Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Mocoa to Ipiales
We decided to aim for an early van leaving Mocoa as we had seen reviews online stating the locals call the journey death road. However, the staff members in our hotel were still asleep when we tried to exit at around 6.45am and it took us a while to out. We did wonder what happens in a fire emergency as there was no easy exit to be found.
When we got to the bus station we had a flurry of people instantly come up to us and try and sell us tickets. One of the companies only had a jeep available and their van wasn’t leaving for another hour. After our uncomfortable jeep ride and knowing this was the worst road in Colombia, we decided the previous day that we only wanted to go in a van. We decided to ask around to see if another one was leaving earlier, and sure enough there was one leaving in half an hour. There seems to be lots of competition between bus companies so you can actually bargain down the “fixed” price. We bargained down from $18 to $15 per person.
With some time to spare, we went in search of breakfast. We found a typical breakfast menu in the market next door of empanadas and coffee for next to nothing.
We ventured back to the van at 7.30 and it looked like there were only two other passengers. As a first time traveller you would think in your mind, brilliant, plenty of space for us. Sadly, this almost always means you wait longer for it to fill up and as a result we didn’t end up leaving until around 8am.
Mocoa is still quite new on the tourist trail for people like us. Toby had only discovered this place by reading someone else’s blog. Apparently it has only just been written into the most recent Lonely Planet Guide as an option.
The road between Mocoa and Pasto has a fairly long history of problems. Travel advisories still talk about potential guerilla activity in these parts. The road itself is very narrow for a large part of it. In the past there were no safety barriers, but on our trip it was evident that changes had happened at some point and there were barriers at some of the danger spots giving a tiny bit of extra comfort.
The road started off relatively smooth, but then we started heading up. All we could see was a never ended snake winding up the mountain range broken up by clouds. The road then became very bumpy, consisting of rocks and dirt. We had to cross many waterfalls along the way which made Rodora nervous as we weren’t in a 4wd and any wrong manoeuvre could mean we could fall of the cliff. The road was also very narrow with only just enough room for one car, even though it was a two way road. There was a few times our van headed straight toward another car or truck around the bends, narrowly missing it and stopping suddenly to avoid a crash. The number of crosses along the road marking where people had met their fate was a constant indicator as to why it was called death road. It became even scarier when the clouds started to drop and all we could see was white fog. This road also tested out Rodora’s stamina for motion sickness as there were a few times she thought we weren’t going to make it. Luckily the driver stopped multiple times to let our stomachs settle.
We did make it out on the other side to arrive in Pasto after around 5 hours. We then changed quickly onto another minibus to Ipiales (7,000COP ea), very close to the border with Ecuador. Our plan was to stay the night here and get an early start the next morning to cross the border and head to Quito. Accommodation and food is cheap here. We stayed at Hotel Metropol directly across from the bus station and only paid 25,000COP / $12.50 total. They had their own restaurant which cost a very reasonable 5,000COP / $2.50 each for a hearty typical dinner.
Las Lajas Sanctuary
Since we’d arrived in the late afternoon, we jumped into a collectivo taxi (2,000COP ea) and headed to the local tourist hot spot of Las Lajas Santuary. Las Lajas is a roman catholic church about 10km east of Ipiales built between 1916 and 1949 at 100 metres high and connected to the opposite side of the canyon by a 50 metre tall bridge.
The church is gothic style and is absolutely magnificent, as it looks more like a castle than a church. The only downside to a collectivo is the taxi will not leave until it is full and in our case we had to pay a little bit more to get it to go on our schedule.
Colombia in summary (written by Dora)
I’m really sad to write that today is our last day in Colombia as tomorrow we will be heading to Ecuador. Colombia has completely surprised me the most out of all the countries I have been too on this trip. I love the complete diversity and natural beauty Colombia has to offer from pristine white sandy beaches in the jungle, rainforests filled with beautiful swimming holes and waterfalls, the lush green countryside, majestic coffee plantations, to high altitude wet marshland. Thank you Colombia for sharing your natural beauty with us as it’s something we will never forget.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/