipiales bus station, find a collectivo to take us to the sanctuary, find another one to take us back and then head to the border. (FYI: A collectivo is a shared taxi and much cheaper. It’s white instead of yellow, and you must be patient, as it only leaves once all seats are filled.) I asked a fellow Pasto-Ipiales bus rider where the terminal’s bag storage location was, and after some confusion, we found a small tienda in the lineup of stores and restaurants offering bag storage for 2.000 COP (30 cents each—again, SOLD). While it wasn’t the most official of locations, I felt comfortable with the guy behind the counter and a pile of other backpacks and figured I’d take a chance. Ipiales is primarily used for two purposes (church or border) for people like us, so it wasn’t too difficult to find a collectivo to take us to the sanctuary after striking the deal. After a short 10-minute drive for 2.000 COP, we arrived at a touristy-filled area. We basically followed the small crowd among the pop-up tiendas with kitchy jewelry, bags and keychains. It was a downward path before seeing the tip of the sanctuary in the distance.
We walked down, observed part of the service and got a coffee to warm up a bit. Crossing the cathedral, we continued up the other side of the ravine and got a glimpse of the sancturary in its entirety. It was beautiful to see the white contrast the natural green and we snapped our fair share of photos before catching another collectivo and heading back to Ipiales. I decided to take out and exchange money here. While it may not have been the most financially beneficial option, I wanted to ensure I was good to go before entering Ecuador. I used the one cajero in the station and went upstairs to the one money exchange shop to change my Colombian Pesos into U.S. Dollars. Strange. We grabbed a bite to eat—the first real meal since yesterday’s lunch—and retrieved our bags. We walked out the door and immediately found a collectivo to Rumichaca. Another 15-minute drive for 2.000 COP where we could get our stamps and say adios to Colombia.
The collectivo stopped at the Ecuadorian station and we all got out of the car. My backpack was in the truck and because of its massive size, border control wanted a peek inside. With broken Spanish and English, he asked me where I was going, how much money I had and what I was doing in Ecuador. Simple, fast and uncomplicated. We then walked the short distance to the Ecuador office, but were told we needed a stamp of departure from Colombia first. I should’ve known. Because of this, we had to walk across the bridge—quite a ways with my 30-pound pack—to the Colombian office. A short line, some hassling to exchange pesos to dollars and one stamp later, we were on our way back across the bridge to officially enter Ecuador.
No surprises here: a form to fill out, a line to wait in and some questions to answer before yet another stamp in my passport. Hello, Ecuador! At this point we needed to get to Tulcan—a town similar to Ipiales where we could catch our bus to travel deeper into Ecuador. As soon as we walked out the door of the migration office we were once again approached by taxi drivers, so we took the first one we found. $2 USD later and we were in Tulcan, throwing our bags in the bottom of a large bus on its way to Quito.