Here's our guide on how to cross the border between Colombia and Ecuador and reach Quito on your own with public transport (updated in March 2019).
This post focuses on the most common route for travellers travelling from Colombia to Ecuador, which involves a bus from Pasto to Ipiales, crossing the border at Rumichaca - and then travelling onwards from Tulcan to Otavalo or Quito in Ecuador. This route can be done in a single day, but involves an early start and involves at least four taxis and two buses.
If you are looking for specific information on how to travel from Ecuador to Colombia using this border crossing, then please read this post.
#1 Pasto to Ipiales
If you are anywhere else in Colombia, for example Cali or Popayan, you will need to make your way down the Pan-American Highway on a bus to the border town of Ipiales. If you cannot find a direct bus from your location to Ipiales, then the most sensible option is to take one to the city of Pasto which is only a 1.5 hour journey from Ipiales.
As the journey time both Cali and Popayan to Ipiales by bus is about nine hours, you may end up spending the evening in Pasto (Casa Hospedaje La Bohemia is the best option).
For this border crossing, we recommend that you try to start as early as possible in the morning from Pasto. From your hostel, make your way by taxi ($4,000 COP) to the Pasto bus terminal where you'll find several companies heading to Ipiales. You'll have the option of speedy small minivans or larger busettas, leaving regularly, and tickets for either shouldn't cost more than $10,000 COP.
Cost: $14,000 COP per person | Time: 90 minutes
#2 Ipiales to Rumichaca
Outside the bus station in Ipiales, you'll find shuttle buses leaving to Rumichaca where the border is located ($2,000 COP per person, and just ask for ‘la frontera’).
Alternatively, you can simply take a taxi for $3 or $8,000 COP (they accept payment in either currency) which is a quicker, easier, and more comfortable option (especially if you’ve got large backpacks).
Cost: $8,000 COP per person | Time: 15 minutes
#3 exit Colombia
The bus or taxi will drop you off next to the Colombian Immigration offices. When we were there for the first time back in 2015, this 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. However, due to the Venezuelan crisis this particular border has become a key passing point for thousands of migrants in the last few years. Of course, this means delays and difficulties for crossing the Rumichaca border are very common, which is why leaving early is essential.
The situation is always changing, but expect to wait for at least 15 minutes (and please do let us know in the comments of your more recent experiences).
There are no exit fees to leave Colombia, and the queue on the left is for non-Colombians.
You will get a decent rate from the money exchange people here. HOWEVER, the lady we used in 2015 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. When changing your money at any border, it’s a good idea to not change very large amounts, double check the notes given to you before handing over your cash, and to haggle a little on the rate. Of course, you will never get the same exchange rate as you’ll find on XE, but it’s smart to have a rough idea of how much you should receive before you start the conversation at the border.
Remember that the currency in Ecuador is US dollars (and we always carry a stash of these as emergency funds when travelling).
Cost: $0 | Time: 15 minutes
#4 enter ecuador
Cross the yellow bridge and the Ecuadorian Immigation offices are straight ahead on the right hand side. There is only one office for people entering and exiting Ecuador - with a single queue - and we had a very long wait here in 2019 due to the number of Venezuelans looking to reach Ecuador.
You may be told by some men that you’re not allowed to take your luggage with you but, for obvious reasons, ignore them and under no circumstances should you be separated from your bags whilst waiting in the queue. People will often try to politely skip to the head of the queue but, given the situation, it’s best not to kick up a fuss.
Once we reached the front of the line, we were advised by the official border police (as everyone in front of us had been advised) that we really could not take our large backpacks in to the office with us. We simply took it in turns to wait with our bags / get our stamps but, if you’re a solo traveller, we aren’t really sure what to advise here. Perhaps asking the police to make an exception is your best bet as we really would not recommend being separated from your bag at a South American border crossing at the best of times, let alone when there are so many desperate people crossing with you.
Inside the office, there is a priority queue for families and the elderly, and another line for everyone else. You’ll be called to a numbered booth to get your stamp. Filling in your entry form, and getting your 90-day entry visa should be a formality.
There are no entry fees for Ecuador for UK travellers, but we recommend that you check specific entry requirements for your own nationality in advance.
You're also given an official 'safety in Ecuador' guide advising you about fake taxis and how to spot the genuine ones (which is actually a pretty big problem in Quito and Guayaquil).
Cost: $0 | Time: 30 minutes
#5 take the bus to tulcán
Exit the office and cross the road. You'll see some minivans close by. These leave when full and will bring you to Tulcán's bus terminal for $1 per person - they also accept Colombian pesos.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi for $3.50
Cost: $3.50 USD | Time: 15 minutes
#6 travel from tulcán to quito
Buses leave fairly frequently from Tulcán’s bus station (which is more like a car park) to Otavalo (3 hours, $4 ) or Quito (5-6 hours, $8). All buses headed to Quito will either stop in Otavalo or drop you off on the Pan-American Highway nearby (from where you can take a taxi for 5 minutes to your hostel in Otavalo), but make sure to double-check with the driver. The buses are of decent quality.
Try to stay awake during this ride as there is some absolutely stunning scenery.
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 on buses are a real possibility and a very common occurrence in Ecuador so please do follow this advice. On some buses in the country, there is also 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 often stop at both but it is best to double check exactly where it’s going to go in Quito - so try to be aware which one is best for your hostel. A taxi from either will cost you between $10-12 (Uber also works a treat in Quito).
For more tips on travelling in Quito, read ‘10 Things To Know Before You Visit Quito’.
Cost: $8 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, $10,000 COP per person)
3 - Taxi from Ipiales to Rumichaca (20 minutes, $8,000 COP per person)
4 - Leave Colombia and enter Ecuador (60 minutes, $0)
5 - Taxi from border to Tulcán (15 minutes, $3.5 USD per person)
6 - Bus from Tulcán to Quito (6 hours, $8 USD per person)
Totals: $22,000 COP + $11.5 USD | 9 hours