The complete guide to crossing Colombia to Ecuador by bus
Planning to travel from Colombia to Ecuador by bus? Here’s a little story about my 4-day journey plus COVID updates on border controls. Please note that I stopped almost every day and did not do this journey in one go.
I have yet to believe a lot of things lately. I’ve done and seen a lot of things within the months that I am traveling and I regret to inform you that I am not giving enough justice to how awesome these months were for I have a lot of trouble writing in English.
Flying within South America is extremely expensive (unless you’re an heiress, of course. Which I am not.) and it’s never an option for those people traveling long-term. If you have the time and you wish to save tons of dollars, taking the bus is the best option.
I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from friends who took it and were on the verge of booking a one-way $300 flight but I didn’t. You see, I am after the journey, no matter how short or long it is. I am not sure if I will see something along the way but I am sure I will pick up memories that will infect me for a long time. My journey from Colombia to Ecuador by bus took 3 days but in reality, it is no longer than 20 hours. Since I was traveling alone, I wanted to stop every time the dark hit the skies.
Is the border open between Colombia and Ecuador?
Most borders in South America are closed because of the pandemic. Colombia and Ecuador closed their borders in 2020. As of June 2021, Colombia’s land borders are open while Ecuador’s border is partially open and allows entry to travelers who are qualified. Meaning, only citizens of Colombia and Ecuador who were stuck during the border closures of both countries are allowed to go in and out, given that they get a permit from both Embassies. These borders are only open for humanitarian reasons but it is said to slowly ease in the next few months.
Since Colombia’s tourism already started and the country opened, many foreigners entered the country without knowing they cannot cross Ecuador by land. You can fly to Ecuador from Colombia but you have to provide the following:
- Proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR or rapid antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry.
- If you are vaccinated, you don’t need to a PCR/Antigen test anymore. Just present your vaccine card.
- If you are previously diagnosed with COVID-19, you may present a medical certificate proving so. This certificate must come from the country where you had COVID.
Colombia to Ecuador by bus: how I did it
Day 1: Barranquilla to Cali
After having so much fun at the Carnival, I finally said goodbye to Barranquilla. Ideally, you can take a bus from Barranquilla to Cali but within the country, it’s possible to find cheap flights. I was able to book one for COP120,000 ($40), 3 days before the flight, and for me, it was a good deal. However, the airport of transit is in Sta Marta. I had to take a van from Barranquilla to Sta Marta which took me an hour and a half (the driver was insane.)
With this, I was four hours early for my flight. Flying time is 1.5 hours and at that moment, I felt that I was slowly drifting from the coast of Colombia. No more arepa con huevos, sancocho, and suero! From the airport in Cali, I took a bus (COP7,305 // $2.50) to the city center where my hostel is located.
Day 2: One night in Cali
Cali is one of the biggest cities in Colombia and is deeply rooted in culture too. It is the salsa capital of the country and I have been meaning to do some dancing when I arrived. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good timing. A liquor ban was imposed over the weekend because of the senatorial elections.
SEE ALSO: 20 PLACES TO VISIT IN COLOMBIA
I stayed in Sunflower Hostel, one of the most-visited hostels in Cali, and spent the day teaching them social media strategies that I hope I was able to deliver successfully. Just as I was having breakfast, I heard a familiar voice calling my name — it was Michael (Switzerland), another traveler whom I met in Cali. This time, he was traveling with his girlfriend, Alicia (Mexico) and I finally met her! What a small world it is! Guess what? They’re on their way to Quito too but they’re going ahead of me. They’ve been in Cali for a while.
Day 3: 10-hour bus ride to Pasto
My life now is not about rushing anymore. Since I started traveling alone, I never pressured myself with time nor imposed myself to leave at this time, arrive at this time, whatsoever. You see, time is nuts and time is what’s making us worry about our life too much. I live for the moment. That morning, I read a book, ate breakfast, shopped for bus food, etc.
Well sometimes, taking note of time is important too. I was told the bus to Pasto leaves every hour so I grabbed a taxi to the station (COP3,000 // $1.5) and once I arrived, multiple numbers of windows surprised me. There was more than one bus company in the huge terminal but I followed Ari‘s advice to take Cootranar. I paid COP40,000 ($20) for this trip.
Growing up, my mother taught me a lot of rituals when taking public transport and one of those that I truly worship and live by is sitting at the back of the driver when taking busses. It made sense when my mother said that every time a bus gets into an accident, the driver shifts the stirring wheel to the left which makes the right side of the bus a shield of collision. Meaning, the passengers on the right side are always signing up for danger.
I was assigned to a seat on the middle right (#16) and that didn’t make me really comfortable. I went up to the driver and asked if I can change seats and immediately, he said yes. However, the only available seat is literally at the back of the driver — seat #1. Is there a problem with this? Yes, I still do have some concerns. Being in seat #1 keeps me safe from accidents but it doesn’t guarantee that I will be safe from burglary. This road is known for burglars randomly hopping the busses and robbing everyone on the bus. I was scared that I will be held hostage or whatsoever since I will be the one who they’ll see first. Totally paranoid but I like it. I’m traveling alone so I had to consider a lot of precautions. I covered my laptop with a jacket and placed my phone in a visible pocket together with the food. Well yeah, I am willing to give up my phone and not my laptop. I’ve been told that robbers are always after the phone so why not offer it first. My laptop is more important for my job.
I hailed a cab, paid COP3,000 ($1.50), and arrived at a hostel with which I don’t have any reservations. I took the chance and knocked. I thought they didn’t have room for one since this is a popular stopover for travelers crossing the border but they did have one! “Lucky you,” one of the travelers smirked at me. I guess I have to thank the Universe before I sleep. The hostel was alright but expensive for what it is. Lastly, Pasto is freaking cold.
Day 4: 2-hour bus ride to Ipiales
Wait, there’s more! I woke up at 7:00, didn’t eat, and ran back to the station. As I entered the station, I saw people sticking their heads out of the window of the ticket booth(s) while screaming at different places like Ipiales, Cali, Popayan, etc. I figured this is a competition for getting passengers so I walked past them and entered a mini restaurant to have breakfast. I’m not in a hurry, remember? And yes, I had rice and vegetables for breakfast. I randomly picked a window, bought my ticket to Pasto (COP7,000 // $3.50), and loaded my bag into the van. Apparently, the van doesn’t leave until it’s full. I was the first one to board and waited for more than an hour.
I felt like an idiot for sleeping all the way. The road to the border is amazing! I was able to see 30 minutes of the view(s) and realized I will be seeing more of this when I arrive in Ecuador. I have established that Ecuador is high, made up of mountains, and sadly, cold.
Still Day 4: 20-minute collectivo to the border
I haven’t counted how many bus and van transfers I made but it sure is a lot. From Ipiales, I took another van which was full in 2 minutes. I paid COP1,000 ($0.50) for this trip. The border of Colombia and Ecuador is called Rumichaca and I didn’t know that not until I arrived. The driver was insisting that I am going this way but I still kept saying I am going to the border.
He dropped me at the immigration office of Colombia where I was swarmed by men changing Colombian Pesos to Dollars. Yes, Ecuador’s currency is in U$D. I had COP30,000 ($15) left, enough for me to take a bus to Quito. The line wasn’t that long and I was able to finish the stamping process in 10 minutes.
The same guy who changed my Colombian Pesos asked me to walk down to the borderline and get my entry stamp at the Immigration Office of Ecuador. I was walking slowly because I was observing people: who can take photos of me? I’m in two places at once and after Budapest, this is a moment that took my breath away! I have to have a photo. During the bus ride to Pasto, I sat with two old women who told me not to trust people on the border because it is extremely dangerous. They even told me NOT to buy water, cigarettes, or anything that I have to take using my mouth because it might be poisoned. So I didn’t. I didn’t have a photo too.
The line at the Immigration Office of Ecuador is not too bad too. They have a pretty decent office and Immigration Officers are dressed to the nines. I handed my passport to the lady, she looked at me and said, “Filipinas”, stamped it and off I go. I was done in 3 minutes!
“Welcome to Ecuador.”
Still Day 4: 5 hours to Quito
I just told you it’s not to safe to drink water at the border and I forgot about it myself. I was so tired and thirsty I bought a bottle and ended up not drinking it. From the border, I took another van to a bus terminal ($0.75) where the busses to Quito are located. There, I believe it safe to buy food and drinks. As a matter of fact, I did and the bus almost left me. Imagine, I hopped on the bus while it is moving! It’s insane! I wasn’t able to sleep well because the conductor keeps waking me up every hour. Apparently, I have to show my bag to police officers at every checkpoint. They poked my clothes with a stick and I had to fix it all the time (take it in and out). I forgot to mention that the bus to Quito from the border is only for $5.
Finally, I arrived in freezing Quito, took a taxi to the guesthouse I am volunteering in. From the station, the taxi cost $10.
Important note: I met a lot of travelers on the road who had to go back to the border because they forgot their passports stamped. There are no people or authorities on the border who will tell you how to do things so you have to take note of this. In fact, you can walk freely in and out of the border without people checking you.
Colombia to Ecuador by bus quick summary
To help you better for your trip, below is a summary of my travel from Colombia to Ecuador:
- Start in Cali, Colombia. It is easier to get to Ecuador through this city.
- From Cali, take a bus to Pasto. This will take 10 hours and will cost you COP40,000 ($20).
- Take a night’s rest once you arrive Pasto (or not). It really depends on your travel plan. As for me, I am traveling alone and would prefer to be safe. A hostel in Pasto will cost you around COP20,000 ($10).
- From Pasto, take another bus to Ipiales. It’s 2 hours away and you’ll only pay COP7,000 ($3.50). Don’t sleep. The view is fantastic.
- Once you arrive at the station in Ipiales, there will be signs saying A La Frontera (to the border). Take that van and take note that the city where the border is, is called Rumichaca. This will only take 10-20 minutes and the fare is COP1,000 ($.50).
Once you are at Rumichaca, exchange the rest of your Colombian Pesos to US Dollars (currency in Ecuador). You will only need $10 to make it to Quito.
- Go to the Immigration Office of Colombia and don’t forget your EXIT STAMP.
- Cross to the Immigration Office of Ecuador and get your ENTRY STAMP.
- Take a van to Tuculpa station. This costs $0.75 depending if it’s shared. You can take a private taxi too.
- From there, you can take the bus to Quito. It will take you 5-6 hours depending on the speed of the driver, the weather, and the stops. DON’T SLEEP. The mountain view is spectacular. This only costs $5.