When traveling between Colombia and Ecuador by bus, you’ll probably have to stop in the border town of Tulcán. It may not seem very exciting at first glance, but it’s worth stopping for an hour to check out a very interesting cemetery.
You can’t miss the Cementerio de Tulcán. In 1936, Don José María Azael Franco Guerrero turned the cemetery into a topiary garden featuring pre-Columbian figures, animals, and geometric patterns. He died in 1985 at the age of 85, but the tradition has been carried on well after his death to this day. The cemetery is just a few blocks from the center of town at Parque Isidro Ayora. It’s open from 6am to 8pm daily.
The Casa de la Cultura holds a small archaeological museum. It’s a couple blocks from the cemetery. It was closed during our visit.
If coming to Tulcán after crossing the border from Colombia, the first place you’ll see is the center of town at Parque Isidro Ayora. From there, everything you need to see is within a couple blocks.
The Tulcán bus terminal is located a short taxi ride from town. It serves cities like Quito (5 hours), Ibarra (2 ½ hours), Otavalo (3 hours). From the Colombian border, you can get into the center of town by taking a minibus (US$0.75/COP$2,000) to Parque Isidro Ayora. It’s then necessary to take another minibus or taxi (US$1) to the bus terminal for onward travel. Alternatively, you can take a taxi to the center of Tulcán (US$3.50) or directly to the bus terminal (US$4-5).
If traveling south from Tulcán, avoid Expreso Turismo at all costs – service was rude, they wouldn’t let us get off the bus after three hours to use the bathroom, and they stopped way too many times, making the trip to Otavalo almost 90 minutes longer than it should’ve been. They also didn’t bother to let us know when we were in Otavalo even though we asked them to tell us at least three times. They almost passed up the city completely, and when they let us off the bus they took our bags out of the luggage compartment and threw them onto the ground.
If you need a hotel in Tulcán, there are plenty of affordable options. Some are by the bus terminal and others in the center of town. We stayed at the Hotel Lumar in the center. It cost US$33 for a double room.
There are lots of restaurants in the center of town and near the bus terminal as well. We were more than happy with street food near our hotel in a small plaza.