Hola Colombia! Pasto & Popayan

After queuing for what seemed like forever to leave Ecuador we walked over the bridge and were surprised to find only a small queue on the Colombian side (we’re guessing that a lot of Colombians only bother with immigration on the Ecuadorian side). It only took 20 minutes. The guidebook says to be prepared for thorough bag checks and if you don’t have a return ticket (which we don’t) the officer sometimes overlooks this for a ‘fee.’ The FCO’s (UK Foreign Office) advice is that it depends on the whim of the officer that day as to whether they let you in or not. Well we had the friendliest guard ever who was only interested in joking about how long we’d queued on the Ecuadorian side. Not one ‘proper’ question and stamp in passport printed for 60 days in less than a minute. Not a single person got their bag checked and we couldn’t see that there was much scope for bribes either with the window and queue being so open, although we did see a group of rather forlorn Koreans being escorted from an office back over the bridge to Ecuador – were they the ones responsible for the strong smell of marijuana in the air? All in all one of the easiest and definitely the friendliest border crossing we’ve done.

IMG_4148We hopped into a collectivo to the bus terminal in Ipiales, the Colombian border town, and once there we got straight onto a big minibus for Pasto a major town 2 hours north, which the guidebook says is a prosperous city because the economy gets a big boost from drug traffickers who make their big-ticket purchases here. The bus was probably the smartest we’ve been on with automatic closing side door – cool!

People who have visited Colombia always say its amazing, blah blah and you kind of think yeah its just because you’ve been and lots of people haven’t… Well the scenery from Ipiales to Pasto was some of the most spectacular and dramatic scenery we have seen with big steep and jagged mountains – kind of like driving though a huge green gorge. Very disappointed not to have been able to get some photos of it, but on very windy roads at high speed and being the wrong side of the minibus and all that. We expected scenery like in Ecuador but so far it’s been nothing like that!

IMG_4199By the time we got to Pasto, a big busy city, we were slight dazed (it had been a long day!) so we got a cab to the cheapest place listed in the Lonely Planet. We put the bags into the boot on top of the poorly hidden gun (don’t think this is a standard accessory of Colombian taxis, this driver was official and all that and took us where we wanted for the local fare, but looked a bit of a mean bastard if you crossed him). We found that the accommodation isn’t cheap anymore and they refused any suggestions of negotiating it down (probably something to do with having a LP listing) but we were too knackered and hadn’t seen many hotels from the taxi to go hunting for somewhere else. So we stayed and went out in search of an ATM and food before it got dark and our date with the TV approached.

The next morning we went to the bus station and after a bit of confusion with the company we got a 20% discount on a bus to Popayan – we’d read that almost everything is negotiable in Colombia (except it seems the accommodation listed in the LP as we tried the place we stayed in Pasto and 2 in Popayan all of whom have significantly increased their prices since the book was published and none of which would budge even a token 1,000 pesos on the price).

IMG_4197The journey took 6 hours, but it seems that unlike their fellow Bolivians, Peruvians and Ecuadorians, Colombians don’t have bladders like camels and amazingly we stopped for a bathroom break twice even though we had a toilet on the bus (amazing in itself). The scenery was pretty amazing too as the road follows the top of the Andes, although we admit we are now a little over being on windy roads for hours on end.

Popayan (also know as Ciudad Blanca/White City because of its white buildings), is a complete contrast to Pasto with a quiet laid back attitude and beautiful historic centre, set in the foothills of the Valle del Cauca. After finding our way around the first evening we spent the next day chilling out having a really lazy Sunday.

Observations/first impressions:

  • Colombians drive on the right, but you wouldn’t know it as they spend more time driving on the left.
  • It’s expensive after Ecuador and potentially could bust our budget
  • Colombians are friendly and helpful, although sometimes bemused/confused to be asked questions by foreign tourists
  • Colombians are much more laid back than their South American counterparts

Click on any image to enlarge and scroll through


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