Finally, I was in Colombia. After a lot of debate about crossing the Ecuador-Colombia border after dark, we decided strength in numbers would keep us safe. In the end it was the most relaxed border crossing so far, other than an attempt to short-change us on currency conversions (caught by logic and confirmed by a calculator). On to Ipiales!

The main (read: only) drawcard in Ipiales is not actually in Ipiales. Santuario de las Lajas is a 20 minute collectivo taxi ride from the town in Las Lajas, and is well worth the visit.

Look for the white collectivos.
The only good looking part of Ipiales, on the walk to the bus station.
When I was a kid going to church I always thought the priest lived in a house behind the altar and I’ve never wanted it to be true more. Las Lajas‘ back wall is formed by the natural cliff and is impressively cohesive with the neo-Gothic architecture. The dark brick and white trim of the church and band of angels lining the front-on approach make this church a little daunting. The fact it is built overhanging a snaking green valley adds a touch of the surreal.

Apart from the church Ipiales kind of blows so Jane and I moved on very quickly to Popayán. This city is old – it was formed in the 1530s and still retains a big chunk of colonial architecture. Known as the White City it is most popular during semana santa and hosts a huge religious procession/party. We were there a couple of weeks prior but could still feel the excitement around the main square. Park Life Hostel, right there on the square, was a great home for a couple of nights and even had cats to play with. I really like hostels with pets, especially cats.

Popayán is also known for its gastronomy and was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2007, however a trip to the local market left me a little unenthused. The food was good and cheap, but nothing to write home about. I don’t think vegetarian Jane enjoyed it much either…

Delicious, apparently.

Popayán is the kind of town that serves for two or three nights if you have the time and want to recharge a little before heading north to Calí. It’s nice to walk around the white streets but not incredibly exciting after that.

When we did eventually move on to Calí we cottoned on to a peculiarity in the Colombian bus system: bartering. Because the journeys are relatively short and often in minivans, if you time it just right you can haggle for a lower price because they’re desperate to fill the bus in the closing minutes. Pit two agencies against each other and let them lower the bid for you, we saved a handful of dollars over a few journeys.

One thing to note though, the bus trips north from Ecuador can be sketchy. At nightfall we were told by a Colombian to put all electronics out of view and not have screens showing, because motorcycle bandits (yep, still a thing) have known to hold up busses at gunpoint in the past. We stopped for almost an hour in a small town on the way to Popayán to wait for more busses so we could form a convoy. Nothing happened, but be careful out there flashpackers!

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