Crossing the Colombian – Ecuadorian border is in fact quite easy, but it could require a bit of time and patience. There are a couple ways to cross the border by land, but one of the most popular ways is through the Rumichaca/Tulcan route. Here are the steps you need to take to cross from Colombia into Ecuador:
1. Take a bus from Ipiales to Rumichaca, Colombia.
Note: You can’t go to Ipiales without visiting the Las Lajas Sanctuary. Make sure to save a couple hours in your day to make a pit stop there if you haven’t been yet! See my post about Las Lajas for more info.
Assuming you’re in Ipiales, the first step is to take a bus (also known as a colectivo, a small bus) from the Ipiales bus station to the border town of Rumichaca. If you’re in Pasto, the larger town just north of Ipiales, you should have no problems finding frequent buses to Ipiales at the Pasto bus station.
The bus from Ipiales to Rumichaca costs $1,700cop per person (about 60 cents) and takes about 20 minutes to reach the border. Buses leave frequently from the Ipiales station to Rumichaca. We didn’t have to go into the station and buy an actual ticket, rather the buses were parked outside of the station and we paid in coins when we got out of the bus at the border. If you’re not sure where to go, find someone who works at the bus station and ask, “¿Dónde puedo coger un bus a Rumichaca?” (Where can I catch a bus to Rumichaca?) and they should be able to point you in the right direction.
2. Get an exit stamp on your passport at the Colombian side of the border
Once you get to the border, you might see a line (warning: it could be very long!) This is the line to go through Migration on the Colombian side of the border. You will need to get in this line in order to get your exit stamp in your passport. We were at the border a few days before Christmas, so it could have been longer because of that…but we ended up waiting just under 2 hours to get our exit stamp.
3. Get an entrance stamp on your passport at the Ecuadorian side of the border
After getting your Colombian exit stamp, you will need to walk across the border to the Ecuadorian migration building. Some guys might try to offer you taxi rides over the border but it takes under 5 minutes by foot (you can literally see the migration building from the Colombian side), so I recommend saving your money and crossing yourself (plus then you get to walk across a border…how cool is that?) At the Ecuadorian side, again you will see a line and you will need to stand in that line. Before you enter the building, you need to leave your suitcase or backpack outside of the building. Some groups we saw would leave one person outside to watch their bags, but our bags were perfectly safe in the pile, and I hadn’t heard of any theft happening. The Ecuadorian side of migration took us 45 minutes (way to go on that efficiency, Ecuador)!
4. Take a taxi from the border to Tulcán, Ecuador.
You’ll find many taxis waiting to take people to the border town of Tulcán. These taxis should cost $1USD per person and take about 15-20 minutes. They arrive at the bus terminal in Tulcán where you can easily catch a bus to many other cities in Ecuador, including Quito and Otavalo.
Total time crossing the border (from Rumichaca to Tulcán): 3.5 hours
To cross the border from the Ecuador side to go back into Colombia, it’s the same routine but backwards. On the way back, we didn’t want to wait for a bus from the Colombian side back to Rumichaca, so we took a taxi for $3,000cop each ($1USD). We crossed the border just a couple days after New Year’s and it took us 1.5 hours total. So be prepared for anything!
There are also many food and drink vendors standing around, and people with pesos and U.S. dollars who will offer to exchange your money. I’ve read that these vendors sometimes use rigged calculators to show you the exchange rate in order to cut them a better deal. For that reason, I exchanged my money at a little store on the border. When we asked about the exchange rate, she said it was $3,000 pesos to $1 which is the same rate I use in Colombia as well. We decided to exchange our money in the store at this rate, but I am not sure what the other exchangers state as their rate. There are also “casas de cambio” at the border, so you can easily exchange money right there before entering either country.
And as one last piece of advice, don’t forget to get that border crossing selfie! 😉