I’ve crossed quite a few borders overland and this Ecuador/Colombia border was by far the most complicated and confusing one I’ve ever had the pleasure of crossing. But now that I’ve done it, I realise that it’s really just about knowing where you have to go and what you have to do, and then it’s fairly simple. So here’s a step by step guide to help you out and make it a little less daunting.
Take a bus from Quito to Tulcán. Go from the North bus terminal in Quito as it will mean your journey is 5 hours instead of 6. Go to any of the ticket windows that say ‘Tulcán’ and ask for a ticket. The bus should cost about $6 and they go fairly regularly. We left Quito at 1:20pm as we’d heard that the border wasn’t as busy at night.
When you get to Tulcán you should exchange some money to Colombian Peso. There is a little shop opposite the bus terminal – you won’t get the greatest exchange rate but it’s really one of your only options, as you’ll need Pesos once you get to the other side. They’ll give you a super crappy exchange rate at first so don’t be afraid to barter a little.
Take a taxi to the border – make sure you tell them you need to stamp out of Ecuador first so they don’t take you across the bridge! A taxi should cost about £3.50
Once you reach the border, go inside the building and join the queue to get stamped out of the country. We were fairly lucky and there wasn’t much of a wait. We arrived at about 7pm, but I think it’s really just down to luck as to whether it’s busy or not. Getting stamped out was very easy, they just asked where we were going and boom, one more stamp to add to the collection.
Walk under the big blue ‘Ecuador’ sign and across the bridge. Congratulations, you have just walked into Colombia.
This is where it gets more than a little confusing. When we arrived, there was an enormous line and what must have been thousands of people – all Venezuelans looking to leave Colombia and enter Ecuador. We initially just joined the line and thought we’d be there all night, but eventually figured out, with the help of some very friendly people, that there was a separate queue for internationals. This queue is to the right of the main line and can be hard to see, and ever harder to get to, due to the throngs of people and their bags surrounding it. So stick to your guns and just push your way through – people will generally be nice enough to let you through as soon as they see you are a ‘gringo’. I have heard that you can pay someone to get you to the front of the line, but we found that we didn’t need to, as we were some of the only internationals there.
Once at the front of the line, you’ll see that the police are only letting a few people through at a time. The international line seems to get let in first. They will show you through the gate and up the steps to the ‘Entering Colombia‘ line. Once it’s your turn, go to the window, give them your passport and just answer any questions. I wasn’t asked anything, but my friends were asked questions about their occupations and where they were going next. We all got our entry stamps and that was that. In all, the border crossing from Ecuador to Colombia took us a little over an hour, and would have been quicker if we’d known what we were doing!
Exit immigration and walk back down the hill a little until you find a taxi. Take the taxi to Ipiales (costs about COP$10,000/USD$3.50) and here you can either stay the night or go straight to the bus station if you are planning on immediately travelling further north. I would definitely recommend staying in Ipiales if you arrive at night (there aren’t really any hostels but there are lots of cheap hotels) so you can visit Las Lajas Sanctuario the next day – it’s only a 15 minute drive out of town and it’s perhaps the most stunning church I’ve ever seen. Well worth the visit.
So that’s how to cross the border from Ecuador to Colombia. If you’re coming the other way, just do the same in reverse. Please so get in touch if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them!