Colombia (Republic of Colombia)

Languages: Spanish

Currencies: COP · Colombian peso ($)

Capitol: Bogotá

Continents: South America

Borders: Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Panama

More useful information

Area: 1,141,748km2

Population: 50,882,884

Traffic/driving side: right

Landlocked country: No

Independent country: Yes

United Nations member: Yes

IDD Prefix: +57

Timezones: UTC-05:00

Last updated on May 15, 2024

After backpacking Colombia we were aiming to cross one and only existing land border with Ecuador – Ipiales. Almost everyone was discouraging us from undertaking this adventure but one thing I could not miss was visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary (located at the border) – the architectural marvel – a sight to behold and a testament to human creativity and faith!

Visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary and crossing a land border between Colombia and Ecuador.

Visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary.

After this thrilling adventure I’m dropping all travel, safety, travel and practical information on visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary and crossing land border between Colombia and Ecuador. Visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary is a must, it is probably the most beautiful sanctuary in South America.

We were staying in Neiva after visiting amazing Tatacoa desert. I was looking to take a bus from Neiva to Pasto but it takes around 22 hours and the only thing Colombian say is to avoid traveling by night buses. So we had to find another solution and after exploring all the options the cheapest was flying from Neiva to Bogota and then from Bogota to Pasto! We paid $100 for both flights – two flights were cheaper than a direct flight from Neiva – so check all options when booking. 

One thing I would highly advice – do not travel without medical insurance. Neither Colombia or Ecuador are countries to safe on medical coverage. I have it with SafetyWing and it’s brilliant. 

How to get to Las Lajas Sanctuary?

If you are traveling from Bogota the road leads through Armenia – Cali – Pasto and Ipiales – the land border with a Sanctuary. To visit Las Lajas Sanctuary you first need to get to PASTO. You can do it by taking a bus or a plane – I STRONGLY RECOMMEND FLYING – we took a bus first and then flew to Pasto but it is a risky region in Colombia for national and international travelers. I highly recommend booking flights on TRIP.COM – zero problems (especially in Colombia), best flight deals. Most flights would be operated by Avianca – it should be around $100-$120 per flight if booked in advance.

PASTO AIRPORT – View from the plane over the surrounding mountain peaks is incredible! The airport is small and empty – it was just our plane in the entire airport. The air looked extremely clean with great visibility across the overwhelming jungle and mountains. 

Visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary and crossing a land border between Colombia & Ecuador.

How to get from Pasto Airport to Las Lajas Sanctuary?

The moment you step out of the airport building there are number ot taxis parked in front of the entrance. There are two ways to travel from the airport – by local BUS or a TAXI.

TAXI: PASTO airport is located 30 km from Pasto city. The ride costs 40 000 COP, which is ok for such long distance. Ask a driver to drop you off at the bus terminal in Pasto. He’ll know anyway, almost every tourist in the area is visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary. 

PUBLIC BUS: You will be able to get a bus to Ipiales or Las Lajas: 14 000 COP is a ticket for a mini bus and the drive takes 2 hours to Ipiales. 

Route to Las Lajas Sanctuary.

BE CAREFUL when walking toward the sanctuary. Although there’s plenty of people and feels like a safe place, we heard lots of people were robbed and couldn’t even detect when it happened! 

Honestly we were lucky as hell, I was carrying Nikon camera and GoPro, making us a precious target. It’s about 20 minute walk from the entrance to the sanctuary. The views of the surrounding valley and gorgeous waterfall and exceptional. 

Why is Las Lajas Sanctuary important?

Las Lajas Sanctuary holds deep religious significance. According to local legend, the sanctuary’s origins can be traced back to a miraculous event in the 18th century, when the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared on the rock face, leading to the construction of the church.

Pilgrims from around the world visit the sanctuary to pay homage to the Virgin and seek blessings. Even for non-religious travelers, the spiritual ambiance and the story behind the sanctuary make it an exceptional experience.

Sanctuary marvel.

The architectural beauty of Las Lajas Sanctuary is truly remarkable.

The church is built into the canyon wall and spans the river gorge connected by a bridge. The interior features stunning stained glass windows, intricate arches and ornate decor. It’s all a an-made beauty. 

Try local cuisine on the way to Las lajas!

Small restaurants in Las Lajas Sanctuary, serve plenty of traditional food prepared in vessels. They say this is the place where you can try best burrito and stakes called Baby Beef in whole Colombia. It smelled amazing but unfortunately we didn’t have a time to sit down and try, as we were rushing toward the border. 

Visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary is FREE – there is no entry ticket. There’s a separate entry for the museum. This is the most impressive cathedral in South America. 

The architectural beauty of Las Lajas Sanctuary is truly remarkable. The church is built into the canyon wall and spans the river gorge, connected by a bridge. The interior features stunning stained glass windows, intricate arches, and ornate decor, creating a captivating blend of natural and man-made beauty. Whether you are a religious pilgrim or an architecture enthusiast, the sanctuary's design and setting are sure to leave a lasting impression.

Taxi from Las Lajas Sanctuary to Ipiales land border.

The quickest way to get from Las Lajas Sanctuary to Ipiales land border is by taxi. Taxi cost 10 000 COP and it’s only a 10 minutes drive.

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Visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary - travel advice and tips.

When planning visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary, it’s essential to keep a few practical tips in mind. The sanctuary is open to visitors daily, and guided tours are available for those who wish to learn more about its history and significance.

The weather in the region can be unpredictable, so it’s advisable to dress in layers and be prepared for rain. There are number of hiking opportunities so wear comfortable footwear and clothing if you are planning to explore the area.

All you need to know when crossing a land border in Ipiales between Colombia and Ecuador.

Before arriving in Quito I would suggest booking an accommodation – our taxi driver took us directly to our guesthouse, assisted us to the reception and told us not to leave the room after dark! 

You will be able to get best deals on agoda.com. 

The land border in Ipiales is the only land crossing available between Colombia and Ecuador. The border is very busy, you can never be sure of the length of the queue to the office window. Almost every traveler searches information on this border safety. Because of the constant immigrants movement the border situation changes rapidly and it is very difficult to predict how long will the procedure take. 

We were at the border at 3 pm. Please note you need to have a Colombian’s exit stamp first to enter Ecuador. It’s important to mention this, as our taxi driver took us directly to Ecuadorian office, where we were told to walk back to Colombian Migration Office and get a stamp. This only wasted our time and let’s be honest this isn’t the place you want to be. 

On the Colombian border there are two queues – take the left one (having the building in front of you) – it’s shorter and also dedicated for travelers. 

We waited 45 minutes to get the stamp – so actually it was quite fast. Having your stamp you need to cross the yellow bridge to get to Ecuador Migration Office. There was no queue at all, No costs involved on both sides and no paper work! Some blogs say you need to fill out a migration form before entering the line. No need to fill anything, we asked in the officer twice before stepping into a queue. You are granted 3 months visa in your passport.

I have no photos from the border, I wouldn’t feel safe to take out my phone. I would advise the same – we heard really terrifying stories from other travellers!

Is it safe to cross land border between Colombia and Ecuador?

You can never be fully safe, nobody can guarantee what will happen. As I said the situation at the border is not stable, there were thousand of immigrants trying to cross the border. We heard you can’t event trust police, they witnessed how the police was trying to stral a phone from one backpacker. 

We also heard that on the same day in the morning hours a British couple was attacked and they pointed a gun at them trying to rob them.

Do not show your presious belongings, don’t take out your phone, keep your wallet safe (never show cash!). There’s hundreds of Venezuelans on the border, people say they are ruthless when it comes to robbing. They are poor, hungry and hopeless.

Don’t take out money from the ATM places on the border, you are able to pay COP or dollars in Ecuadorian towns located near the border.

How to get from Ipiales to the nearest town?

From the Ecuadorian border in Ipiales you need to take taxi to the nearest city TULCAN (to the terminal if you are planning to travel to Quito). No need to have Ecuadorian money, taxi drivers take COP. Even in Tulcan we could pay with COP. You need to buy ticket on the terminal, it’s $6 to Quito, it’s not possible to buy it in the bus. 

There’s lots of buses to Quito, they departure every 30 minutes. We started on time at 3.50 p.m. and it took 5 h 15 minutes to reach Quito terminal, which is slightly more than they forecast for this trip. Quito terminal is busy and there’s plenty of taxis. Our Guy was delightful, I looked him deeply in the eyes and I knew he’s ok. 

We said we need to get an internet first, otherwise we’re not going anywhere. He was very helpful, he brought us near one big bus and gave us a wifi password 🙂 It worked, we checked the accommodation and followed him to the car. It appeared it was an Uber taxi! 

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Sassari Sardinia

Hey - I'm Eva!

Hiker, adventurous traveler and the author of this blog. My biggest joy is mountaineering and writing reportage travel stories here on this blog, to help you create a unique travel experience. Traveling is freedom, allows you seeing the world truly, meet communities, grow. Taste it!
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