Crossing the Columbian border Recommended read

The sensation is comparable to pushing through a crowd in a busy circus tent. You have your arms up covering your chest with your arms locked together making a giant fist with both knuckles.

Crossing the border on foot is a nerve jangling experience by any experienced traveller. The reason perhaps is that you are at your most vulnerable. You are surrounded by a group of people that include police, hagglers and robbers. All of whom can give you butterflies by alone, but bunched together makes an hour's border crossing a bit of a nightmare.

 

But for the readers of Moving Ecuador, I have made the journey for you and come back over so you guys can relax, knowing exactly what to expect and do.

  • You get the bus to Tulcan, the most northern town in Ecuador. The place is miserable and not much to do there, but if you arrive at night time, it is certainly worth finding one of the surrounding hostels or hotels near by the terminal for an early rise to cross the border
  • You need to take a taxi to the actual border. The drivers will ask for $3.50, but usually this can be haggled down to a square $3. A good sentence to say is: 'Si fuera un ecuatoriano, cuantos pagaría?'. It means 'If I were an Ecuadorian, how much would I pay?' It gets taxi drivers every time.
  • The border offices are open from 6AM to 10PM all day everyday. An official said to me that it's better to go as early as possible to avoid the queues.
  • Upon arrival the taxi driver will normally drop you outside the Migration office. Remember when crossing the border, you have to leave as well as enter a country.
  • It's worth pointing out that these people are not as helpful as you may expect to have back home. The official I saw kept me waiting until he finished writing a message on his phone. The trick is to be patient and not lose your cool in these places.
  • Whenever you go to borders, you tend to stick out more than most. Don't be alarmed when everyone turns their heads at you.
  • After you have your stamp, you have to walk over the bridge (which is in no-mans land) to the Columbian immigration office which is about 200 metres from the Columbian side.
  • Before you get here, you will pass at least 20 people asking to change you dollars into Pesos. Don't be tempted unless you need the small amount to get a taxi (6000 pesos, only $3). These people offer you an absurd exchange rate and will try and trick you into how much they have given you. Due to the exchange rate (c1920 pesos = $1), it is easy for them to do so. Even if you do count it up correctly, they charge whatever they like in fees. Just not worth it when you can change money in the next town.
  • You must get a tourist VISA for Columbia. This is done in more or less he same way as the Ecuadorian side. Hand in the passport and get your stamp. Check how many days it's valid for, (usually 60 or 90 for Columbia) and you're nearly there.
  • Similar to the hagglers who want to change your money for silly amounts you have people asking you to 'take a taxi'. Now, make sure you go down to the bank of white taxis. There are people, who are not official taxi drivers and will just lead you to their normal cars. Stay well clear of these people. They charge the same and you don't know who they are. They often hang around the entrance of the Columbian immigration office.
  • Grab a white taxi to the next town of Impiales where you can find the bus terminal for no more than 6000 pesos.

The thing to keep in mind is to have your head down and do what you need to do. Anyone shouting 'My friend…' or 'Hey you…' is not trying to help whatever they say afterwards. The whole experience is slightly nauseating but if you follow the above instructions you should be OK. I found that wearing deep shaded sunglasses was a great help, because it avoided eye contact with anyone. As soon as someone catches your eye, you can expect some kind of request or ‘offer’ soon afterwards.

If you need to ask anyone anything, ask them in the actual office because they will have the answers.

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