We left Otavalo, Ecuador at 8.30am on Tuesday with a plan which would take us through the edges of the Amazon, along the trampoline of death, and would mean 3 days and 4/5 buses to reach San Agustín, Colombia… we arrived in San Agustín 27 hours later and, (spoiler alert) nothing had gone according to plan.
Ok, so that lead up was a bit dramatic. Nothing went according to plan because it actually worked out much better, so there is no tragic crime or loss in the paragraphs to follow. Only advice and practicalities if you’re about to make the same journey. I’d done plenty of research and had decided that instead of travelling 10 hours up to Popayan to go back down 4 hours to San Agustín (which is the more popular route), that we would travel 4 hours first to Pasto, stay one night. Then travel another 4 hours to Macoa, stay one night. Then travel the last 5 hours (using two colectivos, so add time for them to fill up) to San Agustin. Plan set, we left Otavalo by catching a bus to the border town of Tulcan from the Pan Americana for $3.60 each. FYI: the bus doesn’t leave from the main station, the stop is just up from the roundabout, on the same side as the gas station. From Tulcan we jumped in a taxi to immigration ($3usd) I wanted to go and visit the cemetery which is famed to house the largest collection of shrubs cut into shapes in the world, but we were in travel mode so Steve wasn’t keen on taking a detour with our packs to look at some bushes.
Immigration was a breeze, from the Ecuadorian side we just crossed over the bridge on foot. After getting stamped into Colombia we thought we’d better get some pesos, so right there we exchanged $20usd for 54,000 with a dodgy eyed man complete with a limp then we jumped in a cab. Now, as an aside, you can actually pay the taxi driver in USD so having pesos is not crucial. The town on the Colombian side of the border is called Ipiales and is famous for its proximity to Santuario de Las Lajas which is a big gothic looking church that is built on a bridge. It was a short drive from the city itself and would be a bit of a hassle, but we had already skipped the shrubbery and this was something we just weren’t willing to miss. So we spoke to the taxi driver about how much it might cost to take us there and wait with our bags. He started at $35usd but we were never going to pay that. He asked how much I wanted to pay, I told him $15 he said $20 and he’d wait and hour. Welcome to Colombia! Our driver Roberto actually ended up coming with us, more so he could usher us about and make sure we didn’t doddle, but he proved to be a nice guy and an OK photographer.
After the church Roberto took us to the station and on the way we discussed our plan. He told us that going Via Popayan was the usual because it is much easier and the roads are in a better condition. The road between Mocoa and Pasto is called the “Trampoline of Death” because it is a bouncy, unpaved winding road up into the cloud forest and has been named the most dangerous road in Colombia. Because Colombia was our 1st country with a deadline (we were meeting our awesome friends in Bogota in just under 3 weeks) we decided that to save traveling for three days we would book the night bus and catch a second mini bus to San Agustín the next day. It all went smoothly, we used Supertaxis and took the 8pm for $35,000 pesos each ($17.50aud) which arrived in Popayan at 4am then took a 6am bus to San Agustín which was the same price and arrived at 10.30am. We used a company called Cootranshuila as they were the earliest option, their office opens at 5am to buy the ticket. Take the bus going to Pitalito and ask to jump out at San Augustín, they will take you to the main road where a free connecting taxi to the town centre will collect you.
So thats the craic. Getting into Columbia was easy and the people here are the friendliest we have met yet!