Colombia to Ecuador by Land, Feat. Bag Searches and a Very Inconvenient Virgin Parade
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Pasto, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador, via the Rumichaca crossing, is perhaps one of the most common backpacker routes travellers take when going from Colombia to Ecuador by land (or from Ecuador to Colombia, for that matter). Sure, there are plenty of bus lines that will take you direct from, say, Pasto to Quito, and shuffle you and your fellow passengers across the border, but it’s so easy to do by yourself using public transport that I don’t see the point in paying more. Basically, this is the budget guide to crossing the Colombian border with Ecuador.
Now, I won’t fuck around, there are plenty of similar posts telling you how to cross the border from Colombia to Ecuador, so mine isn’t exactly revolutionary.
However, if you stick around past the boring practicalities, it does include a (now) amusing story about how we were racially profiled and then got stuck behind a Virgen parade for eight hours. The schadenfreude is real, people.
COLOMBIA TO ECUADOR BY LAND
OK, let’s get straight to it: the land border crossing between Colombia and Ecuador is remarkably straightforward, if we’re talking about the Ipiales-Tulcán crossing, that is.
If you’re here for info on the alternative Colombia to Ecuador by bus border crossings, check out this useful post instead.
GET TO IPIALES
Ipiales is the last real stop before the border, so your first step should be getting there. Most travellers are typically coming down from Cali or the surrounds, and so your best bet is spend a night in nearby Pasto and then take a bus from there early the next morning, like we did.
The Pasto to Ipiales bus should cost roughly 8000COP.
GET TO RUMICHACA
Once you’ve arrived in Ipiales, and assuming you want to bypass a quick stop at one of the coolest destinations we visited on our trip, simply head to the car park of the rainbow coloured terminal and grab a taxi colectivo to Rumichaca (you will have to wait for it to pick up a couple of other passengers first though).
Ipiales to Rumichaca takes around 30 minutes and should cost 2000-2500COP per passenger. While it will likely be pretty obvious to the driver where you’re headed, they’ll probably ask you to confirm you’re stopping at migración. Say yes, obviously.
CROSS THE BORDER
First stop: the Colombian border. This was the easiest of the two migration buildings at hits border, with minimal queues and no real wait time. Don’t pay anyone a ‘fee’ if asked, as leaving Colombia is free.
WALK ACROSS THE RUMICHACA BRIDGE
Leaving the Colombian migration building, just mosey on across the bridge (which has a picture-worthy Welcome to Ecuador sign above it) and make your way to Ecuadorian migration.
OFFICIALLY ENTER ECUADOR
We definitely experienced longer queues here, so be prepared to hang around a bit more, but once you’re in the building it all goes smoothly. Do be prepared to leave larger bags outside migration though, as the security guards don’t let you into the building with them. Again, entering Ecuador is free.
Interesting observation: while I (a white girl) was handed a safety guide, my Mexican boyfriend was not, but it basically just detailed which taxis are false and which are legit. (If you’re interested, you apparently need to look for orange number plates, panic buttons inside and two strategically placed cameras near the windscreen and driver.)
Related Post: 30 Things To Know Before You Go To Ecuador
GET TO TULCÁN
Tulcán is the Ecuadorian equivalent of Ipiales in Colombia, and to get there from the border, either take a taxi for a few dollars or get into another minivan for about half the price per person. It’s only 15 minutes away.
TAKE THE BUS TO QUITO
In the manic Tulcán bus station, join the queue on the upstairs level (you can’t miss it, it’s a very small terminal) and buy your pasaje to Quito (or Ibarra, or Otavalo). We paid around $5 per person, which is about in line with the typical $1 per hour of travel bus prices in the entire country.
ARRIVAL IN QUITO
If Quito is your final destination from the Colombia-Ecuador border, remember that there are two bus terminals in the city, one in the north and the other in the south. They are not at all close together and take ages to travel between using either public or private transport. Just make sure that you know which one you want to get off at beforehand and you’ll be fine. (The northern Carcelén terminal is…rundown and very small. We were actually shocked when we got off there. However, in contrast, the southern Quitumbe terminal is super huge and modern.)
BAG SEARCHES AND A VERY INCONVENIENT VIRGIN PARADE
If you’re still reading, shame on you. And also, you know, thanks. We both know why you’re here though, and it’s clearly to revel in my border crossing misery.
The journey started off great. Easy, to be honest, although the police presence that we found was generally pretty prevalent on Ecuadorian public transport later down the line definitely took us by surprise right after crossing the border.
That in mind, and thinking we were settled in for the ride, we were surprised when just ten minutes into Colombia, a police checkpoint pulled us over, with Officer Passport Checker coming on board to check everyone’s IDs and Officer Backpack Searcher hauling out suitcases at random from the hold. I mean, so far, so kind of normal, I guess?
Only two rows back from the front of the bus it didn’t take long for me to hand over our British and Mexican passports, only to be met with a confused glance and the query (directed to my boyfriend) of whether we were travelling together. I guess me giving him both our passports in one go wasn’t the confirmation he was looking for, but seeming satisfied enough with the response, off he went up the aisle.
Weird, I thought to myself as the unlucky owners of the suitcases pulled from beneath the bus were now getting off to have them unceremoniously rifled through at the side of the road by Officer Passport Checker’s colleagues.
Oh, wait! Officer Passport Checker was back and this time, one more suspicious glance thrown in for good measure, we were instructed off the bus so they could search our rucksacks. And apparently, we were to be the only ones getting this extra special, definitely non-random treatment.
Who knew a Brit and a Mexican travelling together was such cause for concern?
It’s worth adding at this point that our harassed looking bus driver was absolutely not happy with this turn of events, especially given that our backpacks were waaaay in the depths of the hold. Even so, having us tell the police that we’d already had our bags checked (unsurprisingly) didn’t work either.
So, there we were, at the side of the Colombian border, separated off like the obvious drug smuggling suspects we were to have our bags rifled through. Meanwhile, we were both being separately grilled about how long we’d been together and whether we lived in the same place. At one point, friendly Officer Backpack Searcher found a book I was reading (a really great Daniel Samper Pizano book, by the way, called A mí que me esculquen) and asked if it was mine before flicking through the barely-held-together-with-masking-tape pages.
Uhhh, yes? I said, barely concealing a laugh at the ridiculousness of the question.
Don’t even get me started on the reaction the other officer had to the bags of mate tea my boyfriend was carrying.
Related Post: The Best Books About Colombia (COMING SOON)
Racial profiling over with, and we piled back on the bus.
But this as-of-yet, not all that bad bus journey wasn’t done with us just yet.
All was going well right up until a couple of hours outside Quito, when everything suddenly ground to a halt and we found ourselves cramped, cold, wide awake and unmistakeably caught up in a sea of brake lights and angry drivers, held up by a police barricade some four cars ahead. Great.
It didn’t take long for us to put two and two together and realise that we’d been trapped by the peregrination that takes place annually for the Virgin of Quinche.
So, in case you were in two minds, definitely don’t plan on travelling by road into Quito on the night of November 18th. It will only end with you trying to nap on a freezing cold bus for eight hours because the route doesn’t clear until 4am on the 19th.
And you’ll probably have to do a nature wee and accidentally get your feet wet in the process.
I hope you enjoyed that sweet, sweet schadenfreude about our most disastrous bus journey in South America. Anything I need to update about the Ecuador to Colombia by bus border crossing? Let me know in the comments!