The complete guide to crossing Colombia to Ecuador by bus

Planning to travel from Colombia to Ecuador by bus? Here’s a little story about my 4-day journey plus COVID updates on border controls. Please note that I stopped almost every day and did not do this journey in one go.

I have yet to believe a lot of things lately. I’ve done and seen a lot of things within the months that I am traveling and I regret to inform you that I am not giving enough justice to how awesome these months were for I have a lot of trouble writing in English.

Flying within South America is extremely expensive (unless you’re an heiress, of course. Which I am not.) and it’s never an option for those people traveling long-term. If you have the time and you wish to save tons of dollars, taking the bus is the best option.

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from friends who took it and were on the verge of booking a one-way $300 flight but I didn’t. You see, I am after the journey, no matter how short or long it is. I am not sure if I will see something along the way but I am sure I will pick up memories that will infect me for a long time. My journey from Colombia to Ecuador by bus took 3 days but in reality, it is no longer than 20 hours. Since I was traveling alone, I wanted to stop every time the dark hit the skies.

Is the border open between Colombia and Ecuador?

Most borders in South America are closed because of the pandemic. Colombia and Ecuador closed their borders in 2020. As of June 2021, Colombia’s land borders are open while Ecuador’s border is partially open and allows entry to travelers who are qualified. Meaning, only citizens of Colombia and Ecuador who were stuck during the border closures of both countries are allowed to go in and out, given that they get a permit from both Embassies. These borders are only open for humanitarian reasons but it is said to slowly ease in the next few months.

Since Colombia’s tourism already started and the country opened, many foreigners entered the country without knowing they cannot cross Ecuador by land. You can fly to Ecuador from Colombia but you have to provide the following:

  • Proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR or rapid antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry.
  • If you are vaccinated, you don’t need to a PCR/Antigen test anymore. Just present your vaccine card.
  • If you are previously diagnosed with COVID-19, you may present a medical certificate proving so. This certificate must come from the country where you had COVID.

Visit Coronavirus Ecuador for more details. Ecuador’s Health Ministry Account on Twitter is also very updated. Follow them at @salud_ec.

Colombia to Ecuador by bus: how I did it

Day 1: Barranquilla to Cali

After having so much fun at the Carnival, I finally said goodbye to Barranquilla. Ideally, you can take a bus from Barranquilla to Cali but within the country, it’s possible to find cheap flights. I was able to book one for COP120,000 ($40), 3 days before the flight, and for me, it was a good deal. However, the airport of transit is in Sta Marta. I had to take a van from Barranquilla to Sta Marta which took me an hour and a half (the driver was insane.)

With this, I was four hours early for my flight. Flying time is 1.5 hours and at that moment, I felt that I was slowly drifting from the coast of Colombia. No more arepa con huevos, sancocho, and suero! From the airport in Cali, I took a bus (COP7,305 // $2.50) to the city center where my hostel is located.

Day 2: One night in Cali

Cali is one of the biggest cities in Colombia and is deeply rooted in culture too. It is the salsa capital of the country and I have been meaning to do some dancing when I arrived. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good timing. A liquor ban was imposed over the weekend because of the senatorial elections.


I stayed in Sunflower Hostel, one of the most-visited hostels in Cali, and spent the day teaching them social media strategies that I hope I was able to deliver successfully. Just as I was having breakfast, I heard a familiar voice calling my name — it was Michael (Switzerland), another traveler whom I met in Cali. This time, he was traveling with his girlfriend, Alicia (Mexico) and I finally met her! What a small world it is! Guess what? They’re on their way to Quito too but they’re going ahead of me. They’ve been in Cali for a while.

Day 3: 10-hour bus ride to Pasto

My life now is not about rushing anymore. Since I started traveling alone, I never pressured myself with time nor imposed myself to leave at this time, arrive at this time, whatsoever. You see, time is nuts and time is what’s making us worry about our life too much. I live for the moment. That morning, I read a book, ate breakfast, shopped for bus food, etc.

Well sometimes, taking note of time is important too. I was told the bus to Pasto leaves every hour so I grabbed a taxi to the station (COP3,000 // $1.5) and once I arrived, multiple numbers of windows surprised me. There was more than one bus company in the huge terminal but I followed Ari‘s advice to take Cootranar. I paid COP40,000 ($20) for this trip.

Growing up, my mother taught me a lot of rituals when taking public transport and one of those that I truly worship and live by is sitting at the back of the driver when taking busses. It made sense when my mother said that every time a bus gets into an accident, the driver shifts the stirring wheel to the left which makes the right side of the bus a shield of collision. Meaning, the passengers on the right side are always signing up for danger.

I was assigned to a seat on the middle right (#16) and that didn’t make me really comfortable. I went up to the driver and asked if I can change seats and immediately, he said yes. However, the only available seat is literally at the back of the driver — seat #1. Is there a problem with this? Yes, I still do have some concerns. Being in seat #1 keeps me safe from accidents but it doesn’t guarantee that I will be safe from burglary. This road is known for burglars randomly hopping the busses and robbing everyone on the bus. I was scared that I will be held hostage or whatsoever since I will be the one who they’ll see first. Totally paranoid but I like it. I’m traveling alone so I had to consider a lot of precautions. I covered my laptop with a jacket and placed my phone in a visible pocket together with the food. Well yeah, I am willing to give up my phone and not my laptop. I’ve been told that robbers are always after the phone so why not offer it first. My laptop is more important for my job.

I hailed a cab, paid COP3,000 ($1.50), and arrived at a hostel with which I don’t have any reservations. I took the chance and knocked. I thought they didn’t have room for one since this is a popular stopover for travelers crossing the border but they did have one! “Lucky you,” one of the travelers smirked at me. I guess I have to thank the Universe before I sleep. The hostel was alright but expensive for what it is. Lastly, Pasto is freaking cold.

Day 4: 2-hour bus ride to Ipiales

Wait, there’s more! I woke up at 7:00, didn’t eat, and ran back to the station. As I entered the station, I saw people sticking their heads out of the window of the ticket booth(s) while screaming at different places like Ipiales, Cali, Popayan, etc. I figured this is a competition for getting passengers so I walked past them and entered a mini restaurant to have breakfast. I’m not in a hurry, remember? And yes, I had rice and vegetables for breakfast. I randomly picked a window, bought my ticket to Pasto (COP7,000 // $3.50), and loaded my bag into the van. Apparently, the van doesn’t leave until it’s full. I was the first one to board and waited for more than an hour.

Last stop before Ecuador: Las Lajas Sanctuary, located at the Colombia and Peru borders

I felt like an idiot for sleeping all the way. The road to the border is amazing! I was able to see 30 minutes of the view(s) and realized I will be seeing more of this when I arrive in Ecuador. I have established that Ecuador is high, made up of mountains, and sadly, cold.

Still Day 4: 20-minute collectivo to the border

I haven’t counted how many bus and van transfers I made but it sure is a lot. From Ipiales, I took another van which was full in 2 minutes. I paid COP1,000 ($0.50) for this trip. The border of Colombia and Ecuador is called Rumichaca and I didn’t know that not until I arrived. The driver was insisting that I am going this way but I still kept saying I am going to the border.

He dropped me at the immigration office of Colombia where I was swarmed by men changing Colombian Pesos to Dollars. Yes, Ecuador’s currency is in U$D. I had COP30,000 ($15) left, enough for me to take a bus to Quito. The line wasn’t that long and I was able to finish the stamping process in 10 minutes.

The same guy who changed my Colombian Pesos asked me to walk down to the borderline and get my entry stamp at the Immigration Office of Ecuador. I was walking slowly because I was observing people: who can take photos of me? I’m in two places at once and after Budapest, this is a moment that took my breath away! I have to have a photo. During the bus ride to Pasto, I sat with two old women who told me not to trust people on the border because it is extremely dangerous. They even told me NOT to buy water, cigarettes, or anything that I have to take using my mouth because it might be poisoned. So I didn’t. I didn’t have a photo too.

The line at the Immigration Office of Ecuador is not too bad too. They have a pretty decent office and Immigration Officers are dressed to the nines. I handed my passport to the lady, she looked at me and said, “Filipinas”, stamped it and off I go. I was done in 3 minutes!

“Welcome to Ecuador.”

Still Day 4: 5 hours to Quito

I just told you it’s not to safe to drink water at the border and I forgot about it myself. I was so tired and thirsty I bought a bottle and ended up not drinking it. From the border, I took another van to a bus terminal ($0.75) where the busses to Quito are located. There, I believe it safe to buy food and drinks. As a matter of fact, I did and the bus almost left me. Imagine, I hopped on the bus while it is moving! It’s insane! I wasn’t able to sleep well because the conductor keeps waking me up every hour. Apparently, I have to show my bag to police officers at every checkpoint. They poked my clothes with a stick and I had to fix it all the time (take it in and out). I forgot to mention that the bus to Quito from the border is only for $5.

Finally, I arrived in freezing Quito, took a taxi to the guesthouse I am volunteering in. From the station, the taxi cost $10.

Important note: I met a lot of travelers on the road who had to go back to the border because they forgot their passports stamped. There are no people or authorities on the border who will tell you how to do things so you have to take note of this. In fact, you can walk freely in and out of the border without people checking you.

Plaza de San Francisco, Quito old town

Colombia to Ecuador by bus quick summary

To help you better for your trip, below is a summary of my travel from Colombia to Ecuador:

  • Start in Cali, Colombia. It is easier to get to Ecuador through this city.
  • From Cali, take a bus to Pasto. This will take 10 hours and will cost you COP40,000 ($20).
  • Take a night’s rest once you arrive Pasto (or not). It really depends on your travel plan. As for me, I am traveling alone and would prefer to be safe. A hostel in Pasto will cost you around COP20,000 ($10).
  • From Pasto, take another bus to Ipiales. It’s 2 hours away and you’ll only pay COP7,000 ($3.50). Don’t sleep. The view is fantastic.
  • Once you arrive at the station in Ipiales, there will be signs saying A La Frontera (to the border). Take that van and take note that the city where the border is, is called Rumichaca. This will only take 10-20 minutes and the fare is COP1,000 ($.50).
    Once you are at Rumichaca, exchange the rest of your Colombian Pesos to US Dollars (currency in Ecuador). You will only need $10 to make it to Quito.
  • Go to the Immigration Office of Colombia and don’t forget your EXIT STAMP.
  • Cross to the Immigration Office of Ecuador and get your ENTRY STAMP.
  • Take a van to Tuculpa station. This costs $0.75 depending if it’s shared. You can take a private taxi too.
  • From there, you can take the bus to Quito. It will take you 5-6 hours depending on the speed of the driver, the weather, and the stops. DON’T SLEEP. The mountain view is spectacular. This only costs $5.
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    1. Hey! Thank you so much for reading! Flying from Quito to Peru is not that expensive so I have three weeks to think if I am taking the bus or booking a flight. However, I’d still want to push through the road trip. Thanks again!

    2. Take the bus to Loja then pass to the border passing Cariamanga to the inland border crossing. The coast is ugly, dirty on both sides of the border. In Peru on this route is Piura a wonderful city. From Piura pass to the coast and continue to Lima, read up and find a village and don’t miss Trujillo and see some coastal ruins. The main rule is days are safe, nights more care needed. Since 1988 obsessed with this region now live in Cali. Honestly the coastal route YUK!, inland route incredible. Trust me if you can. I will follow trip if you write again.

  1. Awesome! Last week someone actually told me that it´s dangerous to go by bus but I really really want to do it by bus so your post helped me making the decision!

  2. Trisha,
    I’m traveling alone in Latin America as well. However, I have to say…it would be way more expensive for me to get robbed than it would for me to take a flight, and I lived in Peru so I know how often these things happen.
    Let me know if you need help when you are in Peru. Es mi querencia. <3
    Maybe I’ll see you on the road 😉
    Best wishes,
    Tina of

  3. Nice overview – and thanks for sharing my post! This journey definitely makes a lot of people nervous, but with some preparation it’s not so bad. Reading this brought back so many memories, especially always being the first to get in a shared cab or minibus and having to wait aaaaaages for it to fill up before we could leave!

  4. It sounds like you had quite a journey. I think 3 days on a bus might be too much for me, but I completely understand wanting to have the adventure.

  5. What an adventure. Very informative post, you make it very easy traveling from Colombia to Ecuador by bus. I really don’t understand why the want to poison people with the water.

  6. Your journey is how make it as well, using the cheapest means of travel – mostly the public transport while traveling. Some great tips about the stamping, surprised that you can actually pass unnoticed.

  7. I enjoyed reading your article. I wonder how many hours that you were on a bus but it was worth it. I like that you gave a very important note. It would be a lot of hassle if you have to go back to the border.

  8. Sounds like quite the journey! Thanks for this overview – we’ve done our fair share of long distance bus journeys in our time, though now as a personal preference prefer to grab the flights. Usually only when they’re cheap enough, as much as the bus trips are adventurous and about the journey, I think I’ve had my fill! But they’re definitely an incredible option for budget travel, and a great way to immerse yourself in local life, and to see parts of the country you miss when you fly.

  9. It’s good to know how much cheaper, not to mention adventurous, crossing overland between Colombia and Ecuador is! Also cool that you wrote this to preserve your memories from this journey. Sounds like it was an interesting experience to say the least!

  10. Hey is all that stuff about the bus and sitting behind the driver cause prior to an accident he will turn the stirring wheel to the left thus exposing the right side of the bus to danger a fact. Interesting. You get props from me I can’t stand being on a bus for more than a few hours. #1 I’m tall. #2 I get motion sick in buses for some reason. However I do agree with you about time and always being in a rush…

  11. Wow, I can’t believe it took so long! I’ve been to Ecuador, but I flew in. It was nice of those older women to warn you about what to look out for. Some people might not have taken them to heart, but I feel it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

  12. Great post and giving us some great insight on what to expect when we travel to South America (as we never done it). Great write up. 🙂

  13. Ughh I hate that flights within South America are so expensive! This is such a down fall for us because all over options seem tough for us with the little one. Kudos to you! I am not good with roadtrips in general but its all about the journey !

  14. Interesting experiences. I was woken up at checkpoints for search while traveling in bus in eastern part of India so I can relate to your sleeplessness. Stories like these never loose their charm how much ever old they may be.

  15. Traveling by bus especially if it’s a long-distance journey can be very uncomfortable but also quite a fun trip. Colombia and Ecuador are definitely places I want to visit and South America in general, my biggest travel dream. Thanks for the tips.

  16. What a journey to get from Colombia to Ecuador by bus! Glad that you made it through safely. Thanks for the reminder about stamping! It’s a very important thing to remember.

  17. You’re so adventurous! I love that you embrace slow travel and figure that things will work out & they do. Great tip about sitting behind the bus driver – on any bus.

  18. Thank you for this vivid, detailed account of this border crossing. I always prefer traveling over land but seeing the insane number of stops you made and mini buses you took. Have you done the math? Is it really cheaper than flying?

    Happy continued travels!

  19. Hey, Trisha, sounds like you had a hell of a good time in South America!! Thanks for sharing that and the advises. I would easily just walk without having my passport stamped, than who knows!

  20. Hi, sounds like an interesting time! I do have a question about the timing. My husband and I are going from Colombia to Ecuador and deciding between a bus or flying in June. However, we only have 14 days total for the entire trip. Do you think that the travel time by bus to experience the scenery is worth the 2 day travel period? Sounds like a beautiful adventure just trying to take into account whether the cost is worth using two days of the trip and my motion sickness.

  21. Hey guys! I would like to send out a warning and a definite recommendation to take a flight to Colombia.
    We were waiting in line for 8 hours in the burning sun just to get the exit stamp of Colombia. 2000 refugees from Venezuela I front of us. 10:30-17:30 after a 21h Bus Ride from Bogóta!
    Then headed over to Ecuador Migration costumes and all got a number after an hour just waiting in a line that didn’t move. Then it got cold. Then it rained. Disturbing pictures of children freezing and searching for shelter in front of the migration doors. Us, still in line soaked waited until 1:30 am when we finally got our entrance stamp.
    Then headed to bus stop in Tulcan, waited 3 hours again too many people for not enough buses- freezing cold.

    Please don’t cross the borders until everything settled it’s terrible!

    Hope I could help xxx

  22. Did the busses feel safe in terms of driving? I took one in Colombia once and thought I was going to die the entire time the way he was driving!

  23. Hi I just did this trip and the border is now open and i think it had been for awhile. You need a health declaration form done online but it didn’t work for me so the guy at the immigration line gave me a stamp and a piece of paper which worked. The bus from Pasto to Ipiales was 15000 cop not 7000, inflation! Bus at Tucan to Quito is $7.

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