The Long Road From Quito to Salento

July 13, 2016

Approximately 915 kilometres. That’s the distance between Quito (Ecuador) to our next destination—Salento, Colombia.

From Quito, we hopped on a bus that took us to Terminal Carcelen. Not far from the terminal, we tried to hitch a ride in front of a gas station. After an unsuccessful hour of waiting, we took a bus and asked to be dropped on the first peaje (tollbooth), Peaje Oyacoto/Norte. From the peaje we walked to the nearest gas station and tried hitching. Again, we failed. After 1.5 hours, we succumbed and took a $6 bus ride to Tulcan. Tulcan is the last big town near the border of Ecuador and Colombia. Since we arrived at around 7 pm, we spent a (COLD) night in Tulcan bus terminal. The immigration office wouldn’t be open til 7 am.

The next day, we were up early at 5:30 am (I mean not that we slept soundly on the cold, hard, steel seats then later on the floor). After a quick breakfast of buñuelo (for us) and coffee (for JC), we hopped on a $3.50 cab that took us to the border.

Immigration office on Ecuador side is already busy but we were stamped out of Ecuador in no time. It was a rainy and very cold morning when we crossed the bridge to get over to the Colombian immigration side. Men yelling cambio de moneda greeted us while simultaneously fanning dollars and Colombian pesos to us. We ignored them and made our way to the immigration window where we were stamped in after answering a few (easy) questions.

first buñuelo encounter in Tulcan, Ecuador
$1 buñuelo (fried dough ball) and a hot cup of coffee for breakfast

Ecuador - Colombia border

Bienvenido a Colombia!

By the time we made it out of the immigration office, the rain was pouring hard. Despite that (and the heavy police presence) we still tried to hitchhike. The immigration security men didn’t throw us out so we figured it was all right. No one seemed to be stopping though. Just when we were about to give up and ride and pay for a colectivo (public transport) a pick-up stopped for us. Off we went to the back, got soaked wet along with our backpacks. Our good samaritan dropped us in downtown Ipiales. We took shelter inside a small store while I figured what to do next. Then this old man started chatting with us, asking where we’re headed. I told him we were headed to Salento by way of Cali.

The man shook his head and told us that there was a massive transport strike going on at the moment. Buses stopped running, gasoline, even some food supply, stopped coming as a result of this strike. Quite shocking news to hear to be honest. Our spirits soaked like we were under the grey Colombian sky.

First Colombian meal in Ipiales bus terminal

After sorting ourselves out, we found a nearby (and open!) mall to hung out. The best part was the free and incredibly fast wifi connection which enabled us to research on what our next steps would be. According to news reports the massive transport strike was true but it wasn’t true that there were no buses operating between Ipiales and other parts of Colombia.

Originally, we intended to hitchhike as much as we could around Colombia. However, our Colombian friends (JC has a friend who hooked us up with his Colombian friends who are now also our friends) strongly advised us not to so that’s how we ended up on a 8-hour bus ride to Cali, Colombia that made a huge dent to our pocket money. It was also true that some gas stations have ran out of gasoline to sold.

Some of my thoughts while on the bus:

  • Our bus was awfully hot inside
  • Colombia is very green. Lots of mountains.
  • The zigzag mountain roads between Ipiales and Cali reminded me a lot of our very own Mountain Province.
  • There are lots of beautiful Colombianas but not too many good-looking Colombianos (this would prove to be true in our entire stay in Colombia).

Quito to Salento

Typical Colombian dinner during a brief bus stopover

Arequipe con cafe product of Colombia

Our bus arrived in Cali Bus Terminal at 11:00 pm. We spent the night sleeping inside the bus terminal with our bags as pillows. The night guards were unfriendly and a bit scary, always asking where we’re headed (we always say Armenia) or going around waking sleeping people and questioning them.

The same guards also woke us at 4 am the next day. We had to wait for the Western Union office to open at 8 am because we needed money. A huge chunk of the pesos that we changed in Ecuador was already spent on bus fares, and frankly, I didn’t see us catching a free lift between Cali and Salento.

I was right.

Breaking down with you what went on after we left the bus terminal:

  1. We took a pimped-up van from the terminal to the last peaje before the airport. The van wasn’t cheap (COP6,000 pp).
  2. Waited for three hours to get a lift to Armenia (or basically anywhere as long as it was on our route). However, Colombians deal with hitchhikers differently. The few cars that did stop for us either asked us how much we’re going to pay OR directly told us how much it would cost. Here’s a tip on how to deal with hitchhikers, Colombia. You either say yes or no.
  3. At the three-hour mark, we gave up and flagged another pimped-up van to get us to Armenia. I haggled hard for a price drop (COP30,000 for us two from the original 40,000) to which the driver immediately agreed that left me wondering if we really got a bargain. Kainis.
  4. From Armenia bus terminal we hopped on a bus to Salento (COP4,600 pp).
  5. From Salento we jumped on a Willy’s (jeeps acting as taxis) that drove us to La Serrana Hostel & Eco Farm, our campground in Salento.

La Serrana is an AMAZING place. It deserves a separate post so I hope you wait for it! Also, we basically fell in love with Salento while the bus was ferrying us around the tiny, colorful town. But more on that later, too.


July 15

Taxi to terminal – COP5,000

Almuerzo completo at Terminal Terrestre de Ipiales – COP6,000

Bus ticket to Cali – COP45,000 pp

Dinner at Terminal Terrestre de Cali – COP9,000

July 16

Almuerzo completo at Terminal Terrestre de Cali – COP5,500

Van to peaje – COP6,000 pp

Van to Armenia – COP15,000 pp

Armenia to Salento bus – COP4,600 pp

Willy’s from Salento to La Serrana – COP6,000

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