How and How Much: Colombia to Ecuador Land Border Crossing

The hardest part of the land border crossing from Colombia to Ecuador is enduring some pretty windy roads. The border crossing itself was a breeze!

  
We wanted to avoid becoming the Colombia gurilleas’ next example so we did all of our bus travelling during the day. Given the gurilleas, the frighteningly fast Colombia drivers, and steep mountain cliffs, I would 100% recommend making this a day journey and not a night one!

The drive from Popayan to Ipiales is long(ish). We were told it’s about 8 hours by bus to the border. Then it would be another 5 hours from the border to Quito. I wasn’t up for that! I’m never up for sitting in buses — or anything –for that long. Plus, we wanted to see the most amazing gothic church that’s built into the side of a mountain!

So, we opted to break up the journey by spending a night in Pasto. 

Popayan to Pasto cost 25.000 COP each and took 5.5 hours (they say it takes 5). We took the bus at 10:30am and there was a stop for lunch at about 12. Lunch was extra and we didn’t eat it.

Pasto itself is nothing to write home about. It was, however, our first time this trip in noticeable altitude. The thin air made the pollution awful! I felt like I was sucking on a tail pipe the entire time we were there. 

In Pasto, we stayed in a little hotel 3 blocks away from the bus station. We wanted to be able to leave quickly in the morning. And leave quickly we did. 

From Pasto, you have to go to Ipiales to border cross. It cost 7.000 COP per person and took about 2 hours by bus. It was an easy peasy bus ride and the road was a little less scary than the first part of the trip. 

Once you’re at the bus terminal, you’ll take a collectivo to the border. It took 10ish minutes and cost so little that it was basically free (1.400 COP for both of us). And our driver nearly cried when we told him to keep the 600 COP change. I can still picture his deeply creased eyes when we told him it was for him to keep.

600 COP is 21 CENTS.

Pre-border crossing money tip: Ecuador uses the American dollar so change your pesos at the border. Give your small pesos to your taxi driver as a tip or spend them at the bus terminal. They’ll be worthless to you the second you stamp out of Colombia. Hold on to your peso notes though! There will be offical money changers (with rates so good — basically on par with xe.com — I have no idea how they make money to feed themselves) who will change your pesos to American dollars. Make sure you know the exchange rate, just in case. Feel free to haggle if you feel like you’re being low-balled.

Once your driver lets you out, and you change your pesos to dollars, it’s time to get your exit stamp. It costs nothing to leave Colombia.

Welcome to no man’s land!

It’s such a weird feeling being somewhere, but no where. Like, your feet are on the earth but you’re not in any country in particular! Okay, enough of that weirdness. 

Walk towards Ecuador.

  
Please, oh please do something that Matt and I didn’t do. Take a picture at 000km. The very freaking beginning of Ecuador! I deeply regret missing this opportunity because it’s obviously the ONLY place you can take the snap.

Entering Ecuador was a piece of cake. 

After we filed out our papers, we waited maybe 5 minutes in the shortest line ever.

The border agent who let me in even spoke great English. He asked me where I was coming from (to which I replied the wrong city, then corrected myself), how long I was staying in Ecuador (to which I told him 45 days since that’s what Matt and I agreed we’d say), and then he asked if I was travelling alone (I sort of get the feeling this wasn’t an offical question, but who knows).

Once we were welcomed to Ecuador with a big ol’ stamp in our passports, it was time to get a taxi to Tulcan, the nearest town so we could take a bus to Quito. The taxi cost us $3.50 and took about 20 minutes.

Upon arrival at the bus station in Tulcan, we were ushered onto a bus that was leaving immediately for Quito. It cost $6.00 USD each and took 5.5 hours.

After a run in with big men with bug guns, we finally made it to Quito – kind of! 

The bus takes you to the north bus station, which is years away from wherever your hostel/hotel is. 

You’ll probably have to take a taxi from here. It cost us $10 but will differ depending on where your hostel is. Ask the driver to use the meter, or negotiate a price. In our experience, all of our taxi drivers have quoted the non-meter price to be within about 50 cents of the meter rate. We never felt like anyone was trying to rip us off.

— Cyn

Colombia-Ecuador Land Border Crossing Review

Total for 2 people: $48.00 USD (65.400 COP + $25.50) and 14 hours (spread over 2 days). Way cheaper than flying, if you’ve got the time — or want to see the Las Lajas Sanctuary!

Popayan to Pasto – BUS: 25.000 COP and 5.5 hours

Pasto to Ipiales – BUS: 7.000 COP and 2 hours

Ipiales to Colombia border – COLLECTIVO: 1.400 COP and 10 minutes

Ecuador border to Tulcan – TAXI: $3.50 USD and 20 minutes

Tulcan to Quito – BUS: $6.00 USD and 5.5 hours

North bus terminal to centro historic(ish) – TAXI: $10 and about 30 minutes

Tips For Entering Nicaragua With Proof of Onward Travel

Woowhoo! So you’ve decided you’re going to Nicaragua! You’ve got at least 6 months validity on your passport from your exit date. You have your leaving date in mind. You’re bag is packed…in your head. Your plans are coming together (if you even have plans).  And you just realized you need proof of exit. Oh shit. 

Here’s what we experienced getting into Nicaragua via air travel on March 12th 2015:

1) When we went to the checkin counter for Copa airlines in Miami, they asked us if we have a return ticket. We didn’t have one from Nicaragua because we’re not doing a round-trip. We did however book a flight home from Lima, Peru in January 2016. We can change our ticket for $115USD and we have every intention of doing that when we have a better idea of when and where we’ll be when we want to come home.

Tip 1: Get a return ticket that you can change. There might be a small fee to change so check the fine print. Factor that into your ticket cost.

2) When we told our airline about our return ticket from Peru, that wasn’t good enough. We had to show proof that we had that ticket, and thankfully Matt had the package with that proof from our travel agent. I also mentioned that we were travelling by land to Costa Rica, and that we’d be doing land travel all the way to Peru. 

Tip 2: Have all your documents with you and make them easily accessible. 

Tip 3: Let them know your plans of onward travel to your return destination. Don’t fumble when you’re talking because you’ll sound like a liar. You can also buy an onward bus ticket in advance just to be sure — we didn’t do that. 

3) When we got to immigration in Nicaragua, we had to buy a tourist card for $10USD. It’s cash only. We thought we would get 90 days here, as that’s what every single site (even the Canadian government travel website) said we’d be granted on arrival. Well…we only got 30 days! The immigration officer didn’t ask us if we had onward proof of onward travel, sufficients funds for our trip, or how long we planned to stay in Nicaragua. It was easy peasey getting into Nicaragua.

Tip 4: Have $10USD on you when you arrive or you’re going to run into issues getting your tourist card. 

Tip 5: Don’t fret about having proof of onward travel once you’re at immigration. Nobody asked us. They didn’t seem to care.

So there you go! We were freaking out about  our proof of onward travel before we left but it turned out it wasn’t a big deal. Basically, airlines won’t let you fly on a one way ticket so just buy an open jaw ticket that you can change. It might suck a bit having to eat the cost upfront, but at least you can travel with peace of mind knowing that your ticket home is paid for!

To sum up: your airline will probably require proof of exit before they let you in the plane but Nicaragua Immigration will not ask you for it.

– Cyn

How to Get from Nicaragua to Monteverde, Costa Rica by Public Bus

We wrote another post on this, but it was filled with lessons learned and commentary from our personal journey. Since alot of people have been visiting that page for what I’m presuming are the actual directions, I figured that it was time to write something straightforward and quickly helpful. Something you can save to your phone if need be!

Here we go. 

First, Get Yourself To The Border

This is so easy you have no idea — unless of course you’ve done it before. From where ever you are, take a chicken bus to Rivas. Once you’re at the bus station in Rivas, guys will probably be shouting at you/shepparding you/asking you “where you go?” And they might even be psychic and ask if you’re going to the border. Reply yes.

Or tell them, “the border”. Specifically, the name of the place is Peñas Blancas.

You can also take a taxi directly to the border from Rivas. We’d just finished a boat ride from hell, so when a taxi driver offered to take us, we agreed. It’s obviously more expensive this way, but for us, it was worth it.

Go Through the Border

This is a straightfoward(ish) process as long as you follow the herd and go where people point you to. Like all things in Nicaragua, we found that people are amazing and will help make sure you get to where you need to be.

That said: when you arrive at the border, there will be guys trying to help you fill out your customs form. The guys are NOT official, they will expect a tip (propina), and you don’t need that form yet. You’ll be given one to fill out later, at no charge.

For help getting through the border, Along Dusty Roads has a great deal of information. However, they do suggest that it’s nearly impossile to get to Monteverde/Santa Elena from the border without a night stop over somewhere. This isn’t true. Keep reading to find out how we did it.

Welcome to Costa Rica! Now it’s time to go to Monteverde / Santa Elena from the border

Like you, we couldn’t really find ANY information on how to do this. We figured there had to be a way without going to San Jose first or spending the night somewhere. Just look at a map and you’ll what we meant! And by George, you can do it. Here’s how.

Step 1: Start your border crossing bright and early. 

Aim to be at the border for when it opens or you will be in a huge line, and you risk missing the last bus to Monteverde in the same day. Yes it sucks waking up at an ungodly hour, but it’s worth it!

Step 2: Buy a ticket from the public bus counter at the Costa Rican border to Cruce Sardinal. 

You’re going to have to trust me when I say that the bus ticket counter will be obvious once you pass through the Costa Rican border. If you use the toilet before you cross, look through the fence to your right and you’ll see the ticket counter.

Don’t use the Tica bus, use the public bus! It might be helpful to let the ticket agent know you want to go to Monteverde. The ticket cost us about $6 USD (you’ll pay in colonies) – the price is posted and listed on the ticket.

Step 3: Get off the bus at La Irma

This isn’t half as straightforward as it sounds because Cruce Sardinal isn’t a bus station. It’s in the middle of the road by a gas station. After being on the bus for about 1 hour 45 minutes, we suggest that you ask the driver where you need to get off to go to Monteverde. They likely won’t volunteer this information so keep asking.

 

where you get off the first bus

#TravelTip: pre-load Google maps on your phone before you do this journey, that way you can follow along using your GPS. The second bus will take you through Juntas, so you’ll need to change buses BEFORE Juntas. 
Step 4: Walk across the street to the bus stop, and get the next bus.

 

the actual bus times!
 
This is the second and final bus. It cost about $3USD. Get on this one, and you’ll go straight to Monteverde/Santa Elena. Remember when I said to start your border crossing early? Well, that’s because the last bus of the day comes sometime between 2:30-3:30pm.

So, there you go, public bus from the border to Monteverde is possible, is relatively inexpensive ($9USD per person), and took around 5 hours with waiting time. Plus, it ends up with a stunning bus ride from La Irma to Santa Elena/Monteverde.

  — Cyn

How and How Much to Get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Del Toro?

So it’s time to leave Costa Rica for Bocas Del Toro, Panama.

The $30 USD shuttle From Puerto Viejo might seem tempting but the Sixaolo border crossing it’s so easy and much cheaper to do it yourself. Trust me, we just did it on May 5th, 2015. DIY the border crossing and you could save upwards of $16.75!!

Here’s how (and how much) to get to Bocas Del Toro from Puerto Viejo:

1) Take one of the earlier buses from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola. Starting at 6:30am, they come every hour.

Note that the bus may say Limón on it. Just ask the driver to make sure you’re getting on the right one. The bus takes about 1.5 hours, and the border closes at 5:00pm Costa Rica time.

Cost for bus from Puerto Viejo to Sixaola: $3.25 USD (you pay in colonies obviously)

2) The driver will kick you off the bus at the end of the line. If you get off on the road, walk straight ahead and up a tiny hill toward the Sixaola River (Rio Sixaola). It take 1-2 minutes. Cross the crazy old bridge. This is where you exit Costa Rica. Make sure you do this!

3) Go through Costa Rica Customs. It’s on your right in a tiny building. You have to fill out a short exit paper and pay an exit fee. The $7.00USD exit fee is payable via credit card (you do it with a machine) and you may or may not get a receipt. It doesn’t matter, the customs officers watch you pay. If you don’t have a credit card, you can pay cash but it’s a little more ($8 I think). 

There’s a free toilet here if you need it. It’s kind of gross and had no toilet paper on offer at the time of our border crossing.

Likely, Panamanian shuttle drivers will start soliciting you here. I recommend not to commit to one just yet because you can shop around for prices once you officially enter Panama. More on crossing the border.

4) Start walking straight again. You’ll be ushered into a suspect looking building and asked to pay for a stamp in your passport. It’s $4.00USD and it isn’t your Panama visa.

5) Carry on walking until you can turn left. Turn left and walk past a parking lot on your left. On your right is where you officially enter Panama.

It’s possible to cross without official paperwork being completely. It’s ILLEGAL and you’ll be in shit a few kilometres down the road when you hit a checkpoint. 

Do you really need proof of onward travel? We got asked for proof of onward travel. We showed the border guy a print out of our flight confirmation email to Colombia. He looked at the paper and said fine. He didn’t verify in any way that what we showed him was legitimate. We didn’t have a boarding pass (obviously).

Someone we met didn’t have onward travel. The border guy wouldn’t let him through…after about 20 minutes and a $20USD bill later, his passport was stamped.

We DO NOT recommend offering bribes or gifts or using fake tickets to enter any country. 

6) All of your paperwork is done now. It’s time to haggle with taxis/van drivers. It costs about $20 to go to Almirante by taxi, which is where you get the boat to Isla Colon (the main island home to Bocas Town). You can split the price with other people. I travelled with 4 other people and we each paid $4.00USD.

The van drivers will lie and tell you that if you take their van, you’ll save money on the boat. It’s total bullshit. The boat costs $6.00USD per person – it’s standard fair. That being said, you can negotiate with the van drivers for a decent price to the boat dock in Almirante (we got them down to $25 for 5 people).

It’s possible to take public buses. We didn’t so I can’t help with that.

Total cost from border to Almirate: $4.00USD.

7) You’ll be dropped off at the water taxi area. It costs $6.00USD and the boats run frequently. Sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s interesting (notice the toilets at the end of the docks!) and beautiful!

Total cost to get from Puerto Viejo to Bocas Town on Isla Colon: $13.25 USD

Remember, if you cross with the shuttle, you still have to pay all the border crossing fees. It’s cheaper to go by yourself!

It took us about 4 hours to get to Isla Bastimentos, which is about 35 mins by boat from Bocas Town.

**(Directions from http://www.puertoviejosatellite.com/)

Happy travels! 

–Cyn 

Crossing The Great Panama – Costa Rica Divide

We woke up at the butt crack of dawn on May 5th to begin our journey from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to Bocas Del Toro, Panama.

Some people would have taken the $30 shuttle. That would’ve been super easy and we could have slept (in) a bit. But not us, my friend. 

We are not some people! We’re more exciting! Adventurous! We’re better than people who take shuttle buses!

Besides $30 per person was too expensive. (We took the cheaper option.)

Plus we’d been laying on beaches/in swimming holes for the better part of 3 weeks. Our brains basically shut down and turned into brain-jellyfish. We needed some kind of adventure to wake us up. 

So here we were at 6:00am waiting for the first bus to Sixaola.

You know, so we could beat the huge line of people waiting to border cross.

Hahaha! 

There were no people. Only us, a couple of annoying but nice people from Spain, and a chica from New Jersey.

Guess who was first in the 5 person line. That’s right! We were.

We’d heard that in order to cross the border, you have to walk across an old railway bridge. Well, that was totally 100% accurate.

  
Get a load of that thing!! It really brightened my really early morning.

You had to watch your step because some of the boards were loose. They just kind of swung around when you stepped on them, threatening to drop unaware crossers into Rio Sixaola.

 

Rio Sixaola
Rio Sixaola

There really wasn’t a huge point to this blog post, I just wanted to show you the bridge because I really liked like it/found it really amusing.

 

no makeup Sixaola bridge selfie
no makeup Sixaola bridge selfie
 
— Cyn