You have two options when it comes to this border crossing. You could catch a bus that travels from Quito directly to Cali for around $70USD (see here for updated pricing and to purchase tickets) or you could do it yourself quite easily and have the option of stopping in to see Las Lajas Sanctuary. It’s a pretty unique place and we highly recommend checking it out before your overnight bus to Cali or Medellín. The trip in total took 20 hours (we left Quito at 10:15am and arrived in Cali at 6am the next day) and cost us just under $40USD each.
Step 1: Go to Terminal Carcelén
You can most certainly take the public bus to get to the terminal but as a matter of cost vs time, we chose to take the taxi. The taxi cost us $6USD for 2 and was a 30 minute ride. If taking the bus, we recommend you allow 1.5 hours.
Step 2: Buy bus ticket to Tulcán
When you arrive at the terminal, follow the signs to go to the stand for tickets to Tulcán. There’s no need to book bus tickets in advance as these buses travel very frequently. We arrived at the terminal at 10:45am and were on the next bus at 11am. This bus takes around 5 hours.
Tip: Ask for a discount! Our tickets dropped in price and we ended up paying $6.30USD each.
Step 3: Taxi to la frontera (the border)
When you arrive at Tulcán, taxis will be lined up ready to drive you to the border. The cost is fixed ($3.50USD) regardless of the amount of people so our tip is to ask people on your bus if they’re also heading to Colombia and split the cost to save you some coin.
Step 4: Stamp out of Ecuador / in to Colombia
The taxi will drop you right outside the immigration office. Get your stamp out of Ecuador and then cross the bridge into Colombia.
There is a building on the left about 60 meters after the bridge which is the immigration office.
Tips for changing USDs to pesos: Locals wait outside of Colombian immigration offering to exchange money. Exercise your usual wits and you shouldn’t have a problem. Make sure you have enough USDs on you because there’s no ATM.
Extra tip: Look up the exchange rate whilst you have wifi in Ecuador so that you don’t get ripped off and can negotiate a good rate.
Step 5: Taxi to the main bus terminal in Ipiales
Taxis are also waiting outside of immigration to drive you to the main bus terminal. Again, the cost is fixed (8,000 pesos / $2.80USD) so stick with your new friends to split the cost.
Step 6: Buy your bus tickets
Buy your bus tickets to Cali or Medellín. The buses are more or less the same but we wanted big and comfy seats so we picked a company with cama seats and paid 75,000 pesos ($26USD) each to Cali.
Optional: Taxi to Las Lajas Sanctuary
We had 2 hours before our bus which is the perfect amount of time for Las Lajas Sanctuary. There’s a little store near the bathrooms that offers bag storage for 2,000 pesos ($0.70USD) each. We left our bags and caught a taxi to/from Las Lajas with our new friends for 10,000 pesos / $3.50USD (4 people) each way. There is no entry fee for Las Lajas.
Note: Las Lajas closes at 7pm so if you are planning on checking it out, make sure you leave Quito no later than 10:30am.