Here's our guide on how to cross the border between Colombia and Ecuador and reach Quito on your own with public transport.
#1 pasto to ipiales
If you are anywhere else in Colombia, for example Cali, you need to make your way down the PanAmerican highway to Pasto. As the journey time is around nine hours from Cali by bus, you may end up spending the evening in Pasto.
Try to start as early as possible in the morning. From your hostel, make your way by taxi ($4,000 COP) to the bus terminal where you'll find several companies heading to Ipiales. You'll have the option of mini-buses or larger busettas, tickets for either shouldn't cost more than $8,000 COP. The buses leave pretty regularly.
Cost: $12,000 COP per person | Time: 90 minutes
#2 ipiales to rumichaca
Outside the bus station in Ipiales, you'll find all the shuttle buses leaving to Rumichaca, where the border is located.
Cost: $1,600 COP per person | Time: 20 minutes
#3 exit colombia
The bus will drop you off next to the Colombian Immigration offices. When we were there it was actually a pretty efficient and organised place with very few people trying to bother you - a welcome change in comparison to other borders in Latin America.
There are no exit fees to leave Colombia.
You will get a decent rate from the money exchange people here. HOWEVER, the lady we used had a trick button set into her calculator which deducts $2 automatically from the amount you should receive - this is probably something used by everyone offering money exchange here so be aware. We went back to her after triple-checking the maths on our own phone calculator and she gave us the difference without any quibble.
Cost: $0 | Time: 15 minutes
#4 enter ecuador
Cross the bridge and the Ecuadorian Immigation offices are straight ahead on the right hand side.
Fill in your entry form and getting your 90-day entry visa should be a formality. There are no entry fees for Ecuador. Again, this was an organised and efficient border office.
You're also given an official 'safety in Ecuador' guide advising you about fake taxis and how to spot the genuine ones.
Cost: $0 | Time: 15 minutes
#5 take the bus to tulcán
Exit the office and cross the road. You'll see some mini-vans close by. These leave when full and will bring you to Tulcán's bus terminal.
Cost: $0.75 USD | Time: 20 minutes
#6 travel from tulcán to quito
From Tulcán's bus station, you can access pretty much anyhwhere on the gringo route. Buses leave fairly frequently to Otavalo (4 hours, $3-4 ), Ibarra ( 3 hours, $3-4) or Quito (6 hours, $5). Try to stay awake during this ride as there is some absolutely stunning scenery. The buses are also of decent quality.
Also, a big warning for backpackers in Ecuador is to avoid putting your bag up in the racks or below your seat - bag-slash thefts are a real possibility. On some buses in the country, there is a scam where someone may insist that you put your bag under the seat - politely and steadfastly refuse and keep it on your lap.
There are two bus terminals in Quito (Carcelen and Quitumbe) - the bus will stop at both - so try to be aware which one is best for your hostel. A taxi from either will cost you between $10-12 in total.
Cost: $5 USD per person to Quito | Time: 6 hours
overview: colombia to ecuador
1 - Taxi to bus terminal (10 minutes, $4,000 COP per person)
2 - Bus from Pasto to Ipiales (90 minutes, $8,000 COP per person)
3 - Bus from Ipiales to Rumichaca (20 minutes, $1,600 COP per person)
4 - Leave Colombia and enter Ecuador (30 minutes, $0)
5 - Bus from border to Tulcán (20 minutes, $0.75 USD per person)
6 - Bus from Tulcán to Quito (6 hours, $5 USD per person)
Totals: $13,600 COP + $5.75 USD | 9 hours