I spent the last week and a half making my way through southern Colombia. While there is so much in Colombia that I haven’t done, I felt it was time for me to me on to my next adventure. This post describes my journey from southern Colombia into Ecuador.
Popayan- I left Cali not really knowing what I wanted to do. While there was so much to do and see in Colombia, I felt that I covered a lot in the last 6 weeks and was excited to cross over into Ecuador, Colombia’s neighbor to the south. However, according to Google Maps, it was a 12 hour drive to the Ipiales, which is the city located on the Colombian-Ecuadorian border. In reality, the trip would have taken at least 16 hours given that I was using public transportation. Because I am over extended bus trips, I decided to break the trip into parts with three day breaks in between bus journeys. I took a microbus (10k Colombian Pesos (COP) or $3.25 USD) from the Cali bus terminal to the next biggest city to the south and ended up in Popayan three hours later. After arriving at the hotel, I realized that the hotel didn’t accept credit card for payment. In addition, I realized it was more of a house than a hotel which I wasn’t comfortable staying. I used the opportunity to cancel my reservation and book another hotel. The second hotel, La Casona, turned out to be a much better choice as it was right in the middle of the city and had a balcony overlooking the town square, Parque Caldas. Popayan reminded me of Cartagena’s walled city minus the overwhelming amount of tourists. While the central area had similar colonial architecture, many of the people I saw walking around were Colombian’s going about their everyday lives. The area was also filled with boutique cafes and pastelerías (or bakeries). I did have a close call as I rolled my ankle walking around the city’s uneven cobblestone streets and couldn’t walk for nearly two days. In addition, near the outskirts of the city, there was a hill known as El Morro del Tulcán which hosted a run down park but had a nice view overlooking the city, especially at sunset. Due to my foot, I was unable to really do much else outside of the city. However, I enjoyed Popayan and would definitely recommend those passing through to stay longer than three days.
Pasto- From Popayan, I continued my journey south to Pasto. It was a 6 hour bus ride that cost 20k COP or $6.50 USD. The bus ride was long and uncomfortable but I was pretty well rested from my time in Popayan. Pasto was the last major urban area prior to arriving to Ipiales. I stayed in a nice comfortable hotel in the city’s residential area. Due to the fact that I arrived on the weekend, I didn’t explore much of the city. Despite traveling abroad, I still have an NFL fantasy team to manage (3-1 record) and my weekends are reserved for watching college and NFL football on my computer. I did see a lot of the city as I got lost during my morning run and inadvertently ended up walking through the central area. Pasto seemed like a great city to live as I felt comfortable walking around and the weather was pretty pleasant considering the location. However, I didn’t really find much to do outside of the usual taking pictures of colonial churches and trying local variations of parilla (Colombian bbq).
Ipiales-On Monday morning, I left Pasto and headed to Ipiales. The bus ride cost 9k COP and was supposed to take 2 and a half hours. However, you haven’t really backpacked in South America, until you are camped out for 2 hours on the side of the highway due to a rockslide. It happened about an hour into the trip where we were stopped. The bus driver turned off the bus and vendors were literally walking down the line of cars on the highway selling food and water. In my younger days, I would have been really impatient and annoyed. However, I’ve traveled enough to know that going with the flow is essential to keeping your sanity. I finally arrived in Ipiales at about 2pm. Given the uncertainty that I had crossing the Ecuadorian border, I decided to stay the night in Ipiales and cross in the morning. I found a nice modern hotel about 100 feet from the bus terminal for $16 USD a night. That was great considering Ipiales’ reputation precedes itself as a town full of rundown accommodation. I was able to change my COP to USD for a fairly decent rate at the Ipiales bus terminal. The American dollar is the official currency in Ecuador, which means I no longer have to worry about currency conversions for my posts. Overall, Ipiales really isn’t a town to spend more than a day or two as one is coming and going to Colombia.
Puente Rumichaca- My last stop in Colombia was the Puente Rumichaca which is the bridge that separates Colombia from Ecuador. The time finally came for me to hopefully say good-bye to Colombia. I say hopefully because I spent weeks worrying about trying to cross over into Ecuador. The main reason for my concern was that my passport expires in less than 6 months. I’ve heard several stories of Ecuadorian Customs denying entry to travelers due to the enforcement of the “six month validity” rule. That was one of the reasons that I didn’t fly into Quito as I didn’t want risk spending hundreds of dollars to get stranded in airport customs. As I pointed out in Barranquilla post, the process of renewing a passport in Colombia is outlandishly inconvenient for those that aren’t living in the country. In contrast, the renewal process in Ecuador takes a week. I honestly did not know what to do if I wasn’t going to be allowed to enter Ecuador. I really didn’t want to hang out in Colombia any longer and the only other land border was Venezuela to the north, which is definitely not an option. Regardless, I had come too far not to at least try. Another issue was the mass migration of Venezuelans how it significantly increased the time to cross over into the Ecuadorian side of the border. In fact, I heard stories of the process taking up to 8 hours for some people. While I didn’t expect it to take that long, I still had to mentally prepare for a long wait. I woke up the next morning and took a 15 minute cab ride from Ipiales to Puente Rumichaca for 8k COP ($2.25 USD). As I arrived at Colombian Customs, a crowd of migrant Venezuelans descended onto my cab door to open. I assume they were looking for a tip but I was too worried about the cab driver who tried to shortchange me in all of the confusion. Once I got my change, I walked past the United Nations aid stations filled with Venezuelans into the Colombian Immigration office. Surprisingly, I was one of only two people in line and the process took about 5 minutes. However, unfortunately I would have to return about 20 minutes later because the Colombian customs officer stamped the wrong exit date on my passport. Despite that annoyance, I was not questioned about the validity of my passport and the Ecuadorian customs process took about 10 minutes.
Tulcán- Once I was stamped into Ecuador, I found a chicken bus right outside the immigration office to take me to Tulcán, the Ecuadorian border city. The ride cost .70 cents and took about 20 minutes. Upon arriving to Tulcán bus terminal, I was able to buy a bus ticket to my first destination, Otavalo, for $3.75 USD. I was even given a small drink and snack to go along with the ticket. The bus was more luxurious than the ones that I rode in Colombia. While the Wi-Fi unsurprisingly didn’t work, there was at least an outlet in the seats which allowed me to keep my phone charged during the trip. During the trip, the bus was stopped twice by the Ecuadorian national police who went through the bus checking identification. The first time I had to retrieve my backpack from below so they could search it. The bus that I was on was actually going to Quito and wasn’t actually going to stop at the Otavalo bus terminal as it passed through town. Luckily, I had plenty of juice on my phone and was able to pull up Google Maps. I was dropped off on the side of the highway as the bus continued onward. I ran into another problem when the hotel that I booked did not show up on Google Maps (even the address was incomplete). I ended up taking a local bus for .70 cents to the bus terminal and asking around. After about an hour, I was eventually able to find the hotel after learning that it was under a different name. After a great six weeks in Colombia, I am ready and excited to see what Ecuador has to offer.