So I had heard many horror stories about crossing the border from Colombia into Ecuador by land and had even been strongly advised against it by people whom had lived in Colombia, saying it was the most dangerous of border crossings in South America with reported hostage-type situations of robberies on the buses at gunpoint. However I also met people whom had previously crossed this border with no problems or whom had just done the border the other way round with ease. To go by air it would cost me at least £100 to fly from Bogota to Quito with only a few options a week and would also mean first paying for a bus from Cali to Bogota, a place I had already spent time in. So, once in Cali and having spoken to Bolivariana – the bus company I would advise travelling with – about the safety of the nightbuses I decided to catch one to Ipiales the night after I had arrived in Cali.
The first mistake I maybe made was not booking the bus the day I arrived in Cali, not yet being sure how much time I would want to spend in Cali. So, knowing there were buses at 7, 8, 9 and 10pm from Cali to Ipiales I just rocked up at the bus terminal at 7:30pm being certain there would be availability on at least a couple of the buses remaining. Turns out there was only one seat left on the 10pm bus for $58,000 pesos (£17) and, once I got on the bus at 10pm, they had given the same seat number to me and an old male Colombian. “Admin error” or some crap. Anyway I lost my window seat and sat next to the man with the same seat number and was humbled (and quietly amused) to see him use his google translate app to learn a question he wanted to ask me. Very sweet. Anyway, we set off at around 10pm for a fast and bumpy ride through the Colombian mountains, arriving in Ipiales at 9:30am the next day. It wasn’t the best sleep I have ever had but it certainly wasn’t the worst, nor was it quite as freezing on the bus as people made out (but make sure you bring a sweater).
On the bus I met an American called Zahir doing the same route into Ecuador as me so, once at Ipiales, we stuck together. There were taxis going to the border (la frontera) for $8,000 pesos (£2.20) or colectivos for only $1,700 pesos (80p) so we opted for the colectivo, still only taking about 15 minutes to reach the Colombian border. Here we had to queue for about 10 minutes to be stamped out before walking about 100m across the “border” into Ecuador. The second border crossing I have done on foot (the first being Cambodia into Thailand) where nothing at all changes in the short distance from one country to the next and the only divide is that of a sign welcoming you in. I had spent a number of hours the previous day changing a large amount of pesos into dollars (dolares) in prep for Ecuador but I still had some pesos on me, not having known how much I would need for transport and food, etc. As warned there were a number of men at the border (on both sides) offering to change your money for you and I settled on getting $13 USD for my $37,000 pesos.
Once on the Ecuadorian side we had to queue again, this time for about 15/20 minutes, before being stamped into Ecuador, being asked where I was heading to and how long I intended to stay in Ecuador. No other forms needed; easy. The two of us then caught a taxi to the bus terminal in Tulcan, paying around $3.50 USD (£3) before being bombarded by us company vendors before I had even stepped one foot out of the taxi, hollering “Quito! Quito!” at us. After establishing it was $7 USD (£6) for a bus that was leaving for Quito in 5 minutes and would take 6 hours to get there, we shrugged and hopped right on. Pretty quickly we realised why it would take 6 hours (as opposed to the 4 I had read it would take) – local merchants selling food, drink, perfume and all sorts came on the bus with their best selling tactics before we even left and then regularly throughout the journey, us stopping more times for them than I would like to count.
Winding around the gorgeous, ear-popping Ecuadorian mountains we eventually made it to Quito NORTH bus terminal at 5pm, where they didn’t announce the stop so it was only as we were pulling away from it that I realised and by then they had to stop at the side of the road to let us off. We then waited for a local bus heading to the nearest Trole station and paid $0.25 USD to then get the Trole to Colon station for free. A long story short, we didn’t arrive to our hostel – Blue House hostel in La Floresta – until well after 6pm, a good 9 hours after arriving into Ecuador.
So, a flight from Bogota to Quito, including luggage, would have cost me around £100, not including the bus cost from Cali to Bogota and then the cost of a taxi to the airport. This also doesn’t include the cost of a taxi from Quito airport to my hostel. My journey by land cost me a total of £. Yes, it took almost 24 hours, but I would have had to get a night bus from Cali to Bogota anyway and the sights I got to see, as well as the experiences I had along the way (and the money saved) made it worth it for me. I found the night bus from Cali to Ipiales absolutely fine – I didn’t feel unsafe at any point – but of course things can happen at any time, anywhere. If you would prefer to get a day bus from Cali to Ipiales, to spend a night at Ipiales before crossing the border the following morning, then you can, it just costs a bit more to add in hostel costs and takes a bit longer, and there isn’t much to see in Ipiales (although the mountains on the way down into Ipiales were spectacular).
So there you have it. Yesterday I was in Colombia, now I am in Ecuador. Bring it.