Ecuador to Colombia by bus. How to get from Quito to Ipiales over land?

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When backpacking in South America, there will be quite a bit of bus travel along the way, especially when you’re on a budget like us!

Border crossings are always a bit tricky and people often wonder how to get started on planning this trip.

I can already spoil it a little for you: your planning will probably get messed up!

The best and cheapest way to cover the distance between Ecuador and Colombia is by bus. Before you start, know that the journey might take a lot longer than anticipated. Buses get cancelled and tourists often pay their bus trip double.

So we put this trip plan on paper and explain all the steps one by one.

Then you can adapt the journey as you like, meaning that you can stop in the different places along the way if you like.

So this is the easy way to get from Ecuador to Colombia by bus. More specifically, this is how you get from Quito in Ecuador, to Ipiales in Colombia.

From Quito, you have a few options in getting to the Colombian border. Many backpackers want to make a stopover in Otovalo, because of the famous market.

Note: Otavalo market is on Saturday. If you’re traveling on a different day, don’t bother stopping in Otavalo, since there’s not that much to see.

Option 1: Straight to the border

If you’re going straight to the border, you need to get a bus from Quito to Tulcan, the last town before the Colombian border.

Going straight to the border is cheaper, since they will charge you more for the 2 seperate journeys.

Quito to the border with Colombia

  • Bus terminal in Quito: Terminal Carcelen (Terminal Norte)
  • Trip duration: 4 hours
  • Ticket price: 5$ - 4,5€ (prices may vary)
  • Buy tickets: in the terminal only
  • Frequency: every 30 minutes
  • Bus terminal in Tulcan: Terminal Terrestre de Tulcan

Option 2: Stopover in Otavalo

Care for a stopover in Otavalo? We did the same, but it was a Thursday and we might as well just gone straight to the border! Make it a Saturday to visit Otavalo!

You can either do this stopover in a few hours, or spend the night in Otavalo.

Either way you choose, you need to take these buses:

First bus: Quito to Otavalo

This is 1 direct bus.

You don’t have to book your tickets in advance, just go to the bus terminal in the North of Quito.

Buses leave the Carcelen Terminal all the time and you can catch a bus at least once every hour, usually more.

Quito to Otavalo Bus

  • Bus terminal in Quito: Terminal Carcelen (Terminal Norte)
  • Trip duration: 2 hours
  • Ticket price: 3$ - 2,7€ (prices may vary)
  • Buy tickets: in the terminal only
  • Frequency: Multiple departures each hour
  • Bus terminal in Otavalo: There is only 1 terminal

Second Bus: Otavalo to Tulcan

The buses to your next destination leave in the same place they dropped you earlier (when you came from Quito)

Try to catch a bus straight to Tulcan.

There are also buses leaving for Ibarra, but you don’t want to get stuck there. Ticket sellers may try to get you on a bus to Ibarra, telling you it’s the same or there’s no direct bus to Tulcan. This is not true!

Otavalo to Tulcan Bus

  • Bus terminal in Otavalo: There is only 1 terminal
  • Trip duration: 3 hours
  • Ticket price: up to 5$ - 4,5€ (prices may vary)
  • Buy tickets: in the terminal only
  • Frequency: every 30 minutes
  • Bus terminal in Tulcan: There is only 1 terminal

Step 2: Tulcan to the border of Ecuador

Tulcan is the last town before you reach the border. But you’re not there yet!

You need to make it to the Rumichacha International Bridge.

At the bus terminal in Tulcan, taxi drivers and collectivo driver will be lined up in order to get you into their vehicle.

Pro tip: Try to share your taxi with other backpackers to split the cost!

Tulcan to the border

  • Trip duration: 10 to 15 minutes
  • Ticket price: up to 5$ - 4,5€ (prices may vary)

Step 3: cross 2 borders!

As it goes with every border crossing, you need to cross both borders.

First, you need to leave one country and get your exit stamp. Then you need to enter the next country and get your entry stamp.

Leaving Ecuador

For us, this part took forever.

There were just so many people lining up at this border. We had to wait for a very long time before even reaching the office.

Apparently, this problem is still accurate and waiting times for this border crossing can be super long.

Prepare to lose some time here!

Once you eventually reach the office, an employee will have a look at your passport to see if you didn’t overstay your welcome.

If all is good, you get your exit stamp and are ready to move on!

Exit Ecuador

  • Time needed: Variable / At least 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • Exit fee: Free of charge
  • Pro tip: Arrive early to avoid the massive crowds

Crossing the Rumichaca International Bridge

With your exit stamp in your passport, you can start walking towards the Colombian migration office.

To do so, you have to cross the famous Rumichaca International Bridge. It’s mostly famous because a Colombia criminal had to leave the country passing this bridge decades ago.

This bridge can be as crowded as the Ecuadorian migration office.

Entering Colombia

You now reached the Colombian migration office, where you need to get your entry stamp.

We found this part of the border crossing to be easy and straight forward, compared to the first part of the crossing!

There are a dozen of small offices and you have to wait behind the line until one of the officials calls you.

Prepare to be asked a few questions about your stay in Colombia. We were asked which places we wanted to visit in Colombia and absolutely loved this question, since we were super excited about traveling through this marvelous country. So we started to sum up some of the dozens of destinations we researched. The officer stopped us in our ramble, telling us that he heard enough! We were obviously regular backpackers!

Enter Colombia

  • Time needed: Variable / It took us only 15 minutes
  • Entry fee: There’s no entrance fee in Colombia
  • Time granted: You can get up to 90 days to visit Colombia

Step 4: On your way to Ipiales

Now you need to get from the border to the nearby town of Ipiales.

Taxi’s and collectivo’s are the best 2 options to make this trip.

If there are a lot of people waiting to get to Ipiales, it could take a while before you can catch a collectivo, which probably resembles a can of sardines by then. But if you’re lucky, you’ll be in Ipiales in no time.

Border to Ipiales

  • Time needed: Variable / 10 to 15 minutes regularly
  • Cost of this trip: Less than 3€ for a taxi
  • Pro tip: Find other backpacker to split the taxi

Important note about money!

You just entered a new country and there’s a different currency. This is always an important fact to remember, because you have a few choice to handle this.

Keep paying with your previous currency (or dollars) until you reach an ATM

This is a reasonably good choice.

Close to the border, people will gladly take your dollars or money from the neighboring country.

Prepare to pay a little more for things and services as they will always round the amount to be payed upwards.

Changing money at the border

We don’t recommend doing this, as there are a lot of scams going on with border money exchange.

But if you have to do it, change only a little bit of money and keep you eyes open while doing the exchange.

Change money with travelers

This is our favorite way of doing it!

In our last destination before the border, we talk to backpackers who just left the country you’re traveling to.

Chances are good they’re still carrying money from the previous country and they want to get rid of it. You have some money from of the country you’re leaving!

It’s just perfect!

You might need to meet each other in the middle when it comes to exchange rates. But I ust admit, I rather get a slightly worse exchange rate when swapping money with a fellow traveler, than baing scammed at the border!

Arriving in Ipiales

Taxi drivers and collectivo’s coming from the border, drop people of near the bus terminal.

And the bus terminal is an excellent place to catch a bus to continue your travels.

The Ipiales bus terminal felt a bit weird for us and we didn’t like being there too much.

For this journey, we’re outlining a trip from Quito to Popayan, but you can actually choose many different destinations in Colombia from the Ipiales terminal.

From Ipiales, you can easily catch a bus to a variety of destination, like Pasto, Popayan, Cali, Bogota, or Medellin.

We decided to get out of the Ipiales terminal as soon as possible and just boarded a bus to Pasto, which was not really an interesting stop to make. After that, we continued our journey to Popayan! The White City of Popayan is an interesting an fun stop, so if you can make it there in one trip: do so!

On our way back South, we did spend a night in Ipiales to visit the Las Lajas Cathedral, which is super impressive and totally worthy of the extra travel day!

Conclusion - Crossing the border from Ecuador to Colombia

This bordercrossing isn’t too difficult to do. You just have too look out for a few hurdles for travelers, especially if you don’t speak any Spanish.

Most hurdles or tourst scams happen on border crossing trips, because packpackers tend to be very on edge when doing a crossing. There’s no reason for that and you should see it as a regular travel day, just with a few extra stamps.

A few things we feel like repeating in this conclusion:

Try not to change money at the border!

Think about stopover on this route. Cool stopovers are Otavalo and the Ipiales Sanctuary.

If you can make it to Popayan in 1 travel day, you should. There’s nothing to see in Pasto!

We really hope you have an awesome travel day and nobody is lining up at the migration offices along the way! Happy travels!

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Ecuador to Colombia by bus. How to get from Quito to Ipiales over land

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