Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Into Colombia (Ipiales & Popayan)

Ipiales (Colombia)

On leaving Quito we planned to travel by bus to the Ecuadorian border town of Tulcán and from there, cross into Colombia at the town of Ipiales.

Getting a bus was a mission in itself. The Bogota Information Centre, backed up by our hotel receptionist, said we need to get to the Northern Bus Terminal called Ofelia. So we got a taxi to the Ofelia terminal and after asking for a bus to Tulcán, found that we should have been at the other northern bus terminal, a much smaller placed called Carcelén.

Next minute, a helpful bus ticket-seller grabbed a taxi driver and told him where we needed to go, pronto! He threw our cases into the taxi boot as we threw ourselves into the back seat, and off we went; not really knowing where we were going. All a bit confusing really.

Anyway, we got safely to Carcelén and the taxi driver showed us where to go and we were fine. Lovely helpful people, and a little adventure before we had even started!

Scenery driving out of Quito to Tulcán
We ultimately got on the right bus.

It was a very decrepit small bus which we tolerated for 6 hours (largely because of the above-mentioned bus terminal confusion, and that it only cost about NZ$ 7 pp).

Our co-passengers included two young travellers from the UK and a handful of locals.

The trip took us through several pretty Ecuadorian villages as we headed north to the border.

Scene driving into Colombia
The downside is, with all the confusion, we didn’t leave as early as planned.

We particularly wanted to cross the border into Colombia in daylight as it is supposed to be a dangerous crossing at night because of historic drug wars between Colombia and Ecuador, and more recently, kidnapping by taxi for money.

We also had a NZ Govt travel advisory advising us of the ‘extreme risk’ of travelling by land across this border.

Because we and the UK couple had read the same stuff about this notorious crossing, we decided to pool our resources and share our knowledge about how to safely get across the border into Colombia.

Our strategy was simply to stick together. All four of us had read that the most dangerous part was getting a taxi in Colombia that wasn’t going to kidnap you for your goodies, and we figured that there is safety in numbers.

Colombia border, looking back into Ecuador
So, we queued for a short time and were stamped out of Ecuador – no problems. Then we walked across the Rumichaca Bridge to the Colombian border post. No problems there either. A little while later we were officially in Colombia.

We then all got a taxi together. The plan was to drop us at out our hotel in Ipiales, the border town on the Colombian side. We would get off there, and the UK couple would go the extra block to the bus station, as they had plans to keep moving on further north.

All went as planned and we safely checked into our hotel, Hotel Avanty, which proved to be quite good for a one-night stopover.

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Ipiales
By this time it was about 5 pm with a couple of hours of daylight left in the day, so we decided to visit the Las Lajas Sanctuary.

This Sanctuary is basically why we planned to stay the night in Ipiales and not press further north as the UK couple did.

Great decision on our part. The Sanctuary turned out to be totally amazing.

All fear of Colombian taxis forgotten, we found a lovely taxi driver who, for a reasonable price, would drive us to the Sanctuary, take photos of us, give us the history of the place (in Spanish), and stay with us to return us safely to the hotel – what a sweetie – we already liked Colombia.

He drove us out of town and down a rough road to a little village. From there we had to walk down a lot of steps to the Sanctuary – and what a reward awaited us! 

The Sanctuary is an amazing church spanning a small canyon and river. It is incredibly ornate on the outside and had a huge amount of gold leaf on the inside. 

Las Lajas Sanctuary & us
Specialists in gold leaf application were working on updating the interior while we were there.

It was quite a spectacular sight and had a wonderful tranquil feel to it that justified our somewhat rushed visit.

It was well worth the stopover in this border town of Ipiales.

Back in town that evening, we walked around and were amazed at how many people were out and about that late. For a border town, Ipiales was a pleasant surprise.

Ipiales main square
The main street and plaza had a good range of modern shops, while the side streets were a bit more basic.

We learned that a lot of people from Ecuador come to Ipiales to buy household goods because, even after paying taxes at the border, they are much cheaper in Colombia.

This confirmed our view of Ecuador as an expensive place.

Marg with our Ecuadorian friends Tarquino & his wife
The next morning we got chatting to a charming couple from Ecuador who were checking out of Hotel Avanty at the same time as us. They were travelling in Colombia in their Volkswagen campervan and we got talking campervans….as you do…..

When they heard we were going to get a taxi to the bus station, they insisted on taking us in their van. They had a lovely old ‘60s VW and loved travelling around in it.

We instantly bonded and shared our love to travel in this manner. We exchanged email addresses and promised to try to catch up with them on the road in Chile or Argentina next year.

Popayan (UNESCO - Colombia)

From Ipiales, we caught a local bus, taking about 8 hours, to Popayan. This is a UNESCO city and also known as a white city because so many of its beautiful colonial buildings are white. 

Hotel Dann Monasterio, Popayan
We stayed at Hotel Dann Monasterio which used to be an actual monastery. It has rooms tucked in under lovely arched colonnades set around a central courtyard, beside an antiquated but functioning church. It is a beautiful building and in a great location from which to explore Popayan.

We found Popayan very easy to walk around and, covered a lot of ground while we were there.

Marg-Popayan main square & cathedral
We saw lots of prettily decorated shops, imposing architecture and plenty of cafes and restaurants.

It’s also a student town and, as always with such places, has a vibrant air about it.

After two days, we felt we had seen the highlights and decided to move on.

We walked to the bus station to gather information in how to get to our next destination.

Popayan shops
While there, we were helped by one young tourist policeman, who then became two looking the same! They were twins, and absolutely gorgeous and helpful, and loved practicing their English.

We discovered we could not get to our proposed destination of San Andrés from Popayan, as the road was washed out after recent rain.

Some fast plan-changing was required.

Instead we decided to go to San Agustin for the night first, and from there to San Andrés - and so sorted out a bus and accommodation for the next day.

Back to the city centre to sample some of Popayan’s gastronomic delights, then back to pack for tomorrow. Next stop, the UNESCO archaeological site at San Agustin.

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