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How To: From Salento, Colombia to Otavalo, Ecuador

Travelling from Salento in Colombia “eje cafetero” to Ecuador’s antiquated and Indian filled Otavalo, turned out to be quite an easy journey. No small feat considering it’s quite long and involves an international border crossing, which can be complicated at the best of times.  Read on, dear reader, for our ungraceful step by step guide on how to tackle this epic voyage.

Table of Contents

Salento to Armenia:

From Salento take a bus from the station on Calle 5 for 4800 COP (€1.50) straight to Armenia. The journey takes about 45 minutes and should drop you directly at the terminal where you can catch your onward bus. You pay on the bus.

Armenia to Cali / Pasto:

From the terminal in Armenia you can head for either Cali, if you want to squeeze in another stop, or like us head straight for Pasto. There are 2 companies that run services to Pasto from Armenia. Trusty old Bolivariano run direct buses non stop (as in no midnight pick ups) which, on this route apparently, is a good idea as there have been instances of hold ups/robberies. Tickets are 85,000 COP (€26) the bus leaves at 6:30pm and takes about 12 hours. Be sure to either get there early or pre-book as seats are limited and the bus fills up quickly (especially the day after Colombian Independence day… D’oh).

Your other option is the slightly cheaper (64,000 COP / €20) Flora Magdalena. They run buses at 4pm, 7pm and 9pm all taking approximately 12 hours, although they do pick up passengers along the way. We had heard of the infamous Darían Gap, aka Pan American Highway and the hold ups that have been known to occur on buses here. This was confirmed by the salesman who told us that “we should be fine, there hasn’t been a hold up in ages and there’s a heavier police presence here these days”.

Admittedly we were sceptical, but with no other choice  we decided to give it a go. When we tried to buy our tickets we were informed that there had been an accident between two trucks blocking traffic on the road from Bogotá and that he couldn’t sell us tickets until he knew the bus was on the road again.

We took this as an omen and decided to look into accommodation and spend the night in Armenia. There are a few hostel options close to the terminal for about 30,000COP (€9) but believe me after 10 minutes we decided to take our chances hanging out in the terminal and hoping the bandit bus would show up.

At about 8pm the 4pm bus arrived and we boarded and off we went. There were absolutely no problems at all on the journey barring the fact that a rather rotund lady ignored the “no pooing on the bus rule” (yes that’s actually a thing here) and stank the bus out. We arrived at Pasto at about 9:30 am.

Pasto to Ipiales:

From Pasto there are a number of buses going to Ipiales, Get your haggle on. We got a bus with Trans Sandona (in the main part of the terminal) for 8000 cop pp (€2.80). Buses leave every 20 minutes.

Ipiales to Rumichaca:

Since you’re in Ipiales anyway, why not break up the journey with a quick stop at the Hogwarts-esque Santuario de las Lajas. A beautiful Church about 15 minutes outside town. Leave your bags in a secure lock up at the bus terminal (located inside under the stairs, near the ATM) for 2000 COP (€0.60)pp and grab a colectivo from outside the door of the station for 2500 COP (€0.80) each way. Alohomora!

Alternatively, if you’re looking to cross the border straight away, outside the bus terminal there are collectivos to the border town of  Rumichaca. They leave when they’re full (so very, very full) and cost 2000 cop pp (€0.60). Tell the driver you’re headed for immigration, he’ll probably have guessed, but tell him anyway.

Crossing the Border:

The collectivo will drop you at a large yellow bridge, El Puente de Rumichaca, the bridge between the two countries, facing the sign that says “welcome to Ecuador”. Behind you is Colombian immigration, it’s up the stairs in a brown building. You will need to stamp out of Colombia here before proceeding.

Once stamped, cross the bridge to Ecuadorian immigration, a white building. You can’t miss it. There are no entry or exit fees and this is by far the most efficient border crossing to date. The agents were so lovely, chatting away and making sure we enjoyed our stay or welcoming us. All in all a pleasurable experience and a nice change from the grumpy officials of Central America. You are even given a safety booklet on arrival. Handy!

Tulcan Bus Station:

Wherever your first stop is, you’ll need to get to the Tulcan bus station. Exit immigration and take a right, cross the road and up to your right there are small white buses called “supertaxis” that cost 0.75 USD (€0.50) and take 20 minutes or so. Nice, easy, done.

From Tulcan bus station, you can grab a bus direct to Quito or like us, to Otavalo. We paid $7.50 USD (€6.30) for both of us. It’s a beautiful 4 hour drive to Otavalo, unless you need to pee, there’s no toilet on board. Just sayin’.

So there you have it guys. Nice. Easy. Done. As always, if you have any questions, or need any more info, or just want to say hi, please feel free to get in touch.



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