5 Tips for Travelling to Ipiales, Colombia
November 5, 2018
5 Tips for Travelling to Ipiales
Ipiales is a small city sitting just on the border of Colombia. While it isn’t a tourist destination per se, a large number of tourists pass through Ipiales simply because of the border crossing the city shares with Ecuador.
For me, Ipiales wasn’t a place I just drove through, in fact, I actually spent the night there which allowed me to explore the town a little bit. Based on my exploring, I would recommend to anyone to spend a bit of time in Ipiales, even if it is just a couple of hours in order to take in the local charm of the town and the nearby Las Lajas Sanctuary (one of the best places to visit in Colombia in my opinion!)
Since Ipiales is not often visited by tourists there isn’t a ton of information available about visiting there. These are my 5 top travel tips for visiting Ipiales, ones that should make your visit more enjoyable!
1. Allow plenty of time to cross the border with Ecuador
The border crossing between Colombia and Ecuador near Ipiales is a tricky one simply because it has been so busy in recent months. Getting through this border has been reported as taking several hours during certain times of the year.
My best advice would be to allow plenty of daylight hours in case you end up waiting in line at the border.
For that reason, planning on staying the night in Ipiales is a great way to break up your journey. If you are heading to Colombia, consider spending one night in Ipiales before heading to the border first thing in the morning. If you are heading to Colombia (like I was), book a night in Ipiales to stay in to prevent having to travel at night.
2. Check out Las Lajas Sanctuary
The best thing about Ipiales is the nearby attraction, Las Lajas Sanctuary. Las Lajas Sanctuary is a cathedral that is said to be the most beautiful in all of South America. While I didn’t see every cathedral in South America, out of the ones I did visit, Las Lajas was definitely the most beautiful.
Las Lajas is located 13km from the city centre of Ipiales. You can get there either by hiring a taxi or taking a collectivo.
Collectivos depart all day long from the main bus terminal and cost 2,500 COP per person. The downside to the collectivos is that they will not depart until they are full, which can take some time especially if you are travelling alone.
There is no entrance fee to Las Lajas.
Once at Las Lajas you walk a short way downhill to reach the cathedral itself. There, you can explore the outside and the inside. If you continue walking you will be led to a beautiful viewpoint.
Collectivos and taxis wait where you were dropped off to return to Ipiales. Allow about 1.5 hours total for the entire trip including some time for exploring and taking photos.
3. Go Shopping
Ipiales surprised me with how great the shopping there was. In the main plaza, there are many market stalls as well as small shops selling clothing and electronics. I was shocked at how nice the clothes were and how affordable they were!
Since Ipiales isn’t a town typically for tourists, the prices seemed a lot more affordable. I spent a couple of hours shopping here. The locals were so friendly and loved having us in their shops.
4. Travel by Minibus
Most people travel to Ipiales from Cali or Popayan in Colombia. If heading in the opposite direction (from Ecuador to Colombia) then Cali or Popayan will likely be your next destination. There are a couple pieces of advice I have for that particular journey.
The first is that you should book a minibus, not a large coach bus. While the coach-style buses are more comfortable they take forever to get from point A to point B along the curvy road through the mountains. A minibus can be up to 3 hours faster than the large buses on the journey between Ipiales and Popayan.
The second piece of advice is to consider travelling by day only. While this route has become much safer in recent times, we were warned by a few different people that it is always safest to travel by day. This is another reason why spending a night in Ipiales could be a good idea!
5. Eat local food
If you just arrived from Ecuador, then you are in luck because Colombian food is awesome! And, if you are leaving Colombia, then you are also in luck because the food in Ipiales is cheap!
Around the main plaza, there are a few street food options such as arepas and empanadas. Try them both! If you can find empanadas that are served with guacamole then that is even better!
We also ate at a fried chicken place at the main square and it was only 10,000 COP for a huge meal. While it was just fried chicken with salad and potatoes, it was really good and fresh!
And there you have it, 5 tips for travelling to Ipiales! Don’t make Ipiales a place you just drive through, actually visit Ipiales, spend a night explore – and definitely don’t miss visiting the Las Lajas Cathedral!