Colombia to Ecuador | Via the Rumichaca bridge border crossing
We were quite nervous about making the crossing from Colombia to Ecuador via the Rumichaca bridge border crossing. Some of the stories we had heard from other travellers made it sound like a real ordeal and very stressful. Our fears turned out to be misplaced, as for us, it went surprisingly smoothly. Now this could have been total luck and on another day we may have experienced the same stress as the other people. I like to think it was partly due to a little bit of research and a lot of patience.
How to get to the Rumichaca bridge border crossing
No matter were your coming from you have to get yourself to Ipiales which is about two and a half kilometres from the bridge. We had based ourselves in Popayan which, so the bus company told us, was an eight hour bus ride away. This turned out to be a little bit on the conservative side as the journey took nearer twelve hours.
It’s a direct bus from Popayan to Ipiales which goes via Pasto. At Pasto the bus company transfered us to a shared taxi as there were only three of us making the last stretch to the border. The bus leaves from the main bus terminal in Popayan and costs 60,000 COP per person. Once in Ipiales you will see the taxi rank just next to where the bus drops you off. The taxi cost 5000 COP to our accommodation which was near the centre of town.
Where to stay before you cross the Colombia Ecuador border at Rumichaca bridge
Ipiales is not a tourist town, we didn’t venture out after dark, and there’s not much choice in the way of restaurants. I don’t think we would have stayed here if it wasn’t for the chance to see the Las Lajas Sanctuary.
How to negotiate the Colombia Ecuador border crossing a step by step Guide
Step 1 – Fill out the paperwork
First thing to do is fill in your paper work. When you entered Colombia you should have filled in a Check MIG form. We did ours online back in the UK. Up to seventy two hours before you leave Colombia you need to do the same form but click the button to say you’re leaving. For some reason, this time, when it was completed the form just disappears. We didn’t receive any confirmation.
The health form, required for Ecuador, can also be filled out online. You can download it to your email in PDF format, however they need it to be signed, so unless you can print it out it’s a waste of time doing it online, or at least that’s how it worked out for us. You will need to give the address of where you will be staying, in Ecuador, when filling in the form. It says 21 days but we got through with just the address without question.
Step 2 – Get to the Rumichaca bridge
Getting to the Rumichaca bridge you can get a taxi directly from your hotel if you stopped overnight. This costs about 8000 COP. You can also get transport directly from the bus station and you will see the collectivos close to the entrance. I believe it’s about 2500 COP per person.
Step 3 – Colombian imigration
The taxi or collectivo will drop you off below the Colombian immigration office. You will need to walk up through the zig zag barriers to the door where you will be confronted by a guard. He will ask you if you have filled out your check MIG. As we had no proof he took some convincing but he did let us in after a brief conversation; well more hand signals than speech as we have very little Spanish and he had no English.
It’s quite straight forward after that just go to the booths directed by the guard and get your stamp. There was no queue when we were there and we were straight in and out.
Step 4 – Change your cash
Afters getting your departure stamp as you walk towards the Rumichaca bridge you will be approached by the money men. These are actually official money exchangers and should have a badge to prove their status. You can haggle or ask a few for their rate. We thought this pointless as we didn’t want the hassle so we excepted the first guys offer which was quite close to the actual exchange rate.
It’s good advice to know what the COP to Dollar exchange rate is before you set off. Ecuadorian dollars are the exact same rate as the American Dollar as it’s the exact same money. They do use some coins from the old Ecuadorian currency so don’t be alarmed if you get one in your change.
Step 5 – Crossing the Rumichaca bridge
Now you just cross the bridge using the middle reservation between the two lanes until you come to the little gazebo type thing. Here they will want to stamp your health form. We had filled ours out online which was no good as we didn’t have a signature on there however, don’t despair there’s a man there selling forms for twenty five cents. Fill the form in whilst in the queue and get the stamp.
They will want to see your proof of vaccination against covid or your test results. We had downloaded ours onto our phone this was accepted without question.
Step 6 – Ecuadorian Immigration
They are a little more formal on the Ecuadorian side of the Rumichaca bridge. You need to stand in line with your face mask on (at the time of writing) and wait for the guard to allow you to pass into the office. He will point you to a line then its just a question of giving the immigration officer first your form and then your passport.
They may ask you how long you will be staying in Ecuador always say longer than you need. I didn’t get asked Lynne did. I have heard stories of people getting find because they stayed longer than the time period they said. Not sure if that happens for real or not, but it’s not worth taking the chance. That should be it and they will hand you back your stamped passport they keep the form, and you’re all done. Welcome to Ecuador.
Step 7 – Getting to Tulcan
About Ipiales & what to see before you cross the border
Ipiales is a border town and not very appealing in itself. It has a few nice plazas and is worth an hour or so wandering round the streets. It’a a good idea to do any last minute shopping here as clothes are more expensive in Ecuador. If you have anything that needs replacing now is the time. There are plenty of shops to choose from on the streets off the main plaza.
Just outside Ipiales there is a wonderful place that we would recommend visiting if you have the time. We stopped two nights so we could get a good look at this place as we didn’t want to miss it. Las Lajas Sanctuary is a wonderful church built into a deep gorge. It’s about five kilometres outside the town and can be reached by collectivo from the main bus terminal. The cost is 3000 COP per person.
The collectivo drops you off at the top of the road and its about a twenty minute walk down to the church. It’s completely free and you can wander round at will. There are a couple of view points one next to the waterfall and you can take a path that takes you down through the arches for a view from the other side.
There’s a really interesting story behind the building of the church. It’s built on the site of a miracle. The Virgin Mary appeared to a native Woman and her deaf mute daughter in 1754. They were forced into a cave by a storm and in fear of the devil who was supposed to reside in the cave the native woman felt a presence in the cave and ran out into the storm. Her daughter spoke telling her they were being visited by the virgin and not the devil.
The present building was built in early 1900’a and is the third incarnation of the sanctuary. After your visit you can walk back up passed all the tacky religious gift shops and restaurants roasting the famous snack outside on the street! The collectivos back into town are waiting where you where dropped off. It should be same price back.
Booking resources for your trip across the boarder
Tours & Tickets
You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site. Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.
For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.
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If you’re looking for that chilled out hippy vibe of fifteen years ago perhaps you may find Palomino disappointing. At times we found it more Benidorm than beguiling. Or maybe more Magaluf than mystic. Having said that if you take it for what it is a rustic holiday resort on the Caribbean coast of Colombia then you can still find plenty of reasons to visit.
Jardin, means Garden in Spanish, is a small Andean town south of Medellin which has relatively few tourists and the most interesting vibe.