Most travel books will not give you the fine details about traveling between Colombia and Ecuador. There are also some people that will tell you buses will cross the border between the two countries. At the time of writing this post, it isn’t true. This post shows how my girlfriend Marisol and I did it.
First, from Colombia to Ecuador. From cities like Cali (11-12 hours), Popayán (9-10 hours), and Pasto (2 hours) in Colombia, it’s possible to get a bus to the border town of Ipiales. I’ve taken an overnight bus from Cali with TransIpiales and a daytime bus going the other way with Bolivariano. Both companies have good service but beware – book your tickets early for weekend travel.
There are also different levels of service. Both companies offer buses and busetas (minibuses). The buses are large and comfortable and ran about COP$70,000 per person while the busetas are small, cramped, and uncomfortable for about COP$45,000 each. The buseta on TransIpiales was a miserable experience for me – the seat didn’t recline and my legs were too long to fit. If you have the extra cash to burn, it’s well worth it for the regular bus.
Once at the Ipiales bus terminal, you can take a taxi to the border, Rumichaca. It costs COP$8,000. From there, get your passport stamped in Colombia and walk across the bridge to Ecuador to follow the procedure there. Money changers will be waiting outside each immigration office offering to change pesos into dollars and vice versa. Ask for the rate before changing and make sure they are wearing a badge. We were able to get a fair rate of COP$2,500 per dollar.
After crossing into Ecuador, you can take a minibus (US$0.75/COP$2,000) to the center of Tulcán at Parque Isidro Ayora. It’s then necessary to take another minibus or taxi (US$1) to the Tulcán bus terminal for onward travel to cities like Quito (5 hours) or Ibarra (2 ½ hours). We traveled to Otavalo (3 hours). Alternatively, you can take a taxi to the center of Tulcán (US$3.50) or directly to the bus terminal (US$4-5).
When 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.
Coming from Ecuador to Colombia, follow the directions in reverse and you won’t have a problem.
If you need a hotel in either city, there are several near the bus terminals on both sides of the border. Many will accept both pesos and dollars. The majority will accept cash only. We stayed at the Hotel Lumar in Tulcán for US$33 for a double room. It was a nice, comfortable room. We didn’t stay overnight in Ipiales.