We had a lot of travel ahead of us. We had to make our way to Peru in less than 2 weeks for our volunteering, on the way hopefully seeing a bit of Ecuador.
We also had the problem that Easter was only a few days away – after our experience in the Philippines the year before we knew we’d probably need to be settled in a city for it – we’d decided on Quito as the Easter celebrations were supposed to be really good.
The first part of this involved getting a bus from Salento in Colombia to Quito in Ecuador, something we’d allocated a day for but which we quickly realised was impossible.
We left Salento town early and took a small bus to the nearest transport hub – Armenia. This cost 4,000COP per person. From Armenia we took another bus to the large town of Cali. We could have stayed here but it isn’t the most pleasant looking city so we took a third bus to the colonial town of Popayan. These buses were 16,000 and 20,000COP respectively per person. The whole days travel, including inevitable waiting around in bus stations, took 9 hours.
Popayan is a nice town to look around and I do wish we could have stayed for a day, as we only had the evening to look around before we left the next day. That said, it probably isn’t an essential stop and by this point we had seen more than our fair share of pretty colonial buildings.
The next day we could have potentially got all the way to Quito, but the buses were slower than we expected. Where we did get was Ipiales, a town virtually on the Colombia/Ecuador border. As a town it is extremely unexciting with little for tourists, except for a cathedral.
Not just any cathedral though, the Sanctuario de las Lajas is spectacular. Built in a ravine over a river, it is well worth an hour or two to visit en route.
As our hotel was a little way from the bus station, we left our backpacks at the luggage storage office at the bus station – this cost 2,000COP each and meant we could leave quickly after the church.
Outside, colectivos regularly drive the 15-20 minutes to the church and we hopped in one for only 2,000COP each. Once at the site, we walked down a long hill to the cathedral (which is fairly tough to get back up).
It was rammed full of worshippers so we couldn’t get much of a taste for the interior, however it’s the exterior we were there to see. We’d recommend climbing up the steps to the official restaurant, not for the food but for the fact you can get a better sense of how impressive the construction is, as well as get crowd free pictures.
After visiting the official museum, which wasn’t bad considering it was only 1,500COP per person, we trudged back up the hill, got a menú del dia for lunch, and caught a colectivo back to Ipiales bus depot.
From the bus station we took another colectivo to the border, where it was a standard land border – stamped out, walk across a bridge, stamped in. It was at least one of the more efficient South American borders.
Across the border we got to the bus station where Katy bought tickets while I popped to the little boys room. I got out barely 2 minutes later to the sight of Katy running away with both of our bags screaming at me to run as well. Slightly confused I jogged after her, it turned out she had bought tickets for a bus leaving that minute. We did manage to wave it down and stop it though, at least there was no waiting around!
This bus took a solid 6 hours and cost $5US each. We arrived in Quito at 7.30pm, where we then needed to get a taxi right across the huge city to the old town where we were staying, which mercifully we weren’t ripped off for. However it still cost $8, but it was 10km or so.
So it took us 3 days to get from Salento to Quito. It can certainly be done in 2, but it would be (even more) tiring. More importantly, we must have learnt our lesson about not allowing enough time for journeys? Uh, no, obviously.
In Popayan we stayed at the excellent Hostel Trail for around 58,000COP. This got us a large double room with breakfast. Most importantly, they have a wealth of information about travelling around Colombia and beyond. They actually have a very informative poster here about getting to Quito, though I think in one day is slightly optimistic, more like impossible if you want to visit Las Lajas.
In Ipiales there appeared to be a lack of decent accommodation, and the town doesn’t have a great reputation, so we headed to the upmarket Gran Hotel which was 70,000COP for a room – not a fortune but it was quite a way from the bus station and we could have got somewhere far cheaper.