Category: COLOMBIA

HOW TO CROSS THE BORDER FROM ECUADOR TO COLOMBIA | LAGO AGRIO – SAN MIGUEL

HOW TO CROSS THE BORDER FROM ECUADOR TO COLOMBIA | LAGO AGRIO – SAN MIGUEL

We’d just finished an amazing experience in the Amazon in Ecuador and were on a high.

So, hopped up on sloths and anacondas, we decided to take a chance and go against all the information we read.

We crossed the uncrossable border: from Lago Agrio, Ecuador to San Miguel, Colombia.

Luckily for us, it was the perfect gamble that paid off; saving us time, and even coming with the bonus of seeing a gorgeous and rarely visited Colombian town!

So why did we do it? And how?

Why Cross the Border at Lago Agrio, Ecuador?

Let us explain.

After finishing up our amazing stay at Caiman Eco Lodge in Cuayabeno Reserve, Ecuador, we were moving on to Colombia. This involved two options:

1. Traveling 8 or more hours overnight back to Quito, Ecuador. Then a 5-hour bus ride to Ipiales on the Ecuadorian border side, and traveling onto Tulcan on the Colombian border side. You can read more about that option here.

2. A 20-minute taxi to cross the border near Lago Agrio, Ecuador to the Colombian town of San Miguel, where we could get onward transport all the way to Popayan.

We had read horror stories about the Ipiales-Tulcan border crossing. Due to the awful things happening in Venezuela, there is a huge amount of Venezuelan refugees moving through countries, particularly at this border. The offices are completely overwhelmed, and we had heard of instances where people had waited all day to be processed through immigration, only to not make it through during business hours. That means they had to return to town, find accommodation, and try again the next day, with no guarantee that they would make it through this time, either. So, not only was this the long route – but it was also the uncertain route.

Border option two sounded much better – quiet, barely anyone using the crossing, easy to access from Lago Agrio. Sounds great, right? Oh, except for this:

‘The Colombian border is less than 20km north of town but it’s best to avoid it. The area is notorious for smugglers and guerrilla activity.’ Lonely Planet

Well sure, it sounded slightly dodgier, but to be honest I would do unspeakable things to avoid another overnight bus in Ecuador. And I always think of Lonely Planet as party poopers who err on the side of Nanna advice, to make sure their butts are safe from suing.

This border did have a bad reputation in past years, but apparently, times have changed. Ecuador’s immigration history is quite unique, and also part of the reason things were so sketchy before – you can read all about it here.

So after some blog research plus checking with a number of locals how dangerous it really was, we decided to go for it and adventure into the shady world of narcotrafficantes and guerilleros. 

How to Cross the Border Lago Agrio, Ecuador to San Miguel, Colombia

After speaking to a number of locals both in Lago Agrio and staff on our tour, they assured us that this border crossing was easy and I would agree with them. Speaking a little Spanish is useful, but if you’re planning on this route and don’t, this guide includes a few useful phrases should you get stuck.

Before Travelling to the Border

Old information on other blogs told us that we needed to be stamped out at the police station in Lago Agrio town before heading to the border, but this is no longer true. There are both Ecuadorian and Colombian border officials at the office at the border (la Frontera, but also called la Punta) so you can just head straight there.

We recommend if you have any USD left over to change them to Colombian pesos in Lago Agrio town. You can do this at the Western Union. We found the guy who helped us there to be friendly and professional, even giving us some change when we asked. It’s a great idea to get some Colombian pesos (COP) as you likely won’t be seeing ATMs for a while.

Lago Agrio safety is often cited as sketchy at best, but we found people to be friendly and helpful. Just don’t go wandering off into dark back streets and keep your wits about you, and you should be fine.

How to Get to the Border between Ecuador and Colombia

To get to La Punta from Lago Agrio, you need to take a special taxi truck from a specific area in town, the corner of Eloy Alfaro and Avenida Colombia.

This shared taxi only cost a few dollars, and it involved being driven down the highway extremely fast while being spoken at in rapid-fire Spanish. Very fun!

When we got to La Punta the driver asked if we had our stamp (¿Tienen sus sellos?). Err no? It seems if you are Colombian/Ecuadorian you don’t need a stamp to cross the border, or there is a special agreement in place.

However, us gringos are not so lucky – so our driver dropped us at the Immigration office to get our passports sorted out. He told us to take the bus to the border once we had our stamps (Toman el autobus para la Punta) while he and the other passengers sped off to Colombia.

No bags were allowed into the huge airconditioned Immigration office (why) so Jack and I took turns getting stamped out and in. There were a large number of Venezuelan people around waiting to be processed, I was curious what their final destination was but still feeling nervous with Spanish, I chickened out from asking them.

After about an hour our passports were ready so we walked out to where we saw someone standing in the general direction our driver had pointed us to for the bus. We asked the friendly guy if we were in the right place (¿Los autobuses para la Punta salen de aqui?) which he confirmed we were. When the bus arrived we paid around 80 cents US each or so, and rode the 5 minutes to the border.

Then we strolled over the bridge and ta-da! We were in Colombia!

Onward Transport to other parts of Colombia

After crossing the bridge the next step of the journey is to get a shared truck (camioneta) to the largest nearby town of La Hormiga.

Don’t make the mistake of taking one to San Miguel, which even tinier than La Hormiga!

You can choose to sit in the back (petrol fumes, cheaper) or the cab (cuddling up with strangers, more expensive). Both are pretty awful, to be honest – but this is an adventure!

Where to go from La Hormiga

When we arrived in La Hormiga we were a little discouraged. The bus station was tiny. We had thought we’d be able to get immediately onto a comfy overnight bus and cruise through to a larger town with ease. Not so.

After being so used to a pretty high level of comfort and established transport links on other South American transport, we were fairly shocked.

Colombia seems to thrive on mini-buses and camionetas which kinda suck. Furthermore, arriving at 4pm meant we had missed all the mini-buses for the day, and so we had the pleasure of paying 70,000 COP each for a hideously uncomfortable camioneta ride where the people behind us essentially screamed and shouted into our ears for the duration of the trip. But hey, ADVENTURE!

We took the camioneta to the closest “big town” which was Mocoa, which we had heard was the best location for onward destinations.

We didn’t see it during the day but it definitely had a shifty vibe by night, and I’m not one to be nervous about these kinds of things. Lots of strange men standing in shadows in the dark near the bus station. Reassuring.

From La Hormiga – Popoyan or Cali?

The positive – there were large, normal buses! I almost cried when I saw them, my body still sore from bracing myself from falling on the camioneta driver’s lap on the previous trip. We quickly decided between two options: Cali or Popoyan. We went with Popoyan, figuring that we preferred smaller towns to big hectic cities. My big bus happiness was short lived when we realized we had exactly 20 minutes to find an ATM, get cash and get on the bus to Popoyan.

Wooo….adventure?

We sprinted past the dodgy men in the shadows, madly asking everyone in town where there was an ATM (¿Donde está el cajero automático?) found one, took out cash, managed to not be robbed or kidnapped by the shadow men, and got on the bus with time to spare.

We took a night bus which left at around 10pm and arrived in Popoyan at around 7am. At some points I woke up because I swear we were just driving on dirt tracks, which we probably were. The roads in this part of Colombia were the worst we experienced in all of South America.

BUT…we made it through the adventure! Alive! (Just)

Crossing the border from Lago Agrio, Ecuador to San Miguel, Colombia

To be fair I think it may have only shaved 6-7 hours or so off our total trip time, but it was a real test of everything. Patience, resilience, life skills, patience…

If you are spending some time in the Amazon near Lago Agrio, it’s definitely a good option for crossing into Colombia, or vice versa.

If you want to try an adventurous route getting from Ecuador to Colombia or Colombia to Ecuador, crossing at the Lago Agrio and San Miguel border will not disappoint you. No doubt friendly locals will help you on the way!


Have you done this border crossing and survived? Has anything changed? Let us know!

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PROVIDENCIA – COLOMBIA’S SECRET CARIBBEAN ISLAND

PROVIDENCIA – COLOMBIA’S SECRET CARIBBEAN ISLAND

There aren’t many hidden secrets left in the Caribbean…but I’m about to let you in on one:

Providencia Island!

Colombia is a country full of so many contrasts it will make your head spin. This not only holds true on the mainland of the country but also within the islands that it holds within its territory.

Islands?! Yes. Just when you thought you knew Colombia, another secret unfurls!

Colombia has a number of islands dotted along its Caribbean coast, such as Islas Baru, Islas Rosarias and Tierra Bomba, and even has islands along its Pacific coast.

But it also has a secret chain of islands situated in the middle of the ocean – the San Andres archipelago. Located almost 800km off the coast of mainland Colombia, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the tiny specks of San Andres, Providencia, and San Catalina have been mistakenly attributed to the South American nation, and really belong to Nicaragua.

In reality, these islands are actually only accessible from Colombia, and even getting in from there is a process! Battle stories from the trip over are a real conversation point in Providencia, and you will find out why…

Once you arrive though – you’ll realize it was worth the journey. Providencia, in particular, is truly off the radar to most tourists and so quiet and laidback that you won’t be able to do anything else but swim, eat fresh fish and relax.

How to get to Providencia

Getting to Providencia requires time and a decent amount of money. If you’re planning to take the route that we did – flying to San Andres and then taking an onward boat to Providencia, we would recommend staying in Providencia for at least 5 nights. It’s a long process to get there and to get the most out of the island it makes sense to stick around for a while and enjoy it.

Step One: Fly to San Andres

The first step in getting to Providencia is to fly to San Andres. We flew from Cartagena airport. There are a few budget options that fly this route including Viva Air, Wingo and a few others, along with the usual mid-range suspects such as LATAM and Copa. If you buy your ticket way in advance you can score a return flight for as little as 70 AUD/50 USD which is a bargain. Because we booked only a week or so in advance due to our vague plans, it was a little pricier, around 140 AUD/100 USD not including baggage, but I guess that’s the price you pay for freedom. You also need to pay a 110,000 COP island tax at the airport which it didn’t mention anywhere in our booking, so make sure you have cash for that.

Step Two: Stay overnight in San Andres OR catch a direct local flight to Providencia

Because the flights from mainland Colombia didn’t match up with the boat times to Providencia, we had to stay a night in San Andres. If you go with the local flight option (which you may want to, once you hear about the boat!) you might be able to avoid this. Local flights are run by Satena and can be booked on their website. This is the far simpler and more comfortable, but less adventurous and more expensive option. Remember this is a small plane flight, so you can only take 10kg of luggage in total. Flights sell out early and cost roughly 280,000 COP/129 AUD/93 USD each way.

San Andres is quite well known to Colombian tourists, and while the beach we visited (Spratt-Bight Beach, sandwiched between the airport and the marina) is stunningly beautiful, all the trappings that come with mass tourism seem to be here. There are tons of duty-free shops.

Like, tons.

Why there would ever need to be so many of the same shop, I do not know, however it’s a great place to pick up some cheap essentials (sunscreen for one – this is the first place we saw on our whole trip where we would not need to sell a body part to buy some!) so there’s that.

There are numerous cheap posadas in San Andres that will get you by for a night. We stayed at Posada Hostal San Martin which was a rather odd backyard construction job but sufficed for a night’s sleep.

Almost there…

Step Three: Boat to Providencia

Okay, so you’ve made it to the final step – yes! Bad news though – this is the one that will test you.

We arrived in San Andres on Sunday, and surprise, surprise, the ticket office was not open. We had tried to buy tickets on the website of the boat company, Conocemos Navegando, prior to this, but couldn’t get it to work for us. When we arrived at our posada in San Andres, the owner seemed quite concerned that we did not have tickets for any transport onwards to Providencia. However, everything we had read said the ferry was never full, and hey, this is Colombia, who even books things online?! We resolved to get up super early to secure our place on the boat at 8 am.

We arrived at Tonino’s Marina where boats to Providencia launch at 6:20 the next morning to CHAOS. It was pouring with rain, there was already a line forming and people were looking edgy. We dutifully joined the line with slightly lowered confidence but we were still feeling hopeful. Surely not all these people had pre-booked tickets?

Wrong. They had. Damn you, 21st-century backpackers! We were told to take a number and if there were any no-shows we would be sold tickets according to our numbers. The line to get those tickets involved lots of elbowing and pushing in. Push or be pushed. People were desperate!

At this point, we’d pretty much resigned ourselves to taking the next boat, in two days’ time. Boats from San Andres to Providencia and vice versa only leave Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun so we accepted our fate.

Suddenly though, whispers started of … another boat! Jack learned from another traveler (who was freaking out due to it being her honeymoon!) that there was definitely going to be another boat that morning!

Woohoo! We were going to Providencia! At this point I would have taken a leaky dinghy there – I was just happy there was another boat. Luckily the boat was a totally seaworthy looking catamaran called ‘Karibes’. We’d heard nothing about this boat, so could only assume it pops up when there is an overflow of passengers from the other catamaran.

After paying our 340,000 COP/155 AUD/112 USD return ticket, we stowed our bags and were handed a seasickness pill and a sick bag. Hmmm. I had heard the trip from San Andres to Providencia was rough, but looking at the calm, flat Caribbean ahead I was sure that it couldn’t possibly be that rough.

Wrong again! As soon as we got onto the open ocean the waves were HUGE. Jack and I had never been on seas that rough, and because I have a fear of boats the first 30 minutes were pretty terrifying. After realizing we’d probably be ok (as long as the sailors don’t look scared, we might not die) I relaxed a little. We even saw dolphins jumping out of the water alongside the boat, which was an amazing experience.

The next phase of the boat ride was the blowing chunks phase. This is when people started to vom like crazy. You don’t see it or hear it generally, but you can definitely smell it. I felt so sorry for the people that were sick, it looked VERY unpleasant. If they give you a seasickness pill TAKE IT! That said, one sick passenger had allegedly taken 3 to no avail…

Step Four: Arrive in Providencia

So now, after 4 hours on the boat, and the emotional rollercoaster of the morning, we had finally made it to Providencia! A taxi to anywhere on the island will set you back 25,000 COP/10 AUD/8 USD, which is fairly pricey, but there are a limited amount of cars on the island. So you kinda don’t have a choice.

You made it! Now, more tips on making the most of your time on this secret island.

Where to Stay in Providencia

Providencia is a minimally developed island. There are no resorts here, no high rise hotels or buildings, nor anything resembling luxury. Which is actually refreshingly nice, as it takes a certain type of traveler to come here. The main type of accommodations are posadas, privately run guesthouses.

Beautiful South West Bay

Because of the lack of restaurants, we would recommend staying somewhere with a kitchen and cooking some of your own meals to keep costs down. We stayed at Saltwata Apartments in South West Bay. We found our apartment to be simple and basic, but all that we needed. The only thing that needed improvement was the cleanliness, but apart from that, it was the perfect place for us! The owner Raul was super helpful and friendly and helped us organize anything we wanted to do.

Here’s a rundown on the different areas you can stay in Providencia (but we think Sout West Bay was the best!):

Town/Santa Isabel

The main concentration of shops for locals. Close to Santa Catalina, which has two small beaches. The locals refer to this as ‘town’.

Freshwater Bay/Bahia Aguadulce

This is where the majority of guesthouses are located. To be honest the beach wasn’t that impressive, there seemed to be lots of discarded junk on it. It might be worth staying here if you have your own transportation.

South West Bay/Bahia Sur Oeste

The longest beach on Providencia. Also features a grand total of three restaurants/bars which are open for lunch. This was our favorite beach to relax on. Not good for snorkeling as the water is a little cloudy. Oh, did I mention there are horse races ON THE BEACH each Saturday? Wild.

Manchineel Bay/Bahia Manzanillo

Very secluded. Apparently, this is the busiest beach but there was barely anyone there when we went. The beach is nice but has a few more waves than South West Bay. No accommodation but a restaurant/bar. Get here by mototaxi or rent a motorbike/golf cart.

What else do you need?!?

What to do in Providencia

Providencia is a really fun place to explore. You can really do as little or as much as you like, depending on what you like. Here are some ideas.

Visit Morgan’s Head

This is a rock formation that you can jump off and snorkel around. Beware that the rocks are very spiky! Water shoes are a good idea. If you can’t make it back up the nasty rocks, you can swim down to Fort Beach which is rather nice.

Explore the island on a motorbike or golf cart

We did this on our last day on Providencia and it lots of fun! Gives you a chance to check out everything on the island (you can probably drive around it in 30 mins!). We rented through our guest house for 140,000 COP/65 AUD/47 USD and that was with drop off and return.

Snorkel or Scuba Dive

The snorkeling and scuba diving is apparently amazing here, but we didn’t experience much of it. There are a few dive shops on the island, such as Malcon’s Dive Shop, so enquire once you arrive. We regret not diving because we have heard amazing things!

Turtle paparazzi

Hike the Hill

Another thing we didn’t really get around to (whoops!) but that is meant to be spectacular, is the hike up The Peak, the highest point on the island. The views looks incredible. Unfortunately, we were too busy…drinking cocktails…

Visit Crab Caye (Cayo Cangrejo)

I’d say this is a must do! Snorkel, see loads of turtles, enjoy lazing on the dock, it’s a super beautiful experience. The color of the ocean has to be seen to be believed. You can also climb to the top of the caye and check out the view. You can organize a tour here through your guesthouse for around 50,000 COP/22 AUD/17 USD.

Providencia was definitely worth the ordeal it took to get there. It still seems like change is a long way off, but I always tell people to get anywhere that’s as beautiful and quiet as this ASAP, because I just can’t see it lasting forever.

But hopefully, it will.


Have we missed anything? Did you do something way cooler than us? Let us know for when we go back!

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.