Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Colombia - Ecuador border crossing

We were really excited about our first border crossing by land. The Colombia - Ecuador border is basically a bridge that spans a river, with Colombia on one side and Ecuador on the order. La Frontera or Rumichacha, as its called is a bustling place. In fact, earlier in the day when we took a taxi to a nearby church in Colombia, the taxi driver dropped us off at the frontera instead of the church, past the Colombian immigration! I had a few stress filled moments there while we took the taxi back into Colombia!

Anyway, people are free to cross the border and though there is a lot of police activity, the onus is on you to get stamped in and out. So we first went to the Colombian immigration building, stood in a long line, got our exit stamp and then walked across the bridge.

The border bridge, a beehive of activity:


Entering Ecuadorian immigration, the building on the other side of the road:


A jubilant Swami after getting our Ecuador visa.


Ecuador - no visa needed for Indian citizens

Citizens of any nationality do not need a visa to enter Ecuador for tourism or business up to 90 days. Knowing this, we confidently walked across the border, even though I wasn't expecting it to be a smooth crossing. We were not disappointed. Our Indian passports caused quite a bit of confusion amongst the immigration officials. It was waved around, pointed at and conferred upon for about 45 minutes. Clearly, they have never seen one before.

I was getting a little tense, but when the border officer told me that I need a tourist visa for entering, I wasn't about to give up so easily. I mustered up my most confident and firm tone and told him that  I spoke to my embassy and was told we do not need a visa. This led to more conferencing - at one point, ALL the immigration officials left their counters to go to a back room to talk about our case. I actually found this a bit comical. I should have been stressed, but I had come prepared with the Indian embassy's phone number and was going to call them if it came to that. Swami was waiting as his officer decided to whatever was being done to my passport, so he was trying to use the 3G on our Kindle to get some solid proof about no-visa-policy.

At one point, our passport was literally bandied about between two immigration officers - they simply didn't want to take on the hassle. They caught me looking at them doing this and gave me what I can only call a sheepish grin. I grinned back at them and felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders then. I just knew that they wouldn't leave us in the lurch at that moment. In fact, my immigration guy (that's what I'll call him) was a really patient fellow. He made so many phone calls to find out what he should do. He told me a couple of times that I need a visa, but I never backed down. Eventually he must have gotten the green signal, so he stamped us immediately without asking a single question.

Its a pity that word of the new legislation about visa free travel did not reach these guys at all. I can only hope that we have paved the way for the next Indian traveler who comes this way. Don't disappoint me friends! (Ecuador and Colombia are amazing places to travel, by the way).

We were thrilled to bits to when we got stamped in. Giggling like idiots, we took pictures with our passports outside the building. Getting into Otovalo from there was a piece of cake. 

Crossing the Colombia - Ecuador border

  • From the lovely colonial city of Popayan, get to the town of Ipiales. The bus journey takes 6-8 hours. Stay at Hotel Metropol, which is right across from the bus terminal.
  • Ask the restaurant in Hotel Metropol if they have "lenteja" - if you're lucky, you can get rice, lentil stew and juice and salad (for the vegetarians).
  • Stay at the Hotel Metropol for COP25000 per night.
  • Next morning, get breakfast in one of the many restaurants nearby and take a collectivo to the border - La Frontera or Rumichaca. COP1500.
  • Cross the border - get exit stamp in Colombia without fail. Get stamped into Ecuador.
  • Get a collectivo from the Ecuadorian side to the city of Tulcan. [Tulcan has a Govinda's, if you're so inclined].
  • From Tulcan, buses to Otavalo cost $4 pp. There are many of them. Snacks and water are readily available everywhere.
  • Buses to Otavalo will drop you off on the Panamericana, from there a 10 minute walk will get you to the center of the town.