Across Land & Sea Travel Blog

Crossing the border: Ecuador to Colombia

Unless you have a spare $300 or so to spend on a flight from Quito to Colombia, the best way to make the journey is with public transport via Tulcan and Ipiales - for a tenth of the price.

We crossed the border from Quito in May 2017, and whilst many people prefer to get all the way to Cali overnight, we decided to save those extra four hours and spend a night in Popayán - which was well worth the visit. 

How long does it take?

It took us just shy nearly 17 hours door-to-door, from our guesthouse in Quito to our hostel in Popayán. Here are the details of our timings:

06:15 - Took a taxi from our guesthouse to Quito's Terminal Terrestre, or Carcelen, bus station (30 minutes)
06.45 - Jumped on a bus to Tulcán (5 hours)
11:55 - Exchanged our remaining US dollars for Colombian pesos before taking a taxi to the border (15 minutes)
12:05 - Arrived at Ecuador border control and crossed into Colombia (20 minutes)
12:35 - We proceeded to walk towards Ipiales as a protest means that there are no cars or buses on the roads near the border town... *hopefully this will not be the case for you and you can save time by hopping on one of the regular buses to Ipiales bus terminal! We eventually caught a taxi the rest of the way. (45 minutes)
14:00 - After waiting in Ipiales bus terminal for nearly 45 minutes, we get on our way to Popayán. (9 hours in total)
20:20 - Meal and toilet stop in El Border (45 minutes)
23:00 - Once we arrived in Popayán, we took a taxi to our central guesthouse (10 minutes).

How much does it cost? 

For six changes of transport: two taxis and one bus in Ecuador; two taxis and one bus in Colombia, we spent around $28.00 per person. Our cost breakdown per individual is as follows: 

$5 - Taxi from our guesthouse to Quito's northern bus terminal
$6.00 - Bus from Quito to Tulcán
$3.50 - Taxi from Tulcán to the borderá
= $14.50pp

COP 5,000 - Taxi from near the border to Ipiales bus statin
COP 30,000 - Bus from Ipiales to Popayán
COP 4,000 - Taxi from Popayán bus terminal to the centre of town
= COP 39,000pp / $13.65pp

Note: you can save even more money by taking minibuses from Tulcán to the border, and from the Colombian border to Ipiales. These leave when full and tend to cost around $1.50 or COP 2000 per person. 

The cost of the journey and the time it would take were the first aspects researched, yet there were other questions on our minds once we began to plan our day. If you're like us, you may be wondering about some of the following...

When is best to travel?

Some people prefer travelling overnight as it saves money on accommodation, however we were warned several times about travelling through Colombia's border towns in the evening, so we decided to set off early in the morning instead. 

If you plan on getting further than Popayán, such as Cali or even Bogotá, you may prefer to travel overnight, but we'd advise at least getting to Ipiales before dusk. 

How far can I get in a single journey?

We saw bus companies at Ipiales station offering journeys to Medellin and Bogotá, although the majority of travellers call it a night at Cali. You may even be able to get further than this (Santa Marta, Cartagena, perhaps) but expect a horrendously long journey of 30+ hours.  

Our top tips on crossing the Ecuador to Colombia border

Nº 1  - Leave as early as you can to ensure you're not travelling in the dark - there have been numerous reports of unsafe overnight buses, especially between Ipiales and Popayán.
Nº 2 - Take plenty of snacks, as you may not know when you're next proper meal will be. 
Nº 3 - Use your small change before you get to Tulcán so you don't have spare US coins going in Colombia.
Nº 4 - Take care that you don't get ripped off at the border, especially when exchanging money or taking taxis.
Nº 5 - As always, be patient. We met a couple who were stuck on the side of the road in their bus for ten hours as there had been a landslide. They left at 8.00am and arrived in Popayán at 3.00pm the following day - sometimes shit happens!


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