About a week ago I was going through our site post by post. We’d recently changed systems, and I wanted to be sure everything moved correctly.
I ran across this post. When I saw that Las Lajas Basilica was only 4km from Ecuador, Jonathan and I immediately started planning a weekend getaway. As we don’t have a car, and didn’t want to rent one, we knew we would be going by bus from Quito to the border with Colombia. (Some buses cross the border with Colombia, but most don’t.)
From Quito to Tulcán (the closest town to the Colombian border) is about 4 ½ hours by bus. So, I did some research to find a route, a place to spend the night, and things to do when visiting Colombia and Las Lajas.
Nearly everything I could find was about coming from Colombia to Quito. And, what little I did find about going from Quito to Tulcán was a lie.
Every where (even bus companies’ own websites) said that busses leave from Quito’s Terrestre Cumandá. Some more searching told me that this terminal was close to the La Marin stop on the Ecovia.
Jonathan and I packed our bags (a day later than planned), grabbed the Ecovia to La Marin and got in a taxi to take us to Terminal Terrestre Cumandá. The only problem was that our driver didn’t know anything about this terminal.
He told us that we could either go to the southernmost terminal in Quito (Quitumbe) or to the northernmost (Carcelen).
We got out of the taxi and went to an internet café to check for directions. We were only a few blocks away. I thought that maybe the driver wanted to get more fare out of us.
We decided to walk to the terminal. On the way there, we had a great view of The Little Virgin of Quito.
However, once we actually got to the terminal, we realized that it’s no longer operational. It’s closed and shut down.
Ok, maybe our taxi driver was right. We decided that we’d go back up north (past our apartment) and head to Carcelen. We took the TroleBus to the northern terminal, and then took another bus to Terminal Carcelen.
By the time we actually got to the correct terminal, we had been enroute for over 2 hours. We asked the man selling tickets for Tulcán when the next bus was leaving. He said “5 minutes”. We should know better than to have believed him.
45 minutes later, the bus pulls out of the terminal. But, on the plus side, the ride took only 4 ½ hours instead of the projected 5 (cost: $5 per person).
However, there are no bathroom stops on this route. Be advised!
I slept and looked out the window for most of the trip, then Jonathan remembered that he’d brought the audio of “My Life” read by Bill Clinton. So we listened to that.
When we arrived in Tulcán, we grabbed a taxi to the border (about 6 km) for $3.50.
We pretty much just walked up to immigration and asked for stamps. We didn’t have to wait in line at all. It all went as smoothly as can be. In fact, it’s the easiest border crossing we’ve made in the last 7 months (and 17 border crossings).
From there we grabbed a taxi straight to Las Lajas, skipping Ipiales (as it’s just another sketchy border town).
We definitely overpaid for our taxi ($9). But by this time we just wanted to be done traveling and didn’t have the strength to negotiate for a savings of $4.
But, our taxi didn’t know where our hotel (Casa Pastoral) was. So, he dropped us off and pointed down the street. He said “Go down this street. If it’s not there, come back up here and ask someone.”
We did ask someone, and found it tucked away with a seemingly hidden entrance.
I’d read rave reviews about Casa Pastoral. In fact, that’s why we chose it. I’m thinking the only thing to rave about is its proximity to the basilica. But, you can read our review of the hotel here.
We dropped our stuff off, and went in search of some dinner (we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast and it was nearly 8:00pm).
Here’s a tip, if you’re traveling to Las Lajas, don’t try to find anything open on Saturday nights. Eat before you go or bring a picnic. We finally found a street vendor still open.
We split ½ a chicken breast and fries. We walked the village some more, and ran across an Easter Vigil service. That’s funny…Easter was last week.
After following the procession, it was back to Casa Pastoral, because they lock you out at 9:30pm.