Ipiales and the Ecuadorian border
May 1, 2014 – May 2, 2014
Our last stop before crossing the border into Ecuador was Ipiales. The bus ride from Popayan south to the small border town was the best bus ride thus far, with amazing scenery all around, soaring green mountains and plunging canyons, often right alongside the road.
Being a border town of ill repute we took a taxi from the bus terminal straight to our hotel and did not venture farther than across the street for dinner. While we did not have any problems, border towns along the Colombian Ecuadorian border are known for their issues, such as weapon and drug smuggling. It was not dark yet when we arrived, but even the guy at the front desk of our hotel said it was not safe to walk the streets that afternoon. He recommended waiting until the morning if we really desired to undertake any such adventure.
The next morning we took a colectivo a few kilometers out of town to the famous church, Santuario de Las Lajas. Set deep in a canyon, this church straddles the gap between both sides.
The church provided many great picture taking opportunities, however it was sad to see how the local population was encroaching on this beautiful structure. Local houses are being built next to and practically on top of it, and souvenir vendors have flooded the area all around it, and power lines crisscross the canyon to power all the new buildings. It becomes hard to avoid capturing all the commercialism in your pictures of the church.
After our quick side trip to visit what was probably the most unique and interesting building in Colombia, we were off again towards our main goal, the Ecuadorian border. The buses do not cross the border, so from the small end of the line terminal in Ipiales we boarded a colectivo and headed the last couple kilometers to the border.
After checking out of Colombian customs we walked past several men holding large wads of very fake looking US cash, offering attractive exchange rates for our Colombian Pesos. We hurried past these swindlers and across the bridge that separates the two countries.
*A quick note on Ecuadorian currency – they don’t have any as such. During the financial crisis of 2000, the Ecuadorian government decided to abandon their own weakening currency and use instead the currency of the United States. So we would once again be using familiar cash. They have printed their own 5 cent, 10 cent, 25 cent, and 50 cent pieces and have declared their value to be exactly equal to their American equivalents. You can find both American coins and equal Ecuadorian coins mixed pretty evenly. All paper bills used are US cash. Also, ever wonder where all those $1.00 coins that are so rarely seen in the USA are? Well they seem to all be in Ecuador, $1.00 US coins are everywhere and used in nearly every transaction.