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How to get from Quito to Colombia (Ipiales, Pasto or Cali) By Bus (2018 update)


There are two options to get from Quito (Ecuador) and across the border into Colombia, both of which are quite straightforward (updated 2018). You can either take a direct bus with one of the international flotas or you can make the journey yourself in a couple of small sections.

Update 2018:  We’ve received dozens of comments from people who’ve made the trip far more recently that we have.  Check out the comments below for the latest advice (and thanks for the help everyone!). 

The latter may seem more complicated but it’s actually quite easy and, given that the direct bus costs around US$70, is much more cost effective at less than US$40. If you would rather get the direct bus, head to one of the main stations to book a ticket. Some companies (Cruz del Sur, for example) only run this service once a week so book in advance.

To make the journey yourself, you can follow these steps (Update May 2016, see comments from reader Stevie with some up to date info):

Step 1: Terminal Terrestre Carcelen

Get up early (around 6 or 7, it’s safer to make the border crossing in the day time) and get a bus or a taxi to Terminal Terrestre (Carcelen).  Most of the main terminals will run the bus you need but Carcelen is smaller and cheaper, used more by locals than tourists.

Step 2: Tulcan

Jump on a local bus to Tulcan.  This is the last town on the Ecuadorian side of the border.  Most of the companies in the station run the Tulcan route, so there’s a bus every 30 minutes or so. The cost is around US$8.

Step 3: Border Crossing

From Tulcan you can get a taxi to the border – just ask for La frontera; you probably won’t have to as most of them shout “border?” at tourists as they get off the bus.  Don’t pay more than US$4 – agree a price before you set off.  Once you reach immigration you’ll need to get your exit stamp from Ecuador then cross the bridge on foot and get your entry stamp into Colombia.

Step 4: Ipiales

On the Colombian side of the border – once you have your stamp – ignore the unofficial taxis (most of them white) and hail a yellow taxi from outside of the immigration office. They have an official tariff of CoP$6000 to take you to Ipiales bus station, which is the next stop.

Step 5 (Optional):  Las Lajas Sanctuary

There really isn’t much to do in Ipiales, except for the spectacular Las Lajas Sanctuary, an ornate church which spans  the width of a canyon.  I would advise that you check the time of your next bus (leave your bags with the bus company or in the official luggage storage room) and make the 15 minute taxi ride to Las Lajas. An hour there would be enough and there are always taxis to return to the station.

Step 6: Choose your Destination

From Ipiales bus station there are regular buses to most destinations, making it easy to get to Pasto, Popayan, Medellin, or Cali. Most of these buses are long but you should have arrived at a good time to take a night bus. We paid CoP$40,000 with TransIpiales for a night bus to Cali, which had on-board wifi.

The entire journey from Quito to Cali, including stopping at Las Lajas briefly, took 25 hours and cost around $34.

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Paddy

Paddy likes cold beers, wide landscapes and ancient ruins - sometimes all at the same time. "Not all those who wander are lost".

Random Acts of Kindness While On the Road wp.me/p4OCYX-I3

28 thoughts on “How to get from Quito to Colombia (Ipiales, Pasto or Cali) By Bus (2018 update)

  1. Thanks for the info helpful! Do you know how to get from Pasto to San Agustin, and approximately how long the trip takes?

    Thanks!
    Sloan

  2. Oh my goodness… this is the clearest and most simple instruction I´ve read regarding crossing the border. THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES.

    P.S. I need to get to Bogotá, do you have a recommendation of flying from Pasto / Cali or just bus it there?

  3. Great info… Do you think the border crossing is safe enough for a young girl travelling by herself. Also, how safe are the taxis? I’m always hesitant to use taxis, especially at border crossings. :) Any info would be much appreciated! :)

    1. Hi Leeski – there are normally a few people looking to make the crossing, so my advice would be to try and stick with some other people, just in case you get stuck.

      In our experience the taxis seemed pretty safe… just agree a price in advance and, again, try and make the journey with someone else :)

      Enjoy your trip!

      1. I just did the border crossing between Ecuador and Colombia this August and there were thousands of people. In fact there was a traffics of two hours to go 2 km. Obviously I don’t know if this is everyday or just the weekend (I was there Friday) or just this one off, but I understand that there are constantly people. I felt extremely safe. Also I was there around noon (the border is only open for crossing between 7am and 7pm if I remember correctly). Note, if you need to change money only do it at the official money changer at the hotel. From there I found few taxis (maybe looking at the wrong place?) so I actually walked the 2 km to Pasto. From there I took one of the shared taxis to Ipiales. I share with local strangers (one of them a beggar). I felt pretty safe but then again I have many years of traveling and being in random situations as such and can speak Spanish.

  4. Thanks !!! I have a question, do you think is it safe doing this trip alone as a girl? I reeealy want to visit Lajas Santuary and Cali, but a little afraid of it. Thx!

    1. The Sanctuary is pretty crowded and feels very safe. BUT as usual… be careful with taxis when travelling alone. My advice would be try and make the journey with someone else, there was plenty of tourists at the bus station, too, so I’m sure this will be simple enough.

      Thanks for reading!

    2. I did the trip alone (following this article) and it went fine. Obviously I do not know your traveling experience or if you speak Spanish so in addition to what Paddy wrote, I would also recommend doing it during midday (between noon and 4pm). Besides the transporation part, it´s really not scary in anyway. And I say transportation part because that´s the more complicated part finding a taxi and feeling comfortable with who you´re riding with. They generally won´t just take one person anyway (unless you pay for 4 people) because they want to max out on their earnings as much as possible. The price is also pretty much fixed per person. When I went in August 2015 it was 1.100 COPS per person one way.

  5. Hi Paddy,

    Cheers for the Info it is very clear and useful. I just wanted to provide some updated details on this journey I just did in May 2016:

    Taxi to Centro historico to bus station – $8 (25 mins) maybe a couple of dollars cheaper from Maricial area, I think it’s possible to get one of the metro lines towards this direction and jump off and get a taxi for the final part that could save money if needed.

    Bus to Ipiales – $6 (5ish hours)

    Taxi from Ipiales to the border – $3.5 (10 mins)

    Taxi from Colombian immigration to Ipiales bus station in official yellow taxi – 8000 COP approx $3 (10 mins)

    Transipiales bus from Ipiales to Cali 45000 COP approx $15 (12 hours)

    We didn’t have time to do the trip to the church which was a shame as it looks impressive.

    I also think that unless you need to get to Cali sooner there is no point leaving at 6/7 in morning from Quito. As you would get to Ipiales way too early and personally I’d rather get a night bus that doesn’t arrive super early. (4, 5, 6, 7) as it can be hard to check in at these times)

    We left Quito at around 11:45am and arrived at Ipiales bus station at around 6:30pm. This meant we still crossed in day light but only just. If you want to see the church I would set of an 90 mins or so earlier as this would give you time to visit it.

    The crossing itself was very easy and there wasn’t a queue at all on both sides for immigration at this time. There was also a coach company that sold direct buses from the border to cali, pasto, etc for 40000 COP but we wanted to get some food before boarding and that bus would have got to Cali for 6ish so we went to the station Instead. (Very limited food options here as well)

    Transipales bus was fine during the night although it stops a couple of times in Pasto, etc but I think all the buses looked very similar so I doubt there is much difference between any of them. They are very frequent, more or less every hour until 10pm for Transipiales and then other companies run at similar times or inbetween these hours. We got the 9pm bus but could have easily got an earlier one I needed and arrived into Cali at around 9am the next day.

    Cheers

    Stevie

  6. I dont understand on Stevens comment about the bus to ipiales and then bus from ipailes to the border? isnt he coming from Quito? sorry im confused and looking to make this trip this weekend

  7. Hi Paddy

    This article was exactly what we were searching for, thank you so much for being so precisely! We’ll try your recommended way in two weeks.

    All the best,
    Diego and Iva

  8. Hi and thanks a lot for useful info.gonna do it in 2 days and I red in other place(info of 2012) that the night bus from ipiales to popayan or cali is dangerous and got stolen many times.snd they recommend to spend a night in ipiales o pasto and take a early morning bus to cali o popayan. .is it safe now?

  9. Hi
    Thanks for the info. Stevie’s bit needs a few corrections, I think.
    The border town in Ecuador is called Tulcan. (Ipiales is the Colombian side so the bus you take from Quito is from Quito to Tulcan).
    Taxi from ‘Tulcan’ to the border (not ‘Ipiales’ .. this could confuse people)

    A tip: The locals get ‘colectivos’ (the white taxis) at the border, sharing with a few other people, which is many times cheaper than taking taxis. I always use these.

    Thanks!

  10. Hey there! I did this crossing a few days ago, i did the trip Quito/Medellin. Just want to give an Update.

    I took a Cab around 7am from Quito Center for 10 dollars {could have been cheaper if you ask straight for 7/8 dollars i gues} to the Northern Bus Terminal Carcelen.

    There I went to the Company Velotax {Tulcan is written there as well} the Ticket is 10 Dollars my Bus left 8.20am {goes every day} and arrived in Tulcan at 1.30pm. I can highly recommend this Company in front of the Platform {Number 5} theres a waiting room with seats and energyplugs, the bus itself is very nice, comfortable, pretty new, on time and the driving was also good. No toilets in the Bus but they make a stop after 2 1/2 hours.

    In Tulcan i took a Cab for 3.5 Dollars to the Border.
    Here watch out!
    The first thing to do is go to the Ecuadorian Migration Point and get your stamp for leaving the Country! My Taxi droped me on the Colombian Migration Point and i had to walk back to Ecuador {dont worry just 1/2min walk} i was lucky and a friendly woman told me that before i tried to leave to Colombia. After that walk to the Colombian migration Point {ONLY OPENED FROM 7AM TO 12 AND 2PM TO 7PM} get your stamp and take a Cab {3 dollars} to Ipiales Busterminal. I arrived at the Terminal around 2.40pm so the border crossing from Tulcan to Ipiales took me just about 1 hour in total. From Ipiales i took a Bus to Medellin for 39 dollars {3pm to 11.20 am next day}

    If you coming from Peru. I took a Emtrafesa Bus from Trujillo to Chiclayo i think around 4 hours and 5 dollars. than a 15 hours bus to guayaquil Superciva 35 dollars {this one was supernice, single seat and a meal and drinks}. In Guayaquil i took a company with Ecuador in the name i forgot the rest. {I asked a Securityguard for the Best Company.} its 11 dollars to Quito.

    I hope i could give you some new Details you can need!

    Cheers

    Tony

  11. Hey! I just did this border crossing a few days ago and it wenr life this: I left my hostel in centeo historico at around 9:30 and took the Trolebus to carcelen terminal (25c). As I got there a bus by Expreso Tulcan was about to leave, it was around 10:30 by that time and I paid 6$. Once I got to Tulcan Bus terminal it was 4. There were many people changing money but the rate at the border is slightly better. A taxi to the border was 3,50$. Crossing was easy, no queues and once on the colombian side I got a colectivo for 2.000COP (~70c) to the bus terminal. A local suggested me to buy my ticket to cali directly at the transipiales office at the border, but I didnt have cash so I just got a paper and had toto pay once at tye bus, station. It was 5.000COP cheaper than at the bus station, so I just paid 35.000COP. I got a bus at 5:15pm, but there were plenty of buses leaving until 10pm I guess, so there would have been enough time to visit Las Lajas.
    The whole trip lasted approximately 20h from, Quito to Cali andand cost around 20$.

  12. Hi Paddy

    Thanks for this super-helpful guide. I did the crossing yesterday, and it might be worth noting that there wasn’t a yellow taxi to be seen. Admittedly that area is undergoing some serious roadworks at the moment, so that might be a contributing factor.

    Thus I was relegated to taking an unofficial taxi. When I asked “¿Cuánto cuesta?” the driver pointed to sign high up in front of the immigration office that stated 9.000 COP as the going rate. This is a fairly steep rise from the price you stated in your guide, and it has to be said that the sign looked like it had been recently altered by someone with a texta (and a big ladder). Of course the taxi driver found other ways to part me from my money, but I bear full responsibility for that (oh, and 2 and half hours waiting in line for immigration at the Ecuador side… avoid lunch times people!)

    Cheers
    Steve

  13. Good day.
    Went the same route on the way back, having tried the same route from Colombia.
    Quito to Carcelen Terminal. Went to Marin Terminal at Pichincha Ave and Olmedo, went north to Ofelia Station. Fare =25 cents
    At Ofelia Station, transferred to bus going to Carcelen Bajo. Fare=25cents, maybe free if you don’t go out the terminal.
    Carcelen to Tulcan by bus. Fare=US$6.50
    Tulcan to border, taxi fare=US$3.50
    Crossed border. 3-4pm at the immigration lines of both countries
    At the Colombian side, taxi fare from Border to Ipiales Terminal =COP8,000.
    Ipiales to Cali Bus Fare =COP48,000. Started trip from Ipiales at 6pm. Arrived in Cali 4am following morning. Recommend Bolivariano bus.
    Took this trip on Aug 14-15, 2017. Started in Quito at 8am Aug 14. Arrived in Cali 4am Aug 15.

    Cheers!

  14. This blog and comments were great and got me from Quito to Pasto. I had hoped to get further but there’s serious issue with the border here at the moment so am writing to warn you all.

    I met a guy my hostel in Quito who told me that it had taken him 8hrs to cross the border at Tulcan/Ipiales 2 weeks earlier. It had been the Pasto festival, but also mentioned the Venezuelan influx. I was just leaving so set off anyway. As per the above a taxi to the Carcelen terminal. $6.25 on the 10:10am bus to Tulcan. All good. Arrived 3:05pm. At Tulcan a taxi to the border, $3.25 (I did this 3 times all the same). At the border I went to Migracion and saw a long line. I went to an official and asked if this was the same line for both entry and exit and he confirmed it was. I followed the line around the building. It stretched 200m to a corner. I got to the corner, another 100m, then another 100m. It was 4 – 5 people wide. Not sure how many people, but hundreds. I waited in line for more than an hour and went less than 100m. My rough estimate was that I would get my stamp around 8pm and I knew the border shut in the evening, so the likelihood was I would have to go back to Tulcan.

    So I gave up, got a taxi back to Tulcan, stayed in a cheap hotel and at 6.45am headed back. I should have gone at 6am or earlier. The queue on the Ecuador side was inside the building. Yay! That line took about 30 – 40 minutes. I got my exit stamp and headed over to Colombia. There was a line of around 150 people. It was 7.45am. They were exiting Colombia. There is one line for Colombians and one for everyone else. Everyone else was a few backpackers and Venezuelans. After an hour in this line, many more Colombians showed up. The guard alternated opening the gate for the Colombians and every one else. Nothing unexpected here, there are these segregations for nationals and non-nationals at many borders.

    After 2hrs I got into the building. There were three lines inside. One for Colombians, one for people needing special assistance and one for everyone else. The Colombian line had 2 counters servicing it. The everyone else line had a single counter. And the special assistance line had a single counter. However, the single counter for everyone else alternated the special assistance line too. My line of around 30 people took another hour.

    The real kicker for me was the scams going on. There were shady operators in collusion with the border police bringing people in and putting them at the front of the “every one” else line. I watched them pointing down to people that the border guards let straight in. Other guys were lining up in the special assistance line over and over again with other peoples’ passports (and being seen by the single counter for everyone else). And then there were two more counters with officials that were “closed”, but occasionally opened their window to receive black plastic bags of 10s of passports from the shady operators. There are “express” buses and I guess that this is how they manage to get bus loads of people through quickly.

    Once at the desk, the official was good, spoke to me in English, asked me where I was going and how long I would be in Colombia. I said Medellin and I don’t know can I have the maximum visa. He wrote 90 days in there and that was that. There was a sign saying you should have your Yellow Fever vaccination card but wasn’t asked for mine.

    From there I grabbed a collectivo for 2000COP to the bus terminal in Ipiales. Had a lovely chat with an Ecuadorian and then in the terminal decided I couldn’t face 10hrs to Cali arriving late at night and so took a bus to Pasto where I write this from.

    This is my 8th South America land border and a country mile worse than anything else. It certainly isn’t the fault of the Venezuelans! And perhaps the border control is understaffed to deal with this influx…but then perhaps not have 2 officials just working for the bus companies and stop the shady goings ons!

    Best till last…the special assistance line included a pregnant women. A man and his pregnant partner queued, got to the counter and an official who seemed to be a supervisor came up to him and told him he couldn’t be seen with her it was only for pregnant women and that he had to go to the back of the queue. This is of course is the guy who is allowing all the corrupt goings ons and of course getting a fat kick back.

    So my advice is to avoid this border at all costs. I don’t know if the other Colombia land borders are this bad…check!

    Best,
    Lee

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