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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 city a little bit. Sure, it isn’t the best city in Colombia but it is comfortable and not the worst place to spend a couple of hours before or after checking out the nearby Las Lajas Sanctuary (one of the best places to visit in Colombia in my opinion!)
In this blog, I’ll let you in on a few things I found out about Ipiales, Colombia after visiting for myself and crossing the nearby border there. I’ll also include information about spending the night there in case you find yourself in that situation due to the border’s limited opening hours.
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’re heading to Colombia, consider spending one night in Ipiales before heading to the border first thing in the morning. If you’re heading to Colombia (like I was), book a night in Ipiales to stay in to prevent having to travel at night through the southern area of Colombia.
*Safety Tip: It is best NOT to travel at night from Ipiales to other destinations in southern Colombia for safety reasons. Of course, it is totally up to you, but if you want to be cautious (like we were), consider spending the night in Ipiales and traveling the next day. Keep reading below for my recommended places to stay in Ipiales!
2. Do NOT miss out on Las Lajas Sanctuary
The best thing about Ipiales, Colombia 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 center 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 traveling 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.
Is a visit to Las Lajas worth it? 100% yes! Honestly, we almost didn’t go becuase we thought “it’s just another church”, but believe me when I say it is spectacular! Read our blog all about Las Lajas Sancutary for all of the information you need to visit!
3. Go shopping and explore the plaza
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 think this also has to do with the fact that it’s a border town and things in Colombia are generally cheaper than Ecuador (that uses the USD.) People stock up on clothes, electronics, and household goods in Ipiales before heading to Ecuador.
I spent a couple of hours shopping in and around the main plaza. The locals were so friendly and loved having us in their shops. It was very cheap and the selection was huge! To say the least, I was pretty happy to replace some of the tatty clothes in my backpack!
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 traveling 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 some 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!
Where to Stay in Ipiales, Colombia
Like I mentioned before, it isn’t the worst thing if you need to spend a night in Ipiales, Colombia before or after crossing the border with Ecuador. In fact, it really isn’t a bad idea to break up your journey and enjoy the city as well as Las Lajas.
So, if you’re thinking about spending the night in Ipiales, here are some great options:
Six Avenue Hostel – Backpacker Hostel
There aren’t many options when it comes to hostels in Ipiales. In fact, Six Avenue is one of your only choices, luckily it is a well-reviewed hostel that costs as little as $6 USD for a dorm bed. This hostel has a central location and common areas to meet other travelers.
Royal Class Hotel – Budget Hotel
This hotel is perfect for budget travels as a private room with a private bathroom goes for as little as $10 USD per night! The hotel is located only a couple hundred meters from the plaza and the staff are super friendly and helpful!
Loft Hotel Ipiales – Upperscale Hotel
This hotel is relatively new and it is gorgeous. If you’re looking for a nice place to stay in a modern hotel with plenty of facilities, this is it. All rooms have air conditioning and TVs with Netflix. On-site there is also a restaurant serving an included breakfast as well as a sauna. It’s the perfect place to relax before or after a hectic border crossing.
Before you go…
And there you have it, 5 tips for traveling 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!
If you’re just starting your travel through Colombia, be sure to check out our complete Colombia travel guide as well as the rest of our Colombia blogs. Here are just a few of our favorite articles that you might find helpful: