We took a local bus from Salento to Armenia and then caught a second bus to Cali where would spend two nights. Cali is the salsa capital of the world…I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday night exploring a new city! However when we arrived to a local salsa bar we were so intimidated by the maneuvers of the locals that we just got some drinks to watch the performances!!
Sunday was a very quiet day for exploring the city. It appears that it very much depends where you are on Sundays, we barely even noticed it was the weekend the week before in Medellin, but in Cali a lot of the city was shut down. We got a local map from our hostel and did our own walking tour of the city! There are plenty of parks so we basically joined the dots between each one with plenty of ice-cream stops along the way. In particular there is a famous park in Cali “Parque Del Gato” or cat park! Which provided some entertainment for a while.
The area we were staying in was called Granada which is a popular spot for hostels. In addition we had heard about the area called San Antonia which is also a popular area for backpackers in Cali. We walked through that area and to the San Antonio church which provided a super view over the city.
Our hostel in Cali, La Sucursal, was new and well equipped. We chose to do some home cooking in our nice set up and ended our time in Cali with a a few episodes of Narcos before our next stop.
The following day we took a short three hour morning bus to Popayan. As we were on our final few days in Colombia heading towards the Ecuadorian border we chose to include some short stopovers to break up the bus journeys! Sunday night had been pretty sleepless due to the loudest and longest thunderstorm I’ve ever heard in my life so the bus was welcomed for a Monday morning spent napping! Popayan is small and we only had a choice of three hostels for the whole town but on arrival we were super happy with our choice, Hostel Caracol, and the really helpful staff informed us that there was a free walking tour on later in the afternoon. We went for lunch and then joined tourists from all over on the short walking tour of Popayan. It is a very colonial town with almost every building white in colour. There is a large cathedral which is a prominent feature in the main square and during the tour we learned how religious the town is. Much of the tour focused on the stories of their Holy Week celebrations during Easter and I’m sure it would be an interesting time to visit. We met a couple from Colombia/the U.K. during the tour who were actually staying in our hostel also so we enjoyed exchanging travel stories, tips and picking up some minor Spanish words along the way!
After the walking tour we located the nearest Exito, the Colombian supermarket which has become our landmark spot in every stopover! The next day would primarily be spent on a bus so we attempted to pick up some travel friendly snacks for our packed lunch. Lucky for us everything in Colombia appears to be sold in squeezable plastic bags..milk, yogurts, jam, peanut butter, even shower gel!!
We spent 10.5 hours of the following day in transit. A few sambos, two kindles, some hours of Spotify offline and a couple of Narcos episodes later we arrived to Ipiales which is a border town in Colombia next to Ecuador. As we didn’t arrive until almost 9pm and it was dark I was happy we had decided to book accommodation and undertake our first border crossing early the next morning. Due to limited accommodation options we had upgraded from a hostel to a hotel for the night (still insanely cheap!) and I was like a child at Christmas enjoying little luxuries.
There is not much to see or do in Ipiales but it is the main point of border crossing into Ecuador so most travelers use it as a stopover. However there is one landmark in the area that I’m happy we took the time to see before moving into Ecuador, Las Lajas Sanctuary, one of the most stunning churches I have ever seen. It is built on the side of a cliff, with the wall of the church behind the alter actually being the cliff face. There was lots of plaques placed on the walk down to the church, it is believed that there was an apparition of the Virgin Mary seen here and the plaques are in thanksgiving for the miracles granted.
We returned to pick up our bags from the hotel and hopped in a short taxi to Rumichaca which is the location of the border crossing. This was our first one and I was slightly nervous but it was super smooth. We entered the migration office on the Colombian side, added another stamp to our passports, walked over the bridge and did the same thing on the Ecuador side. Seamless!