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Colombia to Ecuador border crossing

After travelling to Ipiales from Pasto and stopping for the morning to visit the Las Lajas Sanctuary we undertook the border crossing to Ecuador.

The easiest way to get to the border is by taxi from the bus terminal for 7,000 pesos, an alternative is a collectivo for 2,000 pesos per person, from the same place. The actual border crossing is located only a 10 minutes drive away.

Ask the driver to drop you off at the Colombian border side for your stamp out as otherwise they will take you across the bridge to the Ecuadorian border. The process is very simple, there are no exit fees to pay and you are simply stamped out.

Once you have your stamp walk across the bridge to the Ecuadorian side, a 2 minute walk, and head into the building on the right. Again there are no fees to pay for entry but you do need to fill in an immigration form before you queue for your stamp.

To carry on with your travels, once stamped into the country, walk across the road and take a collectivo to Tulcan, the first town in Ecuador. The half an hour ride should cost you around a dollar each. Note that in Ecuador the local currency in US dollars.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Las Lajas Sanctuary

On our way to crossing the border from Colombia to Ecuador we decided to go and see the Las Lajas sanctuary, situated just 10 minutes away from Ipiales. To make our life easier we opted to leave our backpacks at the bus terminal for 2,000 pesos per backpack.

We then took a collectivo taxi for 2,000 pesos each to Las Lajas, and the same again for the return. We were lucky enough in both instances to not have to wait too long to go as the taxis wait until they are full before departing. 15 minutes later we were dropped off at the top of the sanctuary entrance.

Las Lajas Sanctuary overview

We spent about 2 hours looking around and climbing both sides of the viewing points but you could just as easily spent less time if you are in a hurry. They have plenty of little eateries, gift shops and toilets along the path down to the sanctuary and they seem to accept both pesos and dollars.

Las Lajas Sanctuary

The biggest appeal of the sanctuary has to be its architecture, described as a gothic build, the church hangs to the cliff as if carved out of the very rocks. No where can this be seen any better than at the altar, where you literally see it carved into the rock face.

Las Lajas Sanctuary rock altar

If you have a few hours to spare before going onto Ecuador, or have just come into Colombia, then it’s definitely worth a look. It is not the biggest sanctuary or the most ornate, but the views and the location are breath-taking.

Las Lajas Sanctuary bridge

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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San Agustin

The bus journey to San Agustin was bad enough, but the return was even worse as there were delays of over an hour and half to get out of the town, and the bus was fully packed out.

In the end it took us about 6 hours to reach San Agustin from the bus terminal in Popayan. The roads were for the most part unpaved, muddy gravel tracks due to the rain and the bus journey was not only bumpy to the point of flying off your seat but also winding as the bus climbs and descends various mountains.

The bus does not drive into San Agustin but stops at the crossing where you take a car or taxi according to the arrangement of the bus company. Make sure you check this is included in the price of the ticket when you are in Popayan, and also haggle for the price as we managed to drop the price to 25,000 pesos per person instead of the 30,000 that some others paid.

The town itself is very small but has some small restaurants and supermarkets; however places seem to close early so if heading out for dinner don’t leave it too late.

We hadn’t arranged any accommodation and were referred to the Diosa Luna hostel, which was very nice and the host was extremely helpful, but unfortunately had no kitchen facilities so we were forced to eat out which proved quite costly.

Our host explained there were several areas to see outside of the archaeological park and that the full route could be done in a day. Thinking it was only a few kilometres trail we decided to head out the following morning.

The route would start in the town and head towards El Tablon, then La Chaquira, followed by La Pelota and El Purutal, we would then head back down to the archaeological park and see the whole park before returning down to San Agustin.

San Agustin: El Tablon statues

We were told that at no point could we get lost as there were signposts everywhere, but I assure you that once you leave the main road for El Tablon you are on your own the whole way until you reach the park!

San Agustin: archaeological trail

The route takes you through numerous fields and tracks and it was extremely muddy and slippery, which slowed us down a fair bit. Also, the trail is not a few kilometres but closer to 20+, including the park, and its one hill after another so not for the faint hearted!

San Agustin: path to La Chaquira

The walk is very safe and everyone you meet is more than happy to point you in the right direction, which is handy as you will constantly wonder which road to take. There are also a number of rest points along way to help keep you hydrated and fed if you choose not to take your own food.

San Agustin: La Chaquira

The only fees you will have to pay are for the park entrance, and they are 10,000 pesos each, if you want to see the other nearby parks you can opt for a combo deal and pay 16,000 for all 3.

San Agustin: La Pelota

The park itself consists of 7 main attractions: the museum, the woods with statues, Mesita A, B and C, Fuenta ceremonial Lavapatas and the Alto de Lavapatas viewpoint.

San Agustin: El Purutal statue 1

San Agustin: El Purutal statue 2

We left San Agustin at 9am and returned just after 5pm as we took the collective from the park, otherwise it would have been another 3km walk. We only stopped twice, once for a drink and once for lunch, the rest of the time was spent walking! Strangely enough we did not see anyone else walking the route, only people on horses, but despite being shattered at the end of the day we were glad we did it!

View our dedicated page to see all photos from the San Agustin archaeological park.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Popayan

After our interesting bus journey from Cali we arrived in Popayan, a beautifully clean and white looking city towards the south of Colombia. Popayan has a very safe feel to it and there are a number of hostels located either near the main bus terminal or near the historic centre.

Popayan historic centre

The city itself can be easily seen in a day, but there are a number of nearby excursions to be had so you can easily spend a couple of days exploring the area.

Popayan main plaza

Our main reason for visiting Popayan was to use it as a base for seeing nearby places of interest, such as, the indigenous Silvia market located an hour and half away and San Agustin, a little town surrounded by large stone sculptures.

In Popayan we stayed at the Hosteltrail hostel for a couple of days, whilst deciding where to go next, as we wanted to see both San Agustin and Tierradentro, a small indigenous town surrounded by underground tombs with paintings.

The hostel offers an array of information on local transport and places to visit, and we soon worked out that San Agustin and Tierradentro were both around a 6 hour’s bus travel from Popayan but set 7 hours apart from each other, on supposedly very bad roads.

I myself do not travel very well on buses normally, so the thought of these extended rides on windy bumpy roads had me running for the nearest chemist for some travel tablets.

After weighing up the route we decided to head to San Agustin first and then see how we got on from there. If the route was doable we would head onwards to Tierradentro, if not we could head back to Popayan for a night before heading onwards to Pasto.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Silvia Indigenous Market

The indigenous market of Silvia occurs every Tuesday and is located about an hour and a half from Popayan by bus. To get there simply go to the terminal de transporte in Popayan and walk through to the end of the terminal where you will see a small booth advertising tickets. The cost is 6,000 pesos each way per person. Return buses leave from the main plaza and tickets can be bought in the office.

The market itself is not very big and mainly consists of an indoor marketplace selling fruit, vegetables, meat and modern clothes. What does make it appealing are the people selling at the market.

Silvia market

Arriving in colourful buses, known as chivas, with their local produce the indigenous people from the surrounding villages congregate on this small village in their beautiful traditional clothing.

Silvia market: indigenous people haggling

The women wear bright blue ponchos with black skirts and either black hats if married or straw hats if single. Whereas the men wear long blue skirts and colourful scarfs along with their own black or dark brown hats.

Silvia market: selling vegetables

The market runs from 6am to 2pm but from around lunchtime people start to pack up so if you want to see the place in full swing try to get there for around 10am.

Silvia market: organized stall

The whole place is not very big and an hour will be more than enough to see it even if you decide to sit down to eat something at many indoor eateries.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Cali to Popayan – a bus ride to remember!

We flew into Cali from Cartagena and after 2 nights we decided to head onwards to Popayán. We took a taxi for 4,000 pesos to the bus terminal and went upstairs to the Palmira bus desk to enquire about tickets to Popayán. As luck would have it they had a shuttle leaving in the next few minutes, so we bought our tickets for 15,000 each and followed the driver up another level to the shuttle.

What should have been an uneventful 3 hour ride to Popayán turned into quite an interesting journey when we passed the town of Santander. A female passenger and her teenage son asked to be dropped off at a particular point of the highway but the driver refused on the grounds that he could not stop on that part of the road.

This triggered off an argument to unprecedented proportions when the mother started to argue with the conductor and driver, as they claimed that they had been told they could get off at that point and were now being refused.

Instead of just getting off a little further along the road, the teenage son took out a knife and leaned over to the driver threatening him and arguing that he should be dropping them off where they had requested.

This sparked the driver to pull over, get out of his cab and try to enter the main area with a machete! The conductor blocked his path by standing in the doorway but it didn’t stop the driver trying to get at the son with his knife, all the while the mother carried on arguing with the conductor.

We were unsure as to what to do as we were sat on the second row and the passengers from the first row fled to the back. The argument escalated further and the driver shouted that the teenager should learn to respect authority while trying to jab at him through the door.

The conductor eventually seemed to manage to calm things down enough to let the mother and son off. However, rather than staying quiet they started to argue again with the conductor, but this time he got angry at what was being said and seemed to want to get into a punch up with the teenager. At this point the driver came running back waving his machete which prompted the teenager to run off with both the conductor and the armed driver after him.

This prompted screams from some of the female passengers whilst others talked about calling the police. Yet as quickly as it had started, it seemed to end. All of a sudden the conductor was back on board and the driver behind the wheel, with no sign of the teenager.

We later arrived at a police check-point, where I assume the driver explained what had happened as he had a long chat with the officer.

Luckily the rest of the journey continued without any problems and we arrived safely in Popayán for early afternoon, but we wont be forgetting the bus ride in a hurry!

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Cartagena

We took a door-to-door shuttle service from our hostel Dreamers in Santa Marta directly to our booked hostel in Cartagena for 42,000 pesos each. The shuttle itself was very comfortable and extremely safe as the side door could only be opened remotely by the driver.

We arrived at the Marlin Hostel where we had pre-booked but were extremely disappointed with what we found. They had no air-con rooms available for us and the only rooms they could offer us were either a 4 bed dorm with a strong smell of mould and no windows or a bunk bed room, which we took but later turned out to be an oven despite the fans and was so small we barely had space for our backpacks. As it was late we stayed for the night but spent the evening searching for an alternative. We found the Casona Hostel, with thankfully air conditioned rooms, located just around the corner and liked it so much we moved across the next day and stayed for nearly a week!

Cartagena: historic centre

Cartagena itself is a bustling city filled with pretty little roads and buildings in the historic centre and narrow streets with beautiful old colonial buildings that have definitely seen better days, but are still impressive in their standing and make you wonder how stunning the city must have been.

Cartagena: old city walls

During our time in Cartagena we explored the historic centre with the clock tower entrance, the port area, the beautiful old walls that almost completely surround the city, the Getsemani borough and the old fortress situated across the river. We got very lucky with the fortress as we happened to visit it on the afternoon of Cartagena’s Independence Day and entry was free!

Cartagena: clock tower entrace

Cartagena: Castillo San Felipe de Barajas fortress

Overall the city felt pretty safe and there is plenty of choice for accommodation, eating and supermarkets. In fact if you stay in Getsemani you will find everything you need on your doorstep and you are still only a 5 minute walk from the historic centre and a 15 minute walk from the beach.

Cartagena: view of new city from walls at dusk

The only downside with the city is the heat, especially in July and August, after about 10.30am you have to get back into an air conditioned room just to stop melting. The heat in the city is stifling and even going out for a meal in the evening can leave you in need for a shower afterwards!

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Santa Marta and Bahia Concha

Following our 3 day bus journey from Venezuela, we finally arrived at our first destination in Colombia just before 6 in the evening. We took a taxi from the bus drop off point just outside of Santa Marta and headed to the Dreamer Hostel hoping they would have a room for us for a couple of nights.

Upon arrival we discovered that the newly opened hostel would be able to accomodate us but only by offering us a suite option which was their last room. At 90,000 pesos per night we thought it was a bit steep until we saw the room, which resembled more a boutique hotel than a hostel. They also had a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, kitchen and hammocks. We thought about it for a couple of minutes and then booked ourselves in, after all we felt we deserved a treat!

We spent a couple of nights at the hostel and in that time basically recharged our batteries. The location of the hostel was great as it was a 5 minute walk from a commercial centre which had everything we needed from ATMs to supermarkets.

Santa Marta - park on the way to shopping centre

On the last day we decided we take a day trip organised by the hostel to Bahia Concha, a beach on the fringes of the Tayrona National Park.

The beach was nice but nothing spectacular and when we arrived it was also fairly deserted, however by 11am the locals arrived and it got quite busy, which we found strange as it was a week day. The water was calm and safe to swim in but surprisingly cold for the Caribbean sea. However, the sand had a lovely gold like quality, it seemed almost like there were flakes of gold in the sand which made the coastline seem to glitter.

Bahia Concha - empty beach and calm water

The beach facilities included a restaurant offering fresh fish, so much so that they would bring you the fish on a platter to choose the ont you wanted. There was also a drinks service on the beach and a couple of vendors selling sweet treats. We took our own food and drinks but bought a top up for our water and some very nice coconut treats!

Bahia Concha - calm waters

All-in-all it was a nice day out on the beach and a chance to top up our tans one last time before moving inland.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Venezuela to Colombia border crossing

Due to the exchange rates in Venezuela we ran out of money very quickly and after our trip to Angel Falls, Canaima Park, we had to leave the country.

We had considered flying but air transport is expensive in Venezuela, especially once you add in the taxes, plus we would have to fly to Bogotá, Colombia instead of going to Santa Marta, Colombia. With that in mind we decided to take the bus.

Our first bus was overnight from Ciudad Bolivar to Barquisimeto and cost 230 VEF each. We had contemplated going to Valencia first and then heading to Maracaibo to pick up the international bus, but decided this way we should be able to split the distances a bit better and avoid a 20 hour bus journey.

We arrived the following morning, just before lunchtime, at the Aeroexpresos bus terminal in Barquisimeto and from here things started to go wrong.

Upon arrival no one seemed to have heard of the company we wanted to travel with, Expresos Amerlujo, and consequently no one knew where they departed from. On a hunch we decided to head to the main bus terminal, luckily when we arrived we found their booth there. We bought a ticket for 300 VEF each for that night to go directly to Santa Marta, leaving Barquisimetto at 12.30am.

With our tickets in hand we sat ourselves down at the cafe and waited. Suddenly at 11.30pm the representative came and called us, thinking the bus was early for once we took our backpacks and followed him. Unfortunately, he called us into the office and explained that the bus had had an accident in Valencia and would not be arriving until 6am!

My first thoughts were, thank god we didn’t go with plan A and go to Valencia! Then I realised we would have to wait a further 7 hours in a deserted bus station by ourselves.

After a minute the representative gave us another option, a full refund on our tickets and move us over to another company for a bus to Maracaibo, from where apparently we would be able to take a sort of local bus across the border to Maicao, and then take a final bus to Santa Marta. Not the straightforward journey we had planned…

With no other choice we headed over to the Rodovias office and bought a ticket to Maracaibo for 90 VEF, luckily as the buses are 2 floors there were a couple of spaces left for us. Our run of “good” luck continued and the 12.30am bus for Maracaibo turned up just after 1.30am.

Tired and hungry we got in the bus and collapsed asleep for a few hours. By mid morning we pulled into Maracaibo and easily found the “shuttles” to Colombia, mainly due to the drivers shouting Maicao, Colombia at everyone. We boarded a small bus, paid 100 VEF each and headed onwards to the border.

The journey that followed next was an eye opener, we had read that this was common but were saddened to see it happen so readily.

We travelled for over 2 hours to reach the border crossing and the closer we got the more police, military and patrol officer stops we were subjected to. The checks ranged from a quick boarding to scan passports to a full dismount of the bus and full bag search.

At no point were we victimized, in fact we seemed to have some sort of immunity by holding foreign passports, however whilst on the Venezuelan side the Colombians on board had repeated problems and several bribes had to be paid. Once we had crossed borders the reverse occurred and the Venezuelans were hassled by the Colombian police, to the point where they wanted to hold the bus as they claimed there was something mechanically wrong with it. Yet they wouldn’t allow the bus to be collected by the authorities in Maracaibo to be “fixed”and wouldn’t let us progress. The poor driver was furious and in the end had to open his wallet once again to allow us all to continue.

The feud is obviously between the 2 countries and if you are a visitor you do not seem to be pulled into the disputes that happen, but nevertheless it is sad to watch how the daily lives of the Venezuelans and Colombians are affected by police and military officers who quite simply just want to intimate people.

The actual border crossing itself was very simple for us, there is a stop for an exit fee payment of 90,000 VEF per person and then you continue onwards for another 10 minutes drive to the actual customs where you are stamped out. Once stamped you walk along the road and enter Colombia where an officer simply stamps your passport and asks you for your profession. No forms, no hassle.

That I know of, there are 2 ways to do the crossing, by international bus as per our original plan or by “shuttle”. I am not sure if the same treatment happens on the international buses, but if you travel by shuttle be prepared for long delays and stops every few kilometers.

Once we finally reached Maicao we were dropped off at the bus terminal. Ensure you have Colombian pesos with you prior to arrival because the exchange rate is the worse we have found, they will give you half the value of your currency. We had no choice but to exchange our last VEFs here as there are no ATMs and most bus companies add a substantial charge to card transactions.

Apart from that the terminal has many bus company options, and routes seem cover most of the country so we were able to take a bus straight to Santa Marta and finally sleep in a bed again!

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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